Greetings, fight fans! UFC 258 has wrapped up, and while it may not have been the most stacked card front top to bottom and was ravaged by some late cancellations, I think it really delivered. I would even go so far as to say that there wasn't anything close to a bad fight on the card, and I can't remember the last time that was the case. Well let's get right to it, and breakdown just what the hell happened at UFC 258!
The Main Card
Usman overcomes early adversity, breaks Burns in the third frame
Kamaru Usman (c) def. Gilbert Burns via TKO (0:34, R3) to retain welterweight championship
What Happened?: Usman landed in some choppy waters early, but survived Burns' speed and power before turning to his trusty jab to pick Burns apart and ultimately put him away early in the third round.
How did that happen?: This fight really was a story of why the jab has become such an important weapon in MMA (and why it's always been such an important weapon in boxing). Usman started out uncharacteristically slow, which really made things look promising for Burns and those wanting to see a new champion at the conclusion of the fight. The Brazilian immediately took the center of the cage and started firing off low kicks and body kicks from range, and without much time to get a feel for the fight, Burns' speed won out early. A lightning-fast overhand right slipped over Usman's jab and caught him flush on the temple, sending him down to a hand and and immediately reaching for a single leg.
Burns showed that he too is a problem.
Burns easily shucked him off, and shortly after landed another right hand over Usman's jab, stunning him again. Burns then partially landed a high kick, which Usman caught and used to trip him to the ground. Once on his back, Burns sat more than willing to welcome Usman into his guard, which Usman didn't seem to want any part of, instead opting to stand in Ali-Inoki position kicking at his legs and throwing the occasional hard right down to the body. This drew out recent memories of Burns confidently saying he could submit Usman everywhere, and the dynamic appeared to be a bit of an implied agreement that Burns notably got the better of him grappling in the gym.
The fight stayed in that position for a curiously long time, and it was a bit perplexing that Burns was so willing to play that game when he was showing such an advantage on the feet. He quickly got Usman's timing down on the feet, and the speed differential was incredibly palpable; Usman looked like he just didn't have the reaction time to defend everything coming at him, and when Burns landed flush he almost looked like he froze up a bit. With that, it was pretty odd that he gave the champion so much time to get his wits back about him and gain some confidence. Usman gained his first bit of confidence when he slipped a hard right hand in that got Burns' attention, and suddenly he wasn't so keen to play off his back anymore. Back on the feet, Burns went back to work landing the harder punches, and Usman started landing some leg and body kicks, a new-ish addition to his game that he actually called out a few fights ago after his long-injured knees were finally repaired. It was a relatively commanding round for Burns, but a bit of foreshadowing took place when Usman started to utilize his jab effectively later in the round, closing out the round with a stiff one.
At this point the jab became Usman's key tool in the fight, along with an important adjustment: switching to southpaw. As mentioned earlier, Burns immediately had success throwing his right hand over Usman's jab, so he addressed this by working his right jab from southpaw, which Burns could not effectively come over the top of because he really doesn't an extensive attack with his lead hand. He will leap in with left hooks, or throwaway jabs to line up his right hands, but for the most part Burns doesn't really have a jab in his game, instead preferring to stick around a little further out and use kicks as his range-finding techniques. Because he favors leaping into the pocket with explosive strikes, finding his range with kicks does tend to be more effective for him than it would be for someone with more of a gradual approach like Usman. However, this means that when he's in that mid-range, a good jab is the best weapon to disrupt his rhythm and stop him in his tracks when he looks to close the distance quickly. Burns began round two confidently, going to the legs and body before stunning Usman slightly with another overhand right; but the jabs immediately started to build up. His nose was starting to bloody, he was reacting bigger to feints, and he was more willing to concede pressure. One such reaction prompted him to reach out with both hands and then throw a jab out of his own, but making the big mistake of dropping his hand to his waist after throwing. Usman sent a big counter right hand over the top that stumbled Burns badly. Usman stayed patient and picked his shots, still stunning with with jabs and well timed right hands, before another stiff right jab dropped Burns to his butt. This time Usman let him right back up and pop him with another jab, fully shifting the momentum of the fight in his favor.
The champ went to work and took over in round two.
Burns looked surprisingly fresh to start the third round, but it wouldn't last long at all until another right jab dropped him yet again. This time Usman smelled blood and had no issues stepping into his guard and blasting him with punches. At one point it looked as if referee Herb Dean was stepping in to stop the bout, but he decided against it when Burns grabbed a single leg in a desperate attempt to survive. Usman would easily thwart this and continue to land hard punches until Dean had seen enough, and Usman had successfully defended his title again.
