A rematch headlines Saturday’s UFC 278 fight card from Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. In that matchup, 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 took home the unanimous decision victory on that night. Neither Usman or Edwards has tasted defeat since 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 prelim portion of the UFC 278 fight card, which ABC will broadcast on Saturday evening, following early prelims on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass.
Leonardo Santos vs. Jared Gordon
Leonardo Santos’ unbeaten streak began in March 2010 and ended in March 2021. During that time, Santos moved from the World Victory Roads promotion to BAMMA to Shooto to Cage Warriors. In 2013, the Brazilian competitor joined the UFC. Santos went 7-0-1 with the promotion before Grant Dawson knocked him out on the UFC Vegas 22 fight card.
Despite his successful run, the UFC matchmakers never seemed to look favorably on Santos. The way he saw things, he quickly became the guy the UFC used to test up-and-coming — but unranked — lightweight fighters. The loss to Dawson likely ended Santos’ hopes of getting a ranked opponent. When he followed that setback with a submission loss to Clay Guida, those hopes became even dimmer.
The now 42-year-old has a very tough test in front of him at UFC 278 in Jared Gordon. Santos started the Guida fight like a house on fire, but he lost focus after he seemed to think the referee should have waved off the fight in the early going of the first round.
I have a genuine concern about Santos’ mindset heading into this fight. The lack of perceived respect from the UFC and how he allowed Guida to get back into their fight could be a sign that Santos might be close to mentally checking out of the fight game.
If I’m Gordon, I’m using the Santos vs. Guida fight as a guide and planning on doing nothing but putting pressure on Santos and making him defend takedowns or work himself out of positions on the ground. That wrestling pressure could frustrate Santos and work on what might be a fragile mindset. It will also draw on Santos’ cardio, which failed him in the Guida matchup.
Gordon is himself coming off a submission loss to Dawson. While this fight might not get a lot of pre-event heat, it is an incredibly important fight in the careers of two unranked 155-pounders.
Wu Yanan vs. Lucie Pudilova
Wu Yanan is only 26, yet she has been a pro fighter since 2013. Yanan joined the UFC in 2017. Her record with the promotion is 1-4 and she is riding a three-fight losing skid heading into UFC 278. Yanan is coming off an April decision loss to Mayra Bueno Silva. Despite being the biggest underdog on the UFC Vegas 51fight card, Yanan earned herself a share of the “Fight of the Night” bonus.
Yanan was new to Jackson Wink MMA heading into the Bueno Silva matchup. With more time in the gym, she thinks she will have a better comfort level with her team. With that, Yanan is confident that she’ll her get her first win in the UFC since she bested Lauren Miller in 2018.
Another positive for Yanan is she won’t be coming into this fight and trying to shake off cage rust. In the past, she had fought once in 2018, once in 2019, not at all in 2020 and once in 2021.
Yanan welcomes Lucie Pudilova back to the UFC. Pudilova was once in the same position that Yanan is in ahead of UFC 278. She was on a three-fight losing skid and coming off a “Fight of the Night” performance when she dropped a decision to Justine Kish in 2020. That fourth consecutive setback cost Pudilova her job with the promotion. After a 5-1 run with Oktagon in the Czech Republic, the 28-year-old Pudilova makes her return to the UFC on Saturday’s UFC 278 prelims.
With the stakes in this fight and the fact that both these women are active strikers with porous striking defense, expect some action in this bantamweight scrap.
Sean Woodson vs. Luis Saldana
When Sean Woodson made his UFC debut in 2019, one question facing him was how long he could make the cut to 145 pounds. Well, it’s now 2022 and the six-foot-two-inch Woodson has not missed weight under the UFC banner. The gangly 30-year-old uses his length well and, like in his previous UFC outings, he will have a height and reach advantage over his opponent, Luis Saldana.
Woodson is extremely relaxed inside the octagon and I think a lot of that has to do with his ability to fight from so far out. He does his best work when mixing up his striking targets and techniques and although he doesn’t land a high percentage of his significant strikes (44 percent), he is averaging a respectable 5.75 significant strikes landed per minute.
Saldana is a talented striker, but I have questioned his cardio and heart in the past. With his opponent having the ability to make Saldana work to move in and out of range without getting tagged, I’m worried about both items when it comes to Saldana at UFC 278.
Miranda Maverick vs. Shanna Young
This is an interesting fight for a couple of reasons. First, it is a rematch. These two women fought in an exhibition match under the Invicta banner in 2019. Maverick won that bout via first-round submission. The second is that this is the last fight on the 24-year-old Maverick’s contract.
Maverick opened her UFC career with two wins and that got her fast-tracked. In her third UFC outing, the UFC matched the then 23-year-old against Gillian Robertson, who as the No. 15 ranked flyweight and, at that time, the most active fighter in the history of the UFC flyweight division (10). Maverick won that fight, which moved her into the rankings (13) and set her up to fight the then No. 14 ranked Maycee Barber. Barber won that contest via split decision. A decision setback to Erin Blanchfield followed that scrap. Maverick, who has slipped out of the rankings, got back in the win column in March with a submission victory over Sabina Mazo.
As of this writing, Maverick is an overwhelming favorite over Young, who ended a two-fight losing skid of her own in her last outing. Young is coming off an April TKO win over Gina Mazany. Her losses came to Stephanie Egger and Macy Chiasson. Both those fights took place at bantamweight.
What I would like to see at UFC 278 from the favored Maverick is more progression in her overall MMA skills. I don’t think her fighting out her deal is a signal that the UFC is ready to give up on her as a prospect, but if she wants to have any negotiating power after UFC 278, Maverick needs a strong showing against an opponent she has previously defeated in the first round.