Kamaru Usman is the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in mixed martial arts. Now, at 15-0 in the UFC, he can tie Anderson Silva’s record for the longest winning streak in the organization’s history Saturday at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City when he meets Leon Edwards in a rematch more than six years in the making.
The reigning UFC welterweight champion has spent years cementing his status as the best 170-pounder in MMA since Georges St-Pierre. The popular Canadian was such a dominant champion and cleaned out the division so thoroughly that St-Pierre even defeated several of his rivals on multiple occasions. Usman is currently enjoying the same stretch of his title run.
Usman’s memorable 2021 included his second career wins over both Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington. He defeated Edwards via a three-round decision back in December of 2015. Usman has since become a star and Edwards is unbeaten since that initial meeting, which makes for a compelling headliner.
UFC 278’s pay-per-view card also features former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returning from a three-year hiatus to take on Paulo Costa in a grudge match likely to produce a highlight finish. There’s also a thrilling bantamweight matchup between future Hall of Famer Jose Aldo and rising 135-pound contender Merab Dvalishvili.
Usman and Costa are heavy favourites, which is a common theme on this card. There were seven favourites with -350 odds or longer as of Friday evening, which means anyone siding with mostly favourites at UFC 278 will need to risk laying some serious chalk.
Here’s a closer look at UFC 278’s featured bouts…
KAMARU USMAN vs. LEON EDWARDS
Usman -350 | Edwards +275 | Draw +8000
Usman by decision -105 | Edwards by decision +750
Usman by stoppage +225| Edwards by stoppage +450
Usman closed as a -225 favourite and Edwards a +200 dog when they met at that 2015 Fight Night event. As an aside, that three-round tilt took place on the early portion of a preliminary card that in hindsight is one of the most stacked in UFC history. Fellow future UFC champions Francis Ngannou, Valentina Shevchenko and Charles Oliveira also picked up wins prior to a main card that featured Nate Diaz’s infamous, “You’re taking everything I worked for, (expletive)” post-fight rant directed at Conor McGregor.
Usman entered this fight week as a -400 favourite but the line has dropped a bit with some action coming in on Edwards who’s unbeaten in his past 10 fights (9-0 with one no-contest) since losing a unanimous decision to Usman.
Usman’s wrestling and control wound up being the difference in the first fight and it’s one element of his game he can always fall back on if he’s not liking what he’s seeing and feeling when exchanging strikes on the feet. Usman is 14-0 as the betting favourite in the UFC. His lone spot as an underdog was when he won the title in 2019 from then-champion Tyron Woodley.
Edwards doesn’t land at a high rate but he’s efficient and technical and will have a speed advantage, especially early in the fight. He can win rounds against Usman the way Covington was able to — by outlanding Usman at range. This fight should be more competitive than Usman’s pair of bouts with Jorge Masvidal. Edwards has been an underdog twice since losing to Usman, beating Albert Tumenov in 2016 and Vicente Luque in 2017.
Edwards often takes advantage of his strong top game but that’s not his likeliest path to victory against Usman, who boasts a 100 per cent takedown defence rate and whose control along the cage is overwhelming.
The challenger is coming off a five-round unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz. Edwards dominated 24 of the 25 minutes but was nearly finished in the final 60 seconds after eating a one-two straight down the pipe from Diaz. He was also dropped by Bryan Barberena earlier in his career and for some reason that one has always stuck out to me.
Edwards has never been finished in his MMA career, yet we’ve seen him rocked in several of his UFC outings and if Usman connects on Edwards cleanly at any point it could be lights out. We’ve seen marked improvement in Usman’s striking since he won the title and Usman’s ability to mix in takedowns helps lead to openings for him to set up and land his power punches.
