We are just a few hours away from the second pay-per-view of the year, UFC 258 where Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns will go to battle in the main event with the UFC welterweight title on the line.
Fans have been eagerly anticipating the showdown between former teammates Burns and Usman for a long time now. The fight was booked twice previously, but the Brazilian tested positive for COVID-19 the first time while Usman pulled out the next time due to unknown reasons.
Apart from the main event, the UFC 258 main card is stacked with plenty of other intriguing matchups. In the co-main event, surging women's flyweight contenders Maycee Barber and Alexa Grasso will battle for a place in the top ten of the women's 125lbs division.
Former UFC middleweight title contender Kelvin Gastelum will take on Ian Heinisch and Julian Marquez will go up against Maki Pitolo in a pair of exciting middleweight clashes. The main card is capped off with a featherweight contest between Ricky Simon and Maki Pitolo.
As the PPV inches closer with every passing minute, we take a look at the fighters most likely to emerge victorious at UFC 258.
Julian Marquez vs. Maki Pitolo (Middleweight)
Since joining the UFC from Dana White's Contender Series in July 2019, Maki Pitolo has had somewhat of a rollercoaster ride in the promotion when it comes to his performances. With a 1-3 record inside the octagon so far, Pitolo finds himself with his back against the wall and must win his next fight to stay relevant in the UFC middleweight division.
Pitolo's opponent Marquez is 1-1 in his UFC career and has acquired a name as a knockout artist since making a spectacular debut on Dana White's Contender Series. Although he's returning to the octagon on the back of a 31-month lay-off, Marquez promises to put on a show for fans.
This scrap is going to be a tight one to call. Although Pitolo has been on a poor run of form lately, he will have a burning desire to get back on the win column because he is walking on thin ice in the promotion. His opponent is returning after an absence of more than two years in a sport where inactivity is often brutally punished.
Although they are almost equally matched in terms of skill, Pitolo seems more likely to win the fight because of Marquez's recent inactivity.
Winner - Maki Pitolo
Ricky Simon vs. Brian Kelleher (Featherweight)
Simon has five wins in seven fights in the UFC. He is heading into the bout against Kelleher on the back of two impressive victories against Ray Borg and Gaetano Pirrello respectively. Kelleher has six wins and four losses in the UFC and could never really put together a string of successes that would propel him to title contender status in the division.
Kelleher is an experienced campaigner, but Simon has been on a good run of form lately. He showed great character to recover from back-to-back losses inside the octagon. The fight could go the distance unless Simon pulls a rabbit out of the hat like he did last time with an arm triangle finish. Kelleher is susceptible to submissions and if the fight goes to the ground, expect Simon to dominate.
Ricky Simon seems likely to get his hand raised against Brian Kelleher.
Winner - Ricky Simon
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ian Heinisch (Middleweight)
With three defeats in his last three outings, Kelvin Gastelum will be desperate to get back to winning ways against Ian Heinisch when they clash at UFC 258. Heinisch himself has lost two of his last three fights inside the octagon. He picked up a massive knockout win over Gerald Meerschaert after dropping a pair of contests to Omari Akhmedov and Derek Brunson.
Make no mistake, Heinisch is not going to be a rollover for Gastelum. He is an elite athlete and possesses the ability to finish a fight. But Gastelum will be wary of the threat facing him. He will be even more cautious because of the situation he finds himself in, with three losses in a row.
The fight against UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya showed that Gastelum could not just hang in there with the best fighters on the planet but also hold his own against them. Gastelum will have the edge over his opponent on the feet, and we expect him to make good use of it. Gastelum is our pick for this one.
Winner - Kelvin Gastelum
Alexa Grasso vs. Maycee Barber (Women's Flyweight)
Maycee Barber's hype train was brought to a screeching halt in her last fight against Roxanne Modafferi when the formerly undefeated fighter succumbed to a decision loss. She also suffered an ACL injury in the conflict that forced her out of action for a year.
Her opponent Alexa Grasso has three wins and two losses in her last five fights inside the octagon. In her last bout, she picked up a unanimous decision win against Ji Yeon Kim. Grasso is a durable fighter and also has good boxing skills. Her toughness, combined with the ability to stand and trade, might pose a serious threat to Barber during the fight.
ACL injuries are usually severe. More often than not, fighters who go under the knife for a knee replacement surgery are no longer the same. Their movements are restricted, and it allows their opponents to find gaps in their game. While Barber is the favorite heading into the fight, we picked Grasso to get her hand raised in the co-main event.
Winner - Alexa Grasso
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns (UFC Welterweight Championship)
Kamaru Usman is the man to beat in the UFC welterweight division. The man is on a 12-fight winning streak in the UFC and has not lost a fight since turning professional. He has dominated and defeated some of the best fighters that the 170lbs division has to offer. But is Burns going to prove to be too hot to handle for the 'Nigerian Nightmare'?
One of the breakout stars of 2020, Burns booked himself a UFC title shot after picking up big victories over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley. He is currently on a six-fight winning streak inside the octagon. Burns has proven to be equally dangerous on the ground as well as on his feet, winning six fights by knockout and eight by submission in his professional career.
Although Usman and Burns are former teammates and can expose the chinks in each other's armor, the champ left the camp to prepare with UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje's coach Trevor Whittman in Denver, Colorado. Whittman helped Usman sharpen his striking skills, and that showed in the fight against Masvidal.
However, he will have to be wary of Burns' knockout power should the pair engage in a slugfest during the fight. Although Burns seems well-rounded enough to give Usman a run for his money, the champ has time and again proven that he always finds a way to emerge victoriously. We got Usman taking this one, most likely, at the end of the five scheduled rounds via decision.