UFC 278 Preview & Predictions
Aug 20, 2022, 6:30 AM | Updated: Aug 22, 2022, 7:02 am
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
As Bruce Buffer would say: “It’s TIME” fight fans, for UFC 278.
This Saturday’s fight card marks only the second time the UFC has hosted an event in Salt Lake City, last coming to the Beehive State in 2016 for UFC Fight Night 92. Nevertheless, it should be a great night of combat sports, capped off with the long-awaited rematch between the welterweight champ, Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards.
So if you’re a fan of high-quality bouts then strap in for three hours of some of the best fighters in the world going head-to-head against one another.
But before we get to the action, let’t take a look at the tale of the tape for Saturday night’s main card.
Tyson Pedro (8-3) v. Harry Hunsucker (7-5), Light Heavyweight
Kicking off the main card, there is sure to be some fireworks in this light heavyweight contest between Tyson Pedro and Harry “Hurricane” Hunsucker.
If you’ve followed the UFC for a while, Tyson Pedro will be a family face. The Australian was one of the UFC’s brightest prospects in the 205-pound division back in 2017, coming off finishes of Paul Craig and Khalil Rountree. Unfortunately all the hype came to a screeching halt, losing his next three of four before injuries kept him away from the octagon for three years.
But with a first-round KO in April, the now 30-year-old is ready to make up for lost time.
Going back to his fight with Ike Villanueva, the Aussie was too much to handle in the stand-up, stalking his opponent vigorously before finding the finish. Connecting with a one-two combo, Pedro took advantage of the staggered Villanueva, landing a leg kick to the shin that crumbled the American, dispersing uppercuts that ended the fight with only a few seconds left in the first round. Pedro is a unique light heavyweight, who not only has the power with his hands, but the technical ability to look for the submission on the ground as well.
On the flip side, Hunsucker has had a tough go of things in the UFC, still looking for his first victory in the promotion.
First appearing on Dana White’s Contender Series, the American got finished by current UFC fighter Jared Vanderaa in the first round. Having to earn another shot at the premier MMA promotion, Hunsucker scored a KO of his own against Cory Moon in HR MMA out of Kentucky, getting him back in the bosses’ focus. Unfortunately, “Hurricane” has been used a “tune-up” for bigger names in the division, falling victim to title challenger Tai Tuivasa, and fellow Australian Justin Tafa, via first-round knockouts.
Now on his third fight with the promotion, he’ll most likely need a win to stay in White’s graces.
The sportsbooks have Pedro as a huge favorite in this one and for good reason. Another turn-up fight for the Australian allows the UFC to promote one of their prospects from long ago, while also disposing of another fringe fighter from the UFC roster. Two birds, one stone as Pedro will find the mark and finish Hunsucker in the first round.
Prediction: Pedro via first-round KO
Yanan Wu (13-5) v. Lucie Pudilová (13-7),Women’s Bantamweight
Another fight between two fringe UFC fighters in China’s Yanan “Mulan” Wu and the Czech Republic’s Lucie Pudilová.
Both women have had tremendous success outside of the UFC, but not so much in the promotion. Starting with Wu, the 26-year-old is currently on a three-fight losing streak, most recently getting defeated by Mayra Bueno Silva via unanimous decision in April. Prior to joining the UFC in 2017, “Mulan” boasted a record of 12-1 in her MMA career, tearing through the regional circuit in Asia. That success did lead her to the American promotion, where she did start out 1-1 after submitting Lauren Mueller in 2018. However, Wu has only won one of her fights when it went to the scorecards, possibly indicating that it may favor her opponent to wait the fight out.
Speaking of her opponent, Pudilová has had an up-and-down career since joining the UFC in 2017. Starting out with two wins, including one over Ji Yeon Kim, the Czech had a bumpy road after that, suffering four consecutive losses that pushed her out of the UFC. Pudilová returned to her native country and stacked together wins, getting the decision five out of the last six times. Now with a fresh shot at a UFC career, the 28-year-old knows the time is now to make her mark in the women’s bantamweight division.
