Tai Tuivasa (@bambamtuivasa/Instagram page)

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa vs. Tybura Preview and Predictions

The big fellas take center stage this weekend inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this weekend, as Tai Tuivasa takes on Marcin Tybura for UFC Vegas 88 on Saturday, Mar. 16. Coming into this main event showdown, Tuivasa has lost three fights in a row, and he lost them badly. He was knocked out twice and submitted once while failing to reach the final round in any of those bouts. His opponent, Polish standout Marcin Tybura, suffered a first-round knockout in his last outing when he was steamrolled by current interim champion Tom Aspinall. He looks to avoid losing back-to-back fights for the first time since 2019 by getting past Tuivasa.

The lineup of the card has shifted a bit, and, now, in the co-main event slot, is a welterweight tussle between Bryan Battle and Ange Loosa. Both men look to extend their winning streaks to three and begin to march towards the rankings at 170 pounds. Now, in what Jon Anik has dubbed the featured position of the fight card, is a light heavyweight tilt between former title challenger Ovince St. Preux and Nigerian-born slugger Kennedy Nzechukwu. At 40 years old, St. Preux is entering the portion of his career where his whole body is sore just from sleeping on it wrong. He will need to turn back the clock this weekend, rather than spring forward, if he is going to defeat Nzechukwu who is nearly a decade his junior.

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa vs. Tybura airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.


Tai Tuivasa has lost three consecutive bouts and was stopped in all three of them; can “Bam Bam” return to the win column and get past Poland’s Marcin Tybura?

Kuhl: Tai Tuivasa seemed nearly unbeatable for quite some time. He entered the UFC in late 2017 with a 100-percent-knockout win rate. He then proceeded to beat his first three UFC opponents, including two knockouts and a win over Andrei Arlovski in his first fight to go the distance. After that, he suffered his first three losses of his career all right in a row. From there, he bounced back with a five-knockout winning streak, which included three first-round and two second-round wins over opponents like Derrick Lewis, Augusto Sakai, and Stefan Struve.

It looked like Tuivasa’s losing streak was a blip on the radar, until it happened again. He is currently on a three-fight losing streak to bookend his winning streak with two stretches of losing three in a row. However, he has been increasingly facing tougher competition. Getting knocked out by Ciryl Gane and Sergei Pavlovich is nothing to scoff at, and his last loss was a submission at the hands of the very lanky Alexander Volkov. Fortunately for ninth-ranked Tuivasa, tenth-ranked Marcin Tybura is a better match-up.

Poland’s Tybura has been in the UFC since 2016, and he has not been one to finish many fights. 10 of his 18 Octagon appearances have gone the distance with seven resulting in a win. Of the eight fights that didn’t go the distance, four resulted in knockout losses. Tybura is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and he is tough as nails, but Tuivasa is exactly the type of fighter he gets knocked out by. And, the deeper they go, the more likely he is to get knocked out.

This one does not go the distance, as Tuivasa is going to do what he is accustomed to, as he closes the distance and gets inside range. Tybura does not have a big height or reach advantage, and his head will be right there when Tuivasa comes in with a big overhand right to close the show. Tuivasa by knockout in Round 2.

Petela: I hope that Marcin Tybura hasn’t lost his favorite pair of sunglasses, because he is going to need them to cover the black eyes he gets in this fight. With all respect to Tybura, this is a step down in competition for Tai Tuivasa, and the ideal fight for him to get things right, and score a knockout win to bolster his confidence and try to make another push to the top of the division.

The only thing stopping Tuivasa from becoming a truly elite mixed martial artist is himself. He is a jovial guy and a fan-favorite, but that larger-than-life persona, and his desire to do nothing but stand in the center of the cage and hurl mollywhoppers, isn’t a recipe for title contention. He needs to become more disciplined, work extensively on his takedown defense, and focus more on getting a win rather than getting a show-stopping knockout. That is what his fight camp leading up to this clash was supposed to be about. Taking on Tybura, he has an opportunity to do just that. Tybura is a very good grappler, but not an offensive wrestling specialist, so Tuivasa should be able to fend off the takedown attempts if he has worked on that skill during this training camp.

At range, Tuivasa will be the more dynamic striker, and he should show off a more mature version of himself, piecing apart Tybura early and often. Hopefully, for Tuivasa and his fans, he allows the knockout to come to him rather than recklessly chasing after it and exposing his chin in the process. I expect the game plan to work perfectly, and Tuivasa to score a late knockout while showing fans and the UFC executives that he is taking this seriously now and is ready to become the next face of the heavyweight division.

Both Kennedy Nzechukwu and Ovince St. Preux enter this showdown on the heels of a loss; which veteran fighter will be able to right the ship and emerge with a victory?

