5 Questions That Need to Be Answered Heading into UFC 258

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IFebruary 9, 2021

5 Questions That Need to Be Answered Heading into UFC 258

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    UFC 258 is just around the corner.

    Saturday's card, which will emanate from the Apex facility in Las Vegas, will be headlined by a welterweight title fight between dominating champion Kamaru Usman and surging contender Gilbert Burns. While the lineup definitely lacks oomph beyond that championship bout, it does feature appearances from a number of ranked fighters and respected veterans.

    In the co-main event, No. 10-ranked flyweight contender Maycee Barber will return from a lengthy hiatus against No. 15-ranked contender Alexa Grasso. Elsewhere on the main card, the middleweight division's No. 11 contender, Kelvin Gastelum, will look to correct a three-fight losing streak against the No. 15-ranked Ian Heinisch. 

    The undercard is highlighted by appearances from a number of reputable fighters, including the always underrated Jim Miller.

    Suffice it to say that while UFC 258 doesn't look like a Card of the Year contender on paper, there are definitely plenty of reasons to tune in, and the event should answer a number of pressing questions.

    Without further ado, here's what we're hoping to learn by the time the action subsides in Sin City.

Will Kamaru Usman Finally Get the Respect He Deserves?

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    UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is one of the best fighters in the world right now, but you wouldn't know it based on the way fans talk about him.

    Despite recent and emphatic triumphs over world-class fighters like Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington, Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia and Rafael dos Anjos, the champ is frequently criticized for his fighting style, which is based primarily on takedowns and pressure. Sure, it's not always pretty, but its effectiveness speaks for itself. He looks nigh on unbeatable right now, so it's disappointing that he's so underappreciated. 

    The good news is that Usman has an opportunity to put himself over with fans in the main event of UFC 258 this weekend when he takes on the division's No. 2-ranked contender, Gilbert Burns.

    The best case for Usman, in terms of improving his reputation, is an exciting finish. If he can knock Burns out or, even better, submit the Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt, it will go a long way toward erasing his reputation as a less-than-exciting fighter. No matter the method, though, a victory should get fans talking about him in a more favorable light.   

    Even if they still don't regard him as an exciting fighter, adding a name like Burns' to his growing list of victims will make it harder than ever for anyone to deny his status as one of the sport's pound-for-pound kings. 

Can Gilbert Burns Complete His Unlikely Welterweight Title Run?

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    If we told you, after Gilbert Burns submitted the unranked Mike Davis in a lightweight bout in 2019, that he would move up to welterweight and earn a title shot in the span of four fights, you would have laughed at us.

    But here we are.

    After beating Alexey Kunchenko in a short-notice welterweight fight in 2019, Burns decided to stay in the division, and that decision couldn't have been more fruitful. He's since picked up a decision win over Gunnar Nelson, a knockout win over Demian Maia and a decision win over Tyron Woodley en route to cementing himself as the next man in line for a shot at Usman's title.

    It's been an undeniably impressive feat from a guy who was good but inconsistent at lightweight, and the story isn't over yet.

    If Burns is able to defeat Usman, one of the best fighters on Earth at the moment, he will complete one of the most unlikely title runs in UFC history. It's a tall order, but with lethal submission skills, a great gas tank and proven knockout power, he's certainly got the tools to make it happen.

Can Maycee Barber Reassert Herself as a Top Prospect?

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    Every now and then, UFC President Dana White finds a fighter who makes his eyes light up with dollar signs like Scrooge McDuck. 

    Maycee Barber, still only 22 years old, is one of those fighters. The UFC boss was immediately very high on the young flyweight prospect and seemed to view her as a future superstar.

    Then, in January of 2020, she ran into underrated veteran Roxanne Modafferi.

    Despite entering the cage with Modafferi as a gargantuan favorite, Barber was dragged into a miserable, grappling hell and ultimately lost a clear-cut unanimous decision as a result. She also tore her ACL in the fight, which has kept her out of action ever since.

    Barber will finally return to the Octagon in the co-main event of UFC 258. She'll be welcomed back by Mexico's Alexa Grasso, who looks to have found a new lease on life as a flyweight after a hot-and-cold run at strawweight.

    While Barber is ranked five spots ahead of Grasso, make no mistake: this a very tough fight for her—particularly after her injury and resulting layoff—and it should give us a clear idea whether she can live up to White's previous expectations.

Will Kelvin Gastelum Get Back on Track Against Weaker Competition?

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Kelvin Gastelum has long stood out as one of the best middleweights in the world, but he's recently fallen on tough times. After battling Israel Adesanya to a decision loss in an interim middleweight title fight in April, 2019—easily the biggest fight of his career—he lost a split decision against Darren Till. Things then took an even worse turn in his next fight, as he tapped out to a heel hook in the first round of a July fight with Jack Hermansson.

    Now on a three-fight skid—in an era when the UFC is majorly downsizing its roster and seemingly no fighter is safe from the chopping block—Gastelum is in desperate need of a W.

    He'll have the opportunity to earn that crucial win on the UFC 258 main card when he battles the middleweight division's No. 15-ranked contender, Ian Heinisch. 

    While Heinisch is a dangerous fighter, he's not at the level of Adesanya, Till or Hermansson, and he is therefore a definite step down for Gastelum. This looks like Gastelum's fight to lose.

    One way or the other, this fight should give us a good sense of whether Gastelum is still one of the top middleweights in the world, or if his best days are behind him.

Can Jim Miller Turn Back the Clock Again?

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    So far, Father Time has been no match for the 37-year-old Jim Miller. 

    That's not say the 48-fight veteran, who has been competing in the UFC since 2008, hasn't been losing fights lately. He has. Luckily, he's also managed to intersperse those losses with wins to the point that he's 4-3 in his last seven fights—a pretty solid mark for a grizzled veteran competing on the sport's biggest stage.

    Miller's last fight occurred in August, when he lost a decision to Vinc Pichel. If he hopes to continue staving off Father Time and avoid his first losing streak since 2018, he'll need to beat Bobby Green on the UFC 258 undercard.

    This is a tough but winnable fight for Miller. The outcome should tell us whether his loss to Pichel was the beginning of an inevitable downward trajectory or simply a bad night at the office for a fighter who, contrary to his many battles, can still compete at the highest level.

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