Somehow, we're already at the final pay-per-view event of the summer, but the UFC is closing things out in style!
UFC 278, which takes place this Saturday at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a packed collection of important fights across multiple divisions, closed out by a welterweight title fight that also happens to be a rematch between a pair of fighters who are unbeaten in their last 25 fights combined.
Set a reminder in your phone. Tell your family and friends that you've got plans. Saturday's fight card is too good to miss, and if you don't believe me, keep reading… I'll have you convinced by the time you get to the prelims.
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards
Kamaru Usman (20-1 MMA, 15-0 UFC) goes in search of his sixth successful title defense and record-tying 16th consecutive UFC victory when he puts the welterweight strap on the line against streaking British challenger Leon "Rocky" Edwards (19-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC) in Saturday night's main event.
Usman has never lost in the UFC – 15 up and 15 down – and earned a win over Edwards in his second appearance with the promotion. Since then, he's ascended to the top of the 170-pound weight class, remaining there through a pair of challenges each from Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal with a bout against Gilbert Burns wedged in between.
Edwards hasn't lost since that meeting with Usman in December 2015, posting eight straight victories that included wins over Vicente Luque, Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos before missing all of 2020. He returned to action early last year, starting well before his bout with Belal Muhammad was halted due to an inadvertent eye poke before collecting a unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 263 in June.
This rematch is a long time coming and the pairing is intriguing, as each man has improved tremendously since their first encounter and brings a well-rounded skill set with them into the octagon this weekend. Usman has shown grit and mettle along with improved boxing over his last three outings, while Edwards is a complete fighter with a proven ability to go 25 minutes working at a steady clip.
Will Usman retain and equal Anderson Silva's record for the most consecutive wins in UFC history or will Edwards end his reign and claim the welterweight throne for himself?
Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold
After starting his career with 13 consecutive victories, Costa arrives in Salt Lake City on a two-fight skid, having been stopped in his clash with Israel Adesanya before a puzzling, listless performance opposite Marvin Vettori last October. When he's focused and fit, Costa is a marauder with menacing power and swagger for days, but the 31-year-old Brazilian is as unpredictable as they come, which adds another compelling layer of intrigue to each of his fights.
Saturday marks Rockhold's first appearance in over three years as the former middleweight champion looks to show he's still got something left to offer and perhaps put himself in the title conversation. He's fought just thrice since losing the belt to Michael Bisping at UFC 199 but appears to have used the time away to get refocused on his craft, deal with some lingering injuries, and commit himself to trying to chase down a championship opportunity once more.
There are so many ways this fight could play out, but all of them are entertaining, and the majority of them leave the victor in the thick of the title chase in the 185-pound weight class. Fights like that are always worth tuning in for and this one should be no different.
Jose Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili
Aldo lost his first two appearances in the 135-pound weight class, dropping a split decision to Marlon Moraes before getting stopped by Petr Yan in the fifth round of their clash for the vacant title at UFC 251. Since then, however, the 35-year-old "King of Rio" has earned impressive victories over Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font to not only regain his footing, but re-establish himself as a contender in the bantamweight ranks.
Georgia's Dvalishvili enters on a seven-fight winning streak, having most recently earned a second-round stoppage win over Moraes at UFC 266 last September. "The Machine" has been piling up takedowns in bushels during his extended run of success, posting 46 in total, including two fights where he hit double digits.
It's a first-ballot Hall of Famer with some of the best takedown defense in the history of the sport against a surging hopeful who revels in tossing his opponents to the canvas as many times as possible during a fight, and the winner will be front-and-center in the title conversation in the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC.
What's not to love?
Marcin Tybura vs. Alexandr Romanov
A fixture in the top 15 for the last several years, Tybura had his five-fight winning streak snapped by Alexander Volkov last time out. Prior to that, the Polish veteran had earned consecutive "Performance of the Night" bonuses for his stoppage wins over Walt Harris and Greg Hardy, and he is by far the most experienced and accomplished fighter Romanov has faced thus far.
