UFC 258: Usman vs. Burns Predictions
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns
Stylistically this is an excellent match-up and it’s even more intriguing given that current welterweight champion Usman and Burns are former training partners who have locked horns many times before in the gym, but will now fight with much higher stakes at a time when both are at the peak of their powers.
Usman will head into battle with the confidence of a man who has yet to taste defeat in the Octagon after 12-fights, not to mention having also won The Ultimate Fighter reality show, beating a who’s who of the division in the process. Meanwhile, Burns does have three UFC losses on his record, but he has looked better than ever after switching up to welterweight during his current six-fight winning streak.
Usman is extremely well rounded, but at his core he excels as a wrestler, which together with the fact he’s a very good athlete and has seemingly limitless cardio has enabled him to dominate many opponents on the mat and in the clinch too. However, his striking game has also come along very nicely, and while he’s not a heavy-handed finisher, he can deliver a high volume of accurate strikes while remaining solid defensively.
As for Burns, his core skill-set is undoubtedly his elite-level jiu-jitsu, but he too has rounded out his game very well indeed and has developed a relentless, high-pressure striking game that some fighters simply haven’t been able to keep up with, while also having respectable wrestling too.
So, both men bring a lot to the table here, but I do still lean towards Usman here. On the feet he’s already shown he can handle the incredible pace and output of Colby Covington and will enjoy a 5″ reach advantage here, so I don’t see him being overwhelmed by Burns.
Burns submission threat could be his biggest window of opportunity here, but I don’t think he can get Usman to the mat unless the champ is the one taking it there. Usman may opt to keep the fight standing for the most part instead and operate in the clinch when he’s seeking to slow things down anad gain control, though careful use of his wrestling could also play a part in helping him get a decision victory here.
Prediction: Kamaru Usman to win by decision.
Maycee Barber vs. Alexa Grasso
A highly touted prospect, it was somewhat of a surprise when Barber was beaten by Roxanne Modafferi, but it was clear that a torn ACL during the fight significantly hindered her performance, so it’s not something I’d read too much into.
After over a year out rehabing from that injury, Barber now fights Grasso, who looked good in her first flyweight bout last time out, but has been bouncing consistently between wins and losses in her UFC run so far.
Grasso’s a slick and speedy striker who fights well from range, but doesn’t have a whole lot of pop in her punches, while on the mat she’s more focused on stalling out the action to get back to her feet.
Barber is more aggressive on the feet and will press forward looking to land strikes, which can leave her defense wide open, but on the flip-side she has big power that can really trouble and potentially finish her opponents.
Barber also has good wrestling and nasty ground and pound, so combined with her aggression on the feet I think Grasso’s going to struggle to keep her at bay and will either come out on the wrong end of the decision or get finished late in the fight on the mat.
Prediction: Maycee Barber to win by decision.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ian Heinisch
Gastelum has had a tough couple of years, going winless in his last three Octagon appearances, albeit against highly regarded competition in Israel Adesanya, Darren Till and Jack Hermansson. Now he faces Heinisch, who dug himself out of a two-fight losing slump back in June of last year when he TKO’d Gerald Meerschaert.
For a change former welterweight Gastelum sizes up well against Heinisch, giving up only 2″ in height and having a similar reach. Even when facing bigger opponents Gastelum’s speed and fast hands have proven tricky to deal with and he carries considerable fight-ending power in his left hand and will be the bigger threat in this match-up.
Heinisch has spent time in Thailand developing his muay thai skills with some success, but I’m not sure that it would be wise to continue to showcase that here as his base is wrestling and is more likely to lead to a favorable outcome.
That being said, Gastelum’s takedown defense is relatively solid, he has good energy reserves and so I can see him fending off attempts to bring him to the mat, while getting the better of the striking exchanges to earn a decision victory.
Prediction: Kelvin Gastelum to win by decision.
Jim Miller vs. Bobby Green
Initially the UFC opted to move up Andre Ewell vs. Chris Gutierrez to the main card when Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera fell threw earlier this week, but with fans less than impressed with that choice a rethink has seen two established veterans in Miller and Green getting the PPV spot instead.
For the most part Green had a very good 2020 campaign, picking up three wins in a row between June and September, but he then lost out on the scorecards to Thiago Moises in October. Miller also stayed active, fighting three times during the year, but lost two of those, although sandwiched inbetween was a nice submission win against Roosevelt Roberts.
The 37-year-old Miller is currently tied with Donald Cerrone for the most fights in UFC history and he does bring all that experience to bear in the Octagon, with his submission grappling in particular being his strongest suit, though he can hold his own on the feet for the most part and remains quite durable.
Three years his junior, Green has a lot of fights under his belt too, but he’s faster than Miller and has the better boxing ability of the two. Green also has good takedown defense and that will be important as he won’t want to tangle on the mat with someone as crafty as Miller for extended periods.
I don’t see Green finishing Miller, but I can see him winning the striking battle here and emerging with a decision victory.
Prediction: Bobby Green to win by decision.
Julian Marquez vs. Maki Pitolo
It’s been well over two-and-a-half years since Marquez last fought in the UFC due to suffering a fully torn latissimus dorsi that was so severe that there were fears he may never be able to fight again. Thankfully Marquez is now finally ready to get back to it after two surgeries and several false starts getting a fight booked, but it’s unclear how much of a toll the long layoff will have taken on the 30-year-old.
As for Pitolo, he’s struggled to find his footing in the UFC since joining in 2019 from the Contender Series, mustering just one win from his four fights to date, so this looks like a must-win fight for him to keep his place in the promotion.
Both fighters are primarily strikers and while they are not the most technical they certainly pack a punch and are no strangers to a brawl. Pitolo prefers to be on the outside and oddly he does have a 1.5″ reach advantage over Pitolo despite being 4″ smaller. Marquez has a sturdy chin though and will still wade in looking to make the most of his own power punches.
Pitolo’s submission defense isn’t the best, so potentially Marquez could look to exploit that, but I could see this one becoming a bit of a slugfest and despite concerns over the long layoff I’ll take Marquez to land the bigger blows and produce a TKO stoppage win in the second round.
Prediction: Julian Marquez to win by TKO in Rd2.
UFC 258 Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Anthony Hernandez
Dhiego Lima vs. Belal Muhammad
Mallory Martin vs. Polyana Viana
Andre Ewell vs. Chris Gutierrez
Ricky Simon vs. Brian Kelleher
Gabriel Green vs. Phillip Rowe
Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick
Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process.
You can read more of Ross’s work at MMAInsight.com.