Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
No title fights? No problem.
In a perfect world, this Saturday would see Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway dancing for a third time and Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan finally getting the chance to prove who is the real bantamweight king after the bizarre ending to their first fight. However, a Holloway injury led to Volkanovski instead fighting “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung at UFC 273 and Sterling and Yan were also instead scheduled for that same event.
Covington — the No. 2 welterweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — might never be an A-tier draw, but he and Masvidal (No. 11) are now part of a rare non-championship pay-per-view main event, a rarity in the modern UFC for anyone not named Conor McGregor. Based on how heavily the PPV has been promoted (especially compared to UFC 270 and UFC 271), it’s safe to say that officials have a lot of faith in this grudge match to sell a card on its own.
Beyond all the talk, this is a matchup between a man who would likely be the undisputed champion if Kamaru Usman did not exist and a cult favorite that rose to a level of stardom once believed to be well beyond his reach. There’s a lot on the line for both as Covington has to hold on to his top spot, while a loss for Usman could leave him in limbo even with a shiny new contract. The build has been ugly, and the fight should be too, but in the best possible way.
In other main card action, former UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos takes on short-notice replacement Renato Moicano in a 160-pound catchweight bout, veteran Edson Barboza fights undefeated featherweight Bryce Mitchell, Kevin Holland drops down to 170 pounds to face Alex Oliveira, and Sergey Spivak meets Greg Hardy at heavyweight.
What: UFC 272
Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, March 5. The four-fight early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight prelims on ESPN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Colby Covington (2) vs. Jorge Masvidal (11)
I’m going out on a limb here and picking Jorge Masvidal, but not by the method most are thinking.
According to fans making their picks on Tapology, this is pretty clear-cut depending on who you’re picking: If Colby Covington, decision; if Masvidal, knockout. Simple enough, right?
But I think people are underestimating Masvidal’s striking and takedown defense. I think think “Gamebred” is at the stage of his career where he fights up to the level of his competition. His first fight with Kamaru Usman was an uninspired, short-notice dud, but he fared better in the second outing before getting clobbered. He has the standup offense and takedown defense to get the better of Covington and the fact that they used to train together is greatly to his benefit.
Covington is an immensely difficult challenge to prepare for. He is relentless for 25 minutes, both in his ability to push the pace and to absorb damage without slowing down. That’s why Masvidal having sparred with him in the past is so important. Even if he only saw 80 or 90 percent of Covington when they scrapped at American Top Team, that’s a lot of data to work with and just as importantly, he won’t be intimidated in the slightest as Covington bears down on him. Now actually dealing with that pressure in real time is another story altogether, but Masvidal thrives under pressure.
Tell me that conventional wisdom has Covington winning on the scorecards and I’ll remind you that the Covington-Masvidal story has been anything but conventional. We’re in for more surprises before this rivalry is over.
Masvidal by decision.
Rafael dos Anjos (8) vs. Renato Moicano
What a smart move by Renato Moicano to take this fight. He’s shown on more than one occasion that he is a top 10 talent at both 145 and 155 pounds, he just hasn’t scored that signature win he needs to actually claim a high ranking. The gifted Brazilian has only lost to the best of the best, so Rafael dos Anjos represents another chance for him to get that signature win. It’s low risk, high reward.
That said, “RDA” is one of the most well-rounded fighters in all of MMA and if we’re talking big game experience, few have more than the former lightweight champion. Here’s a sampling of the names he’s fought since 2014:
And that list leaves out several quality opponents. Few can claim to have had a stronger strength of schedule than dos Anjos.
He’s just not the kind of guy you fight on short notice. He’s incredibly consistent, so the chance of him having an off-night is unlikely, and as gifted as Moicano is, dos Anjos matches him skill for skill. Add in the fact that this is a five-rounder and I like the more experienced dos Anjos to take the decision win.
Pick: Dos Anjos
Edson Barboza (13) vs. Bryce Mitchell
Did someone say something about picking the more experienced Brazilian fighter to win it?
Yup, I’m going with Edson Barboza here. Bryce Mitchell has a bright future ahead of him, but he’s coming off of a long layoff and a slow start against Barboza could cost him dearly. If Barboza chips away early, especially with leg and body kicks, it’s going to hinder Mitchell’s aggression. I need to see more development in Mitchell’s striking before I can predict that he survives Barboza has to offer.
Obviously, it’s possible to beat Barboza with a wrestling-heavy attack. We’ve seen it. But Barboza is harder to take down at 145 and I don’t put Mitchell in that A-plus grappler class yet.
Again, I want to see Mitchell round out his game more before I pick him to knock off a veteran like Barboza. This one will stay on the feet and eventually Mitchell will run out of options, leaving him susceptible to a Barboza knockout flurry.
Kevin Holland (13 MW) vs. Alex Oliveira
Alright, alright, I’ll break the trend here and go against a Brazilian veteran.
Much of what I wrote in the previous two selections applies to Alex Oliveira, so he is certainly a stiff test for Kevin Holland’s first UFC fight at 170 pounds. He’s a fight finisher who loves to brawl, a scenario which Holland should definitely avoid. Holland is going to be all smiles and talk a ton of s*** no matter how the fight is going, but with a little extra discipline he should dominate this fight.
Holland has a reach advantage over a lot of welterweights and his size will also give him the advantage on the ground, which is where he should take this fight. As bad as his wrestling defense has been in the past, he’s a good offensive grappler and he can make Oliveira miserable on the ground. Holland should use his reach to control the distance, time his entries, and plant Oliveira on the canvas.
The only question for me is whether Holland finishes by knockout or submission. I see him opening up Oliveira’s defenses with ground-and-pound to set up a fight-ending choke.
Sergey Spivak vs. Greg Hardy
Simply put, Greg Hardy isn’t very good so let’s hope this is the last time we see him on a main card (or competing in MMA at all).
The former NFL standout has the physical tools to be a threat at heavyweight, but — unsurprisingly, given his late start in the game — he’s yet to put them together in any meaningful way outside of flashes of legitimate knockout power. If we’re being fair, Sergey Spivak isn’t the speediest target and quick Hardy KO win is definitely in the realm of possibility.
But Spivak should stick to his grappling and get Hardy down as soon as he can. Once that happens, it’s a wrap for Hardy. There’s only so much you can learn with a few years of training so Hardy will be lost down on the mat with Spivak. Add in the fact that Hardy has a tendency to quit when the going gets tough and you can see why I favor Spivak to finish.
Spivak by ground-and-pound TKO.