SALT LAKE CITY — Kamaru Usman is already being asked about Khamzat Chimaev as a future contender. He has bandied about the idea of moving up two divisions to light heavyweight and challenging for that title. UFC president Dana White wants to put Usman in the greatest of all time conversation.
But before all of these potentially historic things can come to fruition, Usman has work to do. On Saturday, MMA’s pound-for-pound king will defend his UFC welterweight title against Leon Edwards in the main event of UFC 278 at Vivint Arena.
ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 in the world at welterweight. Edwards is No. 4. The two have met before — and it was the last time Edwards has lost: December 2015, via unanimous decision.
Usman (20-1) is on a 15-fight UFC winning streak, one victory short of tying Anderson Silva’s record of 16. The Nigerian-born fighter, who trains out of Colorado, has been UFC welterweight champion since beating Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 in March 2019. Usman, 35, has five successful welterweight title defenses.
Edwards (19-3, 1 NC) is unbeaten in 10 straight fights over nearly seven years. The Jamaica-born resident of England has not fought since a unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 263 in May 2021. Edwards, 30, has an 11-2, 1 NC record in the UFC.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action as it happens or watch the fights on ESPN+ PPV.
Next fight: Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (20-1, 15-0 UFC, -400) vs. Leon Edwards (19-3 1 NC, 11-2 1 NC UFC, +310)
Middleweight: Paulo Costa (14-2, 6-2 UFC) def. Luke Rockhold (16-6, 6-5 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Recap to come.
This fight is madness #UFC278
— Arnold billy allen (@Arnoldbfa) August 21, 2022
Men’s bantamweight: Merab Dvalishvili (15-4, 8-2 UFC) def. Jose Aldo (31-8, 13-7 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Dvalishvili had landed five or more takedowns in all but two of his previous nine UFC fights. He had hit double figures in three of those bouts. His nickname is “The Machine,” and it was obvious why that is.
Then he stepped in with Aldo and went 0 for 16 on takedown attempts. Was it Dvalishvili’s undoing? No, it was not. The 31-year-old from the Republic of Georgia couldn’t get the Brazilian legend to the canvas, but his relentless attempts against the cage, though foiled one after another, produced a nonstop attack of knees to the leg that, combined with the effort needed to stop takedowns, drained Aldo and led to Dvalishvili’s seventh straight victory (29-28, 29-28, 30-27).
The win streak ties Dvalishvili for the best in the bantamweight division with the champion, but no title showdown is imminent. The champ, Aljamain Sterling, is Dvalishvili’s training partner on Long Island, New York, and Dvalishvili has no intention of fighting him. “He is my brother,” Dvalishvili said.
He also paid homage to Aldo, the 35-year-old former featherweight champ from Brazil. Aldo received a standing ovation during his walkout and the night’s loudest applause during his introduction. He saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end. But along the way, he earned Dvalishvili’s respect.
“He was very technical against the cage,” Dvalishvili said. “Usually, I take down everybody.”
Women’s bantamweight: Lucie Pudilová (14-7, 3-5 UFC) def. Wu Yanan (12-6, 1-5 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Pudilova was a brawler in her first go-around with the UFC. This time, it’s clear she has improved and is far more versatile.
Using wrestling and violent ground and pound, Pudilova picked up a TKO victory at 4:04 of the second round over Wu Yanan. Pudilova, who is now training at SBG Ireland under coach John Kavanagh, took Wu down, got her back, moved to mount and along the way was hammering down with big punches and elbows. Referee Herb Dean had no choice but to step in and stop the fight.
“I can’t believe I’m back in the UFC,” Pudilova said.
Pudilova also got a takedown in the first round and had a lot of success on the ground. Wu had some decent leg kicks on the feet, but Pudilova got an arm-and-head throw in the second round, got Wu’s back and started firing off violent elbows from top position, leading to the finish. Wu had no answers.
Aye now that’s some violence
— Jamahal Hill (@JamahalH) August 21, 2022
Pudilova, 28, went 5-1 with the Oktagon promotion after being released by the UFC in 2020. The Czech Republic native lost four straight before being cut, but two of those were $50,000 Fight of the Night performances.
Wu, a 26-year-old from China fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has dropped four straight.
Light heavyweight: Tyson Pedro (9-3, 5-3 UFC) def. Harry Hunsucker (7-6, 0-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
It wasn’t all that long ago, Pedro was considered a very promising prospect at 205 pounds. That sentiment has now returned.
