UFC 278 is Saturday night in Salt Lake City with 13 scheduled bouts. Early preliminaries begin at 3 p.m. and the five-bout main slate starts at 7 p.m.
Last week was an epic success for the ‘Bout Business Podcast, except for the one full-unit loss of the night, which was the wager released here last week of Devin Clark + 145. Clark looked completely outclassed against Azamat Murzakanov, so we take the lump and roll into UFC 278!
Insight the Octagon 2022: 19-12 + 6.32 units.
Kamaru Usman (-360) vs. Leon Edwards (+ 280)
Welterweight (170 pounds) championship | Main event
Usman is 20-1 as a pro and 14-0 in the UFC. In March of 2019, he beat Tyron Woodley for the championship and has defended the belt five times since against the absolute top threats in the division, save for this last remaining challenger.
Usman has a world-class wrestling foundation, which has been augmented with a couple of years of striking refinement at the hands of Trevor Wittman in the elevation of Colorado. Saturday, Usman seeks his 16th straight UFC win, which would tie him for the record with Anderson Silva. He’s plenty motivated.
Usman is an absolute cardio machine able to exert forward-pressure wrestling force for 25 minutes with the throttle to the floor. He complements that with a piston-force jab and profuse, explosive punching power.
Edwards is not known for much besides a backstage scuffle with Jorge Masvidal and his first bout with Usman seven years ago.
The No. 2-ranked Edwards has been relatively quiet because six of his bout opportunities were canceled because of COVID-19 on top of the fact that very few in the division wish to tangle with this cat.
Edwards is two inches taller and five years younger than the champ. Since 2013, fighters more than four years younger than their opponents have won 63% of the time. He’s also a lefty, and southpaws have won 54% of bouts since 2013.
Edwards has no reach advantage and his wrestling, which was absent in his first bout with Usman, must be good enough to at least fend off takedown attempts to keep this bout standing.
Edwards will be forced to deal with Usman’s wrestling, but he must compete from the feet as his striking is sharper and more fluid, though Usman has more power.
In their first bout, Usman was a full-grown, mature man of 28, while the 23-year-old Edwards was still a skinny little Brit who was done in by Usman’s world-class wrestling in the third round.
Almost eight years later, it’s time for the rematch with a championship belt on the line.
I expect Usman to try to force Edwards backward to drain his energy and will. When and how he folds his wrestling into this fight will be interesting. He has rarely needed it in prior title defenses, but in their first bout, he wrestled Edwards up in the telling third round.
As champion, Usman has looked unstoppable in four dominant victories. However, in each of those defenses, he was the substantially larger man in the cage — at weigh-ins but even more so the night of the fight.
I am aware that size does not make the fighter, but on Saturday night Usman is going to come face to face with the most dangerous threat to his title since he won it. At 30, Edwards has a massive frame and is a mature fighter in his prime competing against Mr. Usman, a 35-year-old who has been enjoying the private jet, Champagne, caviar and Gucci short-pant-suit scene.
I believe Edwards’ maturity, translated through his size and stature, will present a dynamic difference for the champion from their first bout. Usman has been in no real hurry to take on Edwards, instead choosing more lucrative defenses but against physically smaller, less-gifted true threats albeit athletes with splash behind them (Masvidal and Gilbert Burns).
Edwards has been pining for this title shot for years. He’s 9-0-1 against the division’s top talent since these two last fought, proving that he’s more than deserving and prepared for this bout.
What Edwards has been working on these last seven years must provide him enough takedown defense late in this fight to thwart the champion’s attempts and keep it on the feet.
Edwards is in a great position to turn the tables on Usman provided he manages distance and makes this a striking battle, especially late.
Usman counts on melting any opponent in the latter rounds, and it’s exactly in those later rounds when I believe Edwards’ age advantage, freshness, precision striking, speed, athleticism and focus will be the difference.
Play: Edwards at + 320 and higher. Patience as this line is creeping upward ... take every penny. I’m interested in reviewing the prop betting for this bout also.
Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds Over -160.
Paulo Costa (-340) vs. Luke Rockhold (+ 280)
Middleweight (185 pounds) | Co-main event
This is a fight of great unknown.
Costa is ranked sixth in the division but has displayed suspect motivations before fights, suspect training before fights and suspect personality overall.
As a motivated and focused mixed martial artist, Costa is highly explosive, profusely powerful and overly aggressive. A black belt in BJJ complemented with Muay Thai striking, Costa is a legitimate top-five talent in the division when properly trained and motivated.
However, the Costa we’ve seen in his last two outings has been the opposite of that. He hasn’t been mentally or physically able to perform at an elite or even workmanlike level.
His opponent is less unknown.
Rockhold comes out of retirement for this “opportunity” having not competed inside the octagon since July of 2017 when Jan Blachowicz busted his “balsa wood beak” and handed Rockhold his third devastating knockout loss in his last four bouts.
Rockhold has a firm wrestling background complemented with Muay Thai striking and a black belt in BJJ. His physique will provide him a two-inch height advantage, and the southpaw will hold massive reach advantages over the Brazilian bomber.
The key for Rockhold will be to use his substantial height and length advantages to keep opponents at the end of his damaging jabs and kicks, then eventually shoot on his opponent to gain top position. Rockhold is his most dangerous on the mat holding top position.
Rockhold has been susceptible to athletic, skilled, powerful opponents who can navigate his length, gain access to the pocket and touch his teeth with damaging blows as he keeps his lead hand foolishly low, which never helps anyone who has earned the reputation of being “chinny.”
For Costa, the handicap is heavily based on his interviews this week and from watching him in weigh-ins. I’ll be trying to detect any glimmer of the focused, motivated, well-conditioned Costa who hits the scale early and at 185 pounds. If I see it, I’ll be convinced he is going to do to Rockhold what Lauren Murphy did to Miesha Tate a few weeks ago — remind the opponent exactly why they retired in the first place.
Much more later this week …
Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds -135 Over after opening -150 Over. Interesting.
"GambLou’s ’Bout Business Podcast" is coming off of a whale of a week. Find us across all podcast platforms every Friday when there is a UFC card. My final releases can be found on the pod.