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Kamaru Usman vs Leon Edwards
It’s been a long road to get to this point but the man from the Midlands finally has the shot at world title honours he has been craving – although to make his dreams of becoming a champion a reality, he must first defeat one of the promotion’s most dominant fighters.
Usman is a special talent who seems to be getting better with every performance, adding new strings to his bow every time he steps foot in the Octagon.
A phenomenal athlete with impressive wrestling pedigree, Usman relied heavily on his grappling ability to maul, maim and dominate his opponents through the early part of his UFC tenure.
But years of hard work, first under the tutelage of fabled striking coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA and more recently Trevor Wittman at ONX Sports, have seen Usman become a monster on the feet too.
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His eye-catching, jaw-shattering knockout of Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 last year proved as much, as he became the first person ever to knock “Gamebred” flat out cold with a monstrous right hand.
Despite his grappling ability, Usman has largely elected to keep the contest on the feet since he became champion, the first Masvidal fight at UFC 251 aside.
Over the past three contests, Usman has attempted only three takedowns according to UFCStats.com while the “Nigerian Nightmare” has an unbelievable 100% TD defence.
That may have been a wise strategy against the likes of Gilbert Burns – a multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion – and Colby Covington – himself a world class wrestler – but against Edwards, we may see Usman turn back to his wrestling armoury.
That’s not to say Edwards is a weak target for takedowns; the 30-year-old has a commendable 70% TD defence and prefers to stay mobile rather than plant his feet during striking exchanges.
If and when the contest does hit the mat though, Edwards is a capable grappler and last year became a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
That remains an unlikely route to victory though given Usman himself is a black belt and a relentless force on the mat.
Edwards’ best chance of victory relies on being aggressive with his striking through the early rounds and putting the champion under immediate pressure.
He may not be the hardest hitter in the division, but he is more technical than Usman with a greater arsenal of weaponry at his disposal: if he can make a few dents in the 170lb king and inflict some damage in the opening round or two, it will certainly bring the contest to life.
However, for all that we’re willing Leon to get the job done on Saturday night, it looks an incredibly tall order against a champion who doesn’t seem to have a clear weakness.
Verdict: Kamaru Usman via UD
Paulo Costa vs Luke Rockhold
The fight before this contest even takes place sees Paulo Costa reckon with the scales for the first time since weighing in at 205lb for a catchweight contest originally set to take place at middleweight versus Marvin Vettori in October.
Costa is a big boy who cuts a lot of weight to make it to 185lb and at 31 now, his body might not allow him to shed the pounds in the same way he used to.
However, working on the basis that this fight does happen at the proposed 185lb limit, it’s a cracking fight for Costa to walk back into having lost two in a row.
Rockhold remains a huge name in the UFC despite a near three-year absence from competition since facing Jan Blachowicz on his ill-fated light heavyweight debut.
Blachowicz delivered a brutal welcome to the 205lb ranks as he pulverised Rockhold with a left hook to bring the contest to a savage end in the second round.
That means Rockhold has now lost three of his last four fights by KO – all three fairly brutal finishes too – and at 37, his punch resistance certainly will not have improved over the years.
Rockhold’s declining durability should be a red rag to a bull for Costa who, prior to his UFC 253 showdown with Israel Adesanya, was an absolute wrecking machine in the middleweight division.
Four straight knockouts and a blood-and-guts war with Yoel Romero secured him that maiden title shot against Adesanya and I think we’ll see Costa’s emphatic return to form this weekend.
Verdict: Paulo Costa via KO, R1
Jose Aldo vs Merab Dvalishvili
There won’t be a lack of action to look for in this one as two top ranked bantamweights collide looking for a statement win to bolster their respective title credentials.
Jose Aldo, the former featherweight supremo, looks like he has found his feet in the 135lb division having won three straight leading into this bout.
The Brazilian legend is one of the meanest strikers in the game and his leg kicks are likely to play a pivotal role in whether Aldo can live with the pressure put on him by a relentless Dvalishvili.
Aptly nicknamed “The Machine”, Dvalishvili is a high-volume fighter looking to attack with both strikes and takedowns: the 31-year-old lands an average of 7.3 takedowns per 15 and 4.26 significant strikes per minute.
By contrast, Aldo lands only 0.51 takedowns per 15 – although he has a wicked 90% TD defence – and lands 3.61 significant strikes per minute.
However Aldo is by far the more technical fighter and has the tools to be able to negate each of Dvalishvili’s individual strengths; whether he can withstand the totality of the Dvalishvili experience is the million dollar question.
Verdict: Jose Aldo via UD
Marcin Tybura vs Alexander Romanov
Alexander Romanov will look to continue his steady progress up the UFC rankings when he takes on perennial ranked contender Marcin Tybura.
Romanov is undefeated through 16 professional bouts including five in the UFC and comes in off the back of two finishes in a row against Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman.
A powerful wrestler, Romanov wants this contest on the mat as a quick as possible where he will look to take top position and land heavy ground-and-pound.
The 31-year-old also has three forearm chokes to his name and uses his bodyweight well on the hunt for submissions.
Tybura has a huge advantage in terms of UFC experience but the Polish veteran looks to have a difficult night ahead of him against one of the very best heavyweight prospects around.
His 82% takedown defence should prove stern resistance for Romanov – but the Moldovan looks the physically bigger of the two and will eventually take Tybura down.
Can he find a third finish in a row to really catch the eye?
Verdict: Alexander Romanov via TKO, R3
Tyson Pedro vs Harry Hunsucker
The main card gets off to an explosive start with two men used to getting business done inside the distance as Tyson Pedro faces Harry Hunsucker.
Hunsucker, who formerly featured on the Contender Series, is in the last chance saloon in the UFC having dropped two straight in stoppage defeats to Tai Tuivasa and Justin Tafa.
But the 33-year-old will be looking to change his fortunes by dropping down to the 205lb division as he makes his UFC light heavyweight debut against Tyson Pedro.
Pedro is an up-and-down kind of fighter who has never really found any consistency in the UFC as he makes his eighth walk to the Octagon against Hunsucker this weekend.
The 30-year-old, who trains alongside his brother-in-law, UFC heavyweight contender Tuivasa, did pick up the win on his last excursion however, bouncing back from three years out to stop Ike Villanueva in the first.
Pedro’s experience should help him across the line in this one and we’re picking him to get it done against a tiring Hunsucker late on.
Verdict: Tyson Pedro via TKO, R3