Maycee Barber (R) (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC 258

Saturday’s UFC 258 provides us with three really good bouts which all have the potential to be really exciting. Maycee Barber goes up against Alexa Grasso in the co-headliner, Polyana Viana takes on Mallory Martin, and Gillian Robertson scraps with Miranda Maverick. Let’s see if I can give you a little idea of what to look for in each bout.

Maycee Barber vs. Alexa Grasso

Barber comes in at 8-1. She tasted defeat for the first time in her last fight, which took place a year ago against Roxanne Modafferi. This will be her first fight since suffering a bad leg injury in the Modafferi bout.

We all know that Barber is a super-confident fighter, so perhaps this doesn’t affect her. However, that first time back to training and the first time fighting, there is often a little — I don’t want to say fear, but maybe hesitation is the word. In the back of the fighter’s mind, there’s always that thought about it happening again. It can be a mind game to return to an activity after suffering a natural physical or emotional trauma from that activity. So, we will see if Barber has any hesitations or is subconsciously protective of that leg. Sometimes you don’t even realize you are doing it.


Barber is a very good striker who has power, but she also has shown that she can be hit. She’s willing to be aggressive and chase her opponent, but she is fighting someone with great movement. I’m very curious about her game plan. She’s going to find herself in a lot of hard-hitting, brutal exchanges, so her defense will be crucial. She has to keep her hands up and not get caught in several-punch combos. Grasso is really good with mixing up her combos. Barber will want to avoid going in a direct line. Instead, she needs to cut off the cage. This is something I’ve gone over before. It’s like catching a mouse: don’t run after it, but move side to side and corner it, leaving it with no escape.

Grasso is very good in the clinch. She has very good technique there, but Barber can have success in this area. Barber shouldn’t shy away from the clinch, so long as she can put Grasso’s back on the cage. If the clinch comes away from the fence, it won’t work as well for her.

Barber is a finisher. All but one of her wins has been a stoppage. Only Mallory Martin went the distance with her. When she is on top, she knows how to finish. Modafferi was able to get takedowns on her and Barber couldn’t do much, but let’s remember that she was hurt and fighting Modafferi, who has great Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If Barber is having any kind of trouble on the feet against Grasso or has a good feel for her ability to get a takedown, then don’t shy away from going for it. Barber will likely be physically stronger than her opponent, so she will be able to keep Grasso grounded and land some good hard ground-and-pound.

Barber can’t leave her lead leg out too far. Grasso has good kicks and ends combos with them really well. If Barber leaves that lead leg exposed and Grasso can target it, then that could really hamper a lot of the things Barber will be looking to do.

Grasso, who sits at 12-3, was the winner in her most recent bout against Ji Yeon Kim in late August. She gets an opponent who she is probably happy to fight. The Mexican star has such great movement and does really well when she has an opponent who is willing to come forward. That’s exactly what she has here.

Grasso will use that movement again here to get in, land combos, back out, circle, and move. She throws great leg kicks, and she’s fighting someone who had a bad leg injury that required surgery. It isn’t Grasso’s job to worry about her opponent’s injury. She will target that leg and see if it’s a hundred percent. Grasso will test whether it’s ready to withstand trauma. At the very least, she can try to put doubt into Barber’s head and perhaps cause her to protect the leg, which will open up other opportunities for Grasso.

When they get in close, Grasso does not need to avoid the clinch with Barber in the center of the cage. She doesn’t necessarily land with a ton of power there or use physical strength, but she does display great technique. She picks her shots wisely and throws them beautifully.

Takedowns are also fine for Grasso if she feels they are open and she can land on top. I don’t want to see her on her back against Barber, because Barber will do damage there with her wrestling and ground-and-pound.

Finally, the longer this fight goes, the better I like it for Grasso. She should conserve a little energy and not go all-out early. This will leave her with some gas in the tank late in the fight.

Polyana Viana vs. Mallory Martin

I am really excited for this fight. Viana is great off her back, but Martin is great on top. This makes for an interesting match-up.

Viana brings in an 11-4 record. She defeated Emily Whitmire in August via first-round armbar to snap a three-fight skid. Martin, who enters the contest with a 7-3 mark, recorded her first UFC win in August with a rear-naked choke finish of Hannah Cifers.

While I fully expect this fight to be contested on the ground, all MMA bouts start on the feet. Viana has some good movement, but she goes straight back. Movement is good, but going straight back is not. Martin will at times rush in and try to jab her way to the clinch, so Viana will really want to avoid that backward movement. She should try to use a lot of side-to-side movement instead. She can also make use of her three-inch reach advantage.

When Martin rushes in, she runs into punches. Viana will want to stick her jab out there and make Martin run into it. The Brazilian does have some good kicks, too, and she can use them here. She just has to be careful to not leave them out there. Martin won’t hesitate to catch those kicks and attempt to convert takedowns.

