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UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards 2 - Winners and Losers

The real winners and losers from UFC 278.

I will not criticize the UFC commentary team for disregarding Leon Edwards’ chances of unseating UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman as the main event of UFC 278 wound down. I know they weren’t alone. In the seconds before Edwards stiffened Usman with one of the best timed and well-placed head kicks in MMA history, I wrote in my notes, ”Edwards will not get another shot - his approach…” Hell, it seemed as if Edwards’ corner had written off their own fighter heading into that last round. But here we are in the aftermath of the UFC 278 pay-per-view card with a new champion, a winning streak ended at 15, an unbeaten streak clicking forward to 11 and a division in disarray.

I thought it would be hard to one up the beautiful mess that was the co-main event bout between Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold, but Edwards with his late knockout win topped that scrap.

Also, on the main card, Merab Dvalishvili won a smart and tactical decision over Jose Aldo.

Read on for the winners and losers from UFC 278, which took place at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah and streamed on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN/ABC and early prelims in ESPN+.

Winners:

Fans: The main event of UFC 278 is why MMA is so appealing. In another sport that doesn’t hinge on one small moment in time (most team sports), the outcome of the rematch between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards would have been clear. Usman had built up a comfortable points lead and was on his way to a 16th straight win and a sixth defense of his welterweight crown, but the wrong decision on where to move his head left him out cold on the mat.

The sport is cruel, perhaps the cruelest, but for the fans, it’s moments like we witnessed in the final 60 seconds of a 25-minute affair that remind us why we tune in.

Leon Edwards: Leon Edwards had five minutes of success, followed by 19 minutes of frustration. He then turned things around with a head kick knockout.

The end of the rematch between Usman and Edwards was crazy. UFC commentator Joe Rogan, after having watched the replay several times called for the fight-ending moment to be rebroadcast just to see if his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him, “I felt like my brain was having a hard time processing it when I watched it,” said Rogan after he had interviewed Edwards in the cage and fans were leaving the arena.

It was a remarkable finish and the unmitigated joy radiating from the newly crowned champion was palpable.

Paulo Costa: Paulo Costa played his part in what might be the best “bad” fight of 2022. Bad in this case being a fight that seemed to be driven by bad intentions, belligerent attitudes, dreadful decisions and extreme exhaustion.

Costa won the fight on the cards, but I think fans are going to remember this one more for Rockhold than Costa.

However one remembers it, I don’t think this fight would have entertained like it did without the personalities and character of the men involved.

Luke Rockhold: My expectations for Luke Rockhold at UFC 278 were not high. I thought, based on his (kind of) recent (2016-2019) record of 1-3 with three knockout losses, Paulo Costa would knock him out in the early going of their middleweight scrap.

Not only did Rockhold not get knocked out, he, at 37, showed a level of grit, guts and (a little) insanity that I never expected to see from him — not in 2022!

The fight was messy, sloppy and, at times, gross, but if Rockhold stays retired after that performance, he will be remembered fondly for everything he brought to UFC 278 fight week.

Merab Dvalishvili: There will be those who quibble with the style Merab Dvalishvili employed in his UFC 278 bantamweight matchup against Jose Aldo. I understand. Dvalishvili took a “safe” approach to facing the legendary former featherweight champ. He controlled the pace and location of the fight. He sucked time off the clock by attempting takedowns, holding Aldo against the cage and throwing knees to the legs of his opponent.

Dvalishvili’s approach wasn’t exciting or fan friendly, but it was incredibly effective — albeit risky as well — and it got him the win and that should move him up the 135-pound rankings.

Lucie Pudilova: Lucie Pudilova’s first stint with the UFC ended with a four-fight losing skid. She went 5-1 with Oktagon before she got the call to return to the promotion to face Wu Yanan at UFC 278.

Pudilova showed a solid ground game in pursuing a submission in the early going of the bantamweight contest. However, it was not her grappling that got her the win, it was her striking. With the clock ticking down in the second round, Pudilova decided to see what her elbows could do to her grounded opponent. That was a wise choice, as those nasty strikes brought the fight to a close.

Tyson Pedro: Tyson Pedro took advantage of an incredibly favorable matchup. A massive favorite over Harry Hunsucker, Pedro hurt Hunsucker with a jab and seeing that the blow hurt his opponent, he quickly capitalized and put his foe down and out, never giving Hunsucker the opportunity to get his bearings.

Pedro missed an enormous amount of time — over three years — but he seems to be healthy and ready to roll. The 30-year-old deserves to get back in the light heavyweight mix in his next booking, which I expect will happen in early 2023 in Australia, if the UFC’s plans to visit that country come to fruition.

Marcin Tybura: A fight that looked as if it was designed to get Alexander Romanov over in the UFC’s heavyweight division turned into a learning experience for Romanov.

Marcin Tybura had a very rough go of things in the first five minutes against Romanov. He landed zero significant strikes, got taken down twice and surrendered 4:27 of control time.

However, the man who has been with the UFC since 2016 came back and took advantage of that experience to win the fight via majority decision.

Jared Gordon: Jared Gordon did what he needed to do (and maybe more than he needed to — illegally grabbing the fence twice) to get the win over Leonardo Santos. Gordon’s win wasn’t fancy or revealing, but it was a return to the win column after a submission loss to Grant Dawson in April.

Amir Albazi: UFC 278 served as an outstanding reminder that Amir Albazi is an extremely talented competitor in the UFC’s flyweight division. Albazi scored a first round submission win against Francisco Figueiredo to earn a win in his return to action.

