Leon Edwards and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 278

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIAugust 21, 2022

Leon Edwards and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 278

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    Welcome to Summer 2022: Rematch Season in the UFC.

    The mixed martial arts conglomerate had a return bout atop a pay-per-view card for the second straight month when it rolled into Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday night.

    Welterweights Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards were in the spotlight position on UFC 278, a 12-bout show at Vivint Arena that included a five-bout PPV portion streams by ESPN+.

    The two men met early in their respective octagonal runs back in 2015 for a three-rounder on a cable-TV undercard before re-engaging for a five-rounder this time around with Usman's 170-pound title on the line against his highly-regarded No. 2 contender.

    B/R's combat sports team was in position to take in the show from start to finish to deliver the definitive list of winners and losers. Scroll through to see our thoughts and give us a take or two of your own in the comments section.

Winner: Kick Heard 'Round the World

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    Mark it down.

    It’s the single most stunning finish in UFC history.

    Edwards looked mentally beaten, resigned to defeat and less than 60 seconds from what was certain to be a unanimous decision loss to Usman in his welterweight title shot.

    And then: A “Rocky” ending.

    The Englishman flicked a left hand to elicit a reaction from Usman as he simultaneously launched a high left kick that landed flush on the side of the champion’s head, rendering him instantly unconscious and toppling him from both the 170-pound throne and the sport’s recognized pound-for-pound lists.

    Herb Dean called an instant halt at 4:04 of the fifth round, exactly 56 seconds before a certain loss.

    “I can’t put it into words,” Edwards said. “They all said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now.”

    Edwards won the first round after taking Usman down for the first time in his UFC career and chasing submissions, but the subsequent three rounds saw the “Nigerian Nightmare” strafe the challenger with hand strikes, record multiple takedowns and gradually take away his foe’s will to compete.

    Edwards’ corner sensed their man’s peril as well and laced into him with obscenities to generate a final push, though the man himself claimed his belief had never been in question.

    “It doesn’t matter. I’m built for the trenches,” he said. “I’ve been down my whole life.

    “I told you it was possible. We can win a belt from the UK. Look at me now. I can’t explain it. I said all week I thought this was my moment. Look at me now, champion of the world. Born in Jamaica with nothing, lived in a wooden shack. I told you I’d change my f--king life.”

Winner: Co-Main Carnage

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    There’s violence. There’s mayhem.

    And then there’s the third round of the middleweight co-main event between former title challenger Paulo Costa and ex-champion Luke Rockhold.

    The two men had a heated series of run-ins at fight week media events, and it carried over to the Octagon, which was smeared in blood after a chaotic 15 minutes in which both men were hit, hurt, and taken to the floor.

    But it raised a level in the final session, which ended with a bloodied Rockhold in top position and smearing his redden face all over his downed foe’s face.

    Costa landed the more powerful shots and was closer to winning more times, and ultimately earned a unanimous decision by three scores of 30-27.

    Now 37, Rockhold, who’d held the UFC belt at 185 pounds for seven months in 2015-16, had lost two of three bouts since dropping the title and hadn’t fought at all since mid-2019 after a series of injuries.

    He landed powerful shots and had Costa in intermittently vulnerable positions on the ground but was compromised by a severely bloody nose and was clearly having a hard time breathing through his mouthpiece. In fact, he stepped back a few times and put his hands on his knees in exhaustion.

    After the fight, he said the return fight would be his last.

    “I’ve been through so much the last three years. I can’t do this s--t anymore,” he said.

    “I gave it my all. I’m f--king old.”

    Costa, who dropped a middleweight title shot to Israel Adesanya in 2020, had fought just once since and dropped a decision to fellow Adesanya victim Marvin Vettori.

    He’s now 14-2 since turning pro in 2012.

    “This was a very good fight,” Costa said. "He surprised me with a lot of clear shots. And people don’t say he has a good chin, but he does.”

Loser: Lamenting Legend

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    Jose Aldo raised his hands. The Salt Lake City crowd cheered.

    But you could sense that both knew what was coming.

    The decorated Brazilian and sure-fire Hall of Famer was surely not battered from one side of the cage to the other, but he was curiously inactive across most of 15 minutes as Merab Dvalishvili perpetually pressed forward on the way to a narrow but deserved unanimous decision win.

