It says something when UFC 273 features two fighters whom many could make a very strong argument deserve to be the pound-for-pound best in the sport populate the card... and they don’t appear to be the star attraction. That’s the type of buzz Khamzat Chimaev has been able to produce in the span of four UFC fights. Hell, Chimaev’s star is burning so bright that it’s easy to forget one of the most recent “anointed ones” in Mackenzie Dern will show up just one fight before him. The Chechnyan has the look of a generational talent that should be appreciated to the fullest extent as he has yet to be seriously tested. The hope is that recent title challenger Gilbert Burns will be able to change that.
Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev, Welterweight
There’s no doubt the UFC set up this contest with the hopes of having Chimaev walk through Burns the way he’s walked through everyone else thus far. A win over a recent title challenger is exactly what Chimaev needs to solidify himself as credible threat to Kamaru Usman, creating a potential box office smash. With that in mind, Burns has already proven he’s capable of beating Usman, hurting the champion early in their fight before adrenaline got the best of the Brazilian. While it would seem like a longshot for Burns to get another crack at Usman, it’s not like there is an obvious candidate. You think a win over Chimaev wouldn’t do wonders for Burns in terms of him getting a rematch? This fight is an incredible opportunity for Burns.
Burns’ career really took off when he moved up to welterweight. No longer burdened by the weight cut to 155, Burns began fighting at a faster pace since he no longer had to conserve energy. It helped that after several years under the tutelage of Henri Hooft, he was finally comfortable with the striking techniques of the demanding coach. Outside of just having confidence to let his hands and feet fly, Burns became a real threat on the feet as his speed became accentuated now that he was fighting larger men.
In order for Burns to have a chance against Chimaev, he needs to make use of that speed. While it’s no secret the bread and butter of Burns is – and always will be – his vaunted BJJ, does anyone actually believe he’s going to be able to get Chimaev on the mat? Burns isn’t a bad wrestler by any means, but Chimaev has proven himself to be a physical beast unlike anything we’ve seen at welterweight. Against Jingliang Li, he picked up the Chinese representative and carried him around the cage like he was nothing. Li isn’t an Olympic caliber wrestler by any means, but he isn’t a slouch either. That was Chimaev showing off to make a point as he’s usually pretty damned technical with his wrestling. Burns isn’t going to force the fight to the mat unless he can utilize something unique like an Imanari roll... and I can’t recall him ever trying something like that.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Burns to score a club and sub either. If Burns can hurt Usman, I’m sure he can hurt Chimaev. Just because he can doesn’t mean he will. Plus, though Chimaev has made his bones with his ability to manhandle his opponents with his wrestling, he’s flashed enough on the feet to let everyone know he’s dangerous to strike with as well.
Chimaev looks like a man of destiny at this point. I doubted him against Li after he had such a difficult time overcoming his bout with Covid, but I have no intention of making the same mistake again. Burns has the talent and know-how to derail him, but having the ability and doing it are two separate things. Regardless of how it turns out, kudos to the UFC on this nifty bit of matchmaking. Chimaev via TKO of RD2
Mackenzie Dern vs. Tecia Torres, Women’s Strawweight
There doesn’t appear to be much middle ground in the MMA world with regards to Dern. That’s in large part due to the extremes in her skill set. Perhaps the best pure grappler in all of women’s MMA, Dern has managed to find submissions in more than half of her fights, most of those in the first round. However, Dern is still a work in progress on the feet... and most would argue that’s putting it nicely. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such an issue if Dern owned a half decent wrestling game. Instead, Dern has relied on her opponents possessing a low fight IQ and voluntarily opting to go to the mat with the BJJ prodigy.
I admit I’m being hard on Dern. She has shown progress in both her wrestling and striking from when she first entered the UFC. Of course, Dern was undisciplined when she signed with the organization, regularly missing weight on the regionals and even into her UFC stint. For whatever reason, Dern has been able to find focus in her career after becoming a mother. But it’s been less than three years since she returned from her maternity leave and that’s not a lot of time to become a striking or takedown threat. What Dern does have going for her – aside from her world class BJJ — is a monstrous frame for the division with an excess of power that can put down just about anyone on the strawweight roster.
That’s easier said than done with Torres. While Torres may be the smallest fighter on the roster, she’s also proven to be one of the toughest. Despite having fought just about all the top fighters in the division, Torres has never been finished throughout her career. She rarely finishes anyone herself, but that’s probably her biggest hurdle to being an elite fighter. Despite her small frame, Torres throws her wide range of strikes with precision, utilizing expert footwork and angles to close the distance.
The question will be how Dern’s physicality will come into play when she can close the distance. Though Dern isn’t a great wrestler, she has used her raw physicality well to get the fight to the mat at times. While Torres does have a strong base, size does matter. Can Torres survive with Dern on the mat? While I can’t answer that definitively, the odds seem good. Dern couldn’t submit Marina Rodriguez and Torres appears to be more difficult to submit. Even when opponents have been able to ground Torres, they usually can’t keep her grounded for long. In fact, most of Torres’ opponents have found success controlling her in the clinch... an area Dern hasn’t proven herself. Dern’s lack of discipline on the feet will come back to haunt her once again. Torres via decision
- It’s hard to find a more underappreciated member of the UFC roster than Vinc Pichel. Despite sporting a 7-2 record within the organization, Pichel is seen as a stepping stone as opposed to someone who is knocking on the door of the official rankings. Of course, at 39, Pichel is an elder statesman whose UFC run has been marked by long absences from the cage, including five such stretches where he has gone more than a year in between fights. Pichel was never a great athlete, but he has been able to find success due to his intense grittiness and determination. While he isn’t a standout in either his striking or with his wrestling, he gets the job done. Where he has struggled is with physical wrestlers. That describes Mark Madsen to a tee. The former Olympic silver medalist is as stout as they come at 155, exercising great control in the clinch and a willingness to take an opponent down time and again. Though Madsen is still a novice in the striking department, he has shown impressive progress in his boxing. Regardless, he doesn’t want to keep the fight standing. Pichel is a savvy vet who is the perfect test for Madsen. Madsen has slowed down the stretch, so the expectation is Pichel will have the tide in his favor come the last round. It’s likely to hinge on how the judges see the second. I have very little confidence in my pick, but I’ll go with Madsen given he appears to be a stylistic problem for Pichel. Madsen via decision