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UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards 2 preview: Underwhelming prelims get a boost

Dig into the the action of the televised prelims, featuring Jared Gordon looking to regain his momentum and end the UFC run of the ancient Leonardo Santos.

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Jared Gordon fighting Grant Dawson at UFC Vegas 53
Jared Gordon fighting Grant Dawson at UFC Vegas 53
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Prior to Wednesday, the prelims for UFC 278 looked like the weakest batch of prelims for a UFC PPV in years. Then the order of the card was shaken up and Marcin Tybura and Alexandr Romanov was shifted down from the main card. Thus, while the card as a whole isn’t improved, the prelims actually have a ranked fighter on the card. I other words, I’m not going to rag on the prelims the way I was planning to. As for the main card, well... I’ll have to rip on that tomorrow.

For the early prelims preview, click here.

Marcin Tybura vs. Alexandr Romanov, Heavyweight

On a card with a large amount of heavy favorites, it’s typical for prognosticators to settle in on at least one notable upset. This contest appears to be the one most have settled on. I would have thought so myself... but the amount of people jumping on the Tybura bandwagon for this fight is scaring me off.

I know that’s a terrible reason, especially in the face of the advantages people have been able to point out with Tybura. For instance, Romanov tends to come charging out of the gate. If he gets an early finish, that obviously isn’t a problem. To be fair to Romanov, he tends to get that early finish more often than not. But what if he doesn’t? Romanov’s effectiveness has dropped severely when the fight has gone beyond the first round. To be fair to Romanov, he does appear to be in better physical condition, so perhaps the concerns beyond the first round are overblown. But then again, there is the altitude....

In Tybura’s case, though he’s always had a bit of flab on his frame, he’s always had one of the deeper gas tanks in the heavyweight division. He’s gone five rounds and remained effective late. Perhaps he’ll be worn out by Romanov’s constant takedown attempts, but even if Romanov is successful, Tybura’s grappling is severely underrated. Everyone knows heavyweight isn’t exactly a safe haven for submission specialists, but going nearly 30 fights into a career without being subbed is a hell of an accomplishment. Plus, if Romanov does slow down, it isn’t hard to see Tybura securing a front choke of sorts on a desperate takedown attempt from Romanov.

On the feet, Tybura is also the far more technical striker. The Pole does a solid job of mixing up his strikes to all levels and can even surprise from time to time with some flash. Romanov has more raw power, but he’s also far more raw on the feet. In fact, Romanov typically wants nothing to do with open space. He’s much rather crowd his opponent and push them into the fence where he can maul them in the clinch or pursue a takedown.

Despite all those seeming advantages by Tybura, I’m still picking Romanov. The Moldovan is a physical freak of nature and has proven to be a bear in the wrestling department. Tybura has struggled with physically strong opponents who look to impose their physicality on him, much like Romanov is going to do. I’d probably go in the direction of Tybura, but Romanov’s appearance in his most recent contest against Chase Sherman showed he’s showing some real dedication to his craft. Formerly carrying around some additional pounds, Romanov came in looking svelte. However, if I were a betting man, I’d be throwing money in the direction of Tybura given how ridiculously tilted they are towards Romanov. In the end though, the official pick is Romanov. Romanov via TKO of RD2

  • For almost eight years, Leonardo Santos was undefeated within the confines of the UFC. Part of that can be attributed to his long absences from the cage, but Santos was a cult favorite in the MMA community. With one of the most fundamentally sound BJJ games in the business, Santos was able to turn his opponents fear of taking him to the mat and make himself fearless on the feet and securing a couple of KO wins. However, the wheels appeared to be coming off last year at the age of 41. Perhaps that shouldn’t be shocking, but it always is a bit of a surprise when someone loses for the first time in years. Now 42, it’s clear the last two losses weren’t an aberration and his decline is in motion. Unfortunately for Santos, Jared Gordon appears to be on the upswing. Sure, Gordon has been fighting for over a decade himself, but has never looked better. A bully in pursuit of takedowns when he was able to make the featherweight limit, Gordon has finally been able to make his hands a reliable weapon, thus making his permanent conversion to lightweight a success. There isn’t much in terms of power, but he does put together consistent punching combinations and pushes a hard pace. Even when Santos was younger, he would struggle with a high pace. Now that he’s older, it doesn’t look good for him. To be fair to Santos, he does have underrated power and Gordon has been finished in all four of his UFC losses, including three via strikes. Nevertheless, I think consecutive losses has hurt Santos’ confidence. Gordon should take this. Gordon via decision
  • It doesn’t take a lot of film study to see why Luis Saldana has the skills to be a serious player. He’s got a large featherweight frame, throws crisp strikes, and has a deep arsenal of kicks in his bag. The problem is his large frame has also created an issue in terms of his gas tank. Even as Saldana stated he has made some changes to his weight cutting – and he did look better in his last contest – he also slowed in that fight. You’d think Sean Woodson would have the same type of issues given he’s three-inches taller than the bulkier Saldana, but the lanky Woodson has only shown a faulty gas tank once in his UFC run, that due to Julian Erosa’s refusal to go away. Unlike Saldana, Woodson isn’t a threat to take the fight to the mat, but he has equipped himself to stop takedowns on the regular and puts together boxing combinations on the regular. Saldana’s advantage in grappling and power might be enough to find a stoppage, but it would be smart to anticipate him having issues being the shorter fighter when he’s used to being the rangier fighter. Plus, there are still serious concerns about his ability to remain strong against an opponent that pushes a hard pace. Woodson isn’t Nate Diaz by any means, but I’d expect his pace to force Saldana to be hanging on to make it to the final bell for the last few minutes. Woodson via decision
  • It looks like Shanna Young dropping down to flyweight saved her UFC career. Though she had fought there earlier in her career, she didn’t want to make the cut any more once in the UFC. Two fights at bantamweight that saw her get physically manhandled finally convinced her to drop down and it resulted in Young being able to shake off her opponent’s takedown attempts. Of course, there’s a big difference between Gina Mazany and Miranda Maverick. In fact, Maverick is considered by many to be one of the top up-and-comers in the division. Given all the youthful talent in the division, that’s quite the complement. Maverick is a physical force who has proved she’s capable of winning fights without going to her bread and butter wrestling. Even with Maverick’s continued improvements in her boxing, Young is probably the cleaner striker. Hell, she did wobble Maverick in their first fight several years ago. Despite that, Young is likely going to just be looking to survive on the mat. Throw in the fact that Maverick is continuing to improve and a finish seems likely. Maverick via TKO of RD3