Other thoughts: The two most important components of the fight I saw that ultimately led to me favoring Usman relatively comfortably were the fact that he's a more consistent, dedicated, and effective pressure fighter, and that he utilizes a solid jab (which only looks to have gotten better). Although I was surprised that Burns came out and actually put Usman on his back foot immediately, which led to some good success, the call ended up being pretty spot on. Once Usman got into his comfort zone pressuring, Burns became much less effective; and once the jabs started flowing, his whole game started to unravel. In breaking this one down pre-fight, I noticed that Burns really hadn't faced anyone resembling a potent pressure fighter on the feet at 170 lbs. In fact the only one he fought that some might describe as a pressure fighter at all was Demian Maia, and his pressure is not only much more geared towards working his grappling, but Burns also knocked him out pretty quickly because it's a pretty miserable match up for Maia. Other than that, Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, and Tyron Woodley are all fighters that give opponents more than enough space to pressure and be more active than reactive. The last time he fought a solid pressure was his knockout loss at lightweight to Dan Hooker.
The fact that these two are former training partners was a pretty interesting narrative going into the fight, and I have to say that I do enjoy it when friends with no bad blood still go out there and give it their all, which both men definitely did. A small part of me was worried this might turn into a glorified sparring match, but I guess that's not how they raise them at Sanford MMA. The fact that they were essentially both raised as fighters on that team added another layer of interest to match up. They had their respective bases coming into MMA, but both men essentially learned to fight at the same gym, under the same coaches, at the same time, often from each other. Although they both took slightly different mental approaches to their fights, coach Henri Hooft was instrumental in molding them both into the elite fighters they are today. The move to Grudge Training Center with renowned head coach Trevor Wittman looked to be a pretty good decision for Usman in my eyes, and this fight gone a considerable way in supporting that. The reason for that is because both gyms excel at slightly different, but very important things. Sanford MMA has built many a fighter into fearsome, technically sound kickboxers who know how to leverage their athleticism and power on the feet. However, it's never been known as a beacon for strategic development or fostering composure in its athletes.
This is where Grudge comes in. Trevor Wittman is one of the best tactical coaches in the game, and he has a real talent for breaking down fights and situations in the moment and doling out concise, effective corner advice. On top of that, he instills comfort and composure in his athletes, often by not putting undue amounts of pressure on them and/or knowing what advice to give to calm them down. This is in pretty stark contrast to Hooft's much more "tough love" approach, and him becoming visibly and audibly frustrated when his fighters aren't performing. Still, Hooft is fantastic at developing athletes' fundamental kickboxing skills. He built the potent kickboxing games we see from both Usman and Burns, and it's gotten them far; but Wittman is now providing Usman with the polish and the approach that he needs to get even better, and that's something I'm not sure he'd ever get at Sanford. Usman apparently realized this too, as his training at Grudge was planned prior to this fight being booked anyway.
The improvement in approach showed here. Usman hit a rough patch early, but he stayed composed and didn't try to deviate from his overall process; he just made a slight adjustment and kept plugging away at it. He fought as if he knew where his best avenues to victory were, and he was going to stick to those avenues. He already looked like a champion who wasn't going anywhere for a while, and it's looking even bleaker for those in the division trying to take him out. Despite a few bumps in the road in the beginning, he looked phenomenal once he got into his groove. Burns meanwhile didn't appear to have much of a tactical process at all in the fight. This isn't all bad, as it's done him well in the past, but here he didn't seem to have a gameplan past trying to land something big finishing Usman. He leaps for the destination without paving the necessary roads to get there. It was rough to watch Burns become so emotional after the loss; you could tell he put everything into his preparation and was devastated, but it was also heartwarming seeing the two of them embrace at the end, and hopefully they maintain a good relationship after this even if they are at different camps.
Not gonna lie, I felt some type of way watching this. Burns really wanted this.
One thing's for sure, put some respect on Usman's name. Joe Rogan said nobody disrespects his name, but I read forums and interact with MMA fans; Usman gets discredited quite a bit, and like Daniel Cormier intimated, he's a dominant champion and somehow still underrated. Bit by bit he's changing that stance, and that jab is gonna be a problem.
Problems. So many problems.
Next for Usman: He made it a point after the fight to call for a rematch with Jorge Masvidal. While it's not really warranted, I do see the logic; not only is it a money fight for him since their last one did so well, but he also wants to go out and silence the critics of his performance in the last fight. It was interesting that he said he looked to make the fight before but Masvidal kept refusing, and only accepted it on short notice to have a built-in excuse. It's not something I'd think of Masvidal doing, but it'd definitely add fire to the feud in a prospective rematch. In terms of an actual viable next challenger? The UFC is looking at booking Colby Covington vs Leon Edwards, and if Edwards managed to win that fight he's a shoe-in, and he's someone who gave Usman a tough fight in their initial matchup over five years ago, which was Edwards' last loss. Otherwise, you'd have to go with Stephen Thompson or the Masvidal rematch.
