After dispatching his most hated rival last year, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Kamaru Usman, takes on an American Top Team stablemate this Saturday (Feb. 13, 2021) when he headlines the UFC 258 pay-per-view (PPV) event against power-punching Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, Gilbert Burns. Down at women’s Strawweight, top prospect Maycee Barber returns to action after more than one year away to face Mexican striking standout Alexa Grasso, while Kelvin Gastelum attempts to halt the longest losing streak of his career at the expense of fellow Middleweight, Ian Heinisch.
135 lbs.: Ricky Simon vs. Brian Kelleher
Strong wins over Merab Dvalishvili, Montel Jackson and Rani Yahya pushed Ricky Simon (17-3) to the brink of contender status, where he ran headlong into a resurgent Urijah Faber in one of 2019’s biggest upsets. His next three efforts proved more successful, earning “Fight of the Night” in a competitive loss to Rob Font and subsequently defeated Ray Borg and Gaetano Pirrello.
This will be his second fight in less than four weeks.
After missing all of 2019 with injury, Brian Kelleher (22-11) made up for lost time in 2020, going 3-1 with three post-fight bonuses. His trio of victories included a guillotine finish of Ode Osbourne, a knockout of Hunter Azure, and most recently another guillotine of late replacement Ray Rodriguez.
Eighteen of his finishes have come inside the distance, including all but one of his Octagon victories.
I can’t imagine this fight not securing a bonus of some sort, as these two will put on a ludicrous pace and never stop trying to maul each other. It’s the speed, takedowns and crisp striking of Simon against the power, grit, and show-stopping guillotine of “Boom.”
I do think Simon takes it, but he’ll be walking a tightrope the whole time. That’s because while Kelleher’s been out-wrestled in the past, that guillotine is an ever-present threat, and Simon is fragile enough to get clipped at any point. Still, his scrambling skills should limit the submission threat and it will be hard for Kelleher to sit down on his punches when he’s constantly fighting off takedowns. In the end, Simon out-works him in an early “Fight of the Night” candidate.
Prediction: Simon via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Gabe Green vs. Philip Rowe
A 3-2 professional start gave way to six consecutive victories for Gabe Green (9-3), who evened up his Bellator MMA record in the process. Then came a nearly two-year layoff, which ended in May 2020 with a decision loss to Daniel Rodriguez in the Octagon debut for “Gifted.”
His nine finishes are split 6/3 between submissions and knockouts.
Philip Rowe (7-2) lost his first two professional bouts before embarking on his current run, which culminated in a 2019 “Contender Series” bout against Leon Shahbazyan. There, “The Fresh Prince” powered through some early adversity to batter the favored Shahbazyan into submission and claim a contract.
He’ll enjoy five inches of height and nearly eight inches of reach on Green.
Even by MMA’s very high standards, Rowe is an odd case. He’s a 6’3” Welterweight with an 80.5” reach and only two speeds that he switches between at random intervals: “painfully inactive” and “possessed of an unquenchable bloodlust.” Neither seems like enough to get him past Green, who’s the heavier hitter of the two and was durable enough to survive heavy fire from Rodriguez last time out.
Rowe does appear to have an edge on the mat, especially considering Green’s porous takedown defense, but “The Fresh Prince’s” offensive wrestling prowess isn’t much to speak of. This means he’s likely in for a slugfest against someone too tough to knock out and too powerful to withstand. Green puts him out in a one-round firefight.
Prediction: Green via first-round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick
A one-and-done run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 didn’t stop Gillian Robertson (9-5) from winning six of her first eight Octagon bouts and scoring five finishes in the process. Her ninth fight pitted her against Brazil’s Taila Santos, who successfully shut down “The Savage’s” wrestling to claim a unanimous decision in Dec. 2020.
She has tapped six professional foes overall and pounded out one other.
An impressive run in Invicta, which included victory in the Phoenix Series 2 tournament and a decision over UFC veteran Pearl Gonzalez, brought Miranda Maverick (8-2) to UFC last year. She entered her debut against Liana Jojua as a massive favorite and ultimately proved the bookies right with a first-round finish.
Though two inches shorter than Robertson, she’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage.
This is something of a reckoning for both women. Robertson has some of the best top control in the entire division, but has demonstrated an inability to get much done when the takedowns aren’t there. Maverick, on the other hand, is a strong wrestler and capable striker who’s historically left herself open to takedowns in return. Both are equipped to exploit the other’s weaknesses; the difference is that Maverick’s seemingly addressed her biggest flaws, while Robertson’s bugbears reared their heads against Santos in her most recent fight.
Robertson can absolutely ruin Maverick’s day if the latter gets lazy with her low kicks, and any prolonged exchanges on the mat will favor “The Savage.” Still, Maverick’s slight technical striking edge and raw output should carry her to a comfortable decision victory.
Prediction: Maverick via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 258 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the latest from one of the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists alive. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 258 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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