A rematch nearly seven years in the making headlines Saturday’s UFC 278 fight card from Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. In that contest, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman faces Leon Edwards. The two men first met on the early prelims of a UFC on FOX card in December 2015. Usman was the unanimous decision victor in that contest.
In the evening’s co-main event, ex-UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returns to the octagon for the first time in over three years to face former UFC middleweight title challenger Paulo Costa, who hasn’t competed since October 2021.
Ahead of the August 20, ESPN+ streaming pay-per-view event, I look at the storylines to follow on the early prelim portion of the UFC 278 fight card.
A.J. Fletcher vs. Ange Loosa
A.J. Fletcher was a perfect 9-0 with eight stoppage victories when he made his UFC debut. Fletcher lost that unblemished record that night in March when he dropped a decision to Matthew Semelsberger.
The now 9-1 Fletcher is a capable striker, but with the reach disadvantage he is up against when he faces Ange Loosa at UFC 278 —seven inches — his best course of action may be to employ his wrestling and try to capitalize on his heavy top game. Fletcher had which he had a great deal of success with that approach in the first round of his bout opposite Semelsberger, racking up 4:31 of control time and limiting his opponent to two landed significant strikes.
In April, Loosa accepted a fight opposite Mounir Lazzez on four day’s notice. He lost that bout by unanimous decision, but he got his foot in the UFC door and he has a full camp behind him heading into his second UFC matchup.
Loosa is an active striker, but his landing rate of 41 percent leaves a lot to be desired. In his UFC debut, Loosa landed 88 of 213 attempted significant strikes. He needs to improve his landing rate while reducing the rate of strikes he absorbs (54 percent). One thing that should help Loosa in his matchup opposite Fletcher is the aforementioned reach advantage, but he has to make sure he’s connecting and not just throwing if he wants to have a chance in this scrap.
I foresee a (hopefully) enjoyable tactical battle in this matchup.
Francisco Figueiredo vs. Amir Albazi
It’s enjoyable to see fighters progress. In his loss to Malcolm Gordon in July 2021, I criticized Francisco Figueiredo for his lack of urgency. When the former Jungle Fight bantamweight champ returned to the octagon in April of this year against Daniel da Silva, Figueiredo looked like a different fighter.
In that matchup, Da Silva got a little sloppy during a scramble and Figueiredo quickly capitalized on that carelessness and locked up a nasty kneebar that brought a quick tap from his foe, just 78 seconds into the fight.
The question I have going into Figueiredo’s flyweight matchup against Amir Albazi at UFC 278 is, which fighter is the true version of the 32-year-old Brazilian.
Amir Albazi has had little luck making it to fight night. He debuted with the UFC in July 2020 with a first-round submission win over Malcolm Gordon, but injuries and a visa issue concerning his scheduled opponent kept him from fighting again until January 2021. He won his return scrap, but his next two bouts saw injuries — one to him and one to his scheduled adversary — result in the cancelation of those contests.
Despite his inactivity and the fact that he is only 2-0 inside the octagon, the 28-year-old, who brings a 14-1 record with him into UFC 278, is the No. 11 ranked fighter in the official UFC flyweight division.
Albazi is comfortable on the UFC stage and he has great technique on his feet as well as on the ground. His striking employs impressive feints and incredible speed, which allows him to be an effective counter striker.
Fans may have forgotten about Albazi because of his lack of presence on UFC fight cards, but he is a fighter the UFC is rightfully high on and he is one of the competitors to keep an eye on at UFC 278.
Aoriqileng vs. Jay Perrin
Aoriqileng dropped from bantamweight to flyweight when he joined the UFC in 2021. The former WLF bantamweight champion lost those fights at 125 pounds via decision. For his third bout with the promotion, Aoriqileng returned to flyweight. The result? A first-round knockout win. He was incredibly aggressive in his striking and once he had his opponent in that contest, Cameron Else, in trouble, Aoriqileng showed a nasty finishing instinct. Aoriqileng is — wisely — staying at the higher weight for his UFC 248 matchup opposite Jay Perrin.
Perrin had a chance to earn a UFC contract in 2019 with an appearance on a Dana White Contender Series card. He lost that fight to Dwight Joseph. Neither fighter earned a deal that night. After that setback, Perrin won the CES bantamweight title in September 2021. That victory got him the opportunity to serve as an incredibly late replacement to face Mario Bautista in February of this year. During the broadcast of that fight, UFC commentator Jon Anik said that between the second and third rounds, Perrin “bemoaned to (coach) John Wood, the fact that he’s losing.”
Perrin had his worst statistical round of the three-round contest after he made those remarks. In the final five minutes of the contest. He landed a mere four significant strikes out of 20 attempted blows and surrendered two takedowns.
Perrin is physically tough, but with Anik mentioning what went on in the corner between rounds in his UFC debut, I don’t think it’s out of line to worry about Perrin’s mental fortitude when things don’t go as planned inside the octagon. With that said, Perrin should get a pretty big pass on the loss to Bautista since it came on short notice, but he needs to change perceptions of himself as a fighter when he matches up against someone like Aoriqileng, who enters UFC 278 brimming with confidence.
Daniel Lacerda vs. Victor Altamirano
Here’s what I know about these two: they have combined for an 0-3 record in the UFC flyweight division and neither of them have registered on my radar in my post-fight winners and losers columns. With that, the storyline on the UFC 278 curtain jerker is this - will either of these men do anything memorable in Salt Lake City?