Unbeaten in 16 professional appearances, Romanov has earned five UFC victories, four of them by way of stoppage. The 31-year-old from Moldova is an exceptional, yet unconventional, grappler that has earned finishes by arm-triangle choke, forearm choke and keylock inside the octagon already, and he turned up in April looking noticeably trimmer, which feels like a sign he's taken his training and commitment to his craft to the next level.
Tybura is the quintessential veteran presence outside of the top 10 that every division needs, while Romanov is an intriguing, ascending fighter needing to pass this exact type of test in order to take another step forward in the division. It should be a competitive battle and will definitely produce some clarity about how things stack up in the lower half of the heavyweight rankings heading into the fall.
Tyson Pedro vs. Harry Hunsucker
An intriguing prospect and former top-15 fighter in the light heavyweight division, injuries kept Pedro out of the octagon for well over three years following his loss to former champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in December 2018. But the 31-year-old Australian returned to action earlier this year, collecting a first-round stoppage win over Ike Villanueva, getting him back into the flow of things and sparking renewed interest in his upside in the 205-pound weight class.
The 33-year-old Hunsucker had a rough go of things in his two heavyweight assignments in the UFC, suffering first-round stoppage losses to Pedro's brother-in-law Tai Tuivasa and fellow Australian Justin Tafa. He looks to right the ship and collect his first UFC victory with a move to light heavyweight for the first time in his career, hoping that a drop in divisions will mean he's not as physically overmatched when he steps into the octagon.
Will Pedro pick up a second consecutive win on his comeback tour or can Hunsucker finally break through and get his hand raised in the UFC for the first time?
Leonardo Santos vs. Jared Gordon
After going 7-0-1 to begin his UFC career and run his unbeaten streak to 13 overall, Santos enters this weekend's match on a two-fight skid, having suffered consecutive stoppage losses to Grant Dawson and Clay Guida. In each contest, the Brazilian had his moments, only to fade as the fight progressed, which is something he'll need to have addressed if he hopes of getting back into the win column this weekend.
The 33-year-old Gordon had his three-fight winning streak snapped by Dawson in April, succumbing to a rear-naked choke late in the final frame. The Kill Cliff FC (formerly Sanford MMA) representative has gone 6-4 inside the octagon and is 18-5 overall with a penchant for being a tough out.
The competition in the lightweight division is always fierce, and as such, neither of these veteran fighters can afford to leave Salt Lake City with another loss on their resume. Expect a frenetic affair to start and a tooth-and-nail grind if it gets out of the first round.
Wu Yanan vs. Lucie Pudilova
The 26-year-old Wu began her career with 12 wins in her first 13 appearances, but has struggled since reaching the biggest stage in the sport, entering Saturday's UFC 278 matchup with Pudilova with a 1-4 mark inside the octagon and having dropped three straight. Each of those contests went the distance and she shared "Fight of the Night" honors with Mayra Bueno Silva, who earned an impressive win a couple weeks back, last time out, so maybe "Mulan" is ready to turn things around this weekend?
Pudilova made seven UFC appearances between March 2017 and January 2020, going 2-5 and exiting on a four-fight losing streak that included a pair of "Fight of the Night" bonuses. Now 28 and having gone 5-1 over her last six, the Czech fighter gets a second chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport, beginning on Saturday night in Utah.
Sean Woodson vs. Luis Saldana
Woodson, who punched his ticket to the UFC with a second-round stoppage win over Terrance McKinney on Season 3 of the annual talent search, enters on a two-fight winning streak, having followed up his split decision win over Youssef Zalal with a first-round stoppage win over Collin Anglin. At 6-foot-2 and brandishing a 78-inch reach, Woodson is a gigantic featherweight who poses numerous problems for his opponents because of his size, length, and ability to use both effectively inside the cage.
A member of the DWCS Class of 2020, Saldana has gone the distance in all three of his UFC fights to date, rebounding from a loss to Austin Lingo out with a unanimous decision win over Bruno Souza in March. The Fight Ready representative still feels like he hasn't quite shown all that he's capable of inside the octagon, and it will be interesting to see if this matchup with Woodson can bring the best out of him on Saturday.
Each of these guys has flashed potential and already settled into position in the thick of the featherweight pack. A dominant effort from either man would propel them forward in the 145-pound weight class and set up an even bigger assignment for the victor next time out.
