SALT LAKE CITY — Kamaru Usman is already being asked about Khamzat Chimaev as a future contender. He has bandied about the idea of moving up two divisions to light heavyweight and challenging for that title. UFC president Dana White wants to put Usman in the greatest of all time conversation.
But before all of these potentially historic things can come to fruition, Usman has work to do. On Saturday, MMA’s pound-for-pound king will defend his UFC welterweight title against Leon Edwards in the main event of UFC 278 at Vivint Arena.
ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 in the world at welterweight. Edwards is No. 4. The two have met before — and it was the last time Edwards has lost: December 2015, via unanimous decision.
Usman (20-1) is on a 15-fight UFC winning streak, one victory short of tying Anderson Silva’s record of 16. The Nigerian-born fighter, who trains out of Colorado, has been UFC welterweight champion since beating Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 in March 2019. Usman, 35, has five successful welterweight title defenses.
Edwards (19-3, 1 NC) is unbeaten in 10 straight fights over nearly seven years. The Jamaica-born resident of England has not fought since a unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 263 in May 2021. Edwards, 30, has an 11-2, 1 NC record in the UFC.
In the co-main event, former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold meets former title challenger Paulo Costa. Rockhold (16-5), a 37-year-old California native, has not fought since 2019 and has just one win since beating Chris Weidman for the title in 2015. Costa (13-2), a 31-year-old Brazilian slugger, has dropped two straight, including a second-round TKO loss to middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 253 in September 2020.
Also on the card, former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will take on the surging Merab Dvalishvili at bantamweight, Marcin Tybura meets Alexander Romanov in a heavyweight contender bout and popular Aussie light heavyweight Tyson Pedro faces Harry Hunsucker.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action as it happens or watch the fights on ESPN+ PPV.
Fight in progress: Lightweight: Leonardo Santos (18-6-1, 7-2-1 UFC, +240) vs. Jared Gordon (18-5, 6-4 UFC, -300)
Men’s featherweight: Sean Woodson (9-1-1, 3-1-1 UFC) and Luis Saldaña (16-7-1, 2-1-1 UFC) results in a split draw (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
There’s no other way to say it: Saldaña blew multiple chances to cash in an upset victory over Woodson.
Saldaña, who fights out of Phoenix, dropped Woodson with a clean left hook midway through the opening round. Rather than follow him to the floor and look for a finish, Saldaña nonchalantly walked away and allowed Woodson to get up, and didn’t aggressively pursue him even though Woodson looked very unstable.
The real mistake came moments later, however, when Saldaña dropped him again with a straight left. Again, Saldaña elected not to follow him to the floor. As Woodson sat up, Saldaña rocked him with a blatantly illegal knee to the head, which led to a pause in the action and referee Mike Beltran docking Saldaña a point.
The rest of the bout was relatively inactive, with Woodson doing just a little more. He threatened Saldaña with a modified triangle choke in the second round, and worked a steady jab in the third. The result, due in large part to the point deduction, was a split draw. The judges’ scorecards read 29-27 Woodson, 29-27 Saldaña and 28-28.
Draws are garbage it means neither fighter gets their win money and it doesn’t move their career forward so it’s a huge waste of time and expense
— Terrance ‘T Wrecks’ McKinney (@twrecks155) August 21, 2022
Woodson, who fights out of St. Louis, is now 3-1-1 in the UFC, while Saldaña is 2-1-1.
Welterweight: Ange Loosa (9-3, 1-1 UFC) def. AJ Fletcher (9-2, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Round 3 played out in slow motion, with Fletcher lying on his back and showing no significant effort to get up, and Loosa maintaining top position but doing little to try to end the fight. But the fans didn’t start booing until there was barely a minute left. How could they have after what these two fighters had delivered in the round right before?
Loosa had spent much of that middle round landing right hand after right hand to the face of Fletcher, who was bloodied and wobbly by the middle of the five minutes. But the high output appeared to tire Loosa, and Fletcher took advantage of that late in the round with a barrage of punches that had his opponent stumbling around the cage, with referee Mike Beltran looming close by in case he needed to jump in.