Next for Burns: If Masvidal doesn't get another title shot, he's actually the guy I'd like to see Burns take on next. For one, it'll do a better job of actually showing us where Masvidal stands in the division, but it's also a high profile fight for Burns that keeps him firmly in the mix if he wins.
Grasso shows off grappling, staves off Barber's late rally
Alexa Grasso def. Maycee Barber via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
What Happened?: Grasso proved to be the better boxer, surprisingly strong in the clinch, and the more potent grappler for the better part of 10 minutes before Barber came alive in the final stanza with relentless pressure and aggressive punching combinations. However, she was unable to get a finish so it was too little, too late, allowing Grasso to walk away with the tidy decision.
How did that happen?: A good deal of it happened in the clinch, which one might think would swing the fight in Barber's favor. However, Grasso proved to be just as strong, and in some cases looked even stronger than her in that position, and she was able to be the busier fighter there throughout, in addition to being the more potent striker at distance. Barber got a taste of that early, eating a clean counter 2-3 combination that caused her to bull her way into the clinch with some urgency. They would trade positions and knees in the clinch, but Grasso often scored the better shots off the break and was clearly the better striker once they separated.
Barber had a better second round at distance, landing a couple shots that got Grasso's attention, but it was still Grasso who rocked her with a big overhand left from the southpaw stance in what was the most significant strike of the round. Barber grabbed the clinch and after a bit of jockeying for position and knees, Barber started to have more success with her hands, though Grasso seemed to eat everything without issue. After catching a body kick and taking Grasso to the mat, it appeared she had the fight where she wanted it, but Grasso remained incredibly scrappy, swinging her hips for an armbar that got Barber to stand up, and wildly up-kicking until Barber settled right into an armbar that Grasso was quickly able to use to sweep to top position, where she settled into side control. From there she looked for an arm triangle on the wrong side, but slickly passed all the way across barber to the other side to work the choke. In the transition Barber was able to make enough room to get to her side, and then her knees, but Grasso just hopped onto her back and threatened with the rear-naked choke until the horn.
Grasso showed off some improved grappling.
Barber has made a bit of a habit in her short career of getting off to a slow start and then just throwing strategy out the window and going for broke; it tends to provide the turning point that has gotten her several of her wins. In the final round she showed her determination and resolve by really taking the fight to Grasso and significantly upping her output. This noticeably made Grasso uncomfortable and caused her to lessen her output in favor of defense. Although it was much less refined and tactical, Barber had much more success with the approach, as usual, and you have to wonder how different the fight might have been if she decided to do this in the second round instead of the third. Ultimately, Grasso was able to acquit herself well and avoid much danger in the round after clearly winning the first two and securing the decision win.
These two delivered a pretty quality scrap.
Other thoughts: Although I wasn't supremely confident in picking Grasso, my opinion was always that she's the better fighter of the two. Barber being only 22 years old made me curious as to how she'd look after a year on the shelf, because fighters that young can showcase massive improvements to their game in a short amount of time. Barber's game looked a bit different, but it really didn't look much improved at all. She seemed to focus a bit more on fighting a more measured kickboxing game, throwing straighter, and not employing so much flash and aggression, but she dialed it back too much. Often she used a tight, compact stance, moved her head and upper body a lot, and threw out a lot of jabs and feints. These all point to solid tactical improvements over how she approached fights in the past...but apparently no one told her she didn't have to social distance in the stand up portion of the fight, because she'd do all of this comically outside of any range to land strikes or even get a reaction from Grasso at all. She was essentially just giving Grasso free reads on her movements, and I'm sure it had a lot to do with her paltry 26% significant striking accuracy in the fight. It also had a lot to do with why Grasso so easily countered her when she did get into range and try to exchange.
Barber similar to fighters like Paul Felder in that she fancies herself a distance striker, but her saving grace is usually her clinch work and top game, and she could get neither really going against Grasso. In the clinch her perceived strength advantage was pretty much nonexistent, and her first big takedown saw her quickly put into submission trouble and swept into a harrowing situation. The first of her two third round takedowns allowed her to land a good shot, but it was a relatively short time before Grasso just made her way back to her feet. Barber has shown to be outwork-able on the feet more by a few women already, so if she can't use her physical strength and pressure, a ton of sheen comes off her game when it wasn't incredibly shiny to begin with. She's still very young and she's still a promising prospect, but this is just yet another case of the UFC pushing someone too much, too quickly. I know the card was hit pretty hard with some cancellations, but there was no good reason she should've been co-headlining a pay per view or not continuing to fight other prospects like herself. Keep this up and she'll look a lot less like Maycee "The Future" Barber, and more like Maycee, the future barber.
