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Options have grown scarce as they relate to Kamaru
Usman
. Such is the plight of a truly dominant divisional
champion.

Usman turned away another would-be assailant and retained the
undisputed
Ultimate Fighting Championship
welterweight title, as he cut
down former
Sanford MMA
stablemate Gilbert
Burns
with punches in the third round of their UFC
258
main event on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Burns
succumbed to blows 34 seconds into Round 3, suffering his first
defeat in nearly three years.

Sailing was far from smooth for Usman. Burns clipped and nearly
floored him with an overhand right in Round 1, the four-time
Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion poised to spring the upset.
However, Usman recovered, steered clear of further danger and let
his hands do the rest. Backed by his championship mettle, his jab
paved the way for a pivotal second round and set the stage for a
finish in the third. Burns hit the deck twice, and though referee
Herb
Dean
offered him every opportunity to continue the fight, the
punches kept falling until the job was done.

In the aftermath of UFC 258 “Usman vs. Burns,” here are five
matches that ought to be made:

Kamaru
Usman
vs. Leon
Edwards
:
Usman established an all-time record with his
13th consecutive victory inside the welterweight division, breaking
the mark held previously by Georges St.
Pierre
. Since he captured the 170-pound title with a rousing
five-round decision over Tyron
Woodley
a little less than two years ago, “The Nigerian
Nightmare” has slowly tightened his stranglehold on the weight
class with decisive wins over Burns, Jorge
Masvidal
and Colby
Covington
. In terms of top-shelf challengers, only three
remain: Edwards, Stephen
Thompson
and Michael
Chiesa
. Perhaps the most deserving of the three, Edwards has
not fought since he laid claim to a unanimous decision over
Rafael
dos Anjos
on July 20, 2019, his progress undercut by multiple
fight cancellations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He faced
Usman once previously, as he wound up on the wrong side of the
scorecards at UFC on Fox 17 in 2015. Edwards has since rattled off
eight straight wins.

Alexa
Grasso
vs. Roxanne
Modafferi
:
Long lauded as one of the sport’s top
prospects, Grasso may have finally turned the corner to contention.
The Lobo Gym standout secured her most significant victory to date
in the three-round co-headliner at 125 pounds, as she took a
unanimous decision from the returning Maycee
Barber
and staked her claim as a Top 10 flyweight. Grasso
outlanded her counterpart by a 95-50 margin across three rounds,
neutralizing three Barber takedowns with activity off her back and
an efficient standup attack. The 27-year-old will enter her next
assignment on the strength of back-to-back wins. Modafferi lost a
three-round unanimous decision to Viviane
Araujo
at UFC on ESPN 20 in January but remains a strong litmus
test for rising contenders.

Kelvin
Gastelum
vs. Sean
Strickland
:
Gastelum re-established his foothold in
the middleweight division and washed away the stench of a
career-worst three-fight losing streak, as “The Ultimate Fighter”
Season 17 winner laid claim to a unanimous decision against former

Legacy Fighting Alliance
titleholder Ian
Heinisch
. Scores were 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. Gastelum
surprised Heinisch with his effectiveness in the wrestling
exchanges, once again flexed his superiority in the scrambles and
pecked away with stinging straight left hands for his first victory
in nearly three years. Strickland returned from two-year absence
due to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident and enjoyed a 2-0
campaign in 2020. The former King of
the Cage
champion last competed at UFC Fight Night 182 on Nov.
14, when he disposed of Brendan
Allen
with second-round punches.

Ricky Simon
vs. Yadong
Song
Kyler
Phillips
winner:
Simon has emerged as a dark horse in
the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. The
Team Oyama
representative put his third consecutive win in the
books—this one at 145 pounds—with a unanimous decision over onetime
Ring of Combat champion Brian
Kelleher
. Simon hacked open a vertical cut between his
counterpart’s nose and right eye with an elbow strike in the first
round, controlled a majority of their exchanges and completed six
of his nine takedown attempts. While he can certainly hold his own
as a featherweight, he might be better served returning to 135
pounds for the foreseeable future. An absolute brute of a
bantamweight, Simon already holds a submission victory over the
12th-ranked Merab
Dvalishvili
. Song will meet Phillips at UFC 259 on March 6.

Belal
Muhammad
vs. Jingliang
Li
:
Muhammad, 32, seems to have hit his stride in the
welterweight division. The former
Titan Fighting Championship
titleholder overwhelmed two-time
“Ultimate Fighter” finalist Dhiego Lima
on the undercard with pace, purpose and precision, as he walked
away with a three-round unanimous verdict despite eating 26 leg
kicks from the Atlanta-based Brazilian. Since falling short in his
UFC Fight Night 143 battle with Geoff Neal in
January 2019, Muhammad has pieced together a four-fight winning
streak to improve to 9-3 inside the Octagon. Li last appeared at
UFC on ABC 1, where he punched out Santiago
Ponzinibbio
a little more than four minutes into their Jan. 16
confrontation.


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