Before I get to the prediction let me be clear: This fight, and the Pedro v. Hunsucker bout, would be on the prelims instead of the Marcin Tybura fight in any normal circumstance. But as we all know, the UFC looks to garner as much viewership as possible for the preliminary cards so here we are.
With that being said, I going with Pudilová in this one. She’ll outlast Wu, being patience in her approach and wary of the finishing ability her opponent possesses. Wu doesn’t win bouts that go to judges which is exactly what will happen in this one. Unanimous decision victory for the Czech, and a little more life into her UFC career.
Prediction: Pudilová via unanimous decision
José Aldo (31-7) v. Merab Dvalishvili (14-4), Bantamweight
Starting out a trio of high-profile fights, the hall-of-famer José “Junior” Aldo squares off against divisional challenger Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili.
Let’s start with Aldo shall we.
After suffering another title challenge loss at UFC 251 to then-divsion champ, Petr Yan, many speculated if the curtains had closed for the aging Brazilian.
The former featherweight king made it a vow to be champion once again, plowing through the likes of Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font most recently. All fights ended with a unanimous decision victory for the Brazilian, and now ranked at #3 in the 135-pound division, believes a win here will get him another shot at the belt.
“I think I should be fighting for the title. I believe that if I win this fight I should be fighting for the title,” Aldo said during the UFC 278 media day.
The 35-year-old impressed the MMA landscape the most with his win over Font last winter, going all five rounds against the American contender. Showcasing his signature speed and combos, the world was put on notice that Aldo is back.
But to get back to the top, he’ll have to stop the rise of the Georgian Dvalishvili.
The Machine has been exactly that, plowing through the division since 2020, on route to a five-fight win streak. His toughest test came in the form of Marlon Moraes in 2021, having one of the best comebacks of the year to get the second-round finish. The Georgian took heavy blows from Moraes in the first round, dropping him with a left hook. But thanks to his relentless energy, Merab got back to his feet and outmuscled his opponent, putting him on the ground for the duration of the round.
The second round was more of the same, using his wrestling to corral the Brazilian and cement top position for almost the entire round. Succumbing to relentless pressure, Moraes was eventually forced to cover up before the referee stepped in to stop the bout. Merab’s most impressive performance and a real test of his character and desire to win in the UFC.
The Georgian would be wise to keep his next Brazilian opponent on the ground in this one, hoping to outmuscle Aldo with his ground-and-pound. However, I don’t see Merab controlling this one like his previous fight. Aldo is as battle-tested as they come, and has one of biggest wills to win the sport has ever seen. It’s going to be a banger on the feet with both able to knock each other out with very few punches.
Give me Aldo in this incredibly close bout. Despite barely making weight at 136 pounds Friday morning, a shorter fight should favor the older Brazilian. Don’t be surprised to see The Machine’s hand raised but I think Aldo’s striking ability is still up there with the best in the UFC.
Prediction: Aldo via unanimous decision
Paulo Costa (13-2) v. Luke Rockhold (16-5), Middleweight
Is it 2018? Because Luke Rockhold is the co-main event in a UFC pay-per-view.
Okay kidding aside, Saturday’s bout between Rockhold and former title challenger Paulo “Borrachinha” Costa is destined for a knockout stoppage.
It’s been a few years since 37-year-old Luke Rockhold was one of the faces of the UFC as the middleweight king, holding on to the belt briefly before being knocked out by Michael Bisping in June 2016. Since then, the Santa Cruz native has had a tough climb back to octagon, having to pull out of numerous fights due to injury. The former champ finally got another shot at the belt in 2018 but was stopped by an overweight Yoel Romero in the third round of the interim title fight.
Rockhold then decided to make the move to light heavyweight but quickly relived that was a bad idea after being knocked out by future champion, Jan Błachowicz, in 2019. Injuries kept him out further after that, expected to face Sean Strickland last year but had to pull out due to a herniated disc.
Fast forward to today and we finally have the long awaited return of Luke Rockhold.
His first victory in five years will be earlier said than done, going up the Brazilian eraser in Paulo Costa.