Petela: This is not a good matchup for Ovince St. Preux at this point in his career. The former title challenger is well past his prime, and his opponent in this one is just entering his prime. If ever there was an example of a changing-of-the-guard fight, this is it.

Kennedy Nzechukwu might be coming into this fight after losing his last fight, but, prior to that, he won three in a row. He is 31 years old and is well-trained, coming out of the Fortis MMA camp under the tutelage of Sayif Saud. His time to make a run towards the top of the division is now, if he is going to do it, and St. Preux’s time is long gone.

If there is an area where OSP has an advantage, it is certainly on the ground. He has a total of nine career wins via submission and is probably most well-known for his four victories via Von Flue choke. The thing is, at this point in his career, everyone knows what to expect, and there is no doubt that Nzechukwu is prepared and won’t be nonplussed by a Von Flue choke attempt. OSP’s chin has also become a bit weaker over the years, and that is a problem going up against a hard-charging striker like Nzechukwu. This one ends early, and it ends violently. Nzechukwu scores a massive knockout and probably ends the career of St. Preux.

Kuhl: I completely agree with my colleague on this one. Not only is Kennedy Nzechukwu taller, longer, and a great fighter pretty much everywhere, but he is also nine years younger than Ovince St. Preux, who has been on the bench for over a year now. St. Preux’s best days are well behind him, and I see Nzechukwu earning an early knockout, as well.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Kuhl: While Gerald Meerschaert and Bryan Barberena have been longtime UFC veterans, and, at times, fan favorites, both men are on losing streaks, and one more loss for either could get them off the UFC gatekeeper roster and into the PFL-Bellator mash-up. As veterans, they cost the company more money than they could re-allocate to some fresh blood, and neither man has any sort of title run in his future. If he wants a career reset, the loser could easily bounce from the UFC for another promotion, or just retire altogether.

Petela: Chad Anheliger. He is on the verge of a three-fight losing streak, which never bodes well. When you combine that with the fact that he has only won one fight inside the promotion he is probably going to be out of a job unless he starches Charalampos Grigoriou. Outside of that he will have a premature exit from the UFC.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Natan Levy vs. Mike Davis. The pair enter this fight having won a total of five fights in a row. They both tend to go to decisions and this one will probably go the full fifteen minutes but it will be fun throughout. The pace these two can keep is impressive and both will dole out a great deal of punishment. Tune in early for this showdown.

Kuhl: I’m liking the match-up between Josh Culibao and Danny Silva. Silva is hungry and making his promotional debut after a Contender Series win last September, and Culibao was high on a lot of peoples’ prospect radar, but he is only 3-2-1 since joining the UFC four years ago. Both are looking to make a statement, which is a recipe for fun in the featherwight division

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Kuhl: Tai Tuivasa is going to send Marcin Tybura into the shadow realm and fly back Down Under with some extra dough. And, it will be glorious.

Petela: Gerald Meerschaert. He is overdue for a slick submission win, and I think he gets it this weekend against Bryan Barberena. He will probably get knocked around, like a plant that is not properly weighted down, early on, but I expect him to come back and score a submission in the third round to earn that extra $50,000.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Gushers. There is no doubt that they are a premier candy choice, but they also fit perfectly with this fight card where folks are going to be gushing blood left and right. Enjoy the spilling of blood with a good old-fashioned childhood staple.

Kuhl: Being that this is St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I’m going with my annual staples of corned beef and Guinness. It’s a meal that is salty, spicy, malty and robust, just like this fight card.

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
HW: Tai Tuivasa vs. Marcin Tybura Tuivasa Tuivasa
WW: Bryan Battle vs. Ange Loosa Battle Battle
LHW: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Ovince St. Preux Nzechukwu Nzechukwu
FW: Christian Rodriguez vs. Isaac Dulgarian Dulgarian Dulgarian
Women’s BW: Pannie Kianzad vs. Macy Chiasson Chiasson Chiasson
MW: Gerald Meerschaert vs. Bryan Barberena Barberena Meerschaert
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Mike Davis vs. Natan Levy Davis Levy
Women’s BW: Josiane Nunes vs. Chelsea Chandler Nunes Nunes
FlyW: Ode Osbourne vs. Jafel Filho Filho Osbourne
FW: Josh Culibao vs. Danny Silva Culibao Culibao
Women’s StrawW: Cory McKenna vs.Jaqueline Amorim McKenna McKenna
LW: Thiago Moises vs. Mitch Ramirez Moises Moises
BW: Chad Anheliger vs. Charlalampos Grigoriou Grigoriou Grigoriou