6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 258
UFC 258 won't be remembered as the most stacked pay-per-view of 2021, but what it lacked in big names, it made up for in memorable action.
The card, which went down Saturday night in Las Vegas, was headlined by a welterweight title fight between dominant champion Kamaru Usman and his former training partner, No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns. Usman won the fight with a violent volley of third-round punches, further cementing himself as one of the best fighters alive today in the process.
In the UFC 258 co-main event, Mexico's Alexa Grasso burst into flyweight title contention with an exciting decision victory over the division's No. 10-ranked contender, Maycee Barber. Elsewhere on the bill, we witnessed big wins from popular fighters like Kelvin Gastelum, Julian Marquez and Belal Muhammad, making it a night fans will be talking about for weeks to come.
What comes next for the stars of this entertaining card?
The UFC matchmakers work in mysterious ways and often end up throwing curveballs. That being said, there are a few matchups that stand out as solid choices.
Without further ado, here are six fights we'd love to see after UFC 258.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2
If it weren't for the existence of Georges St-Pierre, there would be little debating that Kamaru Usman is the greatest welterweight in MMA history. One way or the other, he's asserted himself as one of the best fighters in the world.
Usman returned to action in the UFC 258 main event, defending the UFC welterweight title with a third-round TKO win over Gilbert Burns. With that outcome, he holds wins over the UFC's top four welterweights and six fighters inside the division's top 10.
Given that reality, it's hard to say who might be next for Usman. He's already beaten Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards—the three men with the best claims to title shots. Any of those fighters could conceivably earn a second crack at him with another big win, but none have fights booked, which makes matchmaking for the champion a little tricky.
It's tempting to suggest that Usman be matched up with Khabib Nurmagomedov, who holds the UFC lightweight title. Yet the unbeaten Russian recently announced his retirement, and contrary to the optimism of UFC President Dana White, he seems determined to stay retired.
That leaves us with few good options for the welterweight king, so we'll just let him decide his next move.
In his post-fight interview with commentator Joe Rogan, Usman made a quick callout of Masvidal, whom he defeated by unanimous decision in a short-notice fight last year. Given the recency of their contest and the decisive nature of Usman's win, it's not a fight many people will be drooling over. But at this stage, it's as good as it gets for the seemingly unbeatable welterweight champion.
Gilbert Burns vs. Michael Chiesa
Burns failed to swipe the UFC welterweight title from Usman in the UFC 258 main event, but the journey is far from over the Brazilian finisher. While he will return to his home in South Florida with a broken heart, it will likely only take another win or two for him to position himself for another title shot.
Burns should look to get back on track against Michael Chiesa, the UFC's No. 6-ranked welterweight contender. Chiesa is riding four straight wins in the welterweight division, most recently beating Neil Magny by decision, and would no doubt leap at the chance to battle a fighter of Burns' ilk.
In fact, Chiesa has called for the matchup previously, suggesting that he and Burns could become rivals at 170 pounds.
Schedule this fight for the main event of a Fight Night card, and you won't hear a single complaint.
Alexa Grasso vs. Jessica Eye
Mexico's Alexa Grasso has been on many fans' radars since she moved from Invicta Fighting Championship to the UFC in 2016. Yet after going 3-2 in the UFC's strawweight division, she seemed to become a bit of an afterthought.
That's no longer the case.
Grasso is 2-0 since moving from strawweight to flyweight and is seemingly closer than ever to a UFC title shot. Her first flyweight win occurred when she beat Ji Yeon Kim by decision in August. Her second occurred in the co-main event of UFC 258 when she picked up a unanimous-decision victory over the highly regarded Maycee Barber.
With these impressive victories behind her, Grasso is poised for a big step up in competition. Given that she's new to the flyweight division, she has a long list of compelling options in terms of her next foe, but we would like to see her matched up with the division's No. 8-ranked fighter, Jessica Eye.
Eye, who previously challenged for the UFC flyweight title to no avail, is riding a pair of decision losses to Joanne Calderwood and Cynthia Calvillo but remains one of the division's best-established and most visible fighters.
If Grasso can get by her, it's safe to say she will only be a win or two away from a title shot.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Jared Cannonier
Kelvin Gastelum needed a win at UFC 258. Badly.
The Ultimate Fighter season 17 winner, the UFC's No. 9-ranked middleweight, stepped into the cage with Ian Heinisch with three consecutive losses behind him: decision setbacks against Israel Adesanya and Darren Till and a first-round submission defeat courtesy of Jack Hermansson.
In the end, Gastelum got the win he sought, picking up a well-deserved unanimous-decision triumph. The victory over Heinisch, the UFC's No. 15-ranked middleweight, certainly won't propel Gastelum into title contention, but it should set him up for another big fight.
When considering the options for Gastelum's next fight, it quickly becomes apparent that he could benefit from the fact that most of the men ranked ahead of him are occupied with other challenges. In fact, outside of recent foil Hermansson, the only available opponent ahead of him in the rankings is No. 3-ranked contender Jared Cannonier.
Under ordinary circumstances, matching Gastelum with a fighter so far ahead of him in the rankings would be difficult to justify, but with most of the top 10 booked, the matchup makes sense. Throw in the fact that Cannonier is looking for the chance to rebound from a loss to Robert Whittaker, and the fight becomes even easier to sell.
Schedule this fight on a pay-per-view main card, and prepare for fireworks.
Anthony Hernandez vs. Julian Marquez
Anthony Hernandez and Julian Marquez, two promising prospects in the dangerous UFC middleweight division, both picked up impressive wins at UFC 258.
Hernandez was up first, closing out the event's undercard with a jaw-dropping second-round submission of multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Rodolfo Vieira—an outcome that seemed impossible heading into the fight.
Marquez was up immediately thereafter, kicking off the main card with a third-round submission win over the dangerous Maki Pitolo. It was a solid win under any circumstances but was given extra significance by the fact that Marquez hadn't fought since way back in July 2018.
After their respective submissions wins at UFC 258—both impressive for different reasons—it only makes sense for Marquez and Hernandez to fight each other next.
It's unlikely that this fight would propel the winner into the middleweight top 15, but it would give them a big push in that direction, and it looks like an amazing matchup on paper. Best of all, both guys are on the same fight schedule and, barring any serious injuries, should be able to compete again around the same time. Book it.
Belal Muhammad vs. Li Jingliang
Belal Muhammad deserved a ranked opponent before his UFC 258 undercard fight with Dhiego Lima. After he beat Lima by unanimous decision, giving him anything but a ranked opponent in his next fight would be a travesty.
Muhammad seems to know it too.
In his post-fight interview with Rogan, Muhammad called for a fight with China's Li Jingliang.
"Hey, Li Jingliang, you're right above me, man," he said. "You're taking everything I worked for. You're No. 12. I'm 13. Let's do it."
This proposed fight makes all the sense in the world.
Muhammad entered the cage Saturday as the UFC's No. 13-ranked welterweight and is now on an impressive four-fight winning streak. Li, meanwhile, is ranked at No. 12 and is riding a huge knockout win over the highly regarded Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Schedule these two rising welterweight contenders for a fight on a future pay-per-view main card and see who's ready to rise into the division's perilous top 10.