Odds indicate likeliest outcome is: Usman by decision -105
My pick (and preferred prop bet): Usman (by stoppage +225)
PAULO COSTA vs. LUKE ROCKHOLD
Costa -400 | Rockhold +300 | Draw +8000
Costa by decision +500 | Rockhold by decision +650
Costa by stoppage -200| Rockhold by stoppage +600
We’ve seen past champions such as GSP and Dominick Cruz return to the Octagon victorious after multiple years away from the sport. Can former middleweight champion Rockhold do the same against a hard-hitting former title challenger?
Rockhold fought four times between 2016-2019 and was KO’d as a heavy favourite in three of those bouts. Rockhold is an excellent grappler capable of a submission, ground-and-pound finish or dominant decision win if he’s able to secure top control on Costa. The only issue with that is Costa’s an aggressive striker who’s notoriously difficult to take down. Between that, Rockhold’s chin and layoff, not to mention the fact Rockhold only has 30 per cent career takedown efficiency, there’s a reason the odds are stacked against him.
Odds indicate likeliest outcome is: Costa by stoppage -200
My pick (and preferred prop bet): Fight to end in Round 2 +275
JOSE ALDO vs. MERAB DVALISHVILI
Aldo +110 | Dvalishvili -138 | Draw +8000
Aldo by decision +260 | Dvalishvili by decision +130
Aldo by stoppage +333 | Dvalishvili by stoppage +450
This one has title implications at 135 pounds so the rest of the division will have a close eye on this Fight of the Night contender. Aljamain Sterling is set to defend the belt against T.J. Dillashaw at October’s UFC 280, a card that also features Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley, although it shouldn’t be entirely out of the question that a memorable showing from either Aldo or Dvalishvili could see them jump the line.
Aldo, a former featherweight champion and a one-time bantamweight title challenger, has won three straight and began his current streak by defeating Marlon “Chito” Vera. Meanwhile, Dvalishvili has won seven in a row after beginning his UFC career 0-2. The Georgian has a seemingly unlimited gas tank and has proven extremely durable.
Aldo opened as a -170 favourite but sharp bettors corrected the market quickly and Dvalishvili was the listed favourite within days, a more accurate indication of how this matchup should be handicapped. Dvalishvili has the edge in wrestling, durability and pace; Aldo has more tools and more power on the feet, plus an unmatched resume of opponents. Dvalishvili secures a whopping 7.30 takedowns per 15 minutes (his 63 total takedowns rank ninth all-time in UFC history) and Aldo has legendary 90 per cent takedown defence. That’s the fight within the fight.
Dvalishvili picked up a performance bonus for his stoppage win over Marlon Moraes in his most recent outing but was in a world of trouble after getting dropped in the opening round. If Aldo stays on his feet and keeps his back off the cage, he wins this fight. Otherwise, he could eventually get worn down by Dvalishvili’s relentlessness.
Odds indicate likeliest outcome is: Dvalishvili by decision +130
My pick (and preferred prop bets): Dvalishvili (by stoppage +450, Dvalishvili in Round 3 +3300, also consider live betting Dvalishvili if Aldo wins a striking-heavy opening round)
— Kamaru Usman (-350) vs. Leon Edwards (+275)
— Paulo Costa (-400) vs. Luke Rockhold (+300)
— Jose Aldo (+110) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (-138)
— Wu Yanan (+100) vs. Lucie Pudilova (-125)
— Tyson Pedro (-800) vs. Harry Hunsucker (+550)
— Marcin Tybura (+300) vs. Alexander Romanov (-400)
— Leonardo Santos (+225) vs. Jared Gordon (-275)
— Sean Woodson (-350) vs. Luis Saldana (+275)
— Miranda Maverick (-600) vs. Shanna Young (+450)
— A.J. Fletcher (-160) vs. Ange Loosa (+130)
— Amir Albazi (-450) vs. Francisco Figueiredo (+350)
— Aori Qileng (-150) vs. Jay Perrin (+125)
— Daniel Lacerda (+140) vs. Victor Altamirano (-170)
(Betting odds via Bet365 as of Friday evening and subject to change)