Main Card (10 P.M. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
– (C) Kamaru Usman (-270) vs. #1 Gilbert Burns (+210) – UFC Welterweight Championship
– #10 Maycee Barber (+115) vs. #15 Alexa Grasso (-145) – W. Flyweight Bout
– #9 Kelvin Gastelum (-230) vs. #15 Ian Heinisch (+180) – Middleweight Bout
– Bobby Green (-260) vs. Jim Miller (+200) – Lightweight Bout
– Julian Marquez (-170) vs. Maki Pitolo (+140) – Middleweight Bout
Prelims (8 P.M. ET on ESPN)
– Rodolfo Vieira (-400) vs. Anthony Hernandez (+300) – Middleweight Bout
– #13 Belal Muhammad (-335) vs. Dhiego Lima (+255) – Welterweight Bout
– Mallory Martin (-165) vs. Polyana Viana (+135) – W. Strawweight Bout
– Chris Guttierez (-155) vs. Andre Ewell (+125) – Bantamweight Bout
Early Prelims (6 P.M. ET on Fight Pass/ESPN+)
– Ricky Simon (-270) vs. Brian Kelleher (+210) – Featherweight Bout
– Gabe Green (-130) vs. Phil Rowe (+100) – Welterweight Bout
– Miranda Maverick (-150) vs. Gillian Robertson (+120) – W. Flyweight Bout
Kamaru Usman (-270) vs. Gilbert Burns (+210)
June 6, 2020.
That’s when this fight was originally booked and slated for UFC 251 on July 11 to headline the first ever PPV on Fight Island. I don’t know about you, but it seems as if an eternity has passed since then. Just a week before fight night Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19, spurring a 48-hour whirlwind which eventually resulted in Jorge Masvidal stepping in as a replacement and ultimately losing a decision to Kamaru Usman.
Here we are again, though, as Usman (17-1) is finally set to defend his title against Burns (19-3) eight months and three canceled bookings later.
After bulldozing Tyron Woodley to win the undisputed welterweight title back in March 2019, Usman appeared to be a promising champion who would hold on to the belt for a very long time. So far, that has proven to be true, with consecutive title defenses against Colby Covington and Masvidal.
Undefeated in the UFC, Usman has made his living off ridiculous cardio and unstoppable pressure. His wrestling is masterclass and his takedowns are indefensible. Once on the ground, Usman goes to work, suffocating his opponents and making life hell for the man on the bottom. Initially, Usman was a one dimensional wrestler who survived solely off the fact that nobody could stop his takedowns. As his career has gone on, his striking has evolved as well, working with legendary striking coaches such as Henri Hooft and Trevor Wittman.
Usman proved he can stand and trade in his fight against Covington, but Covington isn’t necessarily known as an elite striker. An elite striker is exactly what Gilbert Burns is. Since moving up to welterweight, Burns has made a rapid ascension to the top of the division and seems to have finally found his footing at the correct weight class. Burns is 4-0 at 170 pounds with wins over Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia and most recently, Woodley. Each of those victories was more dominant than the one that preceded it, making it clear that Burns is in the prime of his career.
As I said earlier, Burns is a fantastic boxer with a third lung in terms of cardio. A black belt in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, his ground game is solid too, as he is very tough to beat in scramble situations and can lock in submissions before his opponents even know what’s happening.
The odds for this fight are probably about right, and as much as I love to ride underdogs in title fights, I can’t bring myself to do so here. Burns certainly presents unique challenges that could make Usman work for this victory, but it’s really nothing Usman hasn’t seen before. Usman has faced elite boxers, he’s faced elite Mauy-Thai fighters, he’s faced elite BJJ artists and elite wrestlers. He’s beaten them all. Easily.
Usman fights typically fail to impress fans because his style is boring and I can’t argue with that. But while his style is boring, his dominance is unmatched, and I think he’ll use that same grind-it-out style to beat Burns on Saturday night. Expect a slow, grueling fight with a lot of time in the clinch and a lot of time on the ground. As I always say in these previews, grappling fights always lead to late, if any, finishes.
There’s no such thing as a “lock” in sports gambling, and that’s especially true in fighting. However, betting on an Usman fight to go over the round total is about as close to a lock as you’re going to find. Play it safe, don’t overthink this one. We’re going to see another 25-minute clinic from the champ.