As for Grasso, she still showed some of her limitations in the third round when she just sort of allowed Barber to wildly go after her without offering much in return, but overall she looked quite good. As mentioned, she was deceptively strong in the clinch against someone whose physical strength is one of their defining features as a fighter, her striking was on point as usual, and although she's shown flashes of solid grappling since even before coming to the UFC, she looked very good dealing with Barber on the ground, and consistently put her in bad positions. It's hard to imagine anyone else holding the title at 125 lbs while Valentina Shevchenko is still around, but Grasso is looking like a much more promising addition to the division than once thought. She's been filling out her frame a bit with more muscle for a while now (no doubt it's why she started having so much trouble making 115), and she's become much more comfortable with her English to boot. I'm honestly more curious about where her ceiling is in the division than Barber's.
Next for Grasso: She'll likely take Barber's number 10 spot with this win, and I wouldn't mind seeing her take on Viviane Araujo.
Next for Barber: She definitely needs to fight someone further down on the pecking order again, and I think someone like Cortney Casey is flawed enough to be a winnable fight where she can showcase some improvements. Alternatively she can also take the loser of Ji Yeon Kim vs Poliana Botelho.
Gastelum rights the ship, outworks Heinisch with wrestling-heavy attack
Kelvin Gastelum def. Ian Heinisch via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
What Happened?: In a fight that was mostly competitive on the feet Gastelum's wrestling surprisingly took center stage, as he was able to ground and out-scramble Heinisch numerous times en route to a clear-cut decision victory.
How did that happen?: Wrestling made the difference in this middleweight contest. Although Heinisch initiated it with an early shot that briefly got Gastelum on the mat, a quick shrimping away and a modified Granby roll saw Gastelum quickly gain top position. Heinisch immediately started attacking a kimura that briefly looked tight, but got his back taken for his troubles. From there he would get to his feet and be in a position that would be all too familiar in this fight: with his side up against the cage and Gastelum holding onto a rear waist-lock. Gastelum dragged him back down, and Heinisch attempted a kimura again, but this time would end up mounted for a short time before kicking him away and getting back to his feet. There Gastelum landed a hard inside low kick before clinching once again, and this round would pretty much set the tone for the rest of the fight.
Heinisch couldn't catch a break on the ground.
In round two Heinisch started taking a bit of inspiration from Cory Sandhagen's spectacular knockout last week, and actually nailed Gastelum changing levels with the same type of "look-low" jumping knee. However, Gastelum just ate it, grabbed a hold of him, lifted him up, and slammed him to the mat.
No one's ever accused Gastelum of not being hard-headed.
Other than that and some more striking exchanges that were pretty even, this round was pretty similar to the first; Gastelum more or less controlled the action with his wrestling and clinch game. Round three saw Heinisch have success with a couple nicely timed elbows as Gastelum waded into range and another jumping knee, but this one just missed and once again got him lifted and slammed to the ground. A nice Granby roll of his own made that position short-lived though, and he ended up on Gastelum's back with both hooks in. The Kings MMA rep defended well before reversing his way to top position and getting to his feet. Late in the round Heinisch finally managed to get his first takedown on the fight, but Gastelum was able to scramble back to his feet and land one of his own before the horn.
All in all it was a very solid performance from Gastelum, and a much-needed one at that. Coming into the fight off of three-straight losses, it was important that he show he's still a top 10 fighter, because while his blood-and-guts war with champion Israel Adesanya earned him a good deal of praise for his resilience and taking the champion closer to his limit than anyone else, his subsequent flat performance against Darren Till and quick submission loss to Jack Hermansson drew questions as to whether or not he'd lost a significant step.
Heinisch's game seems to be unraveling a bit with increases in competition level. While he sports a lot of movement and can hit hard on the feet, he deals mostly in big, single shots and doesn't look entirely comfortable in the pocket. His wrestling and scrambling abilities have been his saving grace against mid to low-level competition, but against better lockdown wrestlers like Derek Brunson and Omari Akhmedov, and better tireless scramblers like Gastelum, he doesn't look like he has a ton to offer. In addition to working on his striking further, I think he should also focus on more effectively finishing his takedowns and maintaining position, because as was shown here, he's not going to be able to just out-scramble everyone he meets.