Pedro, 30, lost a lot of momentum between 2017 and 2022, when injuries limited him to just six total appearances, in which he held a middling 3-3 record. Since returning to health this year, the Australian has recorded back-to-back finishes against Ike Villanueva and now Hunsucker.
The finish on Saturday came just 65 seconds into the fight. He caught Hunsucker with a clean, counter left jab. Immediately after landing the shot, Pedro smiled, pointed at Hunsucker and moved aggressively forward. He dropped him moments later with a front kick to the midsection and finished the fight with punches on the ground.
— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) August 21, 2022
“I trained so hard, it was a very hard camp,” Pedro said. “To get it done that quick, that’s what it’s all about. I haven’t fought in front of fans for four years, so do me just one favor. Let me hear some noise.”
A step up in competition will likely be next for Pedro, as he was an 8-to-1 betting favorite over Hunsucker. He improves to 5-3 overall in the UFC. His losses came against experienced opposition in Ilir Latifi, Ovince St-Preux and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura (23-7, 10-6 UFC) def. Alexandr Romanov (16-1, 5-1 UFC) by majority decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
If you watched just the first round of this fight, you would find it inconceivable that Romanov would exit the Octagon no longer undefeated. He took down Tybura less than a minute in and mauled him on the canvas for the entirety of the first five minutes, building a 28-0 advantage in strikes.
But Tybura survived to the horn, and when he came out for Round 2, he took over against a Romanov who appeared to have no energy left. As a result, Tybura won the second and third rounds and was rewarded with a majority decision, with two judges scoring the bout 29-28 in his favor and the third scorecard reading 28-28 because of a 10-8 first round for the 16-1 Romanov.
Tybura, a 36-year-old from Poland, has won six of his last seven fights after persevering through a rough first round, putting his opponent in trouble with a takedown in the second, then peppering him with punches in a slow-motion third round. His experience against higher-level opposition — he’s been in with former UFC champs Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski, among other top heavyweights — enabled Tybura to pace himself and remain fresh in the 4,300-foot altitude of Salt Lake City.
Romanov, who is 31 and from Moldova, was a force in the first round but sagged after that. He’d been past the midpoint of Round 3 only three times in his career and had scored finishes in 15 of his 16 wins. This time he had nothing in reserve once his gas tank emptied.
Lightweight: Jared Gordon (19-5, 7-4 UFC) def. Leonardo Santos (18-7-1, 7-3-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Salt Lake City’s elevation is 4,226 feet, making cardio a major storyline at UFC 278. Gordon, obviously knowing that, invested in working the body — and thereby the gas tank — with incredible success.
Gordon completely dominated Santos in a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) victory, one of the most one-sided of Gordon’s career. Gordon’s cardio held the whole way and he was able to pepper Santos with combinations in every round, including clear and consistent attention paid to body shots.
Santos was bleeding from his nose in the first round and had a cut under his eye by the end of the first. Gordon had several surges of big flurries that did damage. Meanwhile, Santos, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, was never able to get Gordon to the ground in a dominant position. By the third round, Santos was clearly tired with Gordon still pushing forward and getting in his face.
Gordon, 33, has won four of his last five fights. The New York native, who trains out of Kill Cliff FC in Florida, is now 7-4 in the UFC. Santos, a 42-year-old fighting out of Brazil’s Nova Uniao camp, has dropped three straight.
Men’s featherweight: Sean Woodson (9-1-1, 3-1-1 UFC) and Luis Saldaña (16-7-1, 2-1-1 UFC) results in a split draw (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
There’s no other way to say it: Saldaña blew multiple chances to cash in an upset victory over Woodson.
Saldaña, who fights out of Phoenix, dropped Woodson with a clean left hook midway through the opening round. Rather than follow him to the floor and look for a finish, Saldaña nonchalantly walked away and allowed Woodson to get up, and didn’t aggressively pursue him even though Woodson looked very unstable.
The real mistake came moments later, however, when Saldaña dropped him again with a straight left. Again, Saldaña elected not to follow him to the floor. As Woodson sat up, Saldaña rocked him with a blatantly illegal knee to the head, which led to a pause in the action and referee Mike Beltran docking Saldaña a point.
The rest of the bout was relatively inactive, with Woodson doing just a little more. He threatened Saldaña with a modified triangle choke in the second round, and worked a steady jab in the third. The result, due in large part to the point deduction, was a split draw. The judges’ scorecards read 29-27 Woodson, 29-27 Saldaña and 28-28.