As the fans roared the horn sounded, both fighters had little to give from that point on. But merely by getting the fight back to the canvas at the start of the third round and keeping it there, Loosa did enough to secure the win (29-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Yooooo this fight is insane !!! #UFC278
— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) August 21, 2022
Loosa is 28 and from Switzerland, but trains in South Florida. He won for the first time in the Octagon after dropping his UFC debut in April.
Fletcher, a 25-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, has lost both of his UFC fights after coming to the promotion earlier this year undefeated.
Men’s flyweight: Amir Albazi (15-1, 3-0 UFC) def. Francisco Figueiredo (13-5-1, 2-2 UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Albazi is one of the top prospects to watch at 125 pounds and he did nothing Saturday to change that perception.
Using his wrestling and grappling, Albazi dominated Figueiredo en route to a submission (rear-naked choke) win at 4:34 of the first round. Albazi landed two takedowns and on the second one he worked to Figueiredo’s back slickly and locked in the choke.
“There’s a bunch of killers at flyweight and I’m the best of them,” Albazi said. Albazi, 28, had not fought since January 2021, a unanimous decision victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov. The Iraq-born England resident has won four straight, including his first three in the UFC.
Amir is a prrrroblem @AmirAlbazi
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) August 20, 2022
Figueiredo, the 32-year-old brother of flyweight champion Deiveson fighting out of Brazil, is 2-2 in the UFC.
“The king is back,” Albazi said.
Men’s bantamweight: Aoriqileng (20-9, 2-2 UFC) def. Jay Perrin (10-6, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
‘The Mongolian Murderer’ held off a late rally by Perrin en route to unanimous 29-28 judges’ scorecards. The fight was very competitive and the Salt Lake City crowd booed the decision, but Perrin himself seemed to accept it and applauded Aoriqileng.
Aoriqileng’s counter striking stood out early in the fight, as he wobbled Perrin with a left hook and regularly caught him with shots as he looked to close distance. Perrin’s wrestling became a factor in the second and third rounds, however.
Some of the best action of the bout took place in the final 10 seconds, when Perrin walked Aoriqileng back to the fence and unloaded combinations. Afterwards, Aoriqileng said he wasn’t hurt by the shots, but it was probably Perrin’s best moment.
Aoriqileng is now 2-2 in the UFC, although he is 2-0 since moving up from flyweight. Perrin, Massachusetts, falls to 0-2.
Men’s flyweight: Victor Altamirano (11-2, 1-1 UFC) def. Daniel Da Silva (11-4, 0-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Two fighters chasing their first UFC victory wasted no time in getting after it. Both came out swinging, and Da Silva landed the first impactful blow, a right hand that dropped Altamirano and had him in trouble in the opening minute. But Altamirano got up and kept coming forward, and after a knee to the body put Da Silva on the canvas, the Mexican swarmed with a barrage of elbows that finished the job at 3:39 of the first round.
Altamirano, a 31-year-old from Mexico City who trains in Fort Worth, Texas, had to withstand the early assault, but once he had the fight going his way, he was relentless in winning for the fifth time in his last six bouts. He lost his UFC debut in February.
Da Silva, who is 26 and from Brazil, looked like the sharper fighter at the start, knocking down his opponent and nearly connecting with spinning attacks. But once he was on his back, he made the mistake of trying for submissions rather than defending against the elbows that opened up a cut on his face and ended the fight. He has lost all three of his UFC bouts.
Still to come:
Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (20-1, 15-0 UFC, -400) vs. Leon Edwards (19-3 1 NC, 11-2 1 NC UFC, +310)
Middleweight: Paulo Costa (13-2, 5-2 UFC, -370) vs. Luke Rockhold (16-5, 6-4 UFC, +290)
Men’s bantamweight: Jose Aldo (31-7, 13-6 UFC, +120) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (14-4, 7-2 UFC, -140)
Women’s bantamweight: Wu Yanan (12-5, 1-4 UFC, +100) vs. Lucie Pudilová (13-7, 2-5 UFC, -120)
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro (83-, 4-3 UFC, -800) vs. Harry Hunsucker (7-5, 0-2 UFC, +550)
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura (22-7, 9-6 UFC, +300) vs. Alexandr Romanov (16-0, 5-0 UFC, -380)
(c) = defending champion