Other thoughts: Gastelum was pretty much fighting for his UFC career, so it's not surprising that he played it more conservative on the feet and worked his wrestling once he had some success there. What was a bit surprising at the time was that he had as much success as he did, as Heinisch is more known for his high-paced wrestling approach and Gastelum usually favors striking. Their games are similar in a lot of ways once in close quarters, as they're both wily and effective scramblers, but in retrospect I noticed that Heinisch's scrambling is more effective than his wrestling. He's been taken down a fair amount in the UFC, but his success is usually in scrambling to better positions and threatening with submissions. He more often than not fails on his takedown attempts and tries to create scrambles, and that didn't work against the even-scrappier Gastelum. Something else that I think did him a disservice was that he came into the fight saying that his plan was to be the first man to knock Gastelum out. Not only is Gastelum known for his durability, but Heinisch isn't exactly vaunted striker, and I think his knocking out Gerald Meerschaert (a grappler) got to his head a bit. This is likely why he found himself ill-prepared for and constantly reacting to Gastelum's wrestling instead of leading his own process with wrestling.
I'm sure this was a heavy load off of Gastelum's shoulders, and it's good that he showed he's willing to focus and stick to a winning gameplan. Hopefully this is something he carries with him to future fights, and it wasn't just implemented here out of necessity. And as was mentioned by the commentators on the podcast, he still not exactly a big middleweight and his success wrestling in this fight really restarted chatter of him overhauling his diet and going back down to welterweight, where honestly he looked like he had the potential to be elite, and his run at middleweight if anything has only bolstered that. I think middleweight is where he stays though, and he has actually put on some bulk for the division, so getting down to 170 might be even harder for him than it was previously even if his diet and discipline were on point.
Next for Gastelum: There are a few viable options for him. If they want to stick close to him in the rankings, he can take on the loser of Derek Brunson vs Kevin Holland, a Uriah Hall rematch if he loses to Chris Weidman again. Otherwise, if they want to keep his next opponent a bit further down the ranks, he can take on Brad Tavares or Edmen Shahbazyan.
Next for Heinisch: Andrew Sanchez seems like a fitting opponent.
Simon's dogged wrestling stymies Kelleher for three rounds
Ricky Simon def. Brian Kelleher via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
What Happened?: Simon used strength and tireless wrestling to good effect, grounding Kelleher and stifling his offense over three dominant rounds.
How did that happen?: Surprising absolutely no one, Simon immediately shot in and took Kelleher down in the center of the octagon. A hard elbow immediately set the tone for the fight, cutting Kelleher pretty badly on the inside of his right brow, which would go on to bother him for much of the fight. From there, it was pretty much business as intended for Simon; Kelleher remained squirrely, and kept being returned to the mat and dominated positionally. Kelleher is usually the type who can start a bit slow and make adjustments to his opponent, but you can see the resolve leave him bit by bit as Simon never slowed down his relentless pressure. In the second round all the wrestling paid dividends, as Simon was able to strike more freely on the feet, and as a result was far and was for the most part the more effective striker on the feet. The only significant moments he had on the feet were two flush front kicks to Simon's jaw, but they did nothing to deter him and he just ate them; in fact he was able to catch the second front kick and dump Kelleher to the canvas in response. Still, even if Kelleher landed a few nice shots, you could see one of the telltale signs of someone losing their resolve: he began reacting very defensively to Simon's feints. That defensive mindset puts you in better position to defend an oncoming shot, but diminishes your ability to counter and gives your opponent a clear read on your reactions, which in turn can help them figure a way around your defenses.
In round three, Kelleher knew he needed a finish and he came out pressuring, but it was a matter of time before Simon ducked under an attack and got a hold of a waist-lock. Kelleher grabbed his neck and jumped for a guillotine, but Simon easily slipped his head out. Kelleher then began attacking a kimura, but Simon freed his arm and then started attacking a kimura of his own that forced Kelleher to scramble. He'd make it to his feet, but end up with Simon right back on him working for a takedown. After separating Kelleher managed to land a couple hard kicks, but the fight was coming to an end at that point.
This was a pretty textbook attritive wrestling offering from Simon. He attacked with wrestling early and often, and with each takedown, Kelleher's defenses were grinded away little by little. He defended three of six takedown attempts in the opening round, and by round two all the wrestling had done its work, forcing Kelleher to be tentative on the feet, and not providing him the wherewithal to defend either of Simon's two attempts in that frame. In the third Simon only needed one takedown attempt to get things to the ground, and while Kelleher remained scrappy, by that point he didn't have much in the tank to mount a comeback.
Other thoughts: We all know what Simon's approach is, but stopping it is a different thing altogether. This fight took place at featherweight, and while his performance prompted questions of whether he'd like to stay in that division, he honestly didn't look much different than he does at bantamweight, where he's still pretty tireless. Moreover, Kelleher appears to have moved up, but is essentially a bantamweight too, so this was really just a bantamweight fight where neither guy had to cut much weight, as opposed to any indicator of how Simon would fare at 145 lbs. At 135 he remains a major threat if you can't stop his wrestling or handle his pace, and it has gotten him past everyone in front of him who wasn't up higher in the pecking order. Kelleher has had a very up-and-down UFC career, but it's always a good time because he's a potent finisher who is averse to dull fights, and while he'll likely never be an elite bantamweight, he remains a solid part of the roster.
