The UFC can try to claim they’re doing all they can to make UFC 278 a monstrous card, but the proof is in the pudding they aren’t presenting their best. Their co-main event is between two guys who don’t have a win to their name in over three years. In fact, between both Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold, they have a combined one win over anyone who is currently on the UFC roster. Feel free to check me on that. It doesn’t feel like a meaningful fight, especially given it’s taking place at middleweight, a division neither of them appear to have a meaningful future at.
Sure, Jose Aldo is fighting and he is a legit all-time great. Hell, Aldo could be setting himself up for a title shot if he wins over Merab Dvalishvili. The problem with that contest – and I love the fight – is that it lacks sex appeal. There’s a reason no one wants to fight Dvalishvili and it’s because his fight style doesn’t attract viewers. Dvalishvili is like a star offensive lineman recruit: he gets a very small subset excited about what he can do, but people don’t tune into a football game to watch the blocking. The other two main card fights – outside of the main event – shouldn’t be anywhere near a PPV main card. They’re better suited for Fight Night prelims, much less a PPV main card. Read on to figure out what I mean.
Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold, Middleweight
Does anyone believe both these men are going to comfortably make weight? This isn’t just about the both being monstrous for 185. Costa botched his weight cut so badly in his last fight that it ended up taking place a full weight class higher than what it was originally scheduled for. Now, the UFC requires someone to keep an eye on his weight to ensure he doesn’t balloon up again. As for Rockhold, he is a former middleweight champion, but the last time he made the middleweight limit was four-and-a-half years ago. The older you get, the more difficult making weight is and Rockhold is now 37.
If both of them are right, there’s no denying their talents. Costa is the undisputed bricked up meathead of the division now that Yoel Romero has taken his charms to Bellator. If there is a more muscle bound member of middleweight, they aren’t coming to mind. The thing is, those muscles don’t look like they’re just there for aesthetic reasons. Costa may be the hardest hitter in the division. Perhaps more importantly, he has the durability to withstand a hell of a beating himself. There aren’t many who’ve gone toe-to-toe with Romero and remained conscience, much less walked away with a win. Rockhold didn’t.
Not that I’m looking to do MMA math here, though in some ways it would make sense to do so. Rockhold has been KO’d in each of his last four losses. Even worse, he’s dropped three of his last four contests. It isn’t just that he goes to sleep when he loses, but he’s been going to sleep a lot when he’s in the cage. Part of that is due to Rockhold’s issues in the pocket having been exposed. Rockhold hasn’t ever been a great boxer, relying on keeping his opposition on the outside with kicks and a decent jab. Once inside his range, opponents have been able to touch up his chin at will. Perhaps he’s learned a few tricks since the last time we saw him, but it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
Rather than winning the fight on the feet, Rockhold’s best chance is on the mat. Of course, Rockhold’s subpar wrestling is another issue that has been brought up frequently. When he was at his athletic peak, Rockhold could find clever ways to get the fight to the ground without resorting to wrestling, but doing so against Costa isn’t going to be a picnic. If Rockhold can get the fight to the mat, he’s one of the more creative submission artists in the game. Plus, people forget about his brutal GnP if he can posture up from the mount. But again, getting the fight to the mat isn’t going to be easy.
Though I admit this contest makes a lot of sense, there’s a part of me that hates it. It doesn’t feel like it’s a meaningful contest. My initial instinct was to immediately pick Costa. He’s durable, difficult to take down, and hits harder than hell. Against the chinny Rockhold, what could go wrong? Well, Costa has turned into a head case. He blamed his loss to Israel Adesanya on being drunk. Costa did look bad that night... but who in the hell would prepare for a title fight with wine? Was he just making excuses? Pushing his last fight up to light heavyweight doesn’t bode well either. While Costa’s preparation can be questioned, Rockhold’s can’t. Despite that, I’m sticking with my first instinct, but I’m not going to be surprised if Rockhold gets the upset. Costa via TKO of RD2
Jose Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili, Bantamweight
Count me among those who thought Aldo was making a mistake when he opted to move down to bantamweight. Not that it was an exclusive club by any means, but how the hell was the longtime featherweight kingpin going to find success at a lower weight class after a history of difficult weight cuts at a class 10 pounds heavier? Aldo claimed nutrition would be the difference maker and I admittedly scoffed. Now, Aldo is the one scoffing.