    Two judges had it 29-28 while a third gave the native Georgian a 30-27 shutout.

    “This is a dream,” he said. “I don’t believe this is happening to me.”

    Dvalishvili arrived as the UFC’s sixth-ranked bantamweight, three slots below Aldo, who had arrived to the weight class after a championship run at featherweight.

    The 35-year-old had won three straight fights to resurrect his career at 135 pounds but was perpetually defending takedown attempts against the native Georgian and never got into anything approaching an offensive rhythm.

    Dvalishvili never got the fight to the floor despite 16 takedown attempts, but he did run up a 135-59 edge in overall strikes and a 57-38 advantage in significant strikes.

    “This is our job. Whatever your job is, you have to do it your best,” he said.

    “He was very technical against the cage. Usually, I take down everybody, but his footwork and takedown defense against the fence was amazing.”

    Dvalishvili was asked afterward if he’d pursue a title fight at 135 against champion Aljamain Sterling, who’s a longtime friend and training partner.

    “He made me who I am today,” he said. “I’m living in my dream right now. We’re not fighting each other. We are brothers."

Winner: Happy Return

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    When Daniel Cormier says your mat work is good, it’s good.

    So it’s hardly surprising Lucie Pudilova was as giddy as she appeared Saturday night.

    The Czech Republic native was back in the UFC after going 2-5 in an initial stint and spending the intervening two-plus years in other promotions, and she made the return a successful one with a particularly violent second-round stoppage of bantamweight foe Wu Yanan.

    The bout was initially set for the prelim card but was elevated to the main show during the last few days of fight week, giving Pudilova a spotlight return opportunity.

    “I can’t believe I’m back in the UFC. It feels so good,” she said. “I am very happy.”

    The 28-year-old struck with intermittent effect through a lackluster first round but went on the attack soon into the second, getting Yanan to the floor with a headlock and a flip before quickly seizing her foe’s back and chasing a submission via choke.

    “I love the transitions from the back into the mount,” Cormier said. “It was beautiful.”

    She was unable to get the neck and changed tactics rather than continuing the pursuit, rising to her knees, and battering Yanan with punches and strikes to the head. It was brutal while it lasted before the end came at 4:04 of the second.

    “Our strategy was to go for grappling,” she said, “and go for the finish.”

Winner: Fulfilling Expectation

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    Make no mistake, Tyson Pedro was supposed to win.

    He was coming off a first-round win while his opponent, Harry Hunsucker, was winless in a pair of UFC appearances and was making his first appearance in the light heavyweight division.

    But even with all the advantages in his favor, Pedro still managed to impress.

    The Australian scored his second quick win in four months and got a significant crowd pop along the way, initially drilling the overmatched Hunsucker with a hard punch before finishing him with a heavy body kick after just 65 seconds of their scheduled three-rounder.

    “When you’re entrenched as a -750 favorite, you’re supposed to with style points,” Jon Anik said from the ESPN announce table. “Mission accomplished.”

    Pedro had gone 3-3 in an earlier UFC stint from 2016 to 2018 before leaving the company and staying on the shelf until he returned in April with a one-round win. He started down the path to Saturday’s win when Hunsucker was driven backward with a hard left jab and continued when he landed a kick to the American’s solar plexus.

    Hunsucker reeled backward and hit the floor following the shot and was on the receiving end of five straight ground strikes before the hostilities were halted at 1:05.

    It was the fourth body kick finish in the UFC’s 205-pound division history.

    “To get it done that quick, that’s what it’s all about,” Pedro said. “I haven’t been around fans for years, so I liked hearing the noise. It’s been a hard camp and I’ve been away from home for six months. I miss my baby girl. Shout out to all the dads sacrificing for a better live for their kids.”

Winner: Conquering Kong

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    For five minutes, it was no contest.

    Moldovan giant and No. 13-ranked heavyweight Alexandr Romanov landed strikes, scored takedowns and generally treated a nearly 240-pound opponent as if he were rag doll.

    But once Marcin Tybura emerged from the first round with his senses intact, things changed.

    The 11th-ranked 36-year-old gradually took over as his nearly 260-pound opponent tired, landing strikes of his own and eluded what remained of Romanov's wrestling attack while snatching "King Kong's" professional zero with a majority decision.