Another fighter that has seen better days, Costa has been on a slippery slope since losing the middleweight title fight to Israel Adesanya in 2020. Only fighting once since then, the Brazilian power hitter took a tough unanimous decision loss to Marvin Vettori at 205 pounds in 2021, with all judges scoring the contest 48-46 for the Italian. A man know for highlight reel knockouts hasn’t been his best self in years, begging the question: Is Costa a one-hit wonder? Saturday’s bout will be the test for that, as another loss should push Borrachinha down the pecking order.
I don’t see it going that way.
No disrespect to the future hall-of-famer, but this is a turn-up fight for the Brazilian, a chance to restore some of his credibility before facing a real contender in the division. Anything can happen in combat sports, but I expect Costa to make quick work of his aging opponent, finding the one-punch knockout in the second round.
Prediction: Costa via second-round KO
Kamaru Usman (20-1) v. Leon Edwards (19-3, 1 NC), Welterweight
Finally, the fight we all came here to see: Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman versus Leon “Rocky” Edwards.
A rematch seven years in the making sees one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world going up against a Jamaican-born Englishman that hasn’t lost in seven years!!!
His most recent loss, you guessed it: Kamaru Usman in 2015.
The two were completely different fighters the first time they met, Usman solely a wrestler and Edwards only elite in his striking ability. The Nigerian got the best of the brit that night, earning the unanimous decision win, and handing Edwards his second loss in the UFC.
Both fighters have only ascended to the top of the division since then.
Edwards has rattled of wins against the likes of Vicente Luque, Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and Rafael Dos Anjos since the Usman fight, looking more and more elite with his striking each bout. His most recent fight against Stockton native Nate Diaz showed the MMA world that his takedown defense has improved, stopping four of five takedowns by the Californian. Rocky put the pressure on Diaz throughout the five rounds, winning the bout via unanimous decision, 49-46, across all scorecards.
And in the red corner, Usman has only solidified himself as one of the best welterweights of all-time since taking the title from Tyron Woodley at UFC 235.
Going into his sixth title defense, the Nigerian has stopped the likes of Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal since becoming the the 185-pound champ. For a pure wrestler by background, Usman has slept some of the biggest names in the division, improving on his striking with every single fight. Kamaru last fought Colby Covington for the second time last November, dominating much of the fight to earn the unanimous decision win.
Fast forward to today, we have one of the most anticipated fights of the whole year.
While both men have a mutual respect for one another’s game, don’t get it twisted: These two do not like each other. In attendance for UFC 263, I asked Edwards about the potential of fighting Usman for the belt, especially after the Nigerian was quoted saying he wasn’t impressed with Rocky’s performance against Diaz. His response said it all.
Leon Edwards snaps back at Kamaru Usman's downplaying his title shot hopes: "Who else f*cking deserves it?"#UFC263 | Full interview: https://t.co/zzdIlrsSkw pic.twitter.com/DIBP20gG1s
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) June 13, 2021
“Who else [expletive] deserves it?” Edwards exclaimed.
Over a year later, the time for talking is over.
Both fighters want to make a statment against an old foe so look for both of them to come out of the gates swinging. Usman would be wise to stick to his wrestling gameplan, looking to avoid the stand-up game of Edwards. Yes, Kamaru has dramatically improved his striking since their first meeting, but it’s still nowhere near the level of precision of the Englishman.
On the flip side, Edwards will need to keep that same takedown defense he showed against Diaz, hoping to frustrate the champion into striking with him. The challenger can take his time in the stand-up, picking and popping combinations that stun Usman, hoping enough shots wear his guard down for the finishing blow. Edwards will still need to be wary of the Nigerian’s incredible power, able to turn the lights off in a moment’s flash.
As much as I love Edwards and his story, I can’t go against the champ. His wrestling is some of the best the UFC has ever seen, on the level of the great Khabib Nurmagomedov, smothering his opponents into giving up on the ground. The Nigerian knows that’s his bread and butter and will utilize it all night long.
A seventh title defense as Usman continues climbing the UFC immortality ladder.
Prediction: Usman via unanimous decision
The UFC 278 Main card kicks off from Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. PST, with prelims starting at 3:30 p.m. PST.