Next for Simon: I take it he plans to return to bantamweight next, and I think he should take on the winner of Yadong Song vs Kyler Phillips for a spot in the top 15.
Next for Kelleher: Since Kelleher seems intent on staying at featherweight, I'd suggest a fight with Chris Fishgold. If he does go back down to bantamweight, I'd love to see a scrap with another "finish or be finished" type of fighter in Luke Sanders.
Marquez mounts spectacular comeback with hail Mary submission win
Julian Marquez def. Maki Pitolo by submission via anaconda-choke (4:17, R3)
What Happened?: Pitolo seemed to have all the answers early, surprising Marquez with a wrestling-heavy attack and grounding him for much of the fight. However, in what would prove to have the opposite effect of Ricky Simon's approach, he found himself fatigued and hanging on to survive as the clocked ticked down until Marquez found an opportunistic anaconda choke and tapped him out with 43 seconds left on the clock.
How did that happen?: Pitolo's plan from the outset seemed ingenious: he's spent his time in the UFC slugging it out with his opponents, belying the fact that he's a competent wrestler, so why not flip the script on the dangerous Marquez and sap away his cardio with a wrestling-focused gameplan? It worked like a charm in the opening round, with Pitolo starting off aggressive throwing hard strikes before quickly landing a double leg takedown. Marquez had a brief moment where he tipped the Hawaiian off balance in the clinch and latched onto a high-elbow guillotine (foreshadowing!) that looked tight, but other than that the round was pretty much all Pitolo controlling the action. Marquez pushed the pace more in round two and began having success on the feet, but after slipping on a punch he again found himself being clinched with and dragged to the ground. Marquez's guillotine would make another appearance (more foreshadowing!), this time forcing Pitolo to roll to has back twice and end up with "The Cuban Missile Crisis" on his back staying true to his nickname by dropping bombs. However, he would ride too high on the back and end up slipping over the top, which allowed Pitolo to get on top and gain mount before the horn.
Both men started the final round throwing hard, but Marquez appeared to be the fresher man, and began to take over the fight in the clinch with hard knees up the middle and elbows. Pitolo looked to turn things around when he landed a takedown, got to an odd rear-naked choke position closer to Marquez's side, and get the choke pretty tight, but Marquez slips out and again ends up on Pitolo's back landing shots. After they scramble to their feet and separate, both men appeared pretty tired, and Marquez sloppily leapt in with a jumping knee that was nowhere close, allowing Pitolo to clinch with him. Marquez made the best of the opportunity by teeing off on Pitolo against the cage, forcing him to shoot again, and this time Marquez grabs the neck and opts to jump guard on the guillotine. Pitolo rolled through and managed to clear himself from the choke positionally, but Marquez smartly switched to an anaconda grip, walked his legs closer to Pitolo to tighten the choke, and trapped his other arm. The tired Pitolo had nowhere to go and no choice but to relent and tap out.
Pitolo's gas tank didn't hold up to Marquez's pressure.
It was a great comeback for Marquez, who was on his way to losing a decision and dug deep. Not bad for someone coming off an over two-and-a-half year layoff due to various injuries. He also made the most of his post-fight mic time, by amusingly assuming the role of a UFC PR hype man and calling for fans to get on social media to show which region has the loudest UFC fans. And this was after he made his big call out: for Miley Cyrus to be his valentine. It was...odd, but it's just a part of what makes his goody, energetic personality so endearing. The guy's a cornball, which is a breath of fresh air from the usual tough guys we're often inundated with.
He's a goddamn treasure, and you UFC PR hacks better watch your jobs.
Other thoughts: I mentioned that Pitolo's gameplan had the opposite effect that Simon's did in the following fight, which is extra ironic given the fact that Pitolo's main critique of Marquez was that he didn't think he had the cardio to hang with him and would drown in deep waters. He enacted a solid gameplan to bring that to fruition, but ended up being the more exhausted man down the stretch. Pitolo is an unfortunate case of a fighter who looks pretty good in several stretches of fights, but seems to always run into a fatal flaw that just stops his progress and costs him fights. His lone UFC win over Charles Byrd looked to be a bit of a turning point, as he started slow but picked it up and overwhelmed Byrd in the second round, but I'm also not sure how much to read into the fact that Byrd retired after the fight and probably had that on his mind coming into it as well. Size also seems to be a bit of a boon for him, as he looks to have the size of a welterweight (and I believe previously fought there), but might be too thickly built in the legs to make 170 comfortably.
As for Marquez, I think wrestling may continue to be an issue for him, but this fight showed that he's quite resilient, and if he needs a finish he's going to go hard for it. He also showed some impressive cardio for someone who is a good size for the division and was coming off a long layoff. His style is exciting, albeit unrefined, and combined with his personality he's someone I'd like to see carve out a nice spot in the UFC.
