In the main event of UFC 278 on Saturday, “The Nigerian Nightmare” is set to make his sixth welterweight title defense against Edwards — whom the champ defeated in 2015 via unanimous decision, but has remained undefeated in all 10 bouts since then.
Usman has nearly lapped the division, even defending his title twice successfully against both Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. Usman most recently earned a decision against Covington this past November at UFC 268, while Edwards returns for the first time in 14 months after defeating Nate Diaz at UFC 263.
The stakes are high for both fighters as Usman looks to take another step closer towards Georges St-Pierre in the welterweight GOAT conversation, while Edwards might only have this one opportunity to accomplish his championship mission.
In the co-main event, one-time title challenger Paulo Costa will welcome former champ Luke Rockhold back to the octagon for the first time in over three years in a pivotal middleweight matchup. Other main card matchups include Jose Aldo taking on the surging Merab Dvalishvili, Wu Yanan will face Lucie Pudilova in a bantamweight tilt, while Tyson Pedro opens the PPV card against Harry Hunsucker in a light heavyweight showdown.
What: UFC 278
Where: Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City
When: Saturday, Aug. 20. The three-fight early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight prelims on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Kamaru Usman (1) vs. Leon Edwards (4)
Is Kamaru Usman overlooking Leon Edwards?
Usman seems to have a lot on his mind since defeating Colby Covington at UFC 268 — picking up big movie roles, having his sights set on boxing Canelo Alvarez, and a potential move up to the light heavyweight division. While these types of things can take focus off of the task at hand, Usman has proven to be laser-focused ahead of all of his title defenses.
Since becoming champion, Covington has been quite competitive with Usman on two separate occasions, while Gilbert Burns gave the welterweight king a bit of a scare before finishing his longtime teammate in the third round at UFC 258 in February 2021.
Besides a 10-fight unbeaten streak, Edwards is bringing a lot of patience, and quite a bit of confidence into his first title fight. In fact, “Rocky” feels he has a distinct advantage in the standup game and recommends that Usman use his outstanding wrestling in the bout — although Usman has showed knockout power on plenty of occasions.
While many seem to be backing Edwards to dethrone the champion, Usman’s wrestling advantage is such an incredible weapon that he has in his back pocket, one I fully expect him to use successfully. Edwards will certainly have his moments, but I expect Usman to win a convincing decision before potentially moving on to fight Khamzat Chimaev — if he’s able to defeat Nate Diaz at UFC 279.
Paulo Costa (10) vs. Luke Rockhold
After three-plus years away from the octagon, former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold is back for a heated matchup with the always interesting Paulo Costa.
While it’s been a longtime since Rockhold has competed, it’s been nearly five years since he’s tasted victory. One of the last remaining Strikeforce veterans on the roster, Rockhold has been brutally finished in two straight by Yoel Romero and Jan Blachowicz, and three of four appearances including his title loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 199. To say the least, there are a lot of questions needed to be answered by Rockhold, most notably, how will his chin hold up against a powerful striker like Costa?
There are also a lot of questions in regards to Costa — a fighter seeking his first win in three years — who recently left his longtime manager to be represented by his girlfriend, entering the final fight on his current contract, and who can forget what happened ahead of his UFC Vegas 41 main event bout with Marvin Vettori this past October when his botched weight cut led to the matchup taking place at light heavyweight? Although it was a competitive affair, Vettori still got the job done.
The heat behind this fight has continued to build throughout fight week and is certainly in the discussion for the most anticipated fight on the card. Both men have a lot on the line, including Rockhold who, despite the long layoff and the losing streak, could find himself in line for a title fight with an impressive performance. For me, I just have too many questions about Rockhold even though he’s certainly got a competitive spirit this week. I believe Costa will land the big shot within the first five minutes, pick up a much needed victory in a fight that will be fun for as long as it lasts, and have a wild entertaining free agency period.
José Aldo (5) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (6)
First, allow me to get something off my chest: José Aldo deserves better. In fact, in my opinion, he should be the one fighting Aljamain Sterling for the bantamweight title in October. But alas, always the gamer, Aldo puts his top-rocker spot on the line against a man very few 135-pounders are excited to see on the other side of a contract.