Draws are garbage it means neither fighter gets their win money and it doesn’t move their career forward so it’s a huge waste of time and expense
— Terrance ‘T Wrecks’ McKinney (@twrecks155) August 21, 2022
Woodson, who fights out of St. Louis, is now 3-1-1 in the UFC, while Saldaña is 2-1-1.
Welterweight: Ange Loosa (9-3, 1-1 UFC) def. AJ Fletcher (9-2, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Round 3 played out in slow motion, with Fletcher lying on his back and showing no significant effort to get up, and Loosa maintaining top position but doing little to try to end the fight. But the fans didn’t start booing until there was barely a minute left. How could they have after what these two fighters had delivered in the round right before?
Loosa had spent much of that middle round landing right hand after right hand to the face of Fletcher, who was bloodied and wobbly by the middle of the five minutes. But the high output appeared to tire Loosa, and Fletcher took advantage of that late in the round with a barrage of punches that had his opponent stumbling around the cage, with referee Mike Beltran looming close by in case he needed to jump in.
As the fans roared the horn sounded, both fighters had little to give from that point on. But merely by getting the fight back to the canvas at the start of the third round and keeping it there, Loosa did enough to secure the win (29-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Yooooo this fight is insane !!! #UFC278
— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) August 21, 2022
Loosa is 28 and from Switzerland, but trains in South Florida. He won for the first time in the Octagon after dropping his UFC debut in April.
Fletcher, a 25-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, has lost both of his UFC fights after coming to the promotion earlier this year undefeated.
Men’s flyweight: Amir Albazi (15-1, 3-0 UFC) def. Francisco Figueiredo (13-5-1, 2-2 UFC) by first-round submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Albazi is one of the top prospects to watch at 125 pounds and he did nothing Saturday to change that perception.
Using his wrestling and grappling, Albazi dominated Figueiredo en route to a submission (rear-naked choke) win at 4:34 of the first round. Albazi landed two takedowns and on the second one he worked to Figueiredo’s back slickly and locked in the choke.
“There’s a bunch of killers at flyweight and I’m the best of them,” Albazi said. Albazi, 28, had not fought since January 2021, a unanimous decision victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov. The Iraq-born England resident has won four straight, including his first three in the UFC.
Amir is a prrrroblem @AmirAlbazi
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) August 20, 2022
Figueiredo, the 32-year-old brother of flyweight champion Deiveson fighting out of Brazil, is 2-2 in the UFC.
“The king is back,” Albazi said.
Men’s bantamweight: Aoriqileng (20-9, 2-2 UFC) def. Jay Perrin (10-6, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
‘The Mongolian Murderer’ held off a late rally by Perrin en route to unanimous 29-28 judges’ scorecards. The fight was very competitive and the Salt Lake City crowd booed the decision, but Perrin himself seemed to accept it and applauded Aoriqileng.
Aoriqileng’s counter striking stood out early in the fight, as he wobbled Perrin with a left hook and regularly caught him with shots as he looked to close distance. Perrin’s wrestling became a factor in the second and third rounds, however.
Some of the best action of the bout took place in the final 10 seconds, when Perrin walked Aoriqileng back to the fence and unloaded combinations. Afterwards, Aoriqileng said he wasn’t hurt by the shots, but it was probably Perrin’s best moment.
Aoriqileng is now 2-2 in the UFC, although he is 2-0 since moving up from flyweight. Perrin, Massachusetts, falls to 0-2.
Men’s flyweight: Victor Altamirano (11-2, 1-1 UFC) def. Daniel Da Silva (11-4, 0-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Two fighters chasing their first UFC victory wasted no time in getting after it. Both came out swinging, and Da Silva landed the first impactful blow, a right hand that dropped Altamirano and had him in trouble in the opening minute. But Altamirano got up and kept coming forward, and after a knee to the body put Da Silva on the canvas, the Mexican swarmed with a barrage of elbows that finished the job at 3:39 of the first round.
Altamirano, a 31-year-old from Mexico City who trains in Fort Worth, Texas, had to withstand the early assault, but once he had the fight going his way, he was relentless in winning for the fifth time in his last six bouts. He lost his UFC debut in February.
Da Silva, who is 26 and from Brazil, looked like the sharper fighter at the start, knocking down his opponent and nearly connecting with spinning attacks. But once he was on his back, he made the mistake of trying for submissions rather than defending against the elbows that opened up a cut on his face and ended the fight. He has lost all three of his UFC bouts.