Best Bet: Over 4.5 rounds (-140)
Value Bets: Fight goes to decision (-130), Usman by decision (+115)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Maycee Barber (+100) vs. Alexa Grasso (-130)
It’s been over a year since we’ve seen Maycee “The Future” Barber (8-1) inside the Octagon, yet she still brings heavy anticipation everytime she fights. Her opponent, Alexa Grasso (12-3), is as tough as they come and will bring the fight to Barber early and often. For Grasso, this marks her just her second appearance at 125lbs, following an impressive debut that saw her win via unanimous decision.
For Barber this is a crossroads fight. In her last outing versus Roxanne Modafferri she tore her ACL and has spent the last year recovering. The big question for her is if she can live up to the massive hype she had going into that Modafferi fight. In that fight she showed incredible grit, and after tearing her ACL in the second round was able to stay in the fight and battle. She couldn’t put any weight on her leg and was really just throwing aggressive shots to try and get the finish. Modafferri, being the veteran she is, was able to understand her opponent was extremely compromised and stay safe and finish the fight. Even in that defeat, Barber showed me her incredible toughness and flat out will to win. Her striking is elite and often comes in volume, and she is very capable on the ground as well. However in this fight, look for her to try and keep it standing.
Grasso is a much different case than Barber. She had been a bit inconsistent at 115 since coming into the UFC, often following wins with a loss. But she is much more experienced than Barber, and an extremely tough opponent to have coming off of a long layoff and major surgery. Grasso is going to look to make this fight dirty, get in the clinch and look for trips and takedowns. She’ll try to do her best to wear on Barber early when she’s most dangerous. Her submission game is extremely dangerous as well, so if the fight goes to the ground, look out.
When it comes down to the bottom line however, I like Barber a lot in this fight. And I like her even more at plus odds. Each fight starts standing, and I feel as if she’ll come into this with something to prove that she still is “The Future” at 125. For my best bet, I’m going to go with her moneyline at +115, and a value bet of her winning by TKO/KO at +400.
Best Bet: Barber moneyline (+100)
Value Bet: Barber by TKO/KO (+400)
–William Burke (@w_burke22)
Kelvin Gastelum (-230) vs. Ian Heinisch (+180)
On our main card we have a fight of the night contender in the middleweight division between Kelvin Gastelum (16-6) and Ian Heinisch (14-3). Losing three in a row since becoming the interim middleweight champion, Kelvin Gastelum has to be looking at this fight as a must win. For Heinisch, it’s an opportunity to get a win over a top ten guy and someone who had a UFC belt wrapped around them recently.
I expect this fight to be mostly a standup affair, with the potential to hit the mat if one of the fighters gets hurt with something and shoots for a takedown. Losing his last fight to Jack Hermansson by way of heel hook in just over one minute, I expect Gastelum to come in with some caution but also knowing he has to put on a good showing. Gastelum is a major step up in competition for Heinisch, with the only person he’s fought with comparable credentials being Derek Brunson, a fight he lost via unanimous decision. Heinisch possesses big power in both of his hands, and he isn’t afraid to get into a firefight. A great strategy would be to chop at the lead leg of Gastelum early and often to try and take away some of his movement. Kelvin is very small for the division, and uses his movement to get in and out closing the distance.
So how do I think this fight will play out? I think the two men fighting certainly have the ability to stand and throw heavy hands for three rounds, I just don’t think Gastelum will allow that to happen. Knowing this is a must win, I expect lots of clinch work for Gastelum and distance control. Minimize his risk and try to safely secure a decision win over a ranked opponent to get himself back on track.
Best Bet: Gastelum by decision (+110)
–William Burke (@w_burke22)
Mallory Martin (-150) vs. Polyana Viana (+120)
Neither Mallory Martin nor Polyana Viana are household names in the UFC right now, but their combined seven fights in the UFC have provided fireworks to this point and a win in this fight will put that fighter closer to becoming a ranked contender, a coveted position in a crowded women’s strawweight.