For Merab Dvalishvili, he finally gets his opportunity to face a big name and former world champion after winning his previous seven fights. Of all of the victories on his current streak, none were scarier to his fellow bantamweights than his most recent win over Marlon Moraes at UFC 266 this past September when he overcame tremendous adversity to pick up an incredible come-from-behind second-round finish.
At first glance, Aldo fans were likely concerned about the matchmaking — and for good reason considering the frenetic pace Dvalishvili puts on. However, the more you dive into it, the more you realize that it’s a pretty good stylistic matchup for the former featherweight champion. Dvalishvili has outstanding wrestling, but Aldo is arguably the best defensive fighter in the history of the sport with tremendous fight I.Q. and he possesses 90 percent takedown defense, plus, a huge striking advantage.
Fighting in altitude likely favors Dvalishvili, but I think Aldo will come out and get off to a fast start where he’s able to to stuff the takedowns and make the Georgian standout pay on the feet. I believe Aldo will continue to have success through the midway point of the second round before Dvalishvili lands a takedown to steal some momentum. In the third, that’s where things could get real sticky for Aldo. In the end, I think Dvalishvili being as hittable as he’s shown in the past will be the difference maker, and Aldo will hang on after a tough third round to earn a competitive decision win to hopefully earn a title shot.
Wu Yanan vs. Lucie Pudilova
Welcome back to the UFC, Lucie Pudilova.
After a tough first run with the promotion where she lost her final four octagon bouts, and went 2-5 total, Pudilova has gone 5-1 in six appearances for OKTAGON to earn her way back to the UFC.
Yanan will look to avoid a similar fate as she enters the bout on the heels of three straight losses, and a 1-4 start to her UFC run.
While Yanan has some technical prowess to her, to me, Pudilova seems to have her confidence in a great place, plus a bit more of a dog mentality to come through when the going gets tough. I expect a competitive fight, but I’m going with Pudilova to just want it more down the stretch to pick up her first UFC victory since February 2018.
Tyson Pedro vs. Harry Hunsucker
Look, I get it. When you saw this fight was opening up the main card, you probably threw your arms up in the air with a stunned look on your face. But allow me to be positive: this fight is going to be super fun for the few minutes that it lasts.
Tyson Pedro and Harry Hunsucker are going to get after it in their light heavyweight matchup. In their 23 combined professional bouts, only one fight has gone to a decision. As my colleague Jed Meshew likes to say, we have two guys who like to get, or get got, and that’s what we’ll likely see on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
Pedro is the more technical striker, while Hunsucker is going to get right in Pedro’s face. Unfortunately, that strategy will likely lead to Hunsucker’s early demise as I expect Pedro to get a vicious knockout at around the halfway point of Round 1.
Bonus Pick - Alexandr Romanov (11) vs. Marcin Tybura (13)
With my man AK on a much needed vacation, and since I won’t do this very often, I felt the need to highlight one other fight on the card — mostly because I feel Alexandr Romanov is a horrific problem in this heavyweight division that has, quite frankly, become a lot more interesting and fun. “King Kong” will close out the prelims with his biggest test to date in Marcin Tybura.
In the last year to 18 months, young, hungry, and dangerous contenders have emerged in the heavyweight division. We’ve recently seen it with guys like 29-year-old Tom Aspinall and 30-year-old Sergei Pavlovich, and something tells me that on Saturday night, the 31-year-old Romanov will join them in that conversation. When Romanov came into the UFC, he was a rough matchup for a lot of guys in the division and he treated most of his opponents accordingly — of course, the Juan Espino fight was a bit weird, but a win is a win. In his most recent bout against Chase Sherman, a now slimmer, more yoked up version of Romanov appeared and he looked every bit of the astounding -2500 favorite in the two-minute affair.
Tybura has quietly become a perennial contender in the division, winning five of six, he holds a BJJ black belt, and has never been submitted in 29 professional fights. He also hasn’t faced the kind of wrecking ball grappler that Romanov is, and someone who doesn’t need to make it look pretty to find success.
Saturday night will be the official Alexandr Romanov coming out party, and I confidently feel that he will maul his opponent and become the first to ever submit Tybura in the process. I am also confident that Romanov will fight for a UFC title in the next 18 to 24 months.
Sean Woodson def. Luis Saldaña
Victor Altamirano def. Daniel da Silva