Albazi had been absent from action since he picked up a decision victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov in January 2021. If Albazi can stay healthy and lucky and be more active in the future, he will be a fighter to watch at 125 pounds, because let’s not forget, despite his time away and inactivity, Albazi was the No. 11 fighter in the official UFC flyweight rankings heading into UFC 278.

Aoriqileng: Aoriqileng’s move up to bantamweight has paid off. After scoring a knockout win in April, after an 0-2 start in the UFC at flyweight, Aoriqileng moved to 2-0 at 135 pounds with a unanimous decision win over a game and tough Jay Perrin on the UFC 278 early prelims.

The 29-year-old Mongolian fighter is an excellent technical striker with the ability to employ effectively flashy striking techniques when his opponents present opportunities and openings.

Victor Altamirano: Victor Altamirano was not as fast as Daniel Da Silva. Nor was he as strong as Da Silva. Altamirano was better at picking his targets.

After a rocky start to the flyweight fight, Altamirano found an opening to land a knee to the body that dropped Da Silva. A relentless ground attack followed, Altamirano landed 41 significant ground strikes, and those blows led to the first-round stoppage finish for the 31-year-old, who lost his UFC debut in February via split decision.

Herb Dean: Herb Dean stopped the main event after a fence grab from Leon Edwards allowed him to get back to his feet. Dean then reset the competitors on the mat. That was the right call. (see below for Herb Dean not doing this during another fight on the card).

Losers:

Jorge Masvidal and Khamzat Chimaev: We all know Jorge Masvidal’s history with Leon Edwards, but the odds of Masvidal getting to settle those differences in a UFC welterweight title fight before Edwards faces Kamaru Usman again are pretty slim.

We all know Khamzat Chimaev was booked to face Edwards many times over the past few years, but Chimaev’s chances of getting an immediate title fight if he defeats Nate Diaz at UFC 279 in September have dimmed considerably in the aftermath of the outcome of UFC 278.

Kamaru Usman: I don’t know if Kamaru Usman’s reign as welterweight champion will be remembered as the greatest run of a UFC 170-pound champion. Frankly, those debates, while sometimes fun, bore me because they never resolve themselves. What I know is that deserves an immediate rematch with Edwards and that the fight will be highly anticipated and much more marketable than the main event of UFC 278. In that small way, Usman is a winner.

BUT, had he won, he would have tied Anderson Silva’s all-time record for consecutive UFC wins and had six UFC welterweight title defenses, both of which would have strengthened his case as one of the all-time greats. That’s not to say Usman isn’t in that discussion, he is, but whenever a fighter who has had a run of success stumbles, there are always those who start to the dings and dents in their achievements. Usman is now one of those fighters.

The thing Usman has on his side are those numbers though, the 15 straight wins and the five title defenses. Those accomplishments should get him a trilogy bout with Edwards.

Jose Aldo: Jose Aldo allowed Merab Dvalishvili to control the pace and location of their bantamweight fight and that presented him from getting any significant offense, which cost him the fight. With the decision loss, Aldo’s three-fight winning streak at 135 pounds came to an end.

Alexander Romanov: Alexander Romanov gave Marcin Tybura a lot to think about during the first round of their heavyweight fight. His strength against the cage was noteworthy. The knees he landed to Tybura’s legs against the fence were distracting and opened up throws to the mat. His heavy top game and threats of submissions opened up ground strikes. In short, Romanov dominated the first stanza.

Tybura came back in the second and third rounds and won the fight.

Romanov is going to need to look at this fight, note the gaps in his game and make the needed adjustments to close those gaps and improve. Romanov slowed in the second round. He then got sloppy with his striking and allowed Tybura to control the fight.

What Romanov does in the aftermath of his first career loss will determine the trajectory of his time with the UFC and how far up the heavyweight division he can climb.

Romanov’s next fight is going to be the most important contest of his career.

Luis Saldana: Luis Saldana’s fight IQ is in single digits — if not negative. He hurt Sean Woodson twice and could have easily finished the fight. Instead, he decided showboating was the way to go and then after passing on TWO potential finishes, he threw — and landed — an incredibly illegal knee to his downed opponent, which resulted in him losing a point and allowing his opponent back into the fight.

Saldana should have walked away from this fight with a first-round knockout victory and put himself in the running for a fight-night bonus. Instead, he settled for a split draw.

In short, this performance should embarrass Saldana.

Jay Perrin: Jay Perrin fought tough, but he was just not as skilled as his opponent, Aoriqileng. One thing that could help Perrin is if he develops more aggression with his striking on the mat. He has good takedown skills, but he needs to do something with those takedowns.

Daniel Da Silva: Daniel Da Silva was awfully aggressive in the opening matchup of UFC 278. Da Silva was also more powerful. However, the knee his opponent, Victor Altamirano landed to Da Silva’s body, evened things up. A massive number of ground strikes then broke Da Silva and led to the first round finish for Altamirano.

Herb Dean: Herb Dean allowed Jared Gordon to get away with two blatant and helpful fence grabs.

UFC commentator Daniel Cormier was rightfully incredulous regarding the missed fouls, especially since they came against a talented grappler in Leonardo Santos.

Neither:

A.J. Fletcher vs. Ange Loosa: Neither of these fighters showed great fight IQ nor did they display trustworthy cardio. Loosa picked up the win, but he did not impress.