I’ve been crapping all over UFC 278 in my previews leading up to the event. Yes, there are some good fights, but It’s obvious looking at it the promotion isn’t putting its best foot forward for this PPV. Despite all my misgivings about the event, I have to admit: the main event is a great fight. Yes, we’ve seen Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards do the damn thing before, but that was all the way back in 2015. I won’t say neither fighter is remotely the same – the foundation of their games is the same – but they are far different from what they were nearly seven years ago. Both were considered to be notable prospects at the time – particularly Usman – who have proven to be the rare prospects who have lived up to their potential. Usman has become an all-time great while Edwards – currently one of the greatest fighters to grace the UFC to never have fought for a title – still has time to establish himself that way. All he needs to do to head down that path is beat Usman....
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards, Welterweight
Usman doesn’t have the global appeal that Conor McGregor or a Ronda Rousey produced, but he’s been contending for the P4P title for the last several years. Since bullying his way onto the roster via TUF back in 2015, he hasn’t lost a single fight. In fact, most of his fights were pretty damned one-sided. The biggest issue for him was his wrestling was so good, he didn’t need his striking to be anything more than rudimentary for him to find success. In the process, he developed a reputation as a boring fighter and the UFC slow-rolled his road to the top. Perhaps it was beneficial to him, perhaps it prevented him from becoming champion sooner than he could have been. Bottom line is he has been almost machine-like in his domination of the division.
That said, there are chinks in the armor of Usman. Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns have shown he isn’t impervious to defeat. Burns hurt Usman on the feet, as did Covington as he got Usman to engage in a fast pace striking contest. Usman was able to hurt both of them on the feet as he has developed a powerful boxing game to compliment his smothering wrestling skills. In fact, Usman’s wrestling hasn’t been seen consistently in a fight since his first fight with Jorge Masvidal. Is there a reason for that?
It has been well documented Usman’s body appears to be breaking down. His knees require constant attention and his hands have been acting up as of late as well. Usman has been smart about how he cares for those issues, but care can only go so far when they both appear to be issues that don’t appear like they can be fixed without an extended absence, something Usman is reluctant to do. One of the things Usman appears to have done to help salvage his knees is cut back on the wrestling. The strategy has worked out well as opponents know he has that in his back pocket if he really needs to go to it, opening up his striking to the point he broke Covington’s jaw and delivered one of the most epic one-punch KO’s to Masvidal.
Despite that, Edwards presents a different challenge than those Usman has mowed down in recent years. Edwards is all about mitigating risk. With a lanky frame and a strong boxing base, Edwards knows how to keep opponents at the end of his reach. He does so at a very deliberate pace, potshotting them jabs and basic one-twos, the occasional kick mixed in there. It isn’t exciting by any means, but it is effective for someone with his expertise. Edwards has also developed into one of the best wrestlers in the division, sniping takedowns with the best of them.
Much like Usman, Edwards boring style is what has prevented him from fighting for the title earlier despite not having lost a fight since his first contest with Usman. That’s a span of 10 fights. His reserved personality hasn’t helped him in that endeavor either. Thus, even though there was a built-in rivalry with Masvidal after Street Jesus gave him the “three piece and a soda” backstage in 2019, the UFC only made a lazy attempt at putting that fight together. Why risk Edwards – a boring personality – derailing Masvidal’s star?
Fortunately for Edwards, he has won enough and Usman has cleared out enough of the competition that his title shot could be ignored any longer. Edwards is in excellent shape to upset Usman. Though it hasn’t been seen much – Edwards only has three finishes in his eleven UFC wins – he does have one-punch power. Even back in 2015, he gave Usman a lot of trouble in the wrestling department. He is also the most disciplined striker from the outside Usman has faced. If Usman comes into the fight at less than 100%, it isn’t hard to see him struggling to close the distance. Plus, Edwards has never been finished in his career. The dude has proven to be extremely durable.
My initial instinct was to pick Edwards. He’s a unique challenge for Usman given what the champ has been facing as of late and appears to be at his peak. Usman has looked great in his recent fights, but he’s also starting to get up there in years at 35. Plus, the fall from the top tends to be pretty steep. Just ask Tyron Woodley. Woodley never won another fight in his fighting career after delivering his most dominant title defense. In the end though, I’m picking Usman because he fights to win. That may sound stupid at first read, but think about their fighting styles. Edwards fights not to lose. Usman fights to win. Usman has proven he can take a shot and come back to secure a finish. Edwards has proven he can survive getting hurt and hold onto a lead he has already built up. I’m not discounting Edwards by any means – I already stated my initial instinct – but Usman’s killer instinct is the difference for me. I acknowledge this fight could be boring as hell too, but I still very much want to see how this fight plays out. Usman via TKO of RD3