Aldo isn’t quite as fast as he used to be – another reason I was leery – but I underestimated his striking expertise. It isn’t just the technique from the Brazilian that makes a huge difference, but his timing is amongst the best in the business. Even though he still has his fabled low kicks in his back pocket, Aldo has done most of his damage in recent years behind the power of his fists. Aldo doesn’t necessarily push a hard pace either, but he’s so efficient with his volume that he can still rack up an insane amount of volume for someone with such a deliberate pace. Despite not being the quickest buy in the division, Aldo has reminded everyone why he’s one of the all-time great strikers by running circles around the men in his division.
However, does anyone really believe Dvalishvili is going to try and stand with Aldo? There’s a reason Dvalishvili is the man no one wants to face. Dvalishvili is one of the best conditioned athletes in the entirety of the sport. It isn’t that he pushes a hard pace, he does so in the most grueling manner, going for takedown after takedown. Many like to complain about his inability to keep his opponents on the mat, but being taken down time and again is more exhausting than being held down. In other words, it’s fair to question if it isn’t all a part of Dvalishvili’s strategy.
That could be a risky proposition against Aldo. While it is more than plausible Dvalishvili wears down the Brazilian legend with his insane pace – it has been done before – there are two serious issues that could throw a wrench into that. First, if there’s a fighter who only needs an inch to deliver a killshot, it’s Aldo. Dvalishvili won’t be looking to give him that – obviously – but there’s going to be opportunities for that if Dvalishvili lets him get back to his feet. Secondly, this is a three-round fight. Aldo has gassed in the recent past – his fight with Petr Yan comes to mind – but not in a three-round fight.
While Aldo hasn’t gassed in a three-round fight, he has gassed in round three against Max Holloway... twice. Holloway pushes a hell of a pace and now Aldo is cutting even more weight than he used. Yes, Aldo does appear to be better conditioned from his days at featherweight. But he’s also cutting those extra ten pounds. Plus, this fight is at altitude. That could be a negative for Dvalishvili as well, but I would expect that to be more detrimental for Aldo. Aldo does have legendary takedown defense, but it doesn’t appear to be what it once was. Rob Font was able to take Aldo down. Font isn’t the poor wrestler many see him as, but the fact someone of his reputation got Aldo down should say something. Aldo’s power and timing does mean he could win the fight at any moment, but Dvalishvili has proven to be crazy durable. I’ll go with Dvalishvili, but I’ll take pleasure if Aldo proves me wrong once again. Dvalishvili via decision
- I try very hard not to have favorite fighters. It makes it more difficult to give an honest analysis of the fights if there is a bias one way or another. Despite that, I have to admit it brought my soul joy to see the UFC brought back Lucie Pudilova. The native of the Czech Republic washed out in 2020 after a 2-5 stint, ending it on four consecutive losses. However, three of those losses came after she moved down to 125, compromising her gas tank in a very noticeable way. Pudilova returned to fighting at 135 on the regional scene and has been the hard charging brawler that made her a cult favorite in some circles early in her UFC run. She’ll get a perfect dance partner for that type of fight in Wu Yanan. The Chinese representative has an even worse UFC record than Pudilova – she’s 1-4 – but has earned a similar reputation for being an exciting brawler. Neither possesses much in terms of power, nor have they shown conditioning issues fighting at bantamweight. Pudilova has struggled with experienced grapplers and perhaps Yanan has enough of an edge on the mat that it gives her a slight edge in this fight. However, I struggle to see either of these two making a serious effort to take the fight to the mat. Pudilova looks to have grown up some on the regional scene, so I’d give the returning fighter the edge by the slightest of margins. Pudilova via decision
- If a fighter is coming off a long injury layoff, it isn’t difficult to decipher whether the UFC likes someone. In the case of Tyson Pedro, they like him a LOT. They gave him about as easy of a layup as they could in his return from three-and-a-half years away when they pit him against Ike Villanueva. Someway, somehow, it looks like they’ve found an even more favorable matchup with Harry Hunsucker. Not to be disrespectful to Hunsucker, but he hasn’t made it to three minutes in his two UFC appearances... combined. Plus, his level of competition on the regional scene has left a lot to be desired. Hunsucker does hit hard, but he appears to be on the chinny side, a major worry given just about everyone at light heavyweight is a better athlete than him. Perhaps not feeling the heat of heavyweight hitters will improve his ability to take a punch, but there’s reason to believe it could be worse if he’s dehydrating himself too much to make 205. Regardless, while Pedro has his faults, he has proven he can win against credible competition and looked to be well recovered from his knee injury. He has struggled to get his wrestling game going, but Hunsucker hasn’t shown one yet. Throw in that Pedro could very well end up being the bigger man in the cage – Pedro is a big 205er – and I only see a puncher’s chance as Hunsucker’s road to victory. That isn’t nearly enough for me to have any confidence in picking him. Pedro via TKO of RD1