The first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title fight of 2021 hits the pay-per-view (PPV) airwaves this Saturday (Feb. 13, 2021) when Welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, meets surging teammate-turned-challenger Gilbert Burns inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN+-streamed PPV main card will also see Maycee Barber return from injury against Alexa Grasso and Pedro Munhoz rematch Jimmie Rivera in what figures to be a brutal Bantamweight war.
Four UFC 258 “Prelims” undercard matches remain to be examined (check out the first batch here), so let’s have a look ...
155 lbs.: Bobby Green vs. Jim Miller
Bobby Green (27-11-1) — who’d won just one of his previous seven fights — turned the corner in 2020 with three consecutive wins and a “Fight of the Night” bonus. “King” appeared to have made it 4-0 on the year against Thiago Moises in Oct. 2020, but wound up on the wrong end of a controversial unanimous decision.
He stands two inches taller than “A-10” at 5’10.”
Seemingly finished after a 1-5 skid, Jim Miller (32-15) showed he still had some life left in him by winning three of his next four bouts, including a bonus-winning armbar finish of the heavily-favored Roosevelt Roberts. Vinc Pichel proved a tougher nut to crack, successfully out-lasting Miller at UFC 252 in Aug. 2020.
His 22 professional stoppages include 18 submissions.
I’ll readily admit that I’ve prematurely counted out Miller more than once, but simply performing above expectations isn’t going to get him past Green. “King’s” a sufficiently stout wrestler to keep it standing and holds a considerable edge in the boxing, limiting Miller’s chances of either grinding him down with pressure or getting that lethal top game going.
Green’s recently upped his volume and Miller’s shown an increasing tendency to fade late. Essentially, Miller needs an early finish to win this, and Green is notoriously difficult to put away for anyone besides Dustin Poirier. “King” gets back on track with an increasingly one-sided sprawl-and-brawl decision.
Prediction: Green via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Anthony Hernandez
Rodolfo Vieira (7-0) — one of the most decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu players to ever hit the mats — dominated during his time on the international MMA circuit before joining the UFC in 2019. He tapped Oskar Piechota after two rounds in his Octagon debut, then needed less than five minutes to do the same to Saparbeg Safarov in March 2020.
He has submitted six professional opponents and stopped a seventh with ground-and-pound.
Things went from bad to worse for Anthony Hernandez (7-2) when, after seeing his brutal knockout of Jordan Wright on “Contender Series” overturned because of a failed drug test, he fell victim to an anaconda choke from Markus Perez in his Octagon debut. “Fluffy” bounced back with an anaconda finish of Jun Yong Park six months later, but fell to Kevin Holland in just 39 seconds his next time out.
He faces a two-inch reach disadvantage against “The Black Belt Hunter.”
Though he’s likely the most difficult opponent of Vieira’s mixed martial arts (MMA) career, it’s hard to see this going well for Hernandez. Perez, a very limited wrestler, managed to largely shut down Hernandez’s offense before finally cracking his submission defense and securing the finish. A technical wizard and physical powerhouse like Vieira should have a much easier time of it, and Hernandez’s striking edge won’t mean much if he can’t keep it standing long enough to use it.
I genuinely think “Fluffy” is better than he’s shown so far in the Octagon ... or at least has higher potential. All that matters is what you manage in the cage, though, and what he’s done suggests bad things about his chances. In the end, Vieira bullies him to the mat for an early submission finish.
Prediction: Vieira via first-round submission
170 lbs.: Belal Muhammad vs. Dhiego Lima
Continuing the trend, here’s another one that was supposed to happen last year and fell apart after I’d already written it up ...
Belal Muhammad (17-3) put a 1-2 Octagon start behind him to win four straight before running into the surging Geoff Neal last year. He has since put together another three-fight win streak, including a decision over Lyman good in June 2020.
He gives up three inches of height and almost as much reach to Dhiego Lima (15-7).
A 1-3 skid bounced Lima from UFC, and though he managed to find his way back via The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 25, he followed a loss on the Finale with a decision defeat to Yushin Okami. He enters the cage this Saturday on a three-fight win streak, and a victory would mark his longest unbeaten run since 2011.
This marks his first appearance since beating Luke Jumeau in Oct. 2019.
I’ll admit to badly underestimating Lima in his recent efforts, but Muhammad just seems all wrong for him. “Remember the Name” is more than capable of holding his own on the feet, especially since Lima’s fragility offsets Muhammad’s lack of stopping power, and he has the sort of wrestling that’s given Lima fits in the past.
The only things Lima really has going for him here are height and reach, both of which Muhammad proved he could deal with in his win over Tim Means. Whether he decides to mix it up standing or make his life easier with regular takedowns, Muhammad cruises to a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Muhammad via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Polyana Viana vs. Mallory Martin
A dominant submission win over Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson in her Octagon debut seemingly had Polyana Viana (11-4) poised for greatness, only for the Brazilian to lose her next three bouts. She came up big with her back against the wall last August, catching Emily Whitmire in an armbar to keep her Octagon career afloat.
All of her professional wins have come inside the distance, seven of them by submission.
Though her “Contender Series” win over Micol di Segni didn’t earn Mallory Martin (7-3) a contract, she got her Octagon shot four months later by stepping up on short notice against Virna Jandiroba. That didn’t go terribly smoothly, as she tapped to a second-round rear-naked choke, but a sophomore effort against Hannah Cifers saw Martin wrap up a second-round finish of her own to earn “Performance of the Night.”
She gives up one inch of height and three inches of reach to “Dama de Ferro.”
I’ve invested a lot more thought into this prediction than the opening fight of the early “Prelims” probably merits, but it does vex me so. Both women are deeply flawed in delightfully compatible ways. Martin — though a strong wrestler and functional striker — nearly got sparked out by Hannah Cifers last time out. Viana, for her part, has the submission game and natural power to be a contender, but continues to find ways to disappoint.
It’s a coin-flip that will likely boil down to who executes best.
Eh, screw it, I’ll give Viana one last chance to impress me — fool me four times, shame on me. She seems like the more capable striker and is dangerous enough on the ground to potentially scare Martin off from shooting, so expect her to hold her own on the feet before securing a second-round club-and-sub.
Prediction: Viana via second-round submission
UFC 258 features a quality main event and some potential firecrackers scattered throughout, making for a quality evening of fights. See you Saturday, 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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 258: “Usman vs. Burns” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.