This article is part of our DraftKings MMA series.
UFC 278 takes place Saturday, and Jon Litterine is back to break down the top fights, plus offer his DFS picks and predictions for the key matchups on the card.
If you're hoping to turn the event into an opportunity to build your DFS bankroll, DraftKings.com has you covered with a full slate of contests, including a $800k UFC 278 Special with $200k to first place. Players get a $50,000 budget to select six fighters, and the scoring rules are noted at the bottom of the column. Let's get to the action...
Main Event - Welterweight Championship
This is a rematch of a December 2015 fight which Usman won via unanimous decision. It was his first fight in the UFC and happened so long ago that it should have zero impact on what takes place Saturday night.
If Usman isn't the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the moment, he's either second or third. He lost his second professional fight in May 2013 and hasn't tasted defeat since. He won the UFC Welterweight Championship from Tyron Woodley in March 2019 and has successfully defended it five times since, twice against both Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal and once against Gilbert Burns. Usman is a stud in every sense of the word and one of the few fighters in the sport today in any division with the skill set to hold onto a championship for multiple years at a time.
Edwards is finally get his shot here, and he deserves it. Leon hasn't lost (9-0, 1NC) since the first fight between the two, although he competed in just ten fights during that span. For comparison's sake, Usman has competed 13 times during the stretch. Edwards' most impressive victories have come over Vicente Luque, Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone, before Cowboy completely packed it in. The competition level he has seen in this run has been fair, but not great, and Usman is on a different level entirely.
Edwards' greatest asset is his size. Good luck finding another welterweight who checks in at 6-foot-2. Despite the two-inch edge in height, it's actually Usman who enters with a two-inch edge in reach. Edwards fights long, which many taller fighters have an issue with. Just look at Stefan Struve over the years.
Leon is no slouch in the grappling department, averaging 1.48 takedowns per 15 minutes, but Usman averages exactly three takedowns per 15 minutes and should have an overwhelming strength advantage over Edwards, as he does against every opponent he faces. Then toss in the fact Kamaru has never been takedown down in his UFC career, and you see how imperative it is for Edwards to do damage on the feet.
I've stated for quite a while that I feel there is a gap between Usman and everybody else in the division, with Covington comfortably the second-best welterweight in the world today. I stand by that. Edwards is really good, but I have trouble finding a path to victory for him here. Perhaps he overwhelms Usman in the stand-up, but Leon on average connects with 2.62 significant strikes per minute. That type of volume isn't going to get the job done here.
Edwards as a punt DK option is nothing more than a bet-on-talent play at a really cheap price tag. I'm not overly intrigued.
THE PICK: Usman
Co-Main Event - Middleweight
This is a really weird fight with countless subplots to it, including the fact these two were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 277 a handful of weeks ago before it was pushed back for unknown reasons.
Rockhold turns 38 years of age in the middle of October. He hasn't fought in more than three years (July 2019) and hasn't won a fight in nearly five years. Best I can tell, the only fight Rockhold had scheduled during his time away was a clash against Sean Strickland set for last November, which Luke withdrew from about a month prior due to a back issue. I have no real idea why Rockhold is returning now, and that's somewhat worrisome.
Costa won his first five UFC bouts, including four via knockout, and then fought Israel Adesanya for the UFC Middleweight Championship in September 2020. It was one of the worst performances in a title fight in recent memory, with Costa being knocked out with just over a minute left in Round 2. He then fought Marvin Vettori in October of last year in a fight scheduled for 185 pounds, at which point Costa showed up 25 pounds overweight, and the bout had to be changed to a light heavyweight affair. Costa still dropped a unanimous decision. UFC President Dana White was furious in the aftermath, claiming Costa would never fight at middleweight again in the UFC, but here we are.
I have zero idea why this fight isn't taking place at 205 pounds. Costa is a truly massive human being, and Rockhold has long talked about how difficult it is for him to cut down to 185 pounds.
As for the fight itself, this should be a stand-up affair. Rockhold is going to have a significant technical edge, but he hasn't fought in a long, long time, and his durability appeared just about gone the last few times we did see him. Costa's power is legitimate and I don't think he will have to land too many shots in order for Luke to crumble.
Keep on eye on Costa at the weigh-ins, but as long as he gets through that without issue, he should be fine. It's just impossible to trust Rockhold following the layoff.
THE PICK: Costa
Merab dropped his first two UFC bouts back in late-2017 and early-2018 but has been unstoppable since, winning seven in a row. His most recent fight came last September against the since-retired Marlon Moraes. Dvalishvili was crushed by Moraes early in that fight and appeared to be on the verge of being stopped, but somehow fought through it and scored a knockout win of his own after his opponent gassed out. It was a concerning performance from Merab considering Marlon's struggles at the end of his career.
Aldo is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and appears to have found a second wind despite the fact he turns 36 years of age a few weeks after this event will take place. Jose looked done following a three-fight losing streak from May 2019 to July 2020, but he's rattled off three straight unanimous decision victories since over Rob Font, Pedro Munhoz and Marlon Vera. There's a real case to be made that each of those opponents are better than whomever you would consider to be Merab's best victory to date. Just look at what Vera has accomplished. Effectively, the gap in experience between the two is massive.
As is the case in every Dvalishvili fight, he will attempt to lean on his wrestling. Merab averages an insane 7.3 takedowns per 15 minutes, but Aldo is widely known as one of the best defensive wrestlers in the history of the sport. His balance is exceptional, as is his career 90-percent takedown defense. Merab's gas tank and his ability to push the pace is a huge weapon, but I think he's in trouble if the takedowns aren't landing.
