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UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal.

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
UFC 251

The Bloody Elbow team has made its picks for UFC 251, and the majority of us believe that Kamaru Usman, Alex Volkanovski, and Petr Yan will leave Yas Island with UFC belts around their waists. By no means are any of these title fight picks easy, as there are clear paths to victory for everyone.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons.

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal

Anton Tabuena: I know his camp says he never stopped training (I mean, what else are they going to say?), but I don’t think this bout is as intriguing as it could be on six-days notice. Masvidal has underrated wrestling, good takedown defense, and he has sharper strikes, and maybe on a proper camp, I’d pick him, but now I just can’t. Masvidal is still going to be very dangerous early, but I feel like if he doesn’t stop or badly hurt Usman right away, he’s going to get grinded out. Even if Usman doesn’t succeed on the early takedowns, making Masvidal defend and clinch will quickly wear him down and make this feel like a far longer fight. Kamaru Usman by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: Masvidal toggles between lightning fast starts or almost getting knocked out. In other words, round one will likely set the tone for how this fight will play out. Usman has developed into a formidable striker who throws with a lot of power, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to engage in a prolonged kickboxing battle with Jorge. On the wrestling side, for as much as Masvidal has great takedown defense, Usman has phenomenal wrestling and incredible positional grappling. If he can effectively pressure Masvidal and get him towards the fence then it’ll likely be a long night for Jorge, who will find it remarkably hard to reverse Usman or get back to his feet without Kamaru immediately pursuing another takedown. Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Masvidal’s increasing use of violent bursts of combination offense give him a better shot at winning this fight than he may have ever had before. But it does smack of a fight that Masvidal generally doesn’t win. ‘Gamebred’ all too often is willing to fall into whatever pace his opponent sets and take the fight wherever they want it to go. When people stay at range against him, he stays at range. When people sit in the pocket and bang with him, he bangs back. And when they shoot in on his legs and start chain wrestling, he often keeps the scramble going, even when it’s to his own detriment. Masvidal’s willingness to get backed up and to counter wrestling with wrestling just suggest too strongly that he’ll get sucked into Usman’s kind of grinding pressure style. But there may be a point in every round where he lands big, momentum changing offense. Kamaru Usman by decision.

Staff picking Usman: Mookie, Anton, Alex, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Masvidal: Shak

Alex Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway

Anton Tabuena: This is yet another intriguing fight that I would’ve preferred to wait on when both are able to be at their best, but we are in the middle of a pandemic, and this is MMA’s new normal. With the small gap between their fights along with suboptimal fight prep, how much can Holloway actually change to overcome things? He definitely has to address those leg kicks better, and maybe they already know where they went wrong in the first fight, but Volkanovski will have learned a lot from that contest too. I just wish this was done under different circumstances, because it’s a very technical affair on the feet, where small reads and adjustments can go a long way. It’s like us being treated to a high level chess match, but with competitors forced to play with a bunch of missing pieces. Oh well, heart says Holloway, head says Volkanovski. Alex Volkanovski by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: I think leaving aside Holloway’s lack of a proper fight camp, Volkanovski just appears to be a bad matchup for him. Not only can Volkanovski match Holloway’s volume, he can stem Max’s offense with leg kicks and follow up with punches afterward. Volkanovski’s speed and power advantage is very noticeable and his cardio is outstanding. If Holloway is to win I think he has to win with his jab and go to the body early, and he may still just get countered to pieces because of how fast Volkanovski is. Alex Volkanovski by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: There’s a chance that Holloway comes into this fight with a firm feeling for style and pace already established and picks up where he left off in round 5 of their first bout. A chance. But if he hasn’t been sparring even the odds on that are pretty slim. Volkanovski just did too good a job stunting Max’s rhythm early. And the tools he used likely don’t have to change much for him to do it again. Alex Volkanovski by decision.

