UFC 251 is over after well over seven hours of live fights broadcast from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The most anticipated bout was undoubtedly the main event between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, with “Gamebred” garnering A-side status in terms of popularity, along with a lot of hefty bets placed on him in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the fight was a bit of a dud.
Masvidal, who accepted the fight last week after Gilbert Burns’ positive COVID-19 test, came out with a super aggressive attack in the opening round and you could tell that there was a high chance that he was going to fade. Sure enough, Usman just bullied Masvidal against the fence; his shoulder strikes, rights to the body, and foot stomps were a theme all fight. The body work of Usman was impressive and he definitely caught Jorge with a lot of clean shots upstairs, which Masvidal just smiled at while simultaneously clearly losing. Masvidal’s exemplary takedown defense was steadily chipped away in the latter stages and Usman got him on his back several times over and did some decent damage on the ground. In the end it was a comfortable decision for Usman, who’s still the welterweight king.
I’m sure a lot of casual fans who bought this PPV feel ripped off (and possibly in financial ruin), but full camp or not I think there’s a good chance the fight would’ve always looked like this. Without a knockout, he’ll always have a tough time dealing with Usman’s pressure, strength, workrate, and clinch. This was a smart fight from Usman and he was able to lessen the danger of striking with Masvidal by wearing on him from round two onward. Hats off to Masvidal for always being down to scrap, but bigger props to Kamaru Usman for being a tremendous fighter, outstanding athlete, and a very cerebral person when it comes to in-fight strategy.
As for what’s next? Well Usman vs. Gilbert Burns was the fight and should be the fight next for “The Nigerian Nightmare.” Hopefully Burns makes a full recovery from COVID-19 and we can see that matchup later this year.
- I thought Max Holloway did enough to win back the featherweight title from Alexander Volkanovski. Two judges disagreed, and yet I do not consider it to be a robbery. This was another fascinating, tactical, and compelling battle between these two that was (obviously) far closer than the first matchup. Volkanovski was dropped in rounds one and two and those are clear Holloway rounds. Rounds 3-5 are all close and I thought Volkanovski took the third and fifth. Actually I consider the fifth round to be a clear Volk round, so it all depends on how you had 3-4. It’s hard luck for Holloway, who looked very sharp to start and made a lot of necessary adjustments to fluster Volkanovski early, but I thought Volkanovski’s leg kicks still troubled Holloway and he was catching him with some clean power shots. My dad says he has a “rugged” style to deal with. It feels like Hollway should’ve won but I’m not mad at the decision. Volkanovski is 2-0 against Max and now we see who’s next for the Aussie in that stacked 145 lbs division.
- Jose Aldo gave Petr Yan a hell of a fight for three rounds and I think he arguably had Yan hurt early in the third round, but as I predicted, Jose couldn’t keep up with the pace and he slowed down in the championship rounds. Then Leon Roberts decided he wanted to watch Aldo nearly bleed to death in round five. Yan is your new bantamweight champion and Aldo was valiant in defeat, but holy shit that was unacceptable refereeing from Roberts. Aldo was done and just taking loads of unnecessary damage. I’m still steamed about that. That went from thrilling to sad to hard to watch. Congratulations are in order for Yan, whose striking is superb and he withstood Aldo’s leg kicks (!!!!) and body shots like a champ. Once he ramped up his volume and went mid-range and closer, Aldo had no answers.
- I cannot wait for Yan and Aljamain Sterling. That is the fight to make and I will not accept any other matchup.
- Don’t you wish Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas 2 had been five rounds? I’m sure Jessica does, because she had a fabulous third round and busted up her fellow former UFC strawweight champion. It seemed like a clear 29-28 win for Namajunas to everyone except one judge, hence the split decision. Rose has one hell of a shiner on her left eye but she has the win in a super gutsy and fun scrap, and if there’s no rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk coming soon, then Zhang Weili is surely going to defend her belt against Namajunas.
- Squash match on paper, squash match in practice. Amanda Ribas ended Paige VanZant’s UFC career with an easy armbar win in the opening round. VanZant was built as a potential MMA superstar but her career fizzled out, and she’ll be heading to some other promotion (or retire from MMA outright). Ribas looks like she’ll be a legitimate strawweight contender (although this fight was at flyweight).
- In case you didn’t see, the UFC did have a graphic acknowledging the passing of Khabib’s father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who sadly succumbed to COVID-19 earlier this week.
- Jiri Prochazka’s UFC debut was as weird and violent as expected. Volkan Oezdemir had the advantage through round one, as Prochazka screwed around and got hit a bunch while showing little regard for defense. Then he reminded everyone that he hits stupidly hard, and Oezdemir found out in the worst way. A head kick hurt the former UFC title challenger and then seconds later a right hand put Volkan to sleep. The former RIZIN champ got thrown into the deep end and he got a victory that immediately makes him a top light heavyweight contender. DAMN that was vicious. That style is probably going to catch up with him at some point, but tonight it did not.
- Muslim Salikhov and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos figured to have a stand-up thriller on paper, but while it was a good bout, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Also a surprise was that Salikhov got the split decision, as I felt Zaleski had the first two rounds before the “King of Kung Fu” nabbed the final round. He absolutely didn’t win 30-27, so that judge is smoking some wacky stuff.
- The prelims absolutely needed a jolt after four straight decisions, and featherweight submission specialist Makwan Amirkhani provided it. “Mr. Finland” took his time, got the takedown, and choked Danny Henry unconscious in just over three minutes. You can always rely on Amirkhani to provide some instant entertainment, and fortunately Henry is alright after he went limp.
- Ageless Brazilian lightweight Leo Santos walloped Roman Bogatov to the point of exhaustion in round two, then spent the whole of round three getting fouled beyond belief. Bogatov should’ve been disqualified, but instead Marc Goddard waited until the illegal knee to the head to dock him two points. I suppose two groin shots weren’t enough. Santos got the decision and it may have come at the expense of functioning genitals.
- Polish heavyweight Marcin Tybura beat Maxim Grishin by decision and it was thoroughly unwatchable.
- Raulian Paiva was perhaps a bit fortunate to get the decision win over Kazakh flyweight newcomer Zhalgas Zhumagulov. I thought Zhalgas won rounds two and three but the judges all had it 29-28 for Paiva, who damn near football punted Zhumagulov’s testicles out of the building in that final round. The fight was fine but that moment was painful to watch.
- In the battle of Brazilian women’s bantamweights, Karol Rosa notched another UFC win with a dominant decision over Vanessa Melo, who might get cut after a third straight loss and a second failure to make weight. Rosa was the far superior striker, better wrestler, and stronger fighter.
- Davey Grant overcame a first-round knockdown and broken jaw to brutally knock Martin Day out with a big left hook in the third and final round. Not a bad way to kick off the night! It’s also a reminder to me that Grant was the runner-up on TUF 18 to Chris Holdsworth back in 2013.