The UFC is back with an action-packed card Saturday when UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman puts his belt on the line against his former teammate, Gilbert Burns, at UFC 258 in Las Vegas.
Usman, who has quickly ascended to become the most elite welterweight in MMA, looks to defend his title and continue a 12-fight UFC win streak when he takes on Burns. A significant challenge awaits. Burns, the No. 1 contender, is coming off an impressive six-fight win streak, earning the right to face Usman after victories over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley.
To say this is a highly anticipated fight would be an understatement. Fight fans won’t have to wait much longer. The bout originally scheduled for UFC 251 in July, will take place Saturday from the UFC Apex. (Burns was pulled from the original bout after contracting COVID-19.)
If you’re betting on UFC 258 this weekend, our partners at the FanDuel Sportsbook have an excellent promotion for new users. You can place your first bet risk-free up to $1,000, one of the best offers in the industry. Lock it in by clicking this link.
But we’re not just looking forward to that fight. The main card is stacked, featuring four other amazing bouts. The co-main event features an exciting women’s flyweight matchup between Maycee Barber and Alexa Grasso. The winner expects to catapult in the rankings, getting one step closer to a title shot.
Saturday can’t come soon enough. The main card kicks off at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Ahead is my preview and picks for the top-3 fights on the main card, plus a bonus prelim pick I think has an excellent chance to cash.
Odds via the FanDuel Sportsbook; subject to change.
UFC 258 Main Card
UFC Welterweight Championship: (C) Kamaru Usman (-290) vs. No. 1 Gilbert Burns (+225)
One of the best aspects of the UFC is that it consistently books elite fights. Even better, every now and then, we get a bout between two former teammates. Former training partners Usman and Burns will battle for the welterweight division’s biggest prize.
Not only does this bout bring exceptional narrative value, but stylistically it’s probably the most intriguing fight on the card. Both fighters are familiar with one another, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are exceptional grapplers who pack a heavy punch.
Usman, the Ultimate Fighter 21 tournament winner, is an accomplished grappler, NCAA Division II wrestling champion and black belt jiu-jitsu fighter, with seven knockouts.
Burns, who has six knockouts himself, holds a second-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, is a three-time jiu-jitsu world champion grappler and World Cup gold medalist.
Many say Burns will be Usman’s most significant threat to date. That’s hard to refute, given the accolades. Burns has proven he’s elite.
But I believe Usman is in a class of his own. That’s not a knock against Burns. Usman just legitimately might be the best fighter of the new generation.
Usman has the height and reach advantage, he’s a better striker (4.6 strikes landed per minute to Burns’ 3.15), a better takedown defender (he’s never been taken down), and has plenty of experience in world championship fights, competing in his fourth.
Burns’ strength and conditioning coach Juan Carlos Santana promises surprises for Usman, stating Burns has the better power, speed and strength. It sounds a lot like bulletin board material for Usman.
Check the resumes (I wrote of Burns’ above). Usman has wins against Damien Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. That isn’t just impressive; that’s hall of fame worthy. A third successful title defense all but solidifies Usman’s legacy as one of the greats.
I think he does just that Saturday in an expected technical fight on the ground.
Women’s Flyweight bout: No. 10 Maycee Barber (+108) vs. No. 15 Alexa Grasso (-132)
The co-main event features two women needing a win to push toward a title shot. Barber, a career 9-1, is coming off a knee injury that derailed most of her 2020 campaign. She last fought in January 2020 in a loss against Roxanne Modafferi.
Barber’s first action back will be a tough test when she takes on boxer and purple belt jiu-jitsu fighter Alexa Grasso. Grasso, who is fighting in just her second flyweight matchup of her career, comes off a big win over Ji Yeon Kim in August 2020. She previously fought in the strawweight division before making the jump to flyweight.
Both fighters have similar builds with similar reach. The fight is expected to be a strike-fest. Both women are good strikers, with a slight advantage for Barber, who lands more punches per minute (8.18 to 5.25) and has a higher significant strike percentage (59% to 41%). But Barber also absorbs more punches, which could be critical to a Grasso victory.
That said, I expect this bout to go to a decision, with Barber avenging her only loss with a big win. The price represents one of the best values on the card, getting Barber plus money. I think the market has undervalued a better fighter because of her layoff.
Pick: Barber (+108)
Middleweight bout: No. 9 Kelvin Gastelum (-245) vs. No. 15 Ian Heinisch (+194)
Here’s a classic veteran coming off losses vs. unproven talent matchup. It presents the perfect “nothing to lose and everything to gain” scenario for both fighters. Gastelum, who is coming off three straight losses, takes on Heinisch, who would certainly move up in the rankings with a win over the veteran.
When you break down the stats, this appears to be an even fight. Both land over three significant strikes per minute (Gastelum’s 3.86 to Heinisch’s 3.67) and have respectable significant strikes percentages (Gastelum’s 43% to Heinisch’s 51%). Gastelum has a clear takedown advantage though, completing 50% of takedowns attempted to Heinisch’s 19%.
Heinisch is coming off an impressive TKO win over Gerald Meerschaert. He’s unproven with raw talent and has a slight height and reach advantage over Gastelum, but doesn’t have nearly the experience.
Gastelum desperately needs a win to resurrect his once bright career, beating solid talents like Ronaldo Souza and Michael Bisping. A loss might result in looking for fights in another promotion.
Put simply, Gastelum is a veteran with name value, and Heinisch is green. But as I’ve laid out above, the fight should be much closer than the favorite heavy price oddsmakers have Gastelum at currently. That makes Heinisch the obvious value play, as it wouldn’t shock me if Heinisch lands a knockout to seal it. Put a flyer on it.
Pick: Heinisch (+194)
BOLD PRELIM PICK
Welterweight bout: No. 13 Belal Muhammad (-450) vs. Dhiego Lima (+330)
Pick: Lima (+330)
Here is my favorite underdog play of the card, but it’s also the boldest. Both fighters are incredibly inconsistent, have shown obvious signs of shaky defense, and aren’t finishers. In my opinion, the sportsbook is baiting you into taking Muhammad, who is anything but a fighter worth the heaviest price on the card.
Seriously, Muhammad is the heaviest favorite on the ENTIRE card. I’m taking this situational play because I think Lima has a better resume and can dominate on the ground. The biggest obstacle will be getting Muhammad on the mat, however.
At +330 though, I’m gladly sprinkling a few bucks to triple my investment, hopefully.
And there you have it – another incredible card. Drop your favorite bets in the comments section below. Enjoy the fights, everyone!