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Saturday’s UFC
258
was a fairly thin pay-per-view offering, at least in terms
of divisional relevance and familiar names, even before losing two
fights in the 72 hours before go time. With Jim Miller
vs. Bobby Green
and Gillian
Robertson
vs. Miranda
Maverick
off the card, the onus was on Kamaru
Usman
and Gilbert
Burns
more than ever to put on a show worth our—checks
notes
—70 dollars.

While it’s up to the customers to decide whether UFC 258 was a
suitable test case for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s newest price
hike, the two friends and onetime teammates who faced off in the
main event did their part and then some, putting on the most
riveting welterweight title fight the Octagon has seen in several
years. As always, from the curtain-jerker to the headliner, some
fighters raised their stock while others saw it plummet. Here is
the stock report for UFC 258: Usman vs. Burns.

STOCK UP



Kamaru
Usman
:
Facing his most dangerous title challenger —
probably his most dangerous Octagon opponent, period — “The
Nigerian Nightmare” put on a magnificent performance. In his
third-round TKO victory over former teammate Gilbert
Burns
, Usman displayed the poise and confidence that have long
characterized his game, while at the same time displaying some of
the new stylistic wrinkles he has been developing under the
tutelage of Trevor Wittman. Even those of us who expected Usman to
prevail on Saturday probably did not expect him to do so without
needing to employ the elite wrestling or crushingly heavy clinch
work that brought him to the pinnacle of the division. Instead,
Usman weathered an early sequence in which the challenger rocked
him badly with several clean overhand rights, recovered and then
won a nearly pure standup battle. In particular, Usman’s jab, which
has long been a solid tool for the champ, has been honed into a
serious weapon, one which he used to sit Burns down on multiple
occasions, from both stances. It should give future challengers
pause that the 33-year-old champ is showing new ways to win even as
he shoulders his way towards the divisional GOAT spot occupied by
George St. Pierre (for the record, Usman and anyone else is still
quite a way off from overtaking “GSP”).

Alexa
Grasso
:
Two fights into her venture at 125 pounds,
Grasso has made a believer out of me. Her unanimous decision win
over Ji
Yeon Kim
last August was an encouraging start, but Kim obliged
Grasso with the kind of standup fight she prefers, and in any event
is not known for brute physicality. Thus, the question remained of
whether Grasso would be able to cope with bona fide
flyweight bruisers who wanted to push her around. Enter Saturday’s
opponent: Maycee
Barber
, who, whether or not you bought into her self-appointed
mission to become the youngest UFC champ ever, is undeniably a big,
strong, athletic 125-pounder who bullied her way to a 7-1 record in
large part due to her physicality and aggression. Grasso passed the
test with flying colors. It was no surprise that she got the best
of the punch exchanges, tagging Barber with clean jabs and counters
while Barber swung at air. However, it was a revelation to see
Grasso owning the clinch, using underhooks and good head position
to deny Barber the takedowns and dirty boxing that she had used to
such great effect on other opponents. And perhaps most surprising
of all was the grappling exchange that closed out the second round,
in which Grasso threatened with an armbar from the bottom, swept to
top position and worked for chokes until the horn sounded, with
Grasso still in back control. While Grasso should probably get at
least one more win before being matched up with a Top 15 opponent,
the 27-year-old Mexican looks like a real threat in her new
division, and may finally be ready to live up to the potential the
UFC saw when it poached her from Invicta FC all the way back in 2016.

Kelvin
Gastelum
:
Speaking to Joe Rogan immediately after his
unanimous decision win over Ian
Heinisch
on Saturday, Gastelum said he believed he had been
fighting for his job. That may well have been true, since even in
the era of COVID-19, and even for a well-known fighter like the
Season 17 “TUF” winner, four straight losses usually mean a pink
slip. What is beyond debate is that Heinisch was Gastelum’s last
chance to hold on to any sort of contender status. For a man whose
last three fights had seen his fortunes fall from giving
pound-for-pound talent Israel
Adesanya
the fight of his MMA life, to losing a close decision
to a contender in Darren Till,
to getting embarrassed by a contender in Jack
Hermansson
, a borderline Top-15 fighter like Heinisch was a
must-pass test, unless Gastelum wanted to become “just another guy”
at middleweight, possibly for good. Gastelum passed that test,
showing composure and cage IQ in the process. He also reminded us
of some of the things he seems to do so effortlessly when he’s on
his game: the hand speed, the elite wrestling that allowed him to
throw a visibly bigger man all over the place for much of the
fight, and the underrated gas tank despite somehow looking 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 string together a
few more performances like this, he has an inside track on a
rematch with “The Last Stylebender” that none of Adesanya’s other
opponents have, given how competitive (and amazing) their first
meeting was.

STOCK DOWN



Rodolfo
Vieira
:
There have been quite a few Abu Dhabi Combat
Club world champions that have passed through the UFC. Of those who
have won gold at the world’s most prestigious submission grappling
competition, some did great things in the Octagon (Fabricio
Werdum
), some fared just okay (Marcio Cruz)
and for some, the jury is still out (Rani Yahya).
However, in over two decades of ADCC winners crossing over to the
UFC with varying degrees of success — over 100 fights’ worth, hat tip
to Sherdog stat man Jay Pettry — only one had ever lost by
submission in the Octagon. Until Saturday, that is, when Vieira,
the 2015 ADCC 99-kilogram champion and 7-0 middleweight prospect in
MMA, tapped out to a second-round guillotine choke from Anthony
Hernandez
. Now there are two, and at least Roberto
Traven
can point out that at back at UFC 34, he was facing a
much younger, much bigger man in Frank Mir, who
also happened to be on his way to becoming one of the greatest
heavyweight grapplers in MMA history. The problem for “The Black
Belt Hunter” isn’t the loss, or even the specific result; MMA is an
unpredictable sport. The alarming element is the speed with which
Vieira appeared to become completely exhausted, to the point of
being incapable of defending himself against an admittedly scrappy
underdog in Hernandez. Whether it was due to some kind of
adrenaline dump, trying too hard for the quick finish or simply the
inevitable drawback of Vieira’s muscular build, it was one of the
worst exhibitions of cardio in a non-heavyweight UFC fight in a
long time. It’s probably fixable, but Vieira has his work cut out
for him.

Mallory
Martin
:
Martin entered the cage at UFC 258 as pick ‘em
or slight favorite, depending on your sports book of choice,
against Polyana
Viana
, a dangerous grappler who had thus far struggled to get
her submission game going against stronger, more athletic
strawweights. Martin seemed to fill that bill perfectly, but it
still hinged 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 guard, and
after defending herself well for a few moments while her opponent
threw strikes from the bottom, fell behind as Viana began chaining
submission attempts and soon found herself trapped in the
fight-ending armbar. There’s no great shame in losing to Viana, who
kept her perfect 100 percent finish rate in victory and will
probably tap out quite a few more women before she’s done, but one
suspects that Martin will watch the tape and really, really want a
do-over on this one, as it was a very winnable fight for her.


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