Real or not: Kamaru Usman is facing his most difficult test in Gilbert Burns at UFC 258

Kamaru Usman is set to defend his welterweight title against Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 on Feb. 13. Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The highly anticipated UFC welterweight title bout between champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns appears set to headline UFC 258 on Feb. 13.

This is the third time the promotion has booked this fight. The UFC had to cancel their bout at UFC 251 in July after Burns tested positive for COVID-19. The matchup was rebooked for UFC 256 in December, but Usman needed more time to recover from undisclosed injuries.

While Usman has defeated some of the best in the welterweight division in his most recent fights, Burns is on a tear, having won six straight. Plus, the duo used to train together at Sanford MMA in Florida. Will that familiarity possibly help the challenger? He's still with the team, while Usman has moved his training to Colorado to work with coach Trevor Wittman.

Meanwhile, the title picture could really heat up in the lightweight and featherweight divisions early in 2021.

Michael Chandler is set to make his UFC debut against Dan Hooker at UFC 257, while Calvin Kattar takes on former featherweight champ Max Holloway on Jan. 16. Could impressive performances by Chandler, a former Bellator champion, and Kattar, get them a shot at UFC gold soon?

ESPN's panel of Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim discuss those topics, breaking down what's real and what's not.

Real or not: Burns is Usman's toughest opponent.


Burns floors Woodley with a devastating combo in Round 4

Gilbert Burns catches Tyron Woodley with a monstrous combo that floors him in Round 4.

Okamoto: Not real. I'm going to say Colby Covington is still Usman's toughest test to date. What makes Covington a tougher test for Usman, specifically, is that Usman's safety net is his wrestling. And as good as Burns' grappling is, until I see for myself on Feb. 13 that he can stop Usman from dictating where the fight goes, I have to give Usman the benefit of the doubt in that area.

I do think Burns is a more dangerous challenge, as he has multiple ways to finish a fight and his hand speed and knockout power were eye-opening in 2020. He also has the benefit of having trained with Usman, so there's a familiarity there -- but to say he's a tougher challenge than Covington, I think would fail to give Covington his due. Don't forget, judges had Usman vs. Covington in 2019 scored a split draw going into the final round, which illustrates how competitive it was before it was stopped in the fifth and declared a TKO win for Usman. Burns is a special talent and a live underdog against Usman, but I'll still take Covington as Usman's toughest challenge.

Real or not: If Usman wins, he should fight the winner of Jorge Masvidal vs. Covington.


Usman controls pace against Masvidal, retains welterweight title

Kamaru Usman retains his UFC welterweight title after dominating Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision.

Raimondi: I'm going to say not real for this one, but there are several caveats. Leon Edwards is still out there and he's as deserving of a title shot as anyone in the welterweight division. Edwards has won eight in a row and has not lost in six years. And that defeat in 2015 came against none other than Usman. Edwards, though, can't catch a break. His fight with Tyron Woodley fell through last year because of COVID-19 and twice the UFC in the past two months has tried to put him together with red-hot prospect Khamzat Chimaev and failed. Chimaev seems likely to be Edwards' next opponent, but it's unclear when. If Edwards wins that one -- which will be no easy task -- he is probably in pole position for the title shot.

However, timing is everything, and the ability to sell a pay-per-view main event is important. Whoever wins between Covington and Jorge Masvidal -- if and when that fight happens -- will be absolutely red-hot. The problem is there is no date set for that one, so it's impossible to predict not only who will win but how long he might be out following that bout. And would that absence line up with Usman? This is assuming Usman beats Burns, which is surely no foregone conclusion. So it's really hard to predict the immediate future of the UFC welterweight division with all these variables at play.

The only thing I'm comfortable saying for sure is if Edwards beats Chimaev -- and again, we don't know when that fight will be -- the title shot should rightfully be his. That doesn't mean it will be. There are always unforeseen circumstances. But it would be hard to argue that a man with nine straight wins doesn't deserve the title challenger nod.

Real or not: A Chandler win in his UFC debut would earn him a title shot.


Chandler calls Hooker one of the scariest lightweights in UFC

Michael Chandler breaks down his UFC 257 opponent, Dan Hooker, calling him one of the most dangerous fighters at 155 pounds.

Wagenheim: I can hear a voice crying out in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a pleading "Not real! Not real!" And I agree with Charles Oliveira. He simply has to be one half of the next lightweight championship fight, assuming Khabib Nurmagomedov remains retired. The tussle for a vacant title surely would be between Oliveira, winner of eight in a row, and the winner of this month's Conor McGregor-Dustin Poirier fight. If Nurmagomedov elects to fight once more, and the UFC can't put together a Georges St-Pierre dream bout, I could see Oliveira getting the nod over Poirier, who competed for the belt less than 16 months ago. "Do Bronx" would not be so lucky, of course, if it's between him and McGregor for the starry spot across the cage from Nurmagomedov.

As for Chandler, title shot or no title shot, a victory over Hooker would be just the eye-opener he needs to define his stature at this pivotal time in his career. Whenever fighters who've been elite in other promotions arrive in the UFC, there's always a question mark hovering over them until they've proved their Octagon mettle. Hooker, who is No. 6 in the ESPN lightweight rankings, will be a big-time test for the seventh-ranked Chandler. A win over the New Zealander would insert Chandler right into the mix of contenders. UFC matchmakers got this one right. What a perfect matchup for Chandler's debut.

Real or not: If Kattar beats Holloway, he should get a title shot.


Kattar, Ige trade blows in main event

Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige go back and forth trading blows throughout the length of their main event bout at UFC Fight Night.

Wagenheim: That's real. If Kattar beats the No. 2 featherweight, there's nowhere left for him to go but in a beeline toward champion Alexander Volkanovski.

Of course, that math doesn't always compute. One complication in the equation: Kattar, who is No. 6 in the ESPN rankings at 145 pounds, lost a 2019 fight to No. 5 Zabit Magomedsharipov.

Problem is, Magomedsharipov has not fought since that Kattar bout over a year ago, and he has no Octagon return on the schedule. Three times he has been matched with Yair Rodriguez and each time the fight has been canceled. UFC president Dana White recently told TSN that it's time to move on from that matchup -- but where does Magomedsharipov go?

The other complicating factor: When will Volkanovski's expected title defense against Brian Ortega occur? And will Volkanovski retain his belt in that fight and be free to move on to the next challenge, or will he have to fight a rematch with Ortega to try to get the title back?

So while Kattar's big-picture future appears bright and will be even brighter if he defeats Holloway, his immediate future would depend on factors outside his control.