In the final minute of Saturday’s UFC 278 main event, Leon Edwards scored one of the most memorable title wins in the promotion’s history.
Edwards was down on the scorecards despite an encouraging start, but he needed the shot of his life and he produced it on fatality, defeating Kamaru Usman with a headbutt to become the world welterweight champion.
Edwards, only the second British champion in UFC history, said ahead of last weekend’s card in Utah that he expects a trilogy fight next with Usman, who overtook him in 2015 if he were to dethrone the Nigerian. But is that the right call?
And what should be next for Paulo Costa and Merab Dvalishvili, who picked up decider victories over Luke Rockhold and Jose Aldo respectively on Saturday?
Under, indy sport plays matchmaker for the protagonists of UFC 278.
Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman 3
Usman picked up a decision win over Edwards in 2015 and was on track to do the same in Salt Lake City seven years later.
After the Jamaican-born challenger lost the first round of the rematch to Edwards and defeated Usman for the first time in the UFC’s “Nigerian Nightmare” career, Usman hit his rhythm to overtake Edwards in the next three rounds. He was in the driver’s seat for another minute in the final frame before losing control of the fight and his body as Edwards produced a stunning KO.
Usman’s previous win over Edwards (20-3, 1 no contest), a broadly impressive performance on Saturday and a dominant run as champion will all count in the 35-year-old’s favor as he seeks an immediate rematch with the new defending champion.
Edwards, 30, is open to such a fight, preferring to face Usman (20-2) again at London’s Wembley Stadium than elsewhere. After Edwards’ title win intrigued and invigorated the UK MMA fanbase, the country would be the perfect place for “Rocky”‘s first defense of the belt. Hosting the competition in a stadium would be the greatest moment in the history of sport in Britain.
Paulo Costa vs. Darren Till
Costa’s unanimous win over former middleweight champion Rockhold marked the end of the latter’s career and a significant feather in the former’s cap, but the Brazilian’s win had a few asterisks.
Rockhold is 37, hadn’t competed in three years, hadn’t fought at 185 pounds since 2018 and was visibly tired from halfway through Saturday’s first round. The American, who had his hands on his knees in numerous moments, still made it until the last buzzer against 31-year-old Costa, who failed to finish Rockhold and was even surprised by some punches from the former champion.
In any case, Costa (14-2) is up two spots at No. 6 in the middleweight division. However, the direct competitors of the former title contender are all filled. Champion Adesanya, who defeated Costa in 2020, will defend the belt against fifth-placed Alex Pereira; No. 1 contender Robert Whittaker meets third-placed Marvin Vettori in September; and No. 2 Jared Cannonier is scheduled to fight eighth Jack Hermansson. Also, No. 4 Derek Brunson is expected to take on seventh-placed Sean Strickland.
Liverpool’s Darren Till (18-4-1), who is recovering from injury, will hopefully be fit in time to take on Costa early next year in what is sure to be an exciting, eye-catching clash. A win for either man would mean a win over a big name and help this fighter venture into a title shot.
Merab Dvalishvili versus Marlon Vera
Dvalishvili recorded a significant win over Aldo on Saturday, beating the former featherweight champion by unanimous decision. This result put the Georgian at number 3 in the bantamweight rankings, although it didn’t earn him many fans.
Dvalishvili (15-4) extended his winning streak to eight fights by defeating Aldo, but his victory was achieved through grappling pressure and little more. The 31-year-old failed with the vast majority of his many takedown attempts and would never defeat Aldo in the exchanges.
So who is next for Dvalishvili? He has said he will not challenge friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling for the title, but Sterling will defend the gold against former champion TJ Dillashaw in October anyway. No. 1 contender Petr Yan will take on rising star Sean O’Malley on the same night, with this fight possibly crowning the next title challenger.
Just behind Dvalishvili in the rankings is Cory Sandhagen, but he’s also booked a fight – against Song Yadong. The only reasonable option available for Dvalishvili is Vera, who has just come off an impressive KO win over former champion Dominick Cruz. Vera (20-7-1) is a firm fan favorite at the moment and the winner of a clash between the Ecuadorian and Dvalishvili could face the winner of next year’s inaugural bantamweight title fight.
If Dvalishvili beat Vera and Sterling were still champions by then, the friends would have to figure out how to proceed.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/ufc/ufc-278-edwards-usman-rockhold-costa-b2151771.html UFC 278: Fight for victory as Leon Edwards dethrones Kamaru Usman