What mattered most at UFC 258, which took place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Kamaru Usman the welterweight GOAT?
Let’s just clear this up right off the bat: No, Kamaru Usman isn’t superior to Georges St-Pierre in the all-time welterweight hierarchy. This isn’t even the opinion of a biased Canadian, it’s just simply a fact.
Does it mean Usman (18-1 MMA, 13-0 UFC) can’t eventually surpass St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC) in the conversation? Definitely not. UFC president Dana White might be right when he says it’s “undeniable,” but not yet.
Dana White sees @USMAN84kg crafting a legacy at 170 that’ll surpass Georges St-Pierre.
“It’s undeniable that this guy will go down as the best welterweight. The question is, where will he go down in the history of the sport?”#UFC258 | Full interview: https://t.co/2AKJj0q0uL pic.twitter.com/96fhXkTUSF
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) February 14, 2021
It is true Usman broke St-Pierre’s record for most consecutive wins in the 170-pound division with his brilliant title defense against Gilbert Burns. But not all winning streaks are created equal, and there’s a glaring difference between the two resumes. The most prominent of those differences is St-Pierre’s 12-fight run consisted of 11 championship fights, including nine consecutive title defenses.
Usman, by comparison, has just four title fights and three consecutive defenses in what’s now a 13-fight winning streak overall inside the octagon. He’s beaten some incredible fighters during that run, but longevity of success is arguably the most important factor in any GOAT discussion, and St-Pierre’s body of work should not be lessened because Usman is the one who is here right now.
All those debates aside, there’s no denying Usman is a very special fighter, and an absolute monster inside that octagon. The way he overcame early adversity against Burns to rally and win in a completely definitive manner is exactly what you want to see out of a champion.
One comparison that does fall in line with Usman and St-Pierre right now, though, is they’ve both proven to be model champions. Usman may be perceived by some as corny or dry, but he represents the sport the right way. He’s doing St-Pierre proud in that regard. But when it comes to the in-cage accomplishments, let’s not “Rush” to put Usman ahead of GSP.
2. Heartbreak for Gilbert Burns
That outcome is going to be one that stays with Gilbert Burns as a “what-if” type of moment in his life. Even if he manages to become UFC champion in the future, he’s definitely going to feel like it should’ve happened sooner, and he dropped the ball against Usman.
Burns said going “Cody Garbrandt-crazy” prompted his downfall after hurting Usman in the first round of their championship collision. That could be it. Or perhaps he didn’t go quite crazy enough in the first round, when he spent roughly two minutes scooting from his back and giving Usman time to recover from the clubbing blow he absorbed early in the fight.
Either way, Burns said he got too caught up in the moment, and in his opinion, that’s why he’s not the champion right now. The Brazilian fully recognized that’s all his fault, because at this level of the sport a mental lapse can be just as costly as a physical one. It’s hard to argue Burns doesn’t have the tools required to be champion, but being 99 percent there won’t do it against someone of Usman’s caliber, and those minor slips are what decide these high-level fights.
It’s an emotionally crushing but important lesson for Burns to learn, and it’s now a question of whether he can put his takeaways into practice going forward. The major concern for “Durinho” at this point is his age. He’s 34, and with the 170-pound division being an absolute shark tank of talent, there are no guarantees he sees himself in another title fight.
Burns said all the right things in the aftermath of his loss. He revealed his goal is to mimic what Robbie Lawler did after falling short in his first UFC title fight by turning around with as many fights as possible against top names, and given the circumstances, that might be a wise strategy.
3. “The Future” is not now
After having her hype train derailed in a very rough way 13 months ago, the UFC pushed the chips in on Maycee Barber again by positioning her as the co-main event on this pay-per-view against Alexa Grasso, who had no intentions of being a springboard for the prospect’s rebound.
Barber’s (8-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) massive upset loss to Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 246 in January 2020 could be rationalized. She suffered a serious knee injury that paralyzed her offense, and despite getting beat up, she took it to the final bell. Her comeback fight against Grasso had none of those underlying storylines, though. Her Mexican foe won fair and square by unanimous decision, and now “The Future” has back-to-back losses after starting her career undefeated.
At this point it’s safe to say Barber’s ambition of breaking Jon Jones’ record for youngest champion in UFC history is dead. However, that doesn’t mean we should write the 22-year-old off completely. Grasso deserves respect for her effort, and her advantage in experience made a noticeable difference in how she paced herself and managed offense over the course of three rounds. The raw skill from Barber was evident, but the knowledge of putting it together is not there yet.
Although Barber is likely to be devastated about going from being arguably the top prospect in the entire sport to sitting in a two-fight hole, this could prove to be the best thing for her. She said prior to fighting Grasso that she thought she was only two wins away from a title shot, but that talk needs to stop now. Big dreams are great, but fighting consistently should be the only concern for Barber going forward.
If Barber is meant to be a great, the pieces will fall in place so long as she does things the right way.
4. Kelvin Gastelum gets back on track
Kelvin Gastelum needed a win in the worst of ways to keep relevant as an upper-echelon name in the middleweight division. He came through in that spot and outworked Ian Heinisch for a unanimous decision.
No, it wasn’t the flashy knockout from a bomb of a left hand that we’ve come to expect from Gastelum (16-6 MMA, 11-6 UFC) in most of his wins, but it showed his ability to fight intelligently in a moment with significant pressure.
As was endlessly repeated in the lead-up to the event, Gastelum was on a three-fight skid. It came to the highest of caliber names in Israel Adesanya, Darren Till and Jack Hermansson, but as we’ve come to learn, three losses, no matter the nature, cranks up to the noise from fans and pundits.
Gastelum didn’t fight like a huge burden was on him, though. Yes, he did implement a more wrestling-heavy strategy than we’re used to seeing from him, but it was his best path to victory against Heinisch’s skillset. Now Gastelum is a winner for the first time since May 2018, and the 29-year-old can move forward without so many critical eyes on him.
5. Anthony Hernandez’s shocking submission
The UFC schedule since the pandemic hit has been something of a blur, but Anthony Hernandez’s victory over Rodolfo Vieira had to be one of the more dramatic moments in recent memory for a fight without many perceived stakes coming in.
Not only did Hernandez (8-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) take away Vieira’s undefeated record, he tapped out the ADCC champ with a guillotine choke in an absolutely shocking result. Hernandez could be found as a +3000 underdog to submit Vieira, and even that seemed generous given the Brazilian’s credentials.
But Hernandez summed it up perfectly in the aftermath of his win: “When you can hit someone, sh*t changes. It’s not jiu-jitsu.”
That’s straight facts from “Fluffy.”
This fight should serve as a massive confidence booster for Hernandez, and it remains to be seen if it will serve as a building block to something bigger, or a defining moment in his career. Either way, that was a heart-racing way to get his hand raised.