The MMA wagon keeps rolling with UFC 258, a card devoid of big name match-ups that will appeal to the sport’s true believers. The main event pits reigning champ Kamaru Usman against challenger Gilbert Burns. Usman is not the world’s greatest salesman, and despite his undeniable talent, has yet to penetrate mainstream consciousness. He is an excellent fighter who appears to have a tight grip on the Welterweight division. His wrestling is world-class and this can make for uninteresting fights that non-purists can find tedious. Usman can stand and trade, as we saw against Colby Covington, but his preferred method of attack involves smothering his opponents and nullifying their offensive weapons as witnessed against Jorge Masvidal.
Gilbert Burns makes for a worthy opponent and is currently riding high on an impressive six fight win streak. Burns is a highly-decorated Brazilian Jiu-jitsu exponent, and he matches up very well against Usman. His short stocky frame makes him almost impossible to take down, and his submission game is second to none. He also strikes with terrific power and plays a game of relentless pressure that can crack almost any opponent. If one were to design a fighter to conquer the champ, Burns is what he would look like. The pair are former teammates, adding additional interest, and their almost mirrored style will be a spectacle that serious fight fans will enjoy.
The rest of the card appears somewhat lacklustre. Looks can be deceiving, and the big stage might just unearth an unforeseen bright talent or an unexpected barnstorming contest. Kelvin Gastelum attempts to get his career back on track following three straight losses, albeit to champion level competition. He has not appeared the same since his fight of the year contender versus reigning champ Israel Adesanya during which both fighters took heavy punishment. Gastelum has also struggled with his weight throughout his career, and his performances following a failed weight cut have traditionally been well short of his best. He has come in overweight on numerous occasions and appears guilty to be in the cage in such a circumstance, so pay close attention to the weigh-ins before determining his winning chances at UFC 258. He squares up against Ian Heinisch, a former high school wrestling champ with an interesting backstory.
Heinisch has been in and out of jails in Spain and the USA for dealing drugs but has turned his life around and UFC 258 gives him the opportunity for a big jump in profile should he beat the higher-ranked Gastelum. The redemptive power of intense physical fitness, particularly martial arts, is completely lost upon critics of the sport. Countless young lives have been saved from lives of crime when a troubled man walked into a training gym and strapped on a pair of boxing gloves. Fighting is good for the soul. It contains redemptive elements that other competitive endeavours do not. For Heinisch, that has occurred twice, first as a primary school student suffering from ADHD, and then as an adult striving to forge a lawful and meaningful path.
Keep an eye out for Maycee Barber who was building real momentum before her shock loss to Roxanne Modafferi. Her coaches believe she is champion material, and she will need to deliver a comprehensive victory against Alexa Grasso to get her career back on track in the UFC 258 co-main event.
There will likely be some other highlights to the card, but the main interest appears to centre on the top end. The Usman versus Burns fight appears as evenly matched as any championship bout. Burns represents great odds in the current market, so if you’re desperate for a wager he would be the suggestion. The event will be a highlight for the purists who enjoy the chess-like qualities of mixed martial arts. There is a finesse to great fights, and the UFC 258 main event looks to be a delicately poised encounter that pits well-rounded, well-matched artists in a game for the lustre of UFC gold.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Editor