Next for Marquez: I'd like to see him take on Alessio Di Chirico who recently got back on the winning track himself with an upset knockout of Joaquin Buckley.
Next for Pitolo: Having lost three-straight and amassing a 1-4 UFC record, I feel like a pink slip is likely next for the Hawaiian. If not I could see him in there with Oskar Piechota or Trevor Smith in a "loser leaves town" type of fight.
Anthony Hernandez def. Rodolfo Vieira by submission via guillotine-choke (1:53, R2)
In what was far and away the upset of the night, Hernandez actually submitted seven-time ADCC champion and four-time IBJJF champion jiu jitsu phenom Vieira, which according to the broadcast defied 30-to-1 odds. While a submission was surprising, the path to getting there was anything but, and was definitely the most probable path to Hernandez picking up a win: survive the early onslaught, and take it to Vieira once he's tired. And it was absolutely expected that he might tire if he couldn't get the job done, because he's heavily muscled, had only been out of the opening round once at middleweight, likely cuts a significant amount of weight to compete in the division, and Hernandez is a scrappy, energetic grappler himself, so stylistically if he wasn't able to submit him early, chances are he would've had to work hard. And he did. He immediately lifted and dumped Hernandez to the mat, got to his back and looked for a choke, transitioned to mount, and looked to secure an armbar as Hernandez tried to scramble out. He did manage to escape, but Vieira was right back on him with another takedown. Hernandez constantly made him work to secure position though, and after grabbing a guillotine of his own and forcing Vieira to turn to his back, the fatigue was already setting in. Vieira returned to his feet visibly exhausted, actually appearing too tired to even get his hands up to defend Hernandez's punches. After being rocked with a right hand, he managed to secure another takedown, but Hernandez just managed to transition to a pretty tight inverted triangle until the horn.
The beginning of the end for Vieira.
Vieira's fatigue didn't improve much heading into round two, and Hernandez got right back on him before giving up another labored takedown. He managed to make his way to Hernandez's back but was easily shaken off. On the feet Vieira just looked like a zombie, and another telegraphed shot sees Hernandez sprawl and wrap up an anaconda choke. Vieira defended, but Hernandez switched to a tight guillotine, and a beaten and exhausted Vieira had no choice but to tap. It's a spectacular win for Hernandez and a huge notch in his belt, though of course this is MMA where these things don't happen often, but can certainly happen. Fatigue factors heavily into this loss, and some of that fatigue can definitely be attributed to the punches Vieira ate, as well as the faster pace on the ground that MMA requires. You can't just patiently work a position and "cook" your opponent as you would in BJJ, which allows muscular men like Vieira to have more success. He has to work quickly or risk being stood up, all while being weary of strikes coming his way. It was amazing that Hernandez was able to submit a top-tier grappler in Vieira, but it was one of those situations that was the result of him being the more complete MMA fighter rather than necessarily being a better grappler.
We'll see how Vieira responds to the loss; sometimes losses like this end up just breaking fighters and they never look the same, or maybe even never fight again. A notable example of that would be fellow BJJ phenom Andre Galvao, who showed a ton of promise, but suffered a bad knockout loss to Woodley where his grappling was easily shut down, and he essentially retired from MMA following that loss. I don't think Vieira will retire, but it'll be interesting to see if he decides to drop some muscle and revamp his cardio now that he has experienced the direst of consequences for a high level grappler in MMA. No elite BJJ player wants to submitted by an unheralded one; just ask Wagnney Fabiano, who was submitted by both Joseph Benavidez (who proved to be a high level grappler) and Mackens Semerzier (who kinda didn't).
Belal Muhammad def. Dhiego Lima via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
This was one of the easier results to predict on the card. Lima has shown a bit more power and some tactical improvements that have plugged some defensive holes and covered up his historically shoddy durability, but ultimately he still fights at pace that makes for close fights if he's not able to score a knockout or take control with wrestling. Muhammad is a relentless, durable pressure fighter who puts an exhausting pace on his opponents and forces them to worry about constant strikes and takedowns coming their way. He's not the most potent takedown threat since he tends to be pretty inaccurate in that phase, but his frequent attempts just add to his ability to wear on opponents and render them tentative in the stand up. That's exactly what he did here, throwing a constant stream of strikes and takedowns at Lima while rarely ever letting him step past the small octagon in the middle of the cage. Fatigue really set in for Lima in the third round, as he seemed desperate to get any amount of breathing room and Muhammad was just not giving it to him. It was a solid effort by Lima, but he was just completely outgunned here, and Muhammad continues to be one of the better dark horses at welterweight.
