The UFC is back in action, as the APEX plays host to a PPV card. Headlining the card is Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Gilbert Burns. Usman enters this fight on a sixteen fight win streak, thirteen of which come inside the Octagon. This will be the Nigerian Nightmare’s third title defense. As for Burns, has won six fights in a row – four of which have come at Welterweight. The knockout over Damián Maia and dominant decision victory over Tyron Woodley is what sprung Burns into this opportunity. With this being two former training partners, the intrigue is definitely there for this one.
UFC 258 PPV Main Card On ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns – This is a fun fight, but one that Usman wins. The man is just a nightmare matchup for anyone. Physically imposing, insane cardio, amazing wrestling, evolving striking and the ability to grind opponents down are just a few of his traits. Now, Burns is solid himself. He’s got good cardio, is a wizard on the mat and has ever improved his striking. However, Usman is going to control where this fight goes. If he wants to keep it on the feet, he’s going to push Burns against the cage and wear him out with pressure and strikes. While Usman might threaten a takedown, I believe he is aware of being submitted – so near the end of the round could be something possible. In the end, Usman gets it done via late TKO.
125 lbs.: Maycee Barber vs. Alexa Grasso – I’m not entirely sure about this fight given Barber’s return from a bad injury, but I do side with her. I feel that while Grasso is an excellent striker, she’s at a physical disadvantage at Flyweight. She’s physically at a disadvantage, as most of these girls are cutting down to get to Flyweight. Barber is one of those girls and I expect her strength alone to cause issues for Grasso. The first clinch, it’s going to be apparent. So with that, give me Barber via decision – using takedowns and top control to win.
185 lbs.: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ian Heinisch – I don’t see this being a particular slugfest, as much as a grind. Gastelum is in a position where he must win, while Heinisch is getting his first top ten test inside the octagon. In normal circumstances, I liken Heinisch’s style against Gastelum. A heavy wrestling attack, who can keep top control and grind foes. However, Gastelum is in a must win and I believe he will do anything in his power to keep the fight on the feet and outpoint Heinisch for a decision victory.
185 lbs.: Julian Marquez vs. Maki Pitolo – While I liken Marquez over Pitolo, I can’t ignore the inactivity and injuries. Mixed martial arts evolves, especially when you haven’t fought in over two years. And for that, I have to go with Pitolo. The Hawaiian is durable, has cardio and is a pretty good striker with some legit pop. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Pitolo. With inactivity comes potential cardio concern and I see that plaguing Marquez. So with that, give me Pitolo to win via TKO.
145lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs Ricky Simon – This fight could be a blowout for Simon, as his heavy wrestling and grind style could just wear out Kelleher. OR and my prediction, Kelleher creates problems for Simon on the feet and causes him to shoot recklessly into Kelleher’s signature guillotine. So with that, give me the upset and Kelleher to win via submission.
UFC 258 Prelims Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Anthony Hernandez vs. Rodolfo Vieira – In one corner, you have Hernandez, who’s 1-2 in the UFC. He lost his last fight via knockout and the other loss came via submission. Meanwhile, Viera is undefeated and a BJJ wizard – with two submission wins inside the octagon already. On the feet, he needs work. However, I don’t expect much striking takes place, as Viera gets to the ground and locks up a submission.
170 lbs.: Dhiego Lima vs. Belal Muhammad – This is no disrespect to Lima, but what’s it going to take for Muhammad to fight a higher ranked foe? The man has won three straight and seven of his last eight fights. I understand Lima too has three straight, but he’s also 4-5 inside the octagon. Muhammad is the better all around fighter and is going to control this fight wherever it may take place. Expect Muhammad to grind Lima down against the cage, mixing in takedowns and ground-and-pound in route to a third round TKO.
140 lbs.: Andre Ewell vs. Chris Gutierrez – The majority of this fight should take place on the feet. While Ewell has a ridiculous eight inch reach, its Gutierrez who’s striking I favor. His ability to keep distance and systematically break fighters down with leg kicks is a scary opposition for anyone. The fact that his takedown defense is improving, only aids his ability to keep the fight where he’s more comfortable. In the end, I see a close fight, but one in which Gutierrez wins two of the three rounds for decision victory.
115 lbs.: Mallory Martin vs. Polyana Viana – I’m not going to be shocked either way here, as I can see either Viana lock up a submission from guard or Martin grind Viana out. The latter is where I lean. Viana is just too inconsistent for me to trust her. So with that, give me Martin to win via decision.
UFC 258 Early Prelims Card On ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Gabe Green vs. Phil Rowe – Feel like this could go either way, as both men enter this contest with 100% finishing rates. It’s Green though who I’m siding with. I just don’t liken Rowe’s resume heading into this, as up until his last fight, he fought a bunch of under .500 and inexperienced fighters. Add the fact that Green has a UFC fight under his belt, one in which showed cardio, striking volume and an iron chin – and I’m picking Green to win via TKO.