The dust has settled on ‘UFC 258 - ‘USMAN VS BURNS’ and the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ has once again walked away as the undisputed welterweight champion. Gilbert Burns put a scare in Kamaru Usman early, but found himself victim to an increasingly piercing jab as the bout wore on. The co-main event saw an unceremonious derailing of any lingering hopes Maycee Barber might have had to become the UFC’s youngest ever champ. And a miraculous comeback from Julian Marquez in the PPV opener.
So, is Jorge Masvidal really the best option for Kamaru Usman right now? Can Alexa Grasso get a title bid going at flyweight? And is there any chance the UFC will need Kelvin Gastelum to sub in for Robert Whittaker or Paulo Costa?
To answer those questions – and a couple other things – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
It’s always a little surprising to hear a champion with a callout ready after their latest title defense. It’s even more surprising when that callout is for an opponent they already decisively beat, less than a year ago. But, Usman left nothing uncertain after putting the hurt on Gilbert Burns in the Octagon—he wants a rematch with Jorge Masvidal, and he wants it ASAP.
Recent rumors are that the UFC was targeting a pair of welterweights to coach the next season of the Ultimate Fighter. And while many fans figured that would be the promotion’s way of capitalizing on the Covington/Masvidal rivalry, it seems more likely now that we could see Usman & Masvidal as opposing teams on the reality show. Edwards would be the otherwise obvious top contender, but with his long layoff and the UFC’s disinterest, that seems fairly unlikely. All of which is to say, I guess a Masvidal rematch is as good as anything. Not a fight I feel I have to see, but likely the one we get.
A crushing defeat for Burns in his first bid for UFC gold. He put together a damned impressive six-fight win-streak to climb to the top of the mountain, and even looked like he was going to snatch the belt from around Usman’s waist in round 1. But, persistent execution was all on Usman’s side—and once Burns started getting picked off by the jab, he couldn’t find a way around it. It’s a hard setback for the 34-year-old, especially in a division where one time title contenders have had to work very hard to stay in reach of a second title shot.
It’s kinda too bad that Usman appears so dead set on Jorge Masvidal, because Masvidal vs. Burns seems like it’d be a fantastic booking. And if rumors are to be believed, the UFC is also working on Covington vs. Edwards. All that leaves Burns at a real shortage for immediate opportunities. Stephen Thompson and Michael Chiesa are both strong possibilities if the UFC wants to go winner/loser here. However, I think the best option would be Burns vs. the Covington/Edwards loser. If he doesn’t want to wait, though, then a fight against Michael Chiesa would also be a great test to see if ‘Maverick’ can make a title run.
A fantastic win for Grasso. Barber tried to bully her in the clinch repeatedly, but the Lobo Gym talent made sure that her technical advantages showed up on every level. Despite losing momentum late, she did more than enough to take over the bout and get the win. It was a great proving point for her physical skills, against a prospect who has made her name entirely on her power and relentlessness. For Grasso not to get overwhelmed was a big plus.
That should leave her lined up to start attacking the top 10. Bouts with the likes of Vivi Araujo, Joanne Calderwood, Jessica Eye, Andrea Lee, or Taila Santos. Of all those, I’d most love to see Grasso vs. Araujo. Instead, though, Katlyn Chookagian made the surprising move of calling Grasso out after the fight. That’s a top ranked borderline contender, looking to take on someone at the fringes of the top 10? Too big an opportunity for Grasso and her team to overlook, honestly. Grasso vs. Chookagian, just because winning that would vault her into title contention immediately.
Not the prettiest win of Kelvin Gastelum’s career, but Heinisch is the kind of opponent who will make his opposition fight an ugly battle for all of 15 minutes. To Gastelum’s credit he kept pace with Heinisch on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Afterward he said he’d like to be on standby for Whittaker/Costa, but there’s no reason he can’t take on another top 10 middleweight if the opportunity arises.
In fact, while Jared Cannonier isn’t coming off a win he’s been on a much better run of form than Gastelum lately. And all Heinisch really proved is that Gastelum still has something for the middleweight elite. A chance to really step back into contention with a win over someone like Cannonier seems like it’s exactly where the former TUF winner should be looking. And for Cannonier, this is the perfect step back from Whittaker to see if he can restate his case as a top contender. Gastelum vs. Cannonier is a fantastic top-tier middleweight bout.