Staff picking Volkanovski: Shak, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Holloway: Alex

Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo

Anton Tabuena: This will be a lot closer than some people think, because despite the wear and tear through the years, Aldo is still very very technical and can cause him a lot of issues. If it remains a close and back-and-forth affair as I think early on though, I have a feeling that Aldo will run into problems and could drop rounds to the judges as his volume and output tapers again. I think Aldo has to flat out outclass him, or else the younger, faster, and more aggressive opponent will slowly chip away, throw more shots, and win rounds as the fight continues. Petr Yan by decision.

Mookie Alexander: Aldo isn’t washed up but he is clearly not in his prime. This “Vintage Aldo” narrative that came out of the UFC broadcast commentary of the Marlon Moraes fight is beyond me. Going toe to toe with Petr Yan could lead to Yan getting caught and stunned — John Dodson dropped him — but more likely Aldo just fails to keep a high pace with the Russian and he gets worn down in the later rounds. If leg kicking Aldo returned, I’d give him a better chance. Unfortunately, Yan is too potent offensively and his timing and accuracy is too much for 2020 Jose to take. Petr Yan by TKO, round 5.

Zane Simon: I’m firmly of the belief that Aldo will have a great shot to win this fight in the first two rounds. He still has fantastic power. He slips shots better than any of Yan’s previous opponents, and he has the kind of physical strength that I think has posed Yan a few problems when he’s fallen into the clinch during exchanges. Still though, Aldo’s cardio over a 5 round fight? I can’t trust it. Especially not against the kind of opponent who is only known for building volume and layers to his offense as the bout goes on. Petr Yan by TKO, round 4.

Staff picking Yan: Shak, Mookie, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Aldo: Alex

Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade

Anton Tabuena: If they’re both in top form, (basically the same big question for every fight nowadays) I think Namajunas continues to look the same way she did on the last contest — winning every single exchange, except for that mistake that got her slammed and KO’d. As shown on their first bout, Andrade obviously has better physicality, but Namajunas just has far better skills both on the feet and on the mat. Rose Namajunas by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: Namajunas is the more well-rounded fighter and far more technical fighter. She dominated round one against Andrade but upon rewatch, round two was not nearly as lopsided as I remember it being. Andrade was landing body shots and Rose’s output was starting to slow a bit. Jessica’s physicality is just such a huge factor in virtually all of her fights and it usually determines the end result. I can see a repeat of the first fight where Namajunas is winning, up until she isn’t. Jessica Andrade by TKO, round 3.

Zane Simon: I do worry that Rose will have a bad 3rd round. I don’t think she likes pressure at all. And, even leading up to the TKO last time it felt like it was starting to wear on her. But, That slam KO was so funky and hard to repeat. And until it happened Andrade was still obviously outclassed. The finish might get a bit wild, but Rose Namajunas by decision.

Staff picking Namajunas: Shak, Anton, Alex, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Andrade: Mookie

Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant

Anton Tabuena: VanZant might just be the better athlete, but Ribas is more technical everywhere, and hasn’t had a long layoff due to injuries. If VanZant manages to prove everyone wrong and win this though, hopefully she silences a lot of that negativity, and more importantly, gets paid properly. Amanda Ribas by decision.

Mookie Alexander: The odds on this are far too wide but that doesn’t mean this won’t end up in a Ribas win. She’s just better everywhere and will likely own VanZant on the mat. Amanda Ribas by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: Most of the progress in VanZant’s game since she left Alpha Male has seemed counter productive. She’s molded herself into an out-fighter, when she was so clearly better suited to be a scrappy bruiser. Ribas is just too talented for VanZant to try and play a technical battle of styles. Amanda Ribas by decision.

