Predicting the UFC 302 Fight of the Night

UFC 302 is full of potential bangers. Here's the fight we think might win Fight of the Night.
Roman Kopylov
Roman Kopylov / JULIEN DE ROSA/GettyImages

After a week off, the UFC will return to action on June 1 in Newark, New Jersey for UFC 302, headlined by a lightweight title clash between pound-for-pound king Islam Makhachev and No. 4- ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier, an ex-interim champion in the division. In the co-main event, Sean Strickland and Paulo Costa will lock horns inside the Octagon in a five-round co-main event.

Both the main and co-main events have the potential to deliver a fight that could keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The main card of the PPV also has exciting fighters like Kevin Holland, Randy Brown, and others. However, none of the fights on the main card of the PPV are the safe pick to bag the Fight of the Night bonus from the UFC. That distinction goes to the featured bout of the preliminary card, a middleweight matchup between Roman Kopylov and the undefeated César Almeida.

Kopylov, the former Fight Nights Global middleweight champion, is one of the best strikers in the division. He had lost his latest bout at UFC 298 to Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez via submission but was on a four-fight winning streak before. Kopylov came to the UFC with an undefeated record in eight fights, seven via finish. However, the glaring weakness in his grappling resulted in losses in his first two fights with the promotion.

With an improved ant-wrestling skill, Kopylov improved significantly, reeling off four finishes, two winning the Performance of the Night bonus. Although his victories were against mid to low-tier middleweights like Alessia Di Chirico, Punahele Soriano, Claudio Ribeiro, and Josh Fremd, Kopylov’s display of dynamic striking was on full display, particularly the kicks and punches to the opponent's body.

Almeida vs. Kopylov is our UFC 302 Fight of the Night prediction

Almeida, an accomplished kickboxer who had fought at Glory and Superkombat, entered the UFC with an upset victory over Lucas Fernando, the LFA middleweight champion. In the fight on the seventh season of Dana White’s Contender Series, Almeida was a sizeable underdog against Fernando but managed to win via unanimous decision. One judge had a 10-8 scorecard for Almeida. Before the fight, Almeida had attracted attention for his past WGP Kickboxing title fight against Alex Pereira.

Almeida lost the WGP Kickboxing middleweight title to Pereira in a five-round fight. Despite being knocked down twice, Almeida showed his grit against Pereira. Nonetheless, Almeida announced his promotional debut in style, against Dylan Budka at UFC Vegas 90. Almeida won the fight via second-round TKO, winning the Performance of the Night bonus. Budka had employed a grappling gameplan but Almeida elbowed and dropped his opponent and while defending the takedown and eventually secured the victory.

Almeida vs. Kopylov is a kickboxing fight. Both have stings on their punches and kicks. Despite being the more accomplished MMA fighter, Kopylov employs more kicks in his game than his Brazilian counterpart. Kopylov and Almeida have never won a Fight of the Night bonus in the UFC. Whenever Kopylov has won, opponents have succumbed to his dynamic striking. That won’t be the case with Almeida who has shown he can get back up twice and go the full distance even against Alex Pereira, one of the devasting power punchers in combat sports.

One of the things Kopylov has in his favor is age. At 33, he is three years younger than Almeida. Moreover, Kopylov is also faster than Almeida who makes up for his slow speed with power. In his last fight, Almeida showed he can defend takedowns and even secure knockout with elbows to the side of the head. Kopylov has been finished but only via submission. Almeida is undefeated in professional MMA and has not been knocked out in sanctioned kickboxing bouts.

The striking game and the never-been-knocked-out factor all point to Almedia vs. Kopylov winning the Fight of the Night bonus at UFC 302. The flyweight matchup in the early prelims between undefeated flyweights Nyamjargal Tumendemberel and Andre Lima was a contender for winning the bonus but the former pulled out and was replaced by Mitch Raposo on short notice. Paulo Costa vs. Sean Strickland also has a case to make but one of them would likely dominate the other and win the Performance of the Night bonus.


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