We’re off to see the Mormons this weekend as the UFC roadshow rolls into the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah for UFC 278 and we’ve dug out the top tips from the card in the early hours of Sunday morning.
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Leon Edwards gets his somewhat belated title shot with a rematch against the one man who has bested inside the UFC’s octagon. I’ve thought for a few fights now that we might be entering ‘Usman falls in love with his hands’ and generally that’s something I’d be concerned about. However, in his last three bouts Usman’s striking has looked phenomenal.
While he won’t have the experience with hands of his opponent, Usman would certainly look to have the power advantage. Edwards has never been finished but given what I’ve seen from of the champion lately, I see no reason why he can’t change that. Both will be comfortable standing and the challenger’s best path to victory is likely an extended kickboxing-type fight.
The thing with that is, Edwards likely wins minutes on the feet, but Trevor Whittman has developed a striking style in Usman that is so hard to read that he can drop you at any time with little or no tell. I think the early rounds of this fight play out on the feet in a relatively close affair given both of their respective advantages.
I haven’t even mentioned the seismic wrestling advantage Usman will have, mainly because he’s chosen not to utilise it of late and when he has, he hasn’t sought a great amount of control time. The threat of the takedown alone is enough to make most fighters wary. If the fight plays out largely on the feet like I expect it to, should Edwards have much success then Usman can use that part of his game.
He knows from their first bout that he can take Edwards down. One thing that worries me about Edwards is that we have seen him switch off and coast later on in fights. Granted this has been when he’s winning, but it’s not something he can afford to do here.
Ultimately Usman has more viable paths to victory here than Edwards; he has the wrestling and striking skills to win a decision and he also has the power to finish Edwards, who needs to be perfect for 25 minutes. He doesn’t have much KO upside, he’s more the type of striker to wear you down over a period. With effective striking being the first of the scoring criteria I think there’s a scenario where Usman lands the more impactful strikes and wins rounds on the feet. I think Usman will have too much for Edwards and will find a finish.
I found this a tough fight to be confident with, but it feels like one of those where the outcome will be so obvious in hindsight. It’s a huge clash of styles; Merab a chain wrestler with decent striking against Aldo, known for his devastating leg kicks. Merab’s likely gameplan would look relatively obvious, get Aldo to the ground and maul him from top position. At 90%, Aldo’s takedown defence is seriously impressive, and he will be difficult to get down but Merab won’t be deterred, and I’d expect him to be able to get his opponent down at some point in the fight.
How long he can keep him there, something he generally does quite well, will be key to his chances of winning this fight. Aldo will look to mince the legs of the Georgian and hope that slows him down, while also looking to clip him on the way in with uppercuts.
Despite his prowess on the ground, we saw against Marlon Moraes that Merab has that ‘crazy’ in him and will stand and trade on the feet. That would be a strategy fraught with danger in this particular fight. His striking is fine, but it’s a functional level of striking used to compliment and set up his wrestling. We saw Dvalishvilli’s chin against Moraes but I’m not sure Aldo lets him off the hook in a situation like that.
This is one of the best and most intriguing matchups on the card and it’s a massive step up in class for ‘The Machine’. Cardio won’t be an issue for either and I’d expect both to drive a hard pace in this fight. Aldo at bantamweight has been interesting, he lost a highly contentious split decision to Moraes in his debut at the weight and his only other loss at 135 has been to the Russian wrecking ball, Petr Yan. Since then, he has wins over top contenders Rob Font and Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera. The ‘Chito’ win in particular has aged very well. It’s a really tough match-up and I feel like Merab will have to garner a lot of control time to win a decision here. I find it really difficult to turn down Aldo at dog odds. Given the price, the step-up in class and how Aldo has looked off late I think he’s the side here.
This bet is essentially a fade a on Luke Rockhold. He’s a big price for a reason here. He hasn’t fought since July 2019, has been knocked out in three of his last four and hasn’t won a fight in just shy of five years. He’s also had ten UFC fights, none of which have gone the scheduled distance. It is worth calling out that he’s now working with Jason Parillo, who is a brilliant striking coach so he may well have improved on some of the defensive issues which caused those KO losses.
However, the sport evolves and moves on. It’s a different sport since he has last won a fight and ring rust is real in my opinion. Costa has had his own issues of late, losing to the champ, Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori in dominant fashion. He has been the more active and at a higher level of late and Rockhold is unlikely to present any of the technical challenges that Adesanya or Vettori posed. I’d be surprised to see either fighter last the distance here with Rockhold having a questionable defence and chin even prior to his temporary retirement. Costa isn’t exactly a cardio machine but I think for all the reasons outlined, he finds the finish here.
UFC 278 tips
*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change