Martin (7-3) is the less experienced of the two by far, registering only 10 professional fights, two coming in the UFC and one in DWCS. She’s shown some versatility in her fighting style, earning two knockouts, two submissions, and three decisions, but there are some limitations to this point for the 27 year old. Martin’s only loss in the UFC (and only loss since 2017) was to Virna Jandiroba via armbar. While Martin did bounce back with an armbar win of her own, she showed a vulnerability in her game, one that many Brazilian fighters will be able to exploit. Martin has good striking and can work well in the clinch and ground and pound with some vicious elbows, but it’s worth noting that she has yet to register a striking stoppage in the UFC. She’s capable of stopping fights and dominating them otherwise, but she’s far from unbeatable.
Martin’s opponent, Polyana Viana (11-4), is nicknamed “Dama de Ferro.” For those not versed in Brazilian Portuguese, Dama de Ferro translates to “The Iron Woman” which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever seen a fight that Viana has won. The Brazilian has some losses in her career, but she’s never been knocked out and has never allowed a victory to go to the judges. She’s scored seven submissions and four knockouts in her career, an impressive record. Her 9-1 record coming into the promotion put her on a fast track to stardom, but one that burned out as quickly as it was lit. Viana won her first UFC bout but went on to lose her next three, only recently returning to the win column against Emily Whitmere last August. Viana is a bruiser and a dangerous one at that, but a disciplined fighter that doesn’t expose arms or necks shouldn’t be at too much risk.
The common fight between Martin and Viana is Hannah Cifers. While Viana lost a split decision to Hannah, Martin was able to beat her in the second round with a rear-naked choke. That probably has a lot to do with the odds being where they’re at, though Martin has earned her spot as a favorite in this fight by simply being the better fighter. There’s a good chance we see some fireworks in this bout as both women will be looking to turn their returns to victory into streaks. There’s potentially a future in the promotion at stake here, so each woman will be looking to leave no doubt in the minds of the viewers. I give Martin the advantage just because she’s a bit sharper in and more versatile than Viana, but a victory either way won’t surprise me.
Best Bet: Under 2.5 rounds (+180)
– Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
Chris Gutierrez (-145) vs. Andre Ewell (+115)
Every fight on every card has the potential to be exciting for one reason or another and this battle between Andre Ewell and Chris Gutierrez is no exception. Both fighters have done well in the past couple of years and while bantamweight is probably a bit too crowded to accept a new contender from this fight, crawling towards the digits is a necessary task for any fighter at 135. Ewell and Gutierrez are both establishing their names with their recent performances in the Octagon and a win here would be a massive step forward for either fighter.
Chris Gutierrez (15-4-2) opened his UFC account in 2018 when he was choked out by Raoni Barcelos, but has since put together a nice string of performances, three wins and a most recent draw against Cody Durden. Over his career he’s shown an ability to adapt and improve with versatility, but the climb has been slow and laborious. His hands aren’t as effective as they were against lesser opposition and he hasn’t earned a submission win since his Legacy days. Interestingly enough, his kicks have become a great weapon for him to employ, twice finishing fights with leg kicks, most recently in May when he stopped Vince Morales in a one fight stint at 145. Those leg kicks could be devastating, but if taken away he could be left exposed against one of the more predatory fighters in the division. There’s a lot to like about “El Guapo” and his recent record is very impressive, but this next bout is no doubt his most difficult.
That predatory opponent is Andre “Mr. Highlight” Ewell (17-6), a nickname that was earned. As you can probably deduce, Ewell produces a lot of exciting fights and finishes, from Brabos, Guillotines, and Rear-Nakeds to punches and elbows. 11 of the 17 victories on Ewell’s resume have come before the final bell, but none of them have come in the UFC. While Ewell has been stopped twice in the promotion, being choked by Nate Wood and battered by Chito Vera, he has yet to put anyone away, winning four times by decision. The lack of stoppages is concerning, but if he can keep improving his stamina, durability, and just tighten the screws in general, he ought to be able to survive.
The run that Gutierrez is on has been very impressive and he could have easily come out victorious in the Durden fight, so he is safely the true favorite, but he can’t skate in this fight. Even though Ewell hasn’t stopped anyone recently, you generally don’t lose those skills and complacency or laziness on Gutierrez’s end could be fateful. I believe El Guapo recognizes that though and will be prepared to fight tactically and safely, earning a victory.
Best Bet: Gutierrez moneyline (-145)
Value Bet: Gutierrez by decision (+160)
– Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)