UFC 278 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks
(Editor's note: The prediction for the Tybura-Romanov fight is included due to UFC changing the lineup for the Main Card)
UFC 278 goes down this Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah, which means it's time for another round of predictions from B/R's combat sports squad.
Saturday's pay-per-view will be topped by a welterweight title fight between dominating champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Leon Edwards. Usman, widely considered the best fighter in the world at present, will be looking for his sixth title defense, while his British challenger will be looking for a huge upset in his first bid at UFC gold. It also bears noting that it will be the pair's second meeting, as Usman defeated Edwards by unanimous decision back in 2015.
Co-headlining honors for the card will go to a middleweight clash between Brazilian knockout artist Paulo Costa and former champion Luke Rockhold, who is returning from a three-year hiatus.
In the middle bout of the main card, former featherweight champion José Aldo will look for his fourth-straight win at bantamweight at the expense of Georgian buzzsaw Merab Dvalishvili—and the winner could conceivably earn a title shot.
The main card will begin with a light heavyweight fight between Tyson Pedro and Harry Hunsucker and a women's bantamweight clash between Wu Yanan and Lucie Pudilova.
In sum, it's a card that looks like it could lead to some pretty wild moments and maybe some big upsets. Keep scrolling to see how the B/R combat sports team envisions it all going down.
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards II
Scott Harris: I don't see a path to victory here for Leon Edwards. I think he's a fine and upstanding member of the UFC roster and has earned this title shot, but this is one on a pretty substantial list of lopsided recent title fights. It's no wonder the champ is a healthy -380 favorite per DraftKings as of Wednesday.
Again: Edwards is good, but he doesn't have the wrestling or power to stand up to Usman's bull rush. It might actually be similar to their original bout nearly seven years ago, which saw Edwards put up a fight early before Usman wore him and won going away.
It will depend on how much danger Usman is willing to risk to get the crowd behind him (as you'll recall, they aren't always). That could actually be considerable, given that Edwards doesn't hit with a ton of power. But these are smaller questions. For my money, the winner here is easy to discern.
Usman by TKO, Rd. 3
Tom Taylor: I'm with Scott. I just don't see any way Leon Edwards beats Kamaru Usman outside of a flukey one-punch KO, and he doesn't seem to have the firepower to pull off a feat like that. Still, I rate Edwards well above the likes of Jorge Masvidal, who was able to take Usman to a decision a little over two years ago. I think the Brit's range, footwork and defensive wrestling will be enough to keep him in the fight for the duration, even if he's short on big moments.
Usman by unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Agreeing with the brain trust on this one. I like Edwards as a fighter, and he's obviously been impressive in his post-Usman run, but the champ is both the champ and the pound-for-pound king for a reason. There's nothing Edwards does that makes him superior. So, unless the fluky shot lands, it's a win. As much as I'd love to see a finish, I expect the same 25-minute near-shutout.
Usman by unanimous decision
Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold
Scott Harris: People forget: Rockhold is a hell of a good grappler. He can pound on you or submit you. But Costa is a physical specimen and the more athletic and younger fighter (31 to Rockhold's 37—ugh, that made me feel old). Ring rust is also a thing, at least in my book, and Rockhold hasn't competed in more than three years. That's quite a layoff. That said, both of these men are fighting to avoid the dreaded three consecutive losses, historically a Mendoza line that earns you your walking papers. Give me Costa and a side bet that Rockhold rides off into retirement afterward.
Costa by unanimous decision
Tom Taylor: I honestly can't imagine a worse comeback fight for Luke Rockhold. Here we have an aging former champion with a history of being annihilated by big, powerful punchers, and the UFC gives him the biggest, most powerful puncher in the middleweight division. I can't make sense of it. It feels almost cruel to me.
All that to say, I expect Costa to destroy Rockhold, just like Jan Blachowicz did and just like Yoel Romero did. It's true that Rockhold is a great grappler, but Costa has an 80 percent takedown defense rate and athleticism to boot. He shrugs off a few takedowns—and maybe eats a kick or two—then runs the former champ over.
Costa by KO, Rd. 1
Lyle Fitzsimmons: OK, I'm going to indulge my contrarian vibe here. I know Costa is a big powerful guy. I know he's an ace at defending takedowns. And I concede that if he lands a meaningful shot, the fight will be over instantly. But I don't think he's invulnerable. I think Rockhold finds a way to run the gauntlet and get him to the ground, and once he does, the entire complexion changes.
Rockhold by submission, Rd. 2
José Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili
Scott Harris: This should be a close contest, but maybe not as close as it seems. People keep sleeping on 35-year-old bantamweight Aldo, but after a two-fight stumble out of the gate, he's righted the ship to rip off three straight against Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz, and Rob Font. That's a pretty good list.
Aldo has the stamina and the defensive grappling to weather enough of Dvalishvili's takedown shots, then outscore (barely) his opponent, pulling away down the stretch. The Georgian hasn't faced as tough a test as Aldo yet, and the veteran will show him what it's like at the top. Sound the (mild) upset alarms.
