UFC 278, Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards preview: free picks, prop bets, guide for main card

UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, left, and Merab Dvalishvili take in the action at UFC on ABC 3 on July 16 in Elmont. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, left, and Merab Dvalishvili take in the action at UFC on ABC 3 on July 16 in Elmont. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

UFC 278 will start at 9 p.m. Saturday from Salt Lake City on pay-per-view.

The main event features welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the UFC’s current pound-for-pound top fighter seeking to secure a 20-win streak against Leon Edwards, whom Usman previously defeated in 2015 by unanimous decision. Edwards has zero losses since.

Here are the betting breakdowns for each main card matchup, with betting numbers courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook:

Tyson Pedro vs. Harry Hunsucker

Caesars odds: Pedro (-800); Hunsucker (+550)

After missing 2019-2021 recovering from three knee surgeries, Tyson Pedro will fight for a second time this year following a first-round knockout in his April return. Pedro faces Harry Hunsucker, debuting in the light heavyweight division and yet to record a UFC win.

All 12 of Hunsucker’s MMA appearances have ended inside the first round, only two of which lasted beyond two and a half minutes. Each of Hunsucker’s losses came by knockout, including a defeat last year in under 50 seconds to Pedro’s brother-in-law, Tai Tuivasa.

Similarly, Pedro has won all of his MMA events in the first round. However, he carries more than double the UFC experience of Hunsucker despite the aforementioned three-year absence.

PICK & PROP: Pedro to win (-800), Pedro in Round 1 (-200)

Marcin Tybura vs. Alexandr Romanov

Caesars odds: Romanov (-410); Tybura (+320)

Boasting an undefeated record with 16 wins, Alexandr Romanov — appropriately nicknamed “King Kong” — is one of the most exciting prospects at heavyweight. Opposite him, Marcin Tybura is a veteran of the sport with 15 UFC appearances and will likely serve as Romanov’s most difficult test to date.

Curiously, while Tybura has a strong takedown defense rate of 82%, he has benefitted from not sustaining a single takedown attempt from any of his last five opponents. While usually serving as the more eager heavyweight to fight on the mat, Tybura’s best path to victory will be avoiding the ground entirely.

Romanov does have some concerning striking habits Tybura can take advantage of if the fight remains standing, such as guard drops and swinging wildly out of range when faced with a reach disadvantage. However, Tybura struggles to win fights in which he cannot initiate a ground battle. He may find some success taking Romanov’s back, but if King Kong navigates to a top control position, Tybura will suffer more damage on the ground than in any of his previous fights.

PICK & PROP: Romanov to Win (-410), Romanov by KO/TKO (+150)

José Aldo vs. Merab Dvalishvili

Caesars odds: Dvalishvili (-130); Aldo (+110)

Similar to the previous fight, the key in this matchup between former UFC featherweight champion José Aldo and rising bantamweight contender Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili will be the underdog’s resistance to takedowns. Dvalishvili’s relentless takedown pursuit reflects in his average of over 16 attempts per 15 minutes across nine UFC appearances.

Aldo has an elite takedown defense rate of 90% but has conceded at least one takedown to three of his last four opponents that have sought a fight on the floor. This bout figures to go the distance given The Machine has fought a full 15 minutes in all but his last UFC event, while Aldo has seen decisions on five of his last six cards.

Aldo traditionally utilizes a mix of leg and body kicks within combinations, though now does so with less quickness than earlier in his career. If Dvalishvili times his takedown entries accordingly, opportunities to grapple on favorable terms will present themselves.

PICK & PROP: Dvalishvili to win (-125), Dvalishvili by decision (+150)

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold

Caesars odds: Costa (-370); Rockhold (+290)

This pairing serves as a crossroads moment in each fighter’s career, as both enter with two-fight losing streaks.

Paulo Costa has a variety of bad fighting habits, but his blend of athleticism and durability have often been enough to power him through most of his bouts. He will pressure opponents with consistency, although he was more conservative in his defeat to the rangier Israel Adesanya. Costa will encounter height and reach disadvantages on Saturday night as well.

However, Rockhold typically does not perform well when opponents aggressively press forward and prevent him from executing at kicking range. Even when he seems to have momentum, he can become too comfortable with boxing and lacks the damage tolerance at 37 years-old to engage in prolonged striking trades. Rockhold’s best path to a victory is via decision, but none of his UFC appearances have ever gone the distance, and he has not fought in the octagon for over three years.

PICK & PROP: Costa to win (-370), Costa in Round 2 by KO/TKO (+375)

Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards

Caesars odds: Usman (-400); Edwards (+270)

Each fighter in the main event fits the description of a combat chameleon. Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards are both extremely well-rounded martial artists that prepare for each fight with fresh strategies. This typically results in fights that go to decision, which has transpired across 20 of their combined 29 UFC appearances.

Takedown volume versus defense continues to be the key theme for picking the night’s results. Edwards needed multiple takedowns to secure each of his last three victories, while Usman has never conceded a single takedown in his entire UFC career dating back to 2014.

Edwards has yet to lose by finish in MMA, though a third of Usman’s professional wins by knockout have come in his last five events. Nate Diaz stunned Edwards badly in the final minute of their 5-round bout over a year ago despite the latter’s otherwise complete performance. It is possible Edwards becomes wobbly late again after failing to take down Usman in earlier rounds and enduring a plethora of powerful jabs.

PICK & PROP: Usman to win (-400), Usman in Round 5 by KO/TKO (+2800)

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