UFC 278 Main Card Predictions: Usman vs. Edwards 2

The UFC stays on the road, this time traveling to Salt Lake City in Nevada.

The Welterweight title is on the line in the main event as Kamaru Usman looks to make his sixth consecutive title defense against Leon Edwards, who has put together a ten-fight unbeaten streak of his own.

Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards 2 (WW Title)

A knockout victory over Gilbert Burns last February saw Kamaru Usman (20-1, 15-0 UFC) secure his third title defense, and he kept the pressure on by knocking out Jorge Masvidal in their rematch just two months later. He continued his lap around the division last November, defeating Colby Covington in a five-round decision. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is coming off sixteen straight victories and had been nothing but dominant up until his war for the ages with Colby Covington, where Usman proved he has the finishing skills when it counts. Usman is a wrestler by trade and seeks to establish a dominant position and rack up control time through top position and in clinch all while delivering ferocious ground and pound. He is by no means lost on the feet, however, as he proved against Burns. His high defense and stalking jab, as well as front kick, help him establish range with his 6’0″ frame so as not to absorb power strikes from the pocket, as he seeks to establish his oppressive wrestling.

British talent Leon Edwards (19-3, 11-2 UFC) is riding an astounding ten-fight unbeaten streak since the first loss to Usman, most recently besting Nate Diaz in a five-round bout. Edwards is a technical specimen, boasting masterful distance striking, clinch work, and well-timed takedowns. Edwards has a durable wrestling threat based around control time, but his best foot lies in striking and his skill at drawing a match into his best territory. Though “Rocky” doesn’t have the best power, he does well at dictating range and the course of the fight with his high fight IQ and uncanny ability to gauge the perfect timing for a strike or takedown. Edwards is a supremely cerebral fighter, knowing when and where to take the fight, as well as cutting angles and changing levels like a magician, bringing the fight to exactly where he needs it.

Both fighters have made significant leaps since their first meeting in 2015, fully rounding out each of their skillsets. Usman has shored up his striking, though his path to victory assuredly remains his wrestling advantage. For all of Edwards’ fight IQ and technique, he suffers when his back is put on the mat. I see Edwards having clear advantages on the feet and in the clinch, though I expect that to fade down the stretch. While Edwards is a tough striking test, the wrestling and cardio advantages of Usman still look prepared to reign supreme. I expect Usman to ride out control time in the clinch and on the ground for a dominant, if not somewhat lackluster, decision victory. While I do believe that Edwards is being disrepected by the betting odds at +300, Usman is the pick.

My Pick: Kamaru Usman via Decision

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold (MW)

A five-fight win streak saw Paulo Costa (13-2, 5-2 UFC) challenge for the Middleweight title, only to be finished by Israel Adesanya. He returned against Marvin Vettori last October, losing a Fight of the Night decision. “Borrachinha” or “The Eraser” is an aggressive brawler, utilizing constant forward pressure with a hellacious volume. Costa has thunderous body kicks and cuts off the cage well, though he can be caught with counters when opening up on combinations. While he is a jiu-jitsu black belt, Costa does not have a grappling-heavy attack, using his BJJ pedigree to keep the fight standing. Eleven of his twelve finishes have come by knockout, including his first four UFC bouts.

Luke Rockhold (16-5, 6-4 UFC) has not competed since July 2019, when an ill-fated move to Light Heavyweight saw Jan Blachowicz knock him out in the second round. Rockhold is a former UFC and Strikeforce Middleweight champion and is incredibly well-rounded and technical in all avenues. His striking is composed of powerful yet deceptively quick kicks, preferring to stay at range. He has slick jiu-jitsu and solid wrestling to boot, with composed top control and ground and pound. The glaring hold in Rockhold’s game at 37 years old is his chin and susceptibility to the knockout, losing three of his last four and all of his pro defeats by KO. A consistent finishing threat, ten of Rockhold’s fourteen stoppages have come by submission.

This fight should be much closer stylistically if not for all the intangibles going against Rockhold. He is now 37 years old and has not fought in three years, along with glaring holes in striking defense and durability. Costa is a nightmare for those disadvantages, with heavy power and constant forward pressure. Rockhold has the tools to find success, likely on the mat if Costa is unable to secure a knockout or spends his gas tank chasing one. However, I expect Costa to land a bomb and secure an early knockout.

My Pick: Paulo Costa via Knockout

Jose Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili (BW)

Featherweight GOAT Jose Aldo (31-7, 13-6 UFC) dropped down ten pounds from his longtime home in late 2019 and lost two consecutive bouts, including a fifth-round knockout to Petr Yan for the title. He returned with three consecutive victories, most recently taking home a five-round decision over Rob Font. Aldo has ferocious Thai boxing with power in both hands. He mixes his attack up well with body shots and cracking low kicks. Aldo has phenomenal takedown defense and keeps a high striking defense, with a 60% defensive rate.

