With two featured matchups getting scrapped just hours before UFC 258, it’s not difficult to understand why the allure of this $69.99 PPV lost a lot of steam entering the weekend. Nonetheless, the results of Saturday night’s action at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas have massive implications for a few different fighters. Here are my post-fight takeaways.
Who does Kamaru Usman need to beat to get the respect he deserves in the Welterweight division?
I was one of the many Gilbert “Durinho” Burns (MMA 19-4-0, UFC 12-4-0) backers going into this welterweight championship bout. He had the speed advantage, wicked power, a vast array of techniques to end the fight, and confidence derived from an understanding of how their training sessions panned out at Sanford MMA.
He had the champ figured out in the first-round of their matchup – until he didn’t. That’s the beauty of the fight game. Or perhaps Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (MMA 18-1-0, UFC 13-0-0) is simply that many levels above the rest of his opposition?
The champion known for dominating the man in front of him, but not necessarily mauling him, re-wrote his own career narrative in the cage at UFC 258. He didn’t use his veteran experience to find a “safe” method to drag Burns into deep waters and close out a decision win, which he’s done in 9 of his 13 UFC bouts.
Instead he walked forward, ate the best shot Burns had to offer, used his championship composure (and that mean jab from conventional as well as the southpaw stance) to finish Burns who is clearly the stiffest competition the division has to offer.
Sometimes you have to risk it to get the biscuit – “The Nigerian Nightmare” did just that and simultaneously shattered the welterweight record of 12 consecutive wins, long-held by former champion and UFC legend, Georges St. Pierre (MMA 26-2-0, UFC 20-2-0).
As the proverb goes, “fortune favors the bold.”
Usman embraced an emotional Burns in the aftermath of their fight and shared an intimate moment that should remain private between the two competitors. In the champ’s own words,
“I almost started bawling, because I know what that loss feels like. I have a loss in my record. I’m not perfect. I know how much he wanted this. Like I said….We grew up in this sport together, we had a common goal and having to be the one to do that to him (Gilbert Burns), it almost broke me in there.“
And just like that – after all the anticipation and anxiety that comes with this sport, the last fight of the night was over.
Athletes scurried back to the locker-rooms and from there left to handle their media obligations, the lights shut out at the UFC APEX, and only one question remained…
Who’s next for Kamaru Usman?
In my opinion, the champion of any division always has options. However, Usman is in an odd situation being that he has already ran through the top-4 contenders in his division. He just knocked out #1 Gilbert Burns, he broke the jaw of and finished #2 Colby Covington in 2019, he dominated and decisioned #3 Jorge Masvidal on six-days notice in 2020, and he annihilated #4 Leon Edwards by decision back in 2015.
At this point, a rematch with Leon “Rocky” Edwards (pending Edwards wins his next bout decisively), a rematch with Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (for the money and star-power Usman deserves), or moving up and challenging for the 185 lb championship (possibly Israel Adesanya’s next title defense after his Light Heavyweight title fight against Jan Blachowicz later this year?) are the only options that make sense to me.
We’re only a day removed, but I feel like Usman needs one more big win (and finish) to gain the respect he truly deserves. As noted prior, I was backing Burns going into this weekend’s matchup. I still think “Durinho” will attain gold at 170 in the next few years, but Usman just proved that his greatness is currently undeniable.
Why isn’t Ricky Simon ranked in the Bantamweight division?
If I told you that former LFA bantamweight champion Ricky Simón (MMA 18-3-0, UFC 6-2-0) was 8-2 in his last 10 fights, with wins over Merab Dvalishvili, Montel Jackson, Ray Borg and Brian Kelleher (who had a combined record at the time he fought them of 48-18-0) would you believe that he’s currently sitting in obscurity outside the top-15 of the UFC bantamweight rankings?
Let’s not fail to mention that the two losses he has racked up in the UFC have come against former 7x UFC title challenger Urijah Faber and Rob Font who currently sits at #3 in the bantamweight division.
As of this writing, Simón is currently second in the bantamweight division in terms of most takedowns landed (33) and third in terms of takedown accuracy (47.8%).
Currently on a three-fight win-streak, Simón has proven that the competitors standing across the cage from him can’t take his pace and ferociousness.
Most recently, Brian “Boom” Kelleher (MMA 22-12-0, UFC 6-5-0) learned the hard way that Simón can make it a fight of the night (FOTN) if he chooses to do so, but he’d rather focus on being a grinder and breaking his opponents.
Ricky Simón should clearly be a ranked fighter.
And if we’re going to make the argument that there’s just “too much talent” at 135 for the top-15 to make sense, let’s at least do our due diligence. #15 Casey Kenney (MMA 16-2-1, UFC 5-1-0) is currently slated to fight former bantamweight champion #11 Dominick Cruz (MMA 22-3-0, 5-2-0) at UFC 259.
Casey Kenney is an incredibly talented contender at 135, and if he can get past Cruz I don’t see why Simón can’t make the jump to at least #15. If Kenney loses, Simón should definitely leapfrog him.
I think a big win against a highly-touted contender could finally get Simón the respect he deserves.
If were up to me, I say he fights Said Nurmagomedov (MMA 14-2-0, UFC 3-1) next since he doesn’t have a scheduled fight coming up. What about the winner of Sean O’Malley (MMA 12-1-0, UFC 4-1-0) vs Thomas Almeida (MMA 22-4-0, UFC 5-4-0) in March?
Either way, Ricky Simón can’t be denied for much longer.
Can Alexa Grasso become a true contender in the Women’s Flyweight division?
Beating Maycee “The Future” Barber (MMA 8-2-0, UFC 3-2-0) as decisively as Grasso did on Saturday night was impressive in and of itself. However, the optics of the fight shed light on the clinch strength and vastly improved grappling Grasso possesses at a more natural weight class.
Alexa Grasso (MMA 13-3-0, UFC 5-3-0) is bound to crack the top-ten of the UFC’s women’s flyweight division come Tuesday’s ranking update. Though she did get taken down three-times by Barber, Grasso used the opportunity to reverse position and threaten Barber with submission attempts – and that speaks volumes to me.
I don’t think she’s ready for a Lauren Murphy (MMA 14-4-0, UFC 6-4-0) or Joanne Calderwood (MMA 15-5-0, UFC 7-5-0) yet, who are both much closer to a title shot than Grasso is, but if she could decisively defeat Jessica Eye (MMA 15-9-0, UFC 5-8-0, 1 NC), Andrea Lee (MMA 11-5-0, UFC 3-3-0), or even Viviane Araujo (MMA 10-2-0, UFC 4-1-0), that would definitively prove that she’s ready to face the who’s who of the division.
Ultimately, I’d like to see Grasso face off against a wrestler with more technical striking than Barber since we know Grasso’s biggest strength is her boxing and footwork.
She answered some questions with her victory against Maycee Barber at UFC 258, but there are many tests yet to come for the Mexican flyweight contender.
And I have a strong hunch that a pressure fighter with the last name Eye is going to be that test…
Stay tuned, folks.
After Further Consideration is the blog space for the All Factors Considered camp