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Usman vs. Burns Preview: Is UFC 258’s co-main event too much, too soon for Maycee Barber?

We’re Diggin’ Deep on UFC 258’s main card contests, featuring UFC darling Maycee Barber being placed in a prominent co-main event position against super scrappy Alexa Grasso.

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I’ll cut the UFC some slack. UFC 258 looked like a solid card about a month ago. Then it lost Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall and Jimmie Rivera vs. Pedro Munhoz and was unable to fill the holes those left on the main card, leaving the card wanting. Outside of the title fight – a fine PPV headliner, but not a great one – everything else feels underwhelming. Maycee Barber and Alexa Grasso is a perfectly fine contest, but what the hell is it doing as the co-main event? The rest of the contests would be alright on a PPV main card if it had something else around it to beef it up… like Weidman vs. Hall or Rivera vs. Munhoz. As it is, expect the PPV buys to be on the lower side when those numbers are released.

Maycee Barber vs. Alexa Grasso, Women’s Flyweight

It shows how much faith the UFC has in Barber as this contest was still in the co-main even before Rivera and Munhoz was shot down due to a positive COVID-19 test. She is not only coming off a loss, she’s coming off a long layoff due to tearing her ACL in that loss. Barber still believes she can become the youngest UFC champion – a difficult goal to accomplish even before the injury and layoff – but she still has several things to learn before that even has the possibility of becoming a reality.

There’s no doubt Barber has the physical skills to do so. She’s a powerhouse of an athlete and has proven to be tough as hell. The problem is she has ignored honing her technique in a way that minimizes the use of energy and avoiding injury. Training with Roufusport, confidence and creativity shouldn’t be a problem – think Anthony Pettis, the camps star pupil – but I wouldn’t be sure it’s the best place to hone technique. For instance, even though she’s got the perfect frame to be a bricked up takedown specialist, her wrestling has been average at best. She could very well have brushed up on all of these areas given the long layoff, but I can’t believe it until I see it.

For all the hype Grasso received as an up-and-comer when she first came into the UFC, she has never been a great athlete. She’s not bad athlete – she may even be slightly above average – but she has never display the burst, power, or speed that would justify calling her an elite athlete. Nevertheless, she’s probably the best athlete Barber has faced has a good knowledge of how to use her physical gifts. Grasso did appear more active in her flyweight debut – she missed weight a couple of times at strawweight – picking her spots expertly against the larger Ji Yeon Kim. Of course, her boxing has always been her biggest strength, but her defense has been exposed at times.

Fortunately for Grasso, Barber’s defense is an even bigger worry, leading me to believe Grasso is likely to outslick Barber on the feet to take a decision. Barber could very well clock Grasso with a bomb, but Grasso has never been KO’d and has a significant edge in terms of the level of competition she has faced. Plus, I don’t think Barber’s wrestling is good enough to take advantage of her edge in physicality that might be able to close the gap in her striking technique. The UFC isn’t off-base and to see Barber as a future star, but I think this is too much, too soon. Grasso via decision

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ian Heinisch, Middleweight

There’s no denying the talents of Gastelum. He hits like a truck, has fast hands, can take a hell of a beating, and people tend to forget how good his wrestling is. Unfortunately for him, his discipline has always been lacking, holding him back from perhaps already being a champion. I don’t say that to disparage Gastelum as a person; I’ve seen no indication that he has done anything to warrant any such claim. The discipline issue is a long-standing issue that I find it to believe he wouldn’t agree with.

Gastelum belongs at welterweight. He knows it. Even Uncle Dana knows it. Unfortunately, Gastelum crapped the bed too many times that the UFC president won’t allow him to attempt it any more given he missed weight three times during his stint at 170. He was also fined for weigh-in shenanigans prior to his contest with Darren Till. And… he was submitted by heel hook by Jack Hermansson, the type of submission you wouldn’t expect someone with his resume to succumb to. If Gastelum can ever get his head where it should be – and keep it there – he could end up with gold around his waist, even in the division where he isn’t best suited.

While Gastelum being undersized is an obvious problem that has correlated to many of his losses, it isn’t the only factor. Gastelum has an underrated knowledge of range, angles, and timing that helps to make up for his shorter reach. However, strikers with a sound knowledge of those same things have been able to neutralize much of what makes Gastelum effective due to his limited range. Heinisch hasn’t been that type of fighter in the least, at least up until his most recent contest. Typically attacking with reckless aggression, Heinisch has caught opponents off-guard with that approach on the regional scene. As it started being less effective in the UFC – resulting in him tiring himself out in a hurry and being picked apart – Heinisch changed up his training and showed more patience and greater confidence in his kicks. Of course, his win only lasted 74 seconds, so that’s hardly a credible time frame in which to judge if he’s going to continue the more patient approach.

Heinisch’s success was previously attributable to him overwhelming his opponent. The one thing Heinisch’s opposition will never be able to claim is they outworked him as he has zero quit in him. He does get tired and lose some oomph in his strikes and takedown attempts, but there’s no shortage of effort from him. Perhaps with his never-say-die attitude and solid scrambling ability, he might be able to catch Gastelum in a submission. However, Heinisch hasn’t displayed the type of tricky submissions that Gastelum has been prone to in the past. Plus, while Gastelum’s discipline can be questioned, his effort in the cage has never been in question. Otherwise, even if Heinisch’s striking improvement is legit, I don’t see him outstriking Gastelum. Heinisch’s durability leads me to believe it goes to a decision. Gastelum via decision

  • It’s hard not to be rooting for Jim Miller. A hell of a nice guy who has never been a great athlete – even when he was in a title eliminator back in the day – Miller has always made the most of his abilities. The UFC has alternated between pitting him against other veterans who are past their primes and testing inexperienced up-and-comers. For his record breaking 37th UFC appearance, he’s getting veteran Bobby Green. It’s a dangerous contest for Miller as Green may be past his physical prime, but it isn’t by much as Green is still a plus athlete with fast hands. Green has beat himself in the past by looking too much for the counter at times rather than ensuring he gets in his share of offense. Making an opponent miss is impressive, but it doesn’t add any points on the judges’ scorecards. Regardless of Green’s past issues with judges, this contest is dependent on how long the contest goes. Green hasn’t secured a finish since 2013 whereas Miller hasn’t won a decision since 2016 since he doesn’t have the gas tank he used to due to his Lyme’s disease. Miller is an exceptionally savvy submission grappler – his last four wins have come by first round submission – but Green isn’t prone to getting caught in those situations himself. I see the more athletic Green outlasting the tricky vet. Green via decision
  • It’s easy to forget Julian Marquez was still on the UFC roster given he hasn’t fought since the summer of 2018. Then again, a fully torn latissimus dorsi is an incredibly serious and rare injury. Whether there will be long-term ramifications is hard to predict given the rarity of the injury. Before that, Marquez was a hard-hitting brawler with an iron-clad chin. He may not have been the best athlete and had his struggles to make the middleweight limit, but his athleticism has been underestimated on several occasions to the detriment of his opposition and he’s been swinging heavy artillery until the end of every contest. The thing the UFC loves about him is he’s willing to step into the pocket swing away. The same could be said of Maki Pitolo. The Hawaiian rarely throws just one punch at a time… at least over the first half of a fight. Pitolo goes hard and heavy for the finish early in the contest, having the power and chin to make the strategy work well enough on the regional scene. The chin has been holding up since making the leap to the UFC, but the KO’s haven’t been coming at the same rate. Pitolo hasn’t shown the grappling chops either to fully make his improving wrestling game a functional part of his game. I like Marquez’s ability to throw with greater consistency late to be the difference. Marquez via decision