After two controversial decision losses to begin his UFC tenure, Merab Dvalishvili (14-4, 7-2 UFC) is currently riding a seven-fight win streak. His most impressive win to date came in his last outing opposite Marlon Moraes, surviving an early knockdown to secure his first UFC finish. “The Machine” has a fantastic Sambo background with a relentless wrestling attack. His key weapons are his pace and pressure, pressuring into the pocket with volume to secure takedown entries. He boasts an absurd average of over seven takedowns per fifteen minutes in the UFC, constantly pushing the pace with a seemingly unending gas tank. He can lose the position in scrambles and also is heavily susceptible to leg kicks.

This is a classic stylistically matchup between a powerful striker and a heavy wrestler. Aldo has made a career of denying takedowns and dealing damage with his technical Muay Thai on the feet. Meanwhile, Merab excels in the cage and on the mat, looking to power into the pocket and change levels. Aldo’s notorious takedown defense will certainly be tested here, though I do believe he will be able to quickly regain his footing. On the feet, Aldo is live for a knockout, with his consistent body and leg attacks posing a serious danger for Merab’s weaknesses. I expect Aldo to deny takedowns before piling up leg attacks for a knockout win and title shot.

My Pick: Jose Aldo via Knockout

Yanan Wu vs. Lucie Pudilova (BW)

Yanan Wu (13-5, 1-4 UFC) has back against the wall here, coming off three straight losses. She is primarily a striker, utilizing heavy forward pressure and a hard-charging style. She keeps a good volume, though she absorbs her fair share of strikes when charging into the pocket. She has a wrestling threat with a sneaky submission offense, though she prefers to keep the fight standing. Yanan has eleven stoppages, with seven by knockout.

Lucie Pudilova (13-7, 2-5 UFC) is making her return to the UFC after previously being cut off her mediocre first stint in the promotion. She followed that up by going 5-1 in her next six, with each fight going to a decision. Pudilova is a striker, with fast combinations and good strike diversity. Her volume can be a concern at times, though Pudilova certainly has power in her hands. Her main issue comes from her ground game, often dominated when secured on her back. She has four stoppages to her name, evenly split between knockouts and submissions.

I am not entirely sure why this bout was boosted to the main card, but we are likely in store for a pure kickboxing affair. If we do see this fight hit the floor, I expect it to be Yanan driving forward the wrestling exchanges and benefitting from any top control. On the feet, this is a close battle, as both are aggressive and absorb their fair share of punishment. I see this as the volume of Yanan against the technical advantage and one-shot power of Pudilova, though I expect Yanan’s cardio to also be the more effective. This is incredibly close and though my pick is Yanan, the confident bet for this fight is the over 2.5 rounds.

My Pick: Yanan Wu via Decision

Tyson Pedro vs. Harry Hunsucker (LHW)

After two consecutive stoppage losses and over three years away from the cage, Tyson Pedro (8-3, 4-3 UFC) returned in April to knock out Ike Villanueva in the first round. Related to Heavyweight fan favorite Tai Tuivasa, Pedro is a finisher by trade, holding eight wins by submission. His striking is powerful with a heavy kick attack, managing his long frame well. Pedro can be found inside the pocket and his takedown defense is middling, but he is a threatening submission artist in top position or off his back.

Despite a loss on the Contender Series, Harry Hunsucker (7-5, 0-2 UFC) made his way to the UFC as a short-notice replacement, though he was knocked out by Tai Tuivasa. His sophomore appearance was no more successful, suffering another knockout loss to Justin Tafa. “The Hurricane” primarily gets his work done on the feet, utilizing quick blitzes and fast boxing combinations. He has some submission threat on the mat but is often lost when put on his back. His primary disadvantage remains his striking defense and lack of footwork, often able to be found in the pocket.

We have a shoo-in for violence opening the main card, as I don’t expect this fight to make it over 1.5 rounds. Hunsucker has not impressed in any of his appearances on either DWCS or the UFC, too willing to trade bombs in the pocket. Pedro looked impressive in his return and has shown his danger on both the feet and the mat through his time in the UFC. Neither fighter has much of an eye for defense, so I expect a short-lived battle. Hunsucker is yet to prove he has much beyond a few blitzing overhands when placed up against UFC competition. I expect Pedro to get the finish in the first round, likely with a knockout.

My Pick: Tyson Pedro via Knockout

The card kicks off at 6 PM EST, with the main card getting going at 10 PM!

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