6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 278
UFC 278 went down on Saturday in Salt Lake City, and it was one for the books.
In the main event, Leon Edwards ushered in a new era at welterweight, swiping the division's title from dominating champion Kamaru Usman with a stunning fifth-round head kick. It was a substantial upset, made more impressive by the fact that Edwards was less than a minute removed from what would have been a lopsided decision loss.
In the co-main event, former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold returned from a long absence, taking on dangerous Brazilian contender Paulo Costa. Rockhold gave a gusty effort but was ultimately outfought to a bloody unanimous-decision loss.
The middle bout of the main card occurred at bantamweight, where Georgia's Merab Dvalishvili defeated MMA legend José Aldo by decision to take a big step toward a title shot.
Other big winners on the night included Australian light heavyweight Tyson Pedro, who cut down Harry Hunsucker inside a round, and Polish heavyweight Marcin Tybura, now the only man to beat Moldova's Alexandr Romanov thanks to a unanimous-decision win on the undercard.
It was a great night of fights, and one that left the UFC's matchmakers with options abound.
Keep scrolling for the fights we're hoping to see for the card's biggest winners—and one loser.
Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman III
In the UFC 278 main event, Leon Edwards defeated long-reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman with a shocking fifth-round head-kick—a KO that saved him from what was almost certain to be a unanimous-decision loss. It was just the second defeat of Usman's career, and it marked the end of a staggering 19-fight win streak.
A streak that happens to include a win over Edwards: a unanimous decision in December of 2015.
Even if Usman didn't hold a win over Edwards, his previous dominance as the welterweight champion would probably still afford him an immediate rematch. The fact that he and Edwards are now 1-1 all but guarantees it. There's a score to be settled here.
UFC President Dana White is seemingly totally in favor of the idea in the wake of the event, even teasing that it could occur in Edwards' native England.
“How do you not do [expletive] Wembley,” White said at the UFC 278 post-fight press conference.
Sounds like the plan is already coming together. We're all for it.
Paulo Costa vs. Cannonier-Strickland Winner
Paulo Costa had a much tougher time with Luke Rockhold than most people expected. Still the Brazilian knockout artist was ultimately able to defeat the 37-year-old former champ, who retired post-fight, with a unanimous-decision verdict that left the Octagon soaked with blood.
The win was Costa's first since a thrilling decision triumph over Yoel Romero in the summer of 2019, which was followed by a TKO loss to middleweight king Israel Adesanya and a decision loss to Marvin Vettori in a hastily arranged light heavyweight fight.
It was crucial for him—a loss to Rockhold would have totally derailed his career—but it wasn't enough to assert himself as the next man in line for the middleweight title, which will next be up for grabs when Adesanya defends against Alex Pereira at UFC 281 in November.
He's got some more work to do if he wants another title shot. A fight with Jared Cannonier or Sean Strickland, who will meet on October 15, would be a great place to start.
Cannonier is riding a decision loss to Adesanya, and Strickland was recently stopped by Pereira, so the winner of their fight will be in a similar position to Costa: back in the win column but still a few steps short of a title shot. And either potential matchup looks fun on paper—Costa fights usually are.
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Marlon Vera
After a solid unanimous-decision win over José Aldo on the UFC 278 main card, Georgia's Merab Dvalishvili is now one of the top contenders in the bantamweight division, with seven victories behind him.
Unfortunately for him, there's a bit of a queue forming. He's probably going to need another win to set himself up for a meeting with the winner of Aljamain Sterling and TJ Dillashaw's UFC 280 title fight. The fact that he's a close friend of Sterling could further complicate things.
The good news is there's another fighter in a similar situation to Dvalishvili: Ecuador's Marlon "Chito" Vera.
Vera was back in action in the main event of UFC on ESPN 41 earlier this month, scoring a highlight-reel knockout win over Dominick Cruz. It was his fourth win in a row, but like Dvalishvili, he's still probably one win shy of a title shot.
It only makes sense to pit these two streaking bantamweights against each other. The fact that they're on similar schedules, having both fought this month, makes it an even easier sell.
If we're lucky, we could even see it before the year is out.
José Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz
José Aldo didn't get the win at UFC 278, suffering a decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili, but the former featherweight champion and current bantamweight contender still has plenty to give the sport. There's no need to discuss his retirement plans just yet.
In fact, Aldo still has some pretty cool matchup options available, chief among them being a fight with former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Cruz, like Aldo, arrived in the UFC after the promotion absorbed the defunct WEC organization, where they were both dominant champions. But despite sharing a weight class for the last few years, they still haven't fought. That is increasingly aggravating to aging WEC watchers everywhere, who are keen to see two of the best fighters of an era meet in the cage before it's too late.
The time is now, when Aldo is riding a loss to Dvalishvili and Cruz is picking up the pieces after a knockout loss to Marlon Vera.
Granted, we've already suggested Cruz serve as Frankie Edgar's final opponent at UFC 281 this November in New York City, but there's no reason both things can't happen. Let Cruz and Edgar fight in The Big Apple, and book Cruz against Aldo for sometime early in the new year no matter what happens.
Tyson Pedro vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
It remains to be seen if Australian light heavyweight Tyson Pedro will ever live up to the hype he had in the early days of his UFC career, but after a lengthy hiatus, he definitely seems to be on the right track.
He's now won two fights in a row by first-round knockout—the second coming at the expense of Harry Hunsucker at UFC 278. That win should get Pedro a step up in competition, and he's definitely due for one, because Hunsucker was not exactly a world-beater.
Our first choice is a fight with Poland's Michal Oleksiejczuk. Oleksiejczuk has nine UFC fights under his belt and rarely makes a ton of noise, but he occasionally comes through with a nice performance, like his August knockout of Sam Alvey.
At this stage, he seems like a pretty perfect test for Pedro, who is still relatively inexperienced at 9-3 overall. He's good, but not outrageously so, and he'll probably be more than happy to strike with Pedro, which is good news for the fans.
Marcin Tybura vs. Sergei Pavlovich
Marcin Tybura was one of the big winners of UFC 278.
The Polish heavyweight was in action on the undercard, taking on Moldovan giant Alexandr Romanov. He entered the cage as a big betting underdog and certainly survived some scares in the fight, but he ultimately defeated his rival by unanimous decision.
The win separated Tybura from a decision loss to towering Russian Alexander Volkov and should set him up for another big fight, as he's now a strong 6-1 in his last seven fights.
Our pick is a fight with Russia's Sergei Pavlovich, who is not dissimilar to Romanov, as a new but undeniably dangerous contender in the heavyweight division.
Pavlovich was last in action at UFC 277, when he posted the biggest win of his career with a knockout win over longtime heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis. He'll soon be looking for another big win to cement himself as a title challenger, and a fight with a mainstay like Tybura would definitely get him the chance to make it happen.