One of the most dominant mixed martial arts (MMA) champions meets a long-overdue challenger in Salt Lake City, Utah, this Saturday (Aug. 20, 2022) when Kamaru Usman defends his Welterweight title against Leon Edwards in UFC 278’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event. Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, also hosts the return of Luke Rockhold opposite Paulo Costa and a pivotal Bantamweight battle pitting the legendary Jose Aldo against Merab Dvalishvili.
UFC 278 features a hefty eight “Prelims” undercard bouts to get through this week, half on ESPN+/Fight Pass and half on ESPN+/ESPN. Let’s see what UFC’s oft-neglected subscription service has to offer …
170 lbs.: A.J. Fletcher vs. Ange Loosa
A.J. Fletcher (9-1) — who went 7-2 as an amateur — earned his UFC contract with a flying knee finish of Leonardo Damiani. His first Octagon outing pitted him against Matthew Semelsberger, who out-lasted Fletcher to a decision victory.
He has knocked out and submitted four professional foes apiece.
Ange Loosa (8-3) — who’d split his previous two bouts — came up short in a Contender Series war with Jack Della Maddalena in Sept. 2021. After beating John Howard on the regional circuit, he made his UFC debut on a two-week turnaround, dropping a decision to Mounir Lazzez.
He brings a seven-inch reach advantage into the cage.
Very good matchmaking here between capable prospects who’ve yet to put it all together. On paper, this is a much more favorable matchup for Loosa than Lazzez was; he’ll have plenty more opportunities to land his leg kicks and cracking right hand against someone who isn’t a master of range management. On the flipside, Fletcher’s likely the best wrestler Loosa has ever faced, and he proved his toughness in standing up to Semelsberger last time out.
I’m leaning Fletcher’s way, largely because of the sheer power of his takedowns and Loosa’s tendency to lead with naked kicks. That short reach is going to earn him some heavy shots, especially if he hasn’t tightened up his cardio. With a sprinkle of optimism as to Fletcher’s hypothetical improvements, I say he wrestles his way to a competitive victory.
Prediction: Fletcher via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Amir Albazi vs. Francisco Figueiredo
Amir Albazi (14-1) put together a perfect (11-0) professional start before running afoul of UFC veteran Jose “Shorty” Torres under the Brave CF banner. He ultimately reached the Octagon two fights later and quickly secured wins over Malcolm Gordon and Zhalgas Zhumagulov.
He fights for the first time in nearly 19 months.
Francisco Figueiredo (13-4-1) went from grinding out Jerome Rivera in his UFC debut to suffering an upset decision loss to Malcolm Gordon his next time out. Unfazed, “Sniper” secured his biggest win to date with a 78-second kneebar of Daniel da Silva that earned him “Performance of the Night.”
All but two of his wins have come inside the distance, eight of them via submission.
For my money, Albazi is one of the Flyweight division’s dark horses. If it wasn’t for the inactivity, he’d be knocking on the door of contention by now. Can’t say the same for Figueiredo, though; weak cardio, low output, and a reliance on grinding out opponents make his ceiling exponentially lower than his brothers.
He just doesn’t have a lot of options against a superior grappler in Albazi, especially considering that Albazi also held his own on the feet against a very capable striker in Zhumagulov. Unless Figueiredo can pull another kneebar out of his hat, Albazi out-classes him in an increasingly one-sided bout.
Prediction: Albazi via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Aoriqileng vs. Jay Perrin
Aoriqileng (22-9) entertained in his debut “Fight of the Night” against Jeff Molina, but found himself 0-2 in the Octagon after falling to Cody Durden his next time out. Moving up to 135 pounds appeared to do the trick, as he smashed Cameron Else five months later.
Seven of his eight pro finishes have come via (technical) knockout.
A title-winning run in Cage Titans brought Jay Perrin (10-5) to Contender Series, where he lost a unanimous decision to Dwight Joseph. Three fights later, he stepped up on short notice for an unsuccessful UFC debut against Mario Bautista.
He’s ended four fights by submission, though just one since 2018.
The key question here is how much Aoriqileng’s wrestling has developed. His sheer aggression and power are more than a match for Perrin’s technically sound but overly linear kickboxing, but the latter’s takedowns are a very effective equalizer. “The Mongolian Murderer” surrendered a critical takedown to an exhausted Durden in the third round of their fight, and while his grappling looked solid against Else, “Camchida” is nobody’s idea of a top-tier grappler.
Maybe this is my fondness of Aoriqileng’s style overpowering my sense of caution, or maybe I’m putting too much stock into Perrin’s clinch issues against Bautista, but I’ll be an optimist. In the end, Aoriqileng steadily breaks him down for a clear decision win.
Prediction: Aoriqileng via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Daniel da Silva vs. Victor Altamirano
Daniel da Silva (11-3) was 11-1 when he entered the Octagon, his only professional defeat coming via injury in March 2019. He’s still chasing his first UFC victory, suffering consecutive stoppage losses to Jeff Molina and Francisco Figueiredo.
Ten of his 11 finishes have come in the first round.
Despite failing to secure a finish against Carlos Candelario on Contender Series, Victor Altamirano (10-2) split decision victory impressed the brass enough to earn him a contract. This set up a UFC debut against fellow graduate Carlos Hernandez, who eked out a split decision to snap Altamirano’s four-fight win streak.
“El Magnifico” stands two inches taller than da Silva at 5’8.”
I really should just make a list of, “types of fights that are annoying to predict,” because this is definitely one of them: a match up where one fighter clearly has the tools to ruin the other one’s day, but is so painfully incapable of executing consistently that I can’t pick him. da Silva’s power kicks and Altamirano’s tendencies to dip his head and keep his hands low are a bad combination, as is the former’s submission skills and the latter’s willingness to accept bad positions on the mat.
“Miojo” just makes too many unforced errors, from burning himself out chasing subs against Molina to getting caught by Figueiredo’s kneebar. For all his faults, Altamirano is at least durable and consistent enough to survive da Silva’s early offense and take over when he’s given the opportunity to do so.
Prediction: Altamirano via second round submission
Four more UFC 278 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the UFC return of ultra-violent brawler, Lucie Pudilova. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 278 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ABC/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 278: “Usman vs. Edwards 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.