Viana is capable of jumping and pulling guard at any time. However, this approach is dangerous against Martin, because Martin is good on the ground as well and especially when on top. I would like to see Viana get it to the ground the more traditional way. She can shoot in or get the fight to the mat from the clinch. If she opts for the clinch, then she should do so in the middle of the cage. I don’t want to see her clinched with Martin on the cage, because Martin has great head positioning and is really strong in the clinch. Whether on the inside or outside against the cage, Martin’s chances are better to end on top when they go down.

Viana’s best route for takedowns would be to let Martin rush forward, drop down, and shoot in for the takedown. Martin’s ability to sprawl will be at its lowest at this point, which will aid Viana in being successful with her attempts. If Viana is on top, she can be active and land punches to open up submissions or passes. Martin has great jiu-jitsu, but Viana is good enough to know if something is coming.

On the feet for Martin, it’s all about pressure. Despite Viana’s potential to use Martin’s forward movement against her, it’s still a good strategy for Martin. First off, she can land and potentially hurt Viana if Viana moves backward in a straight line. In addition, Martin can jab her way into the clinch, where she is very strong and very good. In the clinch, she tucks her head right under her opponent’s chin and controls what happens. Martin is able to land strikes or get underhooks to gain even more control.

If Martin gets the clinch against the cage, then she can hang out there and do some damage. I just don’t want to see her clinched in the center, as this would take away some of her advantages and allow Viana a better chance to get the takedowns she wants.

Martin will have her best takedown opportunities from the clinch. Her head placement also benefits her on the ground, where she can limit or even eliminate any type of submission Viana can do from her back. This also allows Martin the time to set up where she wants to be. Once she has her position, then she can use her outstanding ground control. Once Martin gets going, she is relentless, which means her opponent is too busy taking punishment to have a chance to set anything up of their own.

This will be a fun battle to see who gets it to ground, because that person is going to end up in the position they want it in. This will go a long way in determining the winner.

Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick

Each event seems to have one fight that is fairly easy to break down. In these contests, the path to victory for each fighter is just really easy to explain. For UFC 258, this is that fight.

Robertson, who enters the bout with a 9-5 record, suffered a decision loss to Taila Santos in December. Meanwhile, Maverick comes in at 8-2 after winning her UFC debut in October when the doctor stopped her fight with Liana Jojua due to a cut Jojua had sustained.

It’s not often that Maverick is not the better grappler in a fight, but that is the case here. Robertson can hang with anyone on the ground, as is evident by her six submission wins. She should have no interest in long striking exchanges with Maverick. Quite simply, she will be looking to get this to the ground as soon as she can.

Maverick is very good on the ground, though, and especially on top. However, this is Robertson’s world. In December, Robertson submitted Pearl Gonzalez at a Submission Underground show.

Robertson’s best chance to get it to the ground is to be a little sneaky with the takedowns. She has to try to disguise them. She can throw a two- or three-punch combo and immediately drop down for a double leg or a trip takedown. Clinches might be a tough source of takedowns for Robertson, because Maverick is strong and can put Robertson’s back to the cage. Robertson might also be willing to pull guard, because she has great submissions off her back and can also then look for a sweep to get on top. Robertson can very quickly grab a submission off her back before her opponent even realizes it. I also would not even be surprised if we see something crazy, perhaps a rolling kneebar or something, from Robertson.

If the takedowns aren’t there initially, then Robertson has to avoid becoming a stationary target for Maverick. She has to get in and get out, rather than getting caught in long exchanges. She also can’t be afraid to throw kicks. Worst case, they get checked. I don’t suspect we would see Maverick try to catch them or anything, because Maverick won’t want to go to the ground. Above all, Robertson must keep her hands up. Maverick can throw really nice flurries and things like elbows. Robertson can’t get caught with any of those.

Maverick has supreme confidence. When she’s expected to not do well somewhere in a fight, she is the type to take the fight there just to prove people wrong. Maverick is outstanding on the ground, and I wouldn’t put it past her to want to go there just to prove a point. However, she shouldn’t give in to that temptation. She has to win fights now. She can prove points later.

If Maverick keeps it on the feet, then she should be able to take a decision or get a finish. She also should be able to bully Robertson. So, while normally you don’t want to clinch with a great grappler, Maverick will be fine to do so here. Simply put, Maverick should be the same aggressive Maverick that we are used to — the one who comes forward, throws flurries, mixes them between the body and head, and forces the clinch up against the cage.

Robertson will do one of two things in the clinch. She will either search for the takedown or become very defensive. If Robertson’s back is to the cage, then the takedown will be very hard to find. This will allow Maverick to tee off. Elbows will be open to her, too. If Robertson is just being defensive, then Maverick can respond accordingly — wherever there is an opening, that is her target.

If the fight goes to the ground, then by no means does Maverick need to panic. She is capable of fighting off any submission attempts. If Maverick is on top, then she can throw strikes while being smart and keeping her arms off the mat — she doesn’t want to expose herself to an armbar or a triangle, things like that. If Maverick ends up on bottom, then she shouldn’t be defensive but she also shouldn’t let Robertson get offensive.

That is all for this week. I am really excited for all three fights. We should have a fun Saturday in store. Enjoy the fights!