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Saturday UFC 258 was a pretty thin pay-per-view offer, at least in terms of division relevance and well-known names, even before they lost two games in 72 hours ahead of time. With Jim Miller
vs. Bobby Green
and Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick outside the map there was the tongue Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns more than ever to create a show worthwhile for our—checks notes—70 dollars.
While it’s up to customers to decide if UFC 258 was an appropriate test case to Ultimate Fighting Championship‘s latest price increase, the two friends and one-time teammates facing off at the main event, did their part and then some and put the most captivating fight in the overweight that Octagon has seen in several years. As always, some warriors lifted from curtains to headliner their warehouse, while others saw it crash down. Here is the stock report for UFC 258: Usman vs. Burns.
Kamaru Usman: Facing his most dangerous title challenger – probably his most dangerous Octagon opponent, period – “The Nigerian Nightmare” made a magnificent performance. In its third round TKO victory over former teammate Gilbert Burns, Usman showed the attitude and confidence that has long characterized his game, while at the same time showing some of the new stylistic wrinkles he has developed under the guidance of Trevor Wittman. Even those of us who expected Usman to win on Saturday probably did not expect that he would do so without having to use elite wrestling or crushing heavy work that brought him to the division’s climax. Instead, Usman maintained an early order in which the challenger shook him badly with several pure overhand rights, recovered and then won an almost pure standup match. In particular, Usman’s jab, which has long been a solid tool for the champion, has been honed into a serious weapon, one that he used to put Burns down on several occasions, from both teams. It should give future challengers a break that the 33-year-old champion shows new ways to win, even as he makes his way to the division-ready GED spot occupied by George St.Pierre (for the record, Usman and everyone else are still a lot far from overtaking “GSP”).
Alexa Grasso: Two fighting over her 125-pound venture, Grasso has made me believe. Her unanimous decision wins over Ji Yeon Kim last August was an encouraging start, but Kim committed Grasso to the kind of stand-up fight she prefers, and is in any case not known for brutal physicality. Thus, the question remained whether Grasso would be able to cope good faith
flyweight bruises that wanted to push her around. Enter Saturday’s opponent: Maycee Barber, who, whether or not you bought into her self-proclaimed mission to become the youngest UFC champion ever, is undoubtedly a big, strong, athletic 125-pound who bullied her way to a 7-1 record to a large extent due to her physical and aggression. Grasso passed the test with flying colors. It was no surprise that she got the best out of the exchanges and tagged Barber with clean bumps and counters while Barber swung in the air. However, it was a revelation to see Grasso own the clinic by using underhooks and good head position to deny Barber the takedowns and the dirty boxing she had used so much for other opponents. And perhaps most surprising of all was the struggling exchange that closed the second round, where Grasso threatened with an armrest from the bottom, swept to the top position and worked for shocks until the horn sounded, with Grasso still in back control. While Grasso should probably get at least one more win before being matched with a Top 15 opponent, the 27-year-old Mexican looks like a real threat in his new division and may finally be ready to live up to the potential the UFC saw , when it slipped her off Invicta FC all the way back in 2016.
Kelvin Gastelum: Speech to Joe Rogan immediately after his unanimous decision win over Ian Heinisch on Saturday, Gastelum said he thought he had fought for his job. That may well have been true, since even in a period of COVID-19, and even for a well-known fighter like season 17 “TUF” wins, four equal losses usually means a pink drop. What is beyond debate is that Heinisch was Gastelum’s last chance to maintain any kind of competitor status. For a man whose last three fights had seen his fortunes drop from giving pound-for-pound talent Israel Adesanya the fight in his MMA life to lose a close decision to a competitor in Darren Till, to be embarrassed by a challenger in Jack Hermansson, a cross-border Top-15 fighter like Heinisch was a must-pass test unless Gastelum would become “just another guy” in middleweight, possibly for good. Gastelum passed this test and showed calm and cage IQ in the process. He also reminded us of some of the things he seems to do so effortlessly when he’s at his game: the speed of the hand, the elite fight that allowed him to throw a visibly bigger man everywhere in much of the fight and the underrated tank, even if it somehow looks soft and undersized at the same time. Gastelum is still not even 30 years old, he is still a Top 10 fighter, and if he can tighten some more performances like this, he has an inner track on a rematch with “The Last Stylebender”, like none of Adesania’s others opponents have given how competitive (and amazing) their first meeting was.
Rodolfo Vieira: There have been a few world champions in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club who have passed the UFC. Of those who have won gold at the world’s most prestigious submission competition, did some good things in the Octagon (Fabricio Werdum), some just went okay (Marcio Cruz) and for some the jury is still out (Rani Yahya). However, for over two decades, ADCC winners have crossed over to the UFC with varying degrees of success – worth over 100 matches’ worth, hat tip to Sherdog state man Jay Pettry – only one had ever lost by submission in the Octagon. Until Saturday, that is, when Vieira, the 2015 ADCC champion at 99 kg and 7-0 middleweight in MMA, tapped out for another round of guillotine choke from Anthony Hernandez. Now there are two, and at least Roberto Traven can point out that at UFC 34 he faced a much younger, much bigger man in Frank Mir, who also happened to be on his way to becoming one of the greatest heavyweight grabbers in MMA history. The problem with “The Black Belt Hunter” is not the loss or even the specific result; MMA is an unpredictable sport. The alarming element is the speed with which Vieira seemed to become completely exhausted, to the point of being unable to defend himself against an admittedly intimidating underdog in Hernandez. Whether it was due to some form of adrenaline dump, trying too hard on the fast finish or simply the inevitable disadvantage of Vieira’s muscular build, it was one of the worst displays of cardio in a non-heavy UFC fight in a long time. . It can probably be fixed, but Vieira has his work cut out for him.
Mallory Martin: Martin went into the cage at UFC 258 as a pick ’em or little favorite, depending on your chosen sports book, against Polyana Viana, a dangerous fighter who had so far struggled to get his submission game going against stronger, more athletic strawweights. Martin seemed to fill the bill perfectly, but it still depended on using that strength to stay out of Viana’s wheelhouse or at least dictate when and how the fight went to the ground. Instead, Martin allowed “Dama de Ferro” to pull on guard, and after defending himself well for a moment while her opponent threw strikes from the bottom, came afterwards when Viana began to chain submission attempts and soon found herself trapped in the fighting armband . There is no great shame in losing to Viana, who has kept her perfect 100 percent finish in victory and is likely to knock out more women before she finishes, but it is suspected that Martin will see the band and really, really will have a do- over on this as it was a very winable fight for her.
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