What were the biggest moments at UFC 278? Megan Anderson, Jeff Wagenheim, Marc Raimondi and Brett Okamoto offer their takeaways from UFC’s return to Salt Lake City.
There was less than a minute remaining in Round 5 of the main event at UFC 278 and Leon Edwards was looking like a lifeless challenger who was just hoping to make it to the finish line while still standing.
Edwards did have a strong first round, actually. He scored an early takedown, the first surrendered by Kamaru Usman in his 15-fight UFC career. But from the second round on, Edwards had been manhandled by the UFC welterweight champion, who stalked him, beat him up and tired him out. When the fighters were waved together at the start of Round 5, it was obvious to everyone at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday night and all those watching at home that Edwards needed to produce something big. It was also obvious from the challenger’s body language just how hard that would be. Edwards looked drained. And instead of pushing the action, his approach as those final five minutes ticked off the clock was puzzlingly passive. He kept Usman away from him by throwing punches and kicks, but nothing he was sending back in the champ’s direction looked at all dangerous.
“Head shot! Bang! Done!”
Those were the words Edwards shouted into the camera right after the fight ended at 4 minutes, 4 seconds of the final round. As Usman lay motionless on the canvas, Edwards ran around in tears, climbed atop the cage, then jumped off and summed up the moment with those few words, his voice barely audible above the roar of a shocked crowd.
Just when it appeared that all hope was lost for the 30-year-old Jamaica-born Englishman, he had thrown a lazy left hand that Usman easily parried. But what Usman never saw was the left head kick that was right behind the punch. It landed flush on the right side of the champ’s head, and, well, bang … done.
In one of the most stunning comeback victories the Octagon has ever seen in a championship fight, the fight was over and there was a new champ. This upset might have been unthinkable to some, but MMA fans have been trained to expect the unexpected. Just last December, women’s pound-for-pound No. 1 Amanda Nunes was upset by Julianna Peña. That was an even bigger shock than this result. If anything, it prepared us all for what happened on this night.
Still, so much about this result was unthinkable. For one thing, Usman came into the bout not just as welterweight champ, but also as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. He was less than a minute away from his sixth consecutive successful title defense and 20th victory in a row. Usman was being talked about as a candidate for the hallowed status of greatest fighter of all time.
In fact, in the lead-up to this night, one could have been forgiven for not even knowing that Edwards was part of the UFC 278 main event. Nearly every superlative in the narrative hyping up this fight card had centered on Usman. Along with the GOAT talk, there even was speculation over whether Usman would be facing fast-rising Khamzat Chimaev next and, should the champ pass that test, what challenge he might take on after that.
Saturday’s challenger was something of an afterthought.
Edwards should have been used to that. Despite him entering the bout on a 10-fight unbeaten streak — he hadn’t lost since a 2015 decision defeat against Usman — Edwards had been largely overlooked. I mean, Jorge Masvidal got two shots at the belt before Edwards got his.
Why is that? Edwards is not much of a talker. He had gone to decisions in his past four wins. He was not considered one of the sport’s stars. He had to win and win and win in order to make himself impossible for the UFC matchmakers to overlook.
“Look at me now!” Edwards demanded again and again in his postfight interview.
Well, champ, you now have the entire world’s attention. — Jeff Wagenheim
If this is it for Rockhold, remember him not for recent years
Luke Rockhold has not won a fight since 2017 and has just one win since 2015. On Saturday night at UFC 278, Rockhold gassed out by the end of the first round, but showed a ton of heart in finishing the bout against Paulo Costa in a unanimous-decision loss. Rockhold actually continued to put forth offense against Costa, despite being absolutely exhausted, at times bending over and putting his hands on his knees. It was an ugly performance, though a show of will and determination.
Frankly, it sums up where Rockhold is in his career now. He still has the desire; he still has the mind for the game of MMA. But his body just isn’t responding anymore at age 37 after 15 years as a pro fighter.
As Rockhold was walking to the back from the Octagon, his longtime teammate Daniel Cormier left his broadcast position and embraced Rockhold in a hug. The two were part of a dynasty at American Kickboxing Academy that included the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Cain Velasquez. At one point, Rockhold was considered every bit as good as his teammates. He was the best middleweight in Strikeforce history, holding that title. And he impressively beat Chris Weidman in 2015 to win the UFC middleweight title.
That was seven years ago and many people expected Rockhold to have a long reign on top. He was far and away the best 185-pound fighter in the world at that point. But in his next bout, Rockhold was stunningly upset and knocked out by Michael Bisping. Unfortunately, Rockhold just hasn’t been the same since then. At his best, Rockhold was one of the most skilled middleweights in history — he could knock you out on the feet, wrestle with the best of them and had fight-ending grappling ability. If this is it for his career (he was unclear after the fight if it was), it’s best to remember him for those wins against Weidman, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Tim Kennedy and his slick finish of Bisping in their first fight. — Marc Raimondi
Jose Aldo doesn’t need to retire, but it’s looming heavy now
Let me be clear. Aldo just had a three-fight win streak snapped and it’s not like he was outclassed by Dvalishvili at all. He’s still, obviously, a very competitive bantamweight. But as is always the case, you have to ask yourself what reason he has to fight again. He said his ultimate goal was to retire as a champion, and if he came up short on Saturday, he would need to sit down with his team to hash out his future.
Aldo still looked fast on Saturday, but he didn’t look as fast as we’ve always known him to be. He looked hungry and willing to put it on the line when he went down on the scorecards, but he didn’t seem to have that dig that might have been there earlier in his career to will something to happen. We might be seeing the first signs of a decline, and if that’s the case, there really is no reason to keep going. If he wants a retirement fight in Brazil in January, which I could certainly see him wanting, the sport will embrace that. It’s always an emotional thing when a legend is deciding how he wants to go out. Aldo has reached that point. — Brett Okamoto
What’s next Tyson Pedro?
Pedro now has back-to-back first-round knockouts since making his return to the Octagon against Ike Villanueva in April. In both fights, though neither lasted long, Pedro has shown improved patience and control. He’s the type of fighter that won’t let these two wins get to his head. I think he’ll keep working to improve and develop his game.
With only eight fights under his belt in the UFC and having just made his return to the sport, it’s best to allow him to find his footing again. Entering this fight, Pedro had already faced tough competition when he fought from 2016 to 2018, but with such a long layoff, he’s relatively new again.
The UFC could look to give him a shot against a ranked opponent in his next fight and a case could be made that he and Dustin Jacoby would be a good matchup. Sometimes after a fighter has showings as Pedro had in his past two appearances, fighters can be rushed into facing more notable opponents. But the best progression for him would be matchups that allow him to slowly work his way up and back into the swing of things. He’s still in his prime, so if he can take his time trying to climb the rankings, he’s less likely to be pushed too fast too early. — Megan Anderson
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