A dominating performance from Simon. Kelleher constantly fought his way out of bad spots, but he never found a way to stop those bad spots from happening all over again. Continuous takedowns from Simon, lots of pressure, and even a few shots traded at range. This win puts him on a good 3-victory streak, after dropping two fights back to back in 2019. And it should set Simon up for another top ranked opponent. Someone like Cody Stamann, Marlon Vera, or even a rematch with Merab Dvalishvili.
A fight with Raphael Assuncao would be great, but after he dropped out of the Barcelos fight, that doesn’t seem likely. Of those options, I’ll say Simon vs. Dvalishvili 2 is the best of them. The Stamann fight would be a nice new matchup, but the first battle between these high-energy wrestlers was an absolute thriller with a hell of a contraversial ending. Dvalishvili has looked in top form lately, lets see if Simon can pull another rabbit out of his hat. Simon vs. Dvalishvili 2 would be another mad scramble-fest.
The ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ wasn’t in control of much of this fight, but sometimes all it takes is one good swing of momentum. By round 3 both men were exhausted, but Marquez wouldn’t stop working for the finish—landing huge right hands until he forced a bad shot out of Pitolo that put the submission in motion. A fantastic come from behind win to get his MMA career back on track after more than two years outside of the Octagon. The division is filled with opportunities as to who he could fight next.
There’s Punahele Soriano, Jun Yong Park, Makhmud Muradov, or even someone like Joaquin Buckley off a loss. Of all those, I think Punahele Soriano makes the most sense right now. Another young Contender Series prospect whose shown himself to be a violent finisher, even if he doesn’t have the deepest game behind it. Both men are great at pushing through adversity, seems like a good opportunity to find out who’s better. Julian Marquez vs. Punahele Soriano is a fantastic prospect vs. prospect fight.
A huge upset win for Hernandez, especially considering that he gave Vieira every chance to win their fight straight out of the gate. But, Hernandez fought off Vieira’s top game and submission attacks well. And once he got to his feet again, it was clear that Vieira was tiring fast. Hernandez put all the hands on him before locking up the second round submission win. A massive victory, and a badly needed win after his hard loss to Kevin Holland.
This could bump him up into the Karl Roberson or Alessio Di Chirico range, in the middle of the division. But, I’m not entirely sure that Hernandez couldn’t use some more time to prove his skills against other relative newcomers. So how about a fight against former LHW Dalcha Lungiambula? Another big, powerful MW with a hulking top game, but lots of technical flaws to take advantage of. Another chance for Hernandez to show off his conditioning and scrappy-ness. Anthony Hernandez vs. Dalcha Lungiambula is a great chance to get Hernandez some more cage time.
Muhammad is just an amazingly well conditioned and prepared fighter. Always comes with an idea of how to approach his opponent, and follows that plan to the letter. Against Lima, he pressured relentlessly, worked behind his jab, and threatened takedowns constantly. The result was a clean sweep on the scorecards. Afterward he called out Li Jingliang, and I’m not even gonna pretend I have any problem with that fight. Both men have had some struggles with elite competition, but regularly show themselves to be a good level ahead of most of their UFC opponents. Either one gets a win there and they should get a chance to take a big step up. If Jingliang isn’t available, a rematch with Vicente Luque would also be great, or someone like Warlley Alves or Niko Price. Still, why let go of a good thing? Muhammad vs. Jingliang is a great fight to make.
Viana has crafted a trapping style, predicated on luring opponents into her guard and then going after them with a high aggression submission game. It’s a risky proposition, especially as she faces a better and better class of fighter, but it worked damn well here against Martin. However, with a handfull of UFC losses already, it feels like Viana could use more time to find her place before she shoots for the strawweight elite. So, what about a battle against a striking specialist looking for her own consistent success? Polyana Viana vs. Loma Lookboonmee seems like a good way to give two specialists a chance to keep advancing their games. If Lookboonmee isn’t available, then Ashley Yoder would be a fine test.
OTHER BOUTS: Maycee Barber vs. Ariane Lipski, Ian Heinisch vs. Tom Breese, Brian Kelleher vs. Luke Sanders, Maki Pitolo vs. Oskar Piechota, Rodolfo Vieira vs. Dusko Todorovic, Dhiego Lima vs. Lyman Good, Mallory Martin vs. Miranda Granger, Chris Gutierrez vs. Said Nurmagomedov, Andre Ewell vs. Montel Jackson, Gabriel Green vs. Sasha Palatnikov, Philip Rowe vs. Louis Cosce