Miranda Maverick vs. Shanna Young
Still just 25 years old, Maverick makes her sixth UFC start this weekend, looking to build on her second-round submission victory over Sabina Mazo back in March. A physical fighter with wins over Victoria Leonardo, DeAnna Bennett and Gillian Robertson, Maverick has elevated her game since shifting her training to Denver, Colorado, where she works with the Elevation Fight Team, and will look to show that further here.
After making her first two UFC appearances at bantamweight and landing on the wrong side of the results, Young dropped down to flyweight for her return to action in April and scored a convincing second-round stoppage win over Gina Mazany. The 31-year-old has also recently shifted training camps, landing at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, and aims to show the further improvements she's made since joining the team's considerable collection of female talents.
AJ Fletcher vs. Ange Loosa
AJ Fletcher (9-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) and Ange Loosa (8-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) meet in a battle of fighters with Dana White's Contender Series ties looking to bounce back from setbacks in their first UFC appearances.
Fletcher, who kicked off Season 5 with a flying knee finish of Leonardo Damiani, debuted in March, dropping a hard-fought, grimy battle with Matthew Semelsberger. It was the first career loss for the athletic Louisiana native, who had earned finishes in eight of his first nine fights on his way to the biggest stage in the sport.
Loosa suffered a unanimous decision loss to Jack Della Maddalena last season on DWCS but rebounded with a good win over UFC vet John Howard earlier this year. He was called up to fight Mounir Lazzez two weeks later and gave a solid accounting for himself, landing on the wrong side of the cards, but showing he's capable of competing at this level in the process.
This has the potential to be an explosive, competitive fight early in the evening as both men can crack and will be eager to avoid suffering consecutive setbacks to begin their UFC careers.
Amir Albazi vs. Francisco Figueiredo
The 28-year-old Albazi is 2-0 in the UFC and has won 14 of his 15 career appearances but has been sidelined since defeating Zhalgas Zhumagulov at UFC 257. "The Prince" looks like a potential name to watch in the division, but hasn't been active enough to allow fans and observers to make a real read on where he fits in the competitive weight class.
Figueiredo is the younger brother of the division's champ and enters off a first-round submission win over Daniel da Silva at the end of April. He's been uneven through three UFC starts, posting a 2-1 record to arrive in Salt Lake City with a 13-4-1 record overall, but his finish of da Silva was slick and might be a sign that Figueiredo is ready to join his brother at the top the division.
Aoriqileng vs. Jay Perrin
After beginning his UFC tenure with two hard-fought defeats in the flyweight division, China's Aoriqileng made the move to bantamweight last time out, and it paid immediate dividends. The 29-year-old "Mongolian Murder" made quick work of Cameron Else, dispatching the British veteran in just over half a round, showing that he carried his power and aggressiveness with him in the move up the scale.
Perrin got tagged in for a short-notice assignment in February against Mario Bautista and landed on the wrong side of the result. He held his own under the circumstances and will look to return to the form that produced wins in seven of his previous eight appearances prior to his promotional debut earlier this year.
Aoriqileng only has one gear and Perrin has always been game, so don't be surprised if this one is all-action from the outset and for as long as it lasts.
Daniel da Silva vs. Victor Altamirano
The action at UFC 278 gets underway in the flyweight division, as Daniel da Silva (11-3 MMA, 0-2 UFC) and Victor Altamirano (10-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) meet to see who will leave Salt Lake City with their first UFC victory in hand.
Da Silva made his promotional debut last October and came out of the gates hot against Jeff Molina, only for "El Jefe" to settle in and get him out of there early in the second round. He got caught in a kneebar last time out against Figueiredo, sending him into Saturday night's opener on the first losing streak of his career.
The former LFA flyweight champ Altamirano edged out Carlos Candelario to earn a contract last season on Dana White's Contender Series, then landed on the wrong side of a second straight split decision verdict in his debut against fellow newcomer Carlos Hernandez. The 31-year-old karate stylist is 10-2 for his career and has never lost back-to-back contests, and you can be sure he has no intention of allowing that to change this weekend.
This story first published at UFC.com.