Staff picking Ribas: Shak, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking VanZant: Alex

Jiri Prochazka vs. Volkan Oezdemir

Anton Tabuena: RIZIN NEVER DIE! (actually, they might just do that soon). Anywayyyy, this is a tough, tough debut, but I think he can pull it off and instantly be the new top contender. Jiri Prochazka by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Prochazka is super fun to watch and a vicious finisher but this Oezdemir 2.0 we’re seeing might be a little too much for him in his UFC debut. Oezdemir is a more patient striker than ever before and his cardio, while not amazing, is miles better than what it used to be. Add in his solid chin and I think Prochazka just is at a technical disadvantage. Jiri is not out of a fight because of his knockout power, but I think we’ll see Volkan Oezdemir by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Prochazka is a next level athletic talent. But a lot of poor technique (especially footwork) seems to have baked itself into his style over years and years of training at a pretty small, unknown camp. He’s got the power to finish this at any time, but even that hasn’t been that dependable against opponents who weren’t notably fragile. Just too chancy to pick against Oezdemir, who has built himself a generally more busy, efficient boxing style over the years. Volkan Oezdemir via decision.

Staff picking Prochazka: Anton
Staff picking Oezdemir: Shak, Mookie, Alex, Stephie, Zane

Muslim Salikhov vs. Elizeu Zaleski

Mookie Alexander: Oh yes. Oh yes this fight is good. I personally forbid takedowns from being attempted in this one. Zaleski may actually try to do this, in which case Salikhov loses, but I reject your reality and substitute my own. Muslim Salikhov by some Kung Fu shit, round 3.

Zane Simon: If Zaleski can’t get his wrestling going, I don’t actually trust him to purely out-kickbox Salikhov. But Salikhov’s takedown defense has largely been very raw. And even a pretty similarly styled power takedown artist like Alex Garcia didn’t have much trouble making Salikhov pay for that. With a few takedowns in his back pocket and the ability to at least hang at range and not get wiped out, I gotta take Elizeu Zaleski by decision.

Staff picking Salikhov: Mookie, Stephie
Staff picking Zaleski: Shak, Anton, Alex, Zane

Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry

Mookie Alexander: Amirkhani’s poor striking defense and suspect cardio can easily allow Henry to win by just outlasting Mr. Finland long enough and then turning up his own offense. However, I don’t really trust Henry to stop Amirkhani’s takedowns, at which point he’ll be screwed dealing with Makwan’s grappling. Makwan Amirkhani by submission, round 1.

Zane Simon: If this fight hits round 3 it could get real wild. Amirkhani’s gas tank seems like a major issue. But Henry just doesn’t have the physicality or the technical wrestling to hang with him on the mat. He’s a much more confident striker, but not one that I trust to be a consistent power threat there, and with enough defensive holes that he can’t depend on overwhelming opponents with volume. Makwan Amirkhani via decision.

Staff picking Amirkhani: Mookie, Anton, Alex, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Henry: Shak

Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov

Mookie Alexander: Leo Santos fights once every nine years and looks fantastic, and then keeps getting these types of fights because he’s only around once every nine years. Leonardo Santos by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: Bogatov’s game seems tailor made to fall into what Santos does best, even at age 40. Bogatov is very much a swing-n-cling grappler who only wants the fight on the mat. He’s going up against a BJJ champ who has a wicked body kick and power counterpunching arsenal. Any way you slice it, it’s hard to see an easy road for a Bogatov win. Leonardo Santos via submission, round 1.

Staff picking Santos: Shak, Mookie, Anton, Alex, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Bogatov:

Rest of the card

Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin

Staff picking Tybura: Shak, Mookie, Anton, Alex, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Grishin:

Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Staff picking Paiva: Mookie, Alex, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Zhumagulov: Anton

Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo

Staff picking Rosa: Anton, Alex
Staff picking Melo: Mookie, Zane, Stephie

Davey Grant vs. Martin Day

Staff picking Grant: Mookie, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Day: Anton, Alex


Who wins the bantamweight title at UFC 251?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Petr Yan
    (959 votes)
  • 34%
    Jose Aldo
    (500 votes)
1459 votes total Vote Now


Who wins the Co-Main Event at UFC 251?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Alexander Volkanovski
    (1795 votes)
  • 40%
    Max Holloway
    (1223 votes)
3018 votes total Vote Now


Who raises their hand in the UFC 251 Main Event?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Kamaru Usman
    (1786 votes)
  • 44%
    Jorge Masvidal
    (1441 votes)
3227 votes total Vote Now

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