The UFC heads to Salt Lake City this Saturday, where British welterweight contender Leon Edwards takes on pound-for-pound number one Kamaru Usman in the main event for his chance at becoming the UK’s second ever UFC champion.
The bout is a rematch, with the two having fought previously all the way back in 2015, Usman came out on top via unanimous decision on that occasion, but Edwards will be looking to avenge that loss and make history while doing so.
Elsewhere on the card, we have Paulo Costa taking on former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in a matchup that could spell doom for the loser’s top-level UFC career.
Rounding out the top of the card is MMA legend Jose Aldo as he seeks to continue his surge back up to the top of the bantamweight rankings in pursuit of a title shot, as he faces off against Merab Dvalishvili.
Let’s take a look at the big ones on this weekend’s card…
Kamaru Usman (20-1) vs. Leon Edwards (19-3) – Welterweight Title
Back in 2015 when these two first fought, Kamaru Usman was coming off ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and was one to watch in the welterweight division, but his game was far less refined than ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ we see before us today.
His supreme wrestling allowed him to navigate his way through several opponents, including Leon Edwards, with little trouble, which allowed him to work on his striking as he progressed.
As we’ve seen in recent times, such as his fights with Colby Covington and the Jorge Masvidal KO, he’s come a long way.
Meanwhile, Leon Edwards, who has always been capable of finishing fights with his hands, has worked hard on his clinch and wrestling game.
Despite being on a 10-fight streak containing nine wins and one no-contest since that loss to Usman in 2015, it’s been an incredibly frustrating period for ‘Rocky’ of late, with a 2018 win over Donald Cerrone perhaps not living up to the breakout performance that was expected.
That was before a potential fight with Tyron Woodley in England was put to bed by the coronavirus pandemic, which may have been another opportunity for him to thrust himself to the forefront of the MMA world.
Still, Edwards has cultivated himself a reputation as one of the UFC’s most underrated fighters, which was only enhanced by the 2021 victory over Nate Diaz in his last time out in the octagon.
Though Diaz is a huge scalp, he was perhaps a little too cautious in his style, which doesn’t send promising signals when it comes to the title fight this Saturday.
We know Usman’s striking is now a huge factor given the constant threat of his wrestling, and the idea of Edwards being able to out-wrestle or clinch Usman is almost impossible.
That means it’s extremely hard to find a path to victory for the Brit here, unless the champion gets over-confident on the feet and gets caught.
Usman to win by decision at 5/6 has to be the bet here.
Paulo Costa (13-2) v Luke Rockhold (16-5) – Middleweight
Paulo Costa began his time in the UFC with four straight TKO finishes before a huge decision win over Yoel Romero in 2019, which all culminated to make ‘Borrachinha’ one of the most feared fighters in the division.
He was then put straight into a title bout with Israel Adesanya, where his previous style of walking down some of the heaviest hitters in the game seemed to desert him, and he was comfortably picked off by the champion, being knocked out in the second round.
He then proceeded to back out of multiple fights before finally settling on a fight with Marvin Vettori, but the problems didn’t stop there, as the fight had to eventually be moved up a weight to light heavyweight thanks to Costa’s problems with the weight cut.
During the fight Costa looked exhausted, eventually going on to lose a decision, leaving serious question marks over the once.
For Luke Rockhold, having looked to be the future of the middleweight division after winning the title by beating Chris Weidman in 2015, the fall off has been stark.
A rematch with Michael Bisping in 2015, who he had previously dispatched easily, saw him lose his title in embarrassing fashion.
A couple of tune up wins after he was then thrown in against Yoel Romero, where as expected at the time, he was KO’d by the Cuban. An ill-fated tilt at light heavyweight followed as he was knocked out by Jan Blackowicz.
A retirement that didn’t stick and a fight with Sean Strickland that didn’t happen later, and here we are.
It’s hard to have a lot of faith in either fighter in this one, but it looks like it’s all set up to place Costa back on track.
We’re going Costa by KO, TKO or disqualification at 8/13.
Jose Aldo (31-7) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (14-4) – Bantamweight
Since dropping down to bantamweight, it’s been a mixed bag for all-time great Jose Aldo.
Two straight losses, the second being a TKO loss to contender Petr Yan, were followed by three decision victories over Marlon Vera, Pedro Munhoz and Rob Font, putting the Brazilian right back in the mix, sitting third in the bantamweight rankings.
Sixth ranked Merab Dvalishvili started his UFC career with two losses, but has followed that up with seven straight in the win column thanks to an aggressive wrestling based style.
He’s also developed a good enough level of striking to be able to put it on his opponents while also subjecting his opponents to a storm of wrestling.
With that said, he’s certainly nowhere near the level of Aldo on the feet, and there was a moment in Dvalishvili’s last fight against Martin Moraes where he was almost finished early before roaring back and dominating the contest.
But that moment will certainly serve as inspiration for Aldo, who may, despite his takedown defence maybe not being as impenetrable as in his prime, be able to keep the Georgian off him while picking him off on the feet to win rounds.
We’re going against the odds here and plumping for Aldo on points at 5/2.
Marcin Tybura (22-7) vs. Alexander Romanov (16-0) – Heavyweight
Alexander Romanov is one of the more interesting prospects currently making their way up the ranks in the heavyweight division.
Sitting at 16-0 and with five straight victories since joining the UFC, it’s unclear what the ceiling of ‘King Kong’ truly is.
For a sizable man, his gas tank looks to be surprisingly large, though he did tire slightly in one of his recent fights against Juan Espino where his wrestling was matched.
That aside however, he’s blown through the competition thus far.
Marching Tybura on the other hand has found himself in somewhat of a gatekeeper position.
After a tough start in his first 10 UFC fights which saw him go 5-5, he put together a five fight win-streak, one of which included a TKO of Greg Hardy.
Things were looking up until he ran into Alexander Volkov last year where he lost a decision.
In this one, Romanov should be able to impose his size and throw Tybura around early while racking up a round or two, but the question is whether he can keep it up and keep things tidy.
We think he can, Romanov on points for us in this one at 5/2.
Check out all of these bouts as well as the undercard odds HERE.