The UFC’s efforts to ensure events remain watchable throughout the Covid-19 pandemic are set to pay dividends this weekend at UFC 258 in Las Vegas.
UFC president Dana White has personally seen to it that all fighters are safe and committed to ‘putting on a show’ for the world to watch every week, and while Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns was one of those who missed out on safety grounds, he will be back in the spotlight on Saturday night.
Burns was meant to face the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ Kamaru Usman last July in UFC 251, but he had to be replaced a week before the contest when both he and his head coach, Greg Jones, tested positive for Covid. The Brazilian was substituted by the UFC’s fighter of 2019, Jorge Masvidal and, perhaps predictably due to Masvidal having only a week to prepare, Usman left the cage that night with his belt still firmly wrapped around his waist.
Now, at long last, they’re getting back in the cage, and ‘Durinho’ is looking to finally take his chance, after sitting at rank #1 in the welterweight division for the last year. For someone who got into Mixed Martial Arts from his father offering his mechanical services in exchange for Jiu-jitsu lessons, patience is a virtue that Gilbert knows only too well. He’s a three-time world champion and a Jiu-jitsu World Cup gold medallist.
The turbulent 2020 saw him claim a first-round TKO over veteran Demian Maia in March, before claiming his fourth Performance of the Night award with a dominating unanimous decision win over former champion Tyron Woodley. Now that he is 34 years old, many could be thinking this is a late title surge that shouldn’t really be followed by many defences should he steal the belt from Usman on Saturday night, but plenty have been down this road before and found fame. Look no further than Michael Bisping.
But up steps a fairly notable problem. Kamaru Usman is undefeated in the UFC and only has one loss on his professional MMA record. He’s also defeated Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley and more to get where he is today. Some might watch Usman’s fights through weary eyes as he’s not a fighter who strictly aims to entertain. He fights to win, and generally wins well.
Usman’s last fight was the aforementioned battle against Masvidal, but prior to that the professional wind-up merchant Colby Covington had his head on the block. Usman’s first title defence produced an unexpected slugfest, with a record-breaking late KO and a broken jaw to boot.
Usman seemingly has no weaknesses, so it’ll have to be a long, enduring battle for Burns. However, if he keeps attempting takedowns and doesn’t let his opponent find his striking range, it’ll be an uncomfortable night for the champion.
Saturday’s other match-ups include Dana White’s Contender Series winner Maycee Barber returning from a knee injury to face Alexa Grasso, who’s entering the flyweight division for the first time. It should be a telling co-main event with both fighters looking to impress.
Kelvin Gastelum also returns to the octagon after a three-loss streak to face Ian Heinisch, with both men looking to get back on track after a shaky 18 months.