    Two judges gave Tybura 29-28 nods on the scorecards while a third saw it 28-28 after giving the previously unbeaten Romanov a 10-8 margin in the first.

    It didn't look likely that things would continue after the initial 45 seconds, which saw Romanov get behind Tybura, pick him up and effortlessly toss him to the mat. Tybura managed to get to his feet with Romanov still draped over his back, but was quickly sent back to the mat after Romanov had softened his legs with a series of standing knees.

    A series of ground strikes had referee Jason Herzog leaning in close and seemingly on the verge of a stoppage, but the horn eventually sounded to give Tybura a reprieve. He scored well to the body in the second with kicks and continued the momentum change into the third as an increasingly more desperate-looking Romanov resorted to a clowning "Ali Shuffle" and later climbed to the top of the cage after the fight and exhorted the crowd to back him.

    It didn't work as his record fell to 16-1 and Tybura's nudged up to 24-7.

Loser: Early Celebration

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    Luis Saldana had the moves down pat.

    He paraded around the Octagon, sprang to the top of the cage and shouted to the Vivint Arena crowd as if he'd scored the biggest win of his career.

    Problem is, he hadn't won.

    Turns out the 31-year-old featherweight had landed the second-round kill shot via a knee to a downed fighter, prompting referee Mike Beltran to pull him off the fence and penalize him a point while allowing stricken opponent Sean Woodson to recover in a nearby corner.

    The combat resumed through the end of the second round and into the third, ultimately going the full 15 minutes before being declared a split-decision draw.

    One judge had it 29-27 for Woodson, a second had it 29-27 for Saldana and a third had it even at 28-28, meaning Saldana would have won had it not been for the penalty point.

    The infraction occurred after Saldana had dropped Woodson twice in the round, once with a check left hook and the second time with a hard left jab.

    The second knockdown prompted a celebratory strut from Saldana as Woodson began to climb to his feet, and Saldana's subsequent charge across the mat saw his lower right thigh connect with Woodson's forehead.

    Saldana didn't seem to realize what he'd done as he commenced the aforementioned celebration, but the announce crew of Cormier and Joe Rogan reacted immediately.

    "What a huge mistake," Cormier said. "He doesn't know what he did but he's going to feel awful when he realizes what he lost because of it."

    It was the first career draw for Saldana, who's now 16-7-1 as a pro, and the second for Woodson, who's 9-1-2.

Winner: Early Work

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    It's not often a ranked contender is relegated to early prelim status.

    But Amir Albazi didn't let a half-empty arena bother him.

    Instead, the UFC's No. 11 flyweight was particularly impressive in ending a 19-month layoff, nimbly getting the fight to the floor and quickly taking charge once there on the way to a first-round submission victory over Francisco Figueiredo.

    An Iraqi native who's relocated to Sweden and now England, Albazi took Figueiredo down after barely more than a minute and got him down again with a left-leg trip two minutes later.

    He seized his opponent's back and worked his way to the neck after the second takedown, eventually snaking his left arm into a rear-naked choke position and cinching it in with the right arm on the way to drawing a tap-out at 4:34 of the round.

    "That's a contender, ladies and gentlemen," Rogan said.

    It was Albazi's 15th win and 13th finish in 16 fights.

    Figueiredo, the brother of the former flyweight champ, is 13-5-1.

    "I feel good," he said. "I've been dealing with a lot of injuries, but the king is back. I'm the lion of Iraq. It’s a different pressure they feel with me. Give me all the black belts in the division."

Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman by KO (kick), 4:04, Round 5

    Paulo Costa def. Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Merab Dvalishvili def. Jose Aldo by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

    Lucie Pudilova def. Wu Yanan by TKO (punches), 4:04, Round 2

    Tyson Pedro def. Harry Hunsucker by TKO (kick), 1:05, Round 1

    Preliminary Card

    Marcin Tybura def. Alexandr Romanov by majority decision (28-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Jared Gordon def. Leonardo Santos by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Sean Woodson drew with Luis Saldana by split decision (29-27, 27-29, 28-28)

    Ange Loosa def. AJ Fletcher by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)

    Early Preliminary Card

    Amir Albazi def. Francisco Figueiredo by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:34, Round 1

    Aoriqileng def. Jay Perrin by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Victor Altamirano def. Daniel Da Silva by TKO (punches), 3:39, Round 1

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