On the feet, Dvalishvili is reckless. He's going to be hopelessly outmatched by Aldo in terms of technical striking skills in an extending kickboxing match. The fact he fought through difficult circumstances in the Moraes fight is both admirable and impressive, but I don't see Jose making the same mistakes Marlon did if Merab finds himself in trouble.
That is perhaps the fight I am most looking forward to on the card from a stylistic standpoint. Aldo has been taken down more than once just one time in his storied UFC career. That came against Frankie Edgar in February 2013, and even Frankie only got him to the mat twice in that bout. If Merab can't land more than one takedown, I'm nearly certain he's going to lose.
That's enough for me to roll the dice on Aldo outright as an underdog play. It should be an exceptional bout that seems likely to go the distance.
THE PICK: Aldo
The sample size is small, but Romanov has appeared unstoppable thus far in his brief UFC run. He's a perfect 5-0 in the company with four stoppage victories. The only negative thing that can be mentioned is that the opponents Romanov has faced to date -- Chase Sherman, Jared Vanderaa, Juan Espino, Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Roque Martinez -- haven't been great. Tybura will represent a considerably stiffer test.
Tybura dropped a pretty lopsided unanimous decision to Alexander Volkov last October in Abu Dhabi, but he'd won five in a row prior. Most heavyweights rely on their power to be successful, but Tybura has a legitimate all-around game. He has nine career wins via knockout, six via submission, plus he can mix in a takedown. His ability, or lack thereof, to remain upright could determine the result here.
Romanov's wrestling game has been unstoppable thus far. He's gotten each of his five opponents to the mat at least twice and is averaging a whopping (and almost certainly unsustainable) 6.46 takedowns per 15 minutes. On the flip side, Tybura has displayed excellent takedown defense, stuffing 82 percent of the attempts that come his way.
Outside of turning the tables and using his wrestling game to plant Romanov to the mat for long stretches at a time, it's difficult to see a path to victory for Tybura. He can't match Romanov's striking in a prolonged kickboxing match, and he's nearly five years older than his opponent.
Deciphering the past competition these two have faced is difficult. Tybura has never really beaten anyone of note, but Romanov hasn't fought anyone of note, at least during his time with the UFC. It makes for a tricky proposition.
Tybura rarely beats himself and although I'm not picking him to win outright, I imagine he will put forth a better effort than both the Vegas odds and his dirt-cheap DK salary would lead you to believe. Romanov is really good and will probably be worth the hefty price tag down the line, but I'd like to see him defeat a bit better opponent before buying in completely.
THE PICK: Romanov
Pedro made his UFC debut in November 2016 with four professional fights under his belt. He began his run with the company with back-to-back stoppage wins before losing three of his next four. Pedro returned this past April following nearly 3.5 years on the sidelines with an impressive knockout win over a subpar opponent in Ike Villanueva. Pedro is an above-average athlete and has an excellent frame for the division, so there's theoretical bounce-back potential here.
Getting this opportunity is the MMA-equivalent of hitting the Powerball for Hunsucker. He first appeared in Dana White's Contender Series in November 2020 and was promptly knocked out by Jared Vanderaa. He fought once on the regional circuit before officially making his UFC debut in March 2021. Hunsucker was knocked out by Tai Tuivasa in that fight and then again by Justin Tafa nine months later. Not only was Hunsucker not let go, but he now has the opportunity to fight on the main card of a pay-per-view. What a world.
There isn't a ton to break down here from a technical standpoint. Pedro is the largest betting favorite on the card by a wide, wide margin, and even if he demolishes Hunsucker in less than a minute, it still won't give us any clue regarding his long-term potential.
Rostering fighters as expensive as Pedro give me a ton of pause because so many things can go wrong and the upside is usually quite limited, but Hunsucker is probably a bottom-five fighter in the entire company and I don't see any way in which Pedro doesn't come through.
Cross your fingers and hope for the best.
THE PICK: Pedro
Note: All odds accurate as of time of posting, and taken from the DraftKings Sportsbook, if available, before searching elsewhere. Stay up to date for UFC 278 with more MMA betting content.
DraftKings MMA Scoring
Note: Scoring has been updated as of early-2021! Please review the scoring changes below.
Strikes: +0.2 PTS
Significant Strikes (SS): +0.2 PTS
Control Time: +0.03 PTS/SECOND
Takedown (TD): +5 PTS
Reversal/Sweep (REV): +5 PTS
Knockdown (KD): +10 PTS
Fight Conclusion Bonuses
1st Round Win (1rW+): +90 PTS
2nd Round Win (2rW+): +70 PTS
3rd Round Win (3rW+): +45 PTS
4th Round Win (4rW+): +40 PTS
5th Round Win (5rW+): +40 PTS
Decision Win (WBD+): +30 PTS
Quick Win Bonus: +25 PTS
(fight is finished in 60 seconds or less)
- Significant Strikes are any Distance Strike or Clinch/Ground Strikes that are considered "Power Strikes" by official scorers.
- A Significant Strike will count as both a strike and a significant strike and will be worth a total of 0.4 Pts
- Control Time is the time spent in the dominant position on the ground or in the clinch. +0.03 points are awarded per second.
- A Knockdown is awarded to a fighter who knocks his/her opponent down due to debilitation for what the official scorers consider an appreciable amount of time.
- A Quick Win Bonus is awarded to the winning fighter if they win in the first round in 60 seconds or less.