Aldo by split decision
Tom Taylor: There's a lot of hype on Merab Dvalishvili heading into this matchup, and it's deserved. The Georgian has been grinding people into a pulp in his last few fights, and he's made it look pretty easy. But Jose Aldo is not your ordinary fighter. He is one of the greatest fighters ever, and in the eyes of some fans, the greatest ever outright.
And let's not act like he hasn't dealt with tough grapplers before. He's found a way to beat takedown specialists like Frankie Edgar (twice), Chad Mendes (twice), Ricardo Lamas and Urijah Faber, to name a few. He'll find a way to beat Dvalishvili, too—and I'll take it a step further than that.
All of Aldo's bantamweight wins have come by decision, which gives the impression he lost most of his power when he moved down in weight, but I think he rediscovers it in this fight. The Brazilian legend lights up his foe's body and head en route to a stop.
Aldo by TKO, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Ring me up as one of the guys who's been sleeping on Aldo. I pronounced his career dead and buried after Petr Yan pulverized him a while back, but all that's happened since is three wins—including the Vera triumph that looks a lot better after last weekend. Still, I don't think he's as powerful at 135 pounds, and I don't think he'll do enough to dissuade Dvalishvili from getting it to the ground repeatedly.
Dvalishvili by unanimous decision
Wu Yanan vs. Lucie Pudilova
Scott Harris: This women's bantamweight bout pits two journeywomen against each other. Wu has lost three straight and four of five, and this is Pudilova's first fight back with the UFC after going to 2-5 in her first run. So, yeah. Give me Pudilova on aggression.
Pudilova by unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Mark me down alongside Scott. I get why the UFC would want to move the heavyweights to the prelim show in the ABC spotlight, but this one doesn't really warrant a PPV position. Pudilova couldn't hang in her initial octagonal stay but has rebuilt with a nice run since, while Wanan is probably on the verge of her own exodus. Here's another gentle push toward the gate.
Pudilova, unanimous decision
Tom Taylor: As Scott mentioned, Pudilova went 2-5 in her first stint in the UFC. That run didn't inspire a lot of confidence, but she has since gone 5-1 in Slovakian promotion OKTAGON. That's some pretty solid momentum, especially when compared to Wu, who has lost her last three.
I also think Pudilova will be the aggressor in this one, because she often has been in past fights, and because she's going to want to prove to UFC brass that it was the right move bringing her back. Aggression should serve her well against Wu, who has lacked urgency in the bulk of her UFC bouts.
Pudilova by unanimous decision
Tyson Pedro vs. Harry Hunsucker
Scott Harris: At one point, Pedro looked to be a force in the light heavyweight division, winning three of his first four bouts. But then he went on to lose two straight and miss more than three years of action because of injury. This is his second bout back. And let's be real: The charismatic and finish-hunting Pedro is still clearly in the UFC's plans. This is a squash match, pure and simple, against Hunsucker, who is 0-2 in his UFC tenure.
Pedro, TKO, Rd. 1
Tom Taylor: There's really no arguing with Scott's take on this fight. Tyson Pedro has struggled with consistency, but he's plenty good enough to deal with Harry Hunsucker. The latter suffered first-round losses in his first two UFC bouts, his lone appearance on Contender Series, and actually in the other two losses on his 7-5 record as well. I'm sure he's a good guy, but really, what is he even doing here? Pedro sends him packing, and fast.
Pedro by KO, Rd. 1
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Here's an easy one. No real reason to go against chalk. Hunsucker doesn't really warrant the pay-per-view slot. Pedro doesn't need to be a world-beater to get things done here. He comes out, lands his shots and kicks off the show with a highlight.
Pedro by KO, Rd. 1
Marcin Tybura vs. Alexandr Romanov
Scott Harris: Over just two years in the UFC, Romanov has thundered his way to a top-15 slot on the official UFC rankings. A 5-0 record—all five of which were stopped inside the distance, including that fluky groin-strike technical decision over Juan Espino, but still. Tybura is his next step up the ladder.
Both men are wrestlers at their cores, but I don't think this is one where the wrestling cancels out. Tybura wins if he can strike, but I think they spend considerable time on the mat and that Romanov has the raw power and skill to keep Tybura down and wear him out.
Romanov by TKO, Rd. 2
Tom Taylor: This is the first real test of Alexandr Romanov's UFC career. In fact, I would say his last two fights—wins over Chase Sherman and Jared Vanderaa—served almost no purpose. Those guys had no business in the cage with a prospect of his ilk. Marcin Tybura, a former M-1 champ with 15 UFC fights to his credit, should at least be competitive with the Moldovan.
Still, I think Tybura will ultimately suffer the same fate as most of Romanov's previous opponents. It might not happen in the first round, but he'll eventually be taken down, and whether it's due to ground-and-pound or a choke, he'll be finished.
Romanov by submission, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: The gents before me have illustrated it nicely. Romanov is on a tear, and Tybura represents his biggest competition in the UFC. If the Moldovan gets the fight to the mat, it's probably going to stay there. But he'll have to go through some trouble to get do so. I'd like to keep the upset vibe going and sound some alarms on Tybura's behalf, but the more I think about it, the more I agree with Scott and Tom.
Romanov by submission, Rd. 1