Polyana Viana def. Mallory Martin by submission via armbar (3:18, R1)
Viana seems to be refocusing on her grappling these days, picking up her second-straight armbar win after suffering a three-fight skid that culminated in her getting surprise armbarred by Veronica Macedo. Following a quick armbar over highly-submittable grappler Emily Whitmire, there wasn't much figuring that she'd do the same to a more competent, slightly less submittable grappler in Martin, but she did just that. True to her game, she came out throwing kicks, and as soon as one was caught she wasted no time pulling guard, where she got to work busily landing strikes and forcing Martin on the defensive. As soon as Martin postured up, Viana slickly locked in a triangle choke. Martin tried to step over to break it, but Viana then switched to a triangle armbar. Then Martin committed a distressingly common mistake: she lifted and tried to slam her way out of it, which four out of five times will just get fighters deeper into the choke. Viana tightened the choke while Martin still tried to fight her way out, and then worked a keylock from the position that forced her to go to her back, where Viana switched to a deep armbar that forced the tap. It was quite an impressive display of grappling, and she racked up a mind-boggling five submission attempts in less than three minutes.
And it all started with this triangle choke.
I won't lie; maybe it's because I have a soft spot for the tragically booked, ever-awkward Hannah Cifers but it was somewhat satisfying seeing Viana win this way after Martin seemed to think her win over Cifers proved more about her than the fact that she's tough. She was battered and nearly finished in the first round before roaring back and taking down and submitting Cifers, who is easily one of the most take-down-and-submittable fighters in the division. Cifers has never not looked like a fish out of water on the ground, and Martin was just kinda fortunate she managed to get it there and take advantage of Cifers' tendency to start well and implode. Otherwise, it was a great win for Viana, and an excuse for Joe Rogan to arrive extremely late to the party and geek out about that mugger Viana beat up two years ago. It was the first thing he asked her about, and even Viana had to point to him that the story is two years old. Either way, great to see her winning consecutive fights after it looked like she may have been a bust for a minute.
Chris Gutierrez def. Andre Ewell via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-28, 29-27)
Gutierrez is quickly becoming known for his crackling low kicks, and he went to town on Ewell to drive that home even more. After being dropped with a hard low kick in the opening round, Ewell did all he could to throw on a poker face and continued to move well despite the damage being done to his lead leg. However, in the final round they really started to take effect when he took to flat out turning and retreating from Gutierrez to escape kicks. I actually think Gutierrez could've taken real advantage of the fact that for much of the fight Ewell's defense for the kicks consisted of him just sliding his leg back out of the way, which momentarily squared up his stance and limited his mobility since his legs were close together. That would have been prime time for him to feint low kicks and close the distance with punching combinations or a high kick while Ewell was bolt-upright. Ewell wasn't without his successful moments, as he started doing a better job of using his exceptionally long arms to counter Gutierrez up top and get the better of boxing exchanges in round two, which earned him the round on some scorecards. Still, Gutierrez's low kicking built up and paid off in the final round where he really turned up the heat on a hobbled Ewell and dominated him the entire round. Ewell has had an up-and-down UFC career thus far but has proven to be an entertaining addition to the bantamweight division, and Gutierrez got the bad taste of his unanimous draw with Cody Durden out of his mouth, and got back to his winning ways.
Gutierrez had a huge third round.
Gabriel Green def. Phillip Rowe via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
The card opened with an close, exciting scrap between Green and Rowe that saw Green use his pressure to for the most part successfully navigate an extreme height and reach advantage to get the nip-and-tuck victory. Rowe started off well keeping Green away with long strikes before giving up a takedown, scrambling to his feet, and earning a takedown of his own and transitioning into mount. He looked for an inverted triangle before Green escaped and on the feet latched onto a standing arm triangle and brough the fight back to the mat. The next two rounds were characterized by Green turning up the pressure and just outworking Rowe, particularly with low kicks, which hurt Rowe on several occasions and dropped him once in both rounds. Green probably could have earned a finish in the fight if he wasn't so insistent on following Rowe to the ground once he'd hurt him with the low kicks, but in the end he still got it done.
The night started off with a pretty fun scrap.
And that does it for UFC 258, a satisfying card all around. Usman looks more dominant and unstoppable than ever before at welterweight; Burns showed that he's still very dangerous but just not quite there yet himself; Grasso is gradually asserting herself as a legitimate contender at 125 lbs; Barber is showing to not quite be the shiny prospect the UFC imagined her to be (who saw that coming? Besides most people); and Gastelum proved that he's still got it. Overall a card that was far from brimming with star power, but as per usual it delivered where it matters most: in quality fights. Next up we have a colossal heavyweight battle between top contender Curtis Blaydes and the always dangerous Derrick Lewis. Until then, sado out!