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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

Kamaru Usman v Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 kickstarts a 'golden' stretch of match-ups

Israel Adesanya and Amanda Nunes will be among those in the octagon next month

The UFC returns on Sunday with its first pay-per-view event since last month’s UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi. The headline bout at UFC 258, the long-awaited clash between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, marks the first of six title fights in the next six weeks for the promotion. Here’s a look at the UFC’s upcoming 'golden' stretch.

Kamaru Usman v Gilbert Burns, UFC 258 (Feb 14)

What a way to kick off the championship run. Riding a 16-fight win streak (12 in the UFC), Usman hasn’t lost in almost eight years, is ranked fifth in the pound-for-pound standings and has looked supreme against elite opponents in his past three victories.

However, in Burns he takes on not only the No 1-ranked contender, but a former teammate and close friend, who knows better than most what it will take to dish out a first defeat. This was originally supposed to headline the inaugural Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi in July last year, but Burns contracted Covid-19. Finally, two of the most talented welterweights in the world will square off.

Jan Blachowicz v Israel Adesanya, UFC 259 (Mar 7)

Israel Adesanya lands a kick to the head of Paulo Costa during their middleweight title fight at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC
Israel Adesanya lands a kick to the head of Paulo Costa during their middleweight title fight at UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi. Josh Hedges / Zuffa LLC

He may have fought as recently as September, in his dazzling and dominant victory against the previously unbeaten Paulo Costa in Abu Dhabi, but Adesanya’s return can be described still as “much-anticipated”, such is the unbeaten middleweight champion’s skill set and profile.

Add to that that Adesanya, whose pro record stands at 20-0, is moving up for the first time to light-heavyweight in a bid to become a double champ – only the UFC’s seventh in history – only heightens the expectation. In Blachowicz, though, he faces a serious roadblock in his quest for "double champ" status. The powerful Pole was superb in his Abu Dhabi victory against Dominick Reyes in September. A win would hint at a lengthy reign.

Amanda Nunes v Megan Anderson, UFC 259

June 6, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes of Brazil punches Felicia Spencer of Canada in their UFC featherweight championship bout during UFC 250 at the UFC APEX. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports
Amanda Nunes punches Felicia Spencer at UFC 250. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC

The greatest female fighter in the history of mixed martial arts returns to defend one of her two titles – this time with the featherweight crown up for grabs. Nunes has not fought since last June’s victory against Felicia Spencer, and in that time has become a mother. How parenthood affects her preparations, and fight-game perspective, adds an intriguing layer to the bout with Anderson.

The Australian, meanwhile, is the heavy underdog, a former Invicta FC champion who rebounded from defeat to Spencer in 2019 to put together a two-fight win streak. Patently, Anderson needs to be at the top of her game to stand a chance in this rescheduled December clash.

Petr Yan v Aljamain Sterling, UFC 259

Petr Yan after his TKO victory over Jose Aldo at UFC 251. Zuffa LLC
Petr Yan after his TKO victory over Jose Aldo at UFC 251. Zuffa LLC

A hugely competitive bantamweight title encounter makes up the championship bouts at UFC 259, with Yan aiming to defend the belt he won in devastating fashion in Abu Dhabi last July. There, the Russian dominated Jose Aldo to take the vacant strap – and lift his win streak to 10. Yan has not fought since, although the match-up with Sterling was initially scheduled for December.

The American sits as the division’s No 1 contender, and hasn’t been beaten in his past five outings; his last victory, in June, was by first-round submission against the since-impressive Cody Sandhagen. Both fighters are known for their high output, which should make for an explosive encounter.

Stipe Miocic v Francis Ngannou, UFC 260 (Mar 28)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 15: Stipe Miocic celebrates after his victory over Daniel Cormier in their UFC heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 252 event at UFC APEX on August 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Stipe Miocic celebrates after his victory over Daniel Cormier in UFC 252. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC

A rematch of the first meeting in 2018, when Miocic brought to a halt Ngannou’s 10-fight win streak (none of which had made it past the second round). Now, the American perches proudly as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history having seen off old foe Daniel Cormier in their trilogy bout last August.

Ngannou, though, has rebuilt his career following the initial defeat, with his four victories since each lasting no longer than 71 seconds. What is more, all arrived against formidable opponents.

Will Miocic have his measure again, when he wrestled his way to a unanimous decision? Or can Ngannou’s incredible punch power resonate? A lot has changed in the three years since their first face-off.

Alexander Volkanovski v Brian Ortega, UFC 260

Alexander Volkanovski after his split-decision victory over Max Holloway at UFC 251. Zuffa LLC
Alexander Volkanovski after his split-decision victory over Max Holloway at UFC 251. Zuffa LLC

The last of the six-week title run, this should not disappoint. Volkanovski rides a 19-fight win streak, including the two tussles with Max Holloway, where he secured the featherweight belt then defended it. The latter, in Abu Dhabi in July, went once more to the judges, with the Australian emerging victorious by split decision. That many thought Holloway actually won that fight remains a bone of contention for the champion.

Ortega counts his loss to Holloway in 2018 as his only professional blemish, but responded emphatically in October after 20 months out to dominate Chan Sung Jung in Abu Dhabi. With Volkanovski’s accuracy and Ortega’s incredible stand-up on display for the first time against “The Korean Zombie”, this promises fireworks.

Published: February 12, 2021 11:45 AM

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