UFC 251 Preview: Jorge Masvidal looks to dethrone Kamaru Usman

This Saturday night, the UFC makes it’s long anticipated debut on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. The UFC is coming out swinging with a massive PPV card that features three title fights. The main event features a welterweight title contest between the champ, Kamaru Usman (16-1), and the BMF himself, Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (35-13). Two additional title fights and a stacked card make this arguably the most anticipated UFC PPV of the year. Let’s dive into the main card and preview Saturday night’s action.

Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal

The main event of the evening might be the most anticipated matchup of 2020. A fight that came together in six days after it was planned for the entire year. For the UFC‘s BMF, Jorge Masvidal, Saturday night is the culmination of his meteoric rise to stardom since the beginning of 2019. Gamebred was always considered a good fighter, but the former backyard brawler became elite in the last year and a half. 

Masvidal is extremely well-rounded, but shines when the fight is on the feet. Masvidal possesses arguably the best boxing in the UFC‘s welterweight division. He also has ruthless body kicks which he throws everything into. He’s coming into Saturday on a three fight winning streak that features two highlight reel knockouts over Darren Till and Ben Askren.

Standing across from Masvidal is the UFC welterweight champion, Usman. The Nigerian Nightmare hasn’t lost in seven years, and he’s dominated virtually every opponent he’s had since. Usman has incredible wrestling and cardio which allows him to put on an incredible pace. In his last title defense against Colby Covington, Usman also showed that he can do some serious damage on his feet.

This fight is pretty easy to preview when you think about it. Masvidal wants to keep the fight standing while Usman wants to take it to the ground. While Usman showed improved striking, he has no chance to win a stand-up fight with Gamebred. I think you’ll see Usman test the waters on the feet, but ultimately look to take the fight to the ground. If Masvidal can keep the fight standing, he can finish this fight, but I don’t think he’ll be able to over five rounds. I think Masvidal is going to find some success early, but I think as the fight goes on, Usman will be able to impose his will. I don’t see Usman getting a finish, but I think his full training camp and wrestling will give him the nod here.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman by Unanimous Decision

Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway

A rematch months in the making occurs in the co-main event as former UFC featherweight champion, Max Holloway (21-5), looks to regain his title against champion, Alexander Volkanovski (21-1). Since 2017, you can make the argument that Volkanovski has been the best fighter in the UFC. He’s gone 7-0 with almost nobody giving him trouble inside the octagon.

Volkanovski is a former rugby player who at one point weighed above the light heavyweight limit and carries an extreme amount of power. Volkanovski combines that power with great accuracy and a high level Fight-IQ. He used both of those things to out-point Holloway back at UFC 245. He used his leg kicks and explosive speed to fluster the former champion. Many people have dubbed Holloway as the greatest featherweight ever. However, if Volkanovski is able to win, he’ll hold a win over Jose Aldo and two wins over Holloway which would arguably make him the best featherweight ever.

A year and a half ago, Max Holloway looked invincible. After losing to Conor McGregor in 2013, Holloway rattled off 13 consecutive wins including two over former featherweight king, Jose Aldo. Holloway is as tough as they come, and he’s a sniper on the feet. Holloway’s precision striking is what carried him to the title. However, the last three fights have shown a vulnerable Holloway.

Holloway has gone 1-2 in his last three fights losing to Volkanovski and Dustin Poirier. In those fights, Holloway struggled to be first. He seemed to be fighting more off of his backfoot which gave him issues. For Holloway to be successful against Volkanovski, he has to be more aggressive in this fight. If he sits back too much, he’s going to lose another decision.

This fight is going to be razor close. I will not be shocked by whoever wins in this one. Both men will have their moments, but I’m not hopping off the Blessed Express just yet. I think Volkanovski will have big moments in the fight, but I expect to see a much more aggressive Max Holloway. I think Holloway’s aggressive but precise attack will be just enough to get a close decision in this one. However, if he doesn’t go first in this one, expect Volkanovski to keep the title.

Prediction: Max Holloway by Split Decision

Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo

The first of three title fights features former featherweight king, Jose Aldo (28-6), and Russian star, Petr Yan (14-1). For Aldo, you might be looking at his last chance at UFC gold. The former champ hasn’t been the same guy that was once ranked as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world just a few years ago. Aldo is coming into this fight on a two-fight losing streak, although most people believe he won his last fight.

When he’s on, Aldo has elite all-around skills. Aldo is incredibly fast and powerful with his striking. He’s also got some of the best takedown defense in the sport. Aldo is at his best when he immediately is aggressive. His best chance in this fight is to come at Yan fast and hard.

For Petr Yan, he’s looking to become the UFC‘s second Russian champion alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov. Since joining the UFC back in 2018, Yan has looked sensational. Yan does not have a weakness in his game. He’s got good grappling and elite striking. He might have the cleanest boxing and the most power out of anyone in the bantamweight division.

That power was on full display in his last fight against Urijah Faber at UFC 245. “No Mercy” completely dismantled the hall of famer, dropping him multiple times. Yan picked up the third round knockout in that one. Yan is the type of fighter who will likely take the first round to gauge Aldo’s gameplan. Look for Yan to really start getting aggressive towards the end of round one or early round two.

I think this fight is going to play out a lot like Max Holloway-Jose Aldo 1. I think Aldo is going to find some good success early being aggressive. However, as the fight goes on, I think Yan is going to start taking over. By the third round, I think Yan is going to find his groove and he’s going to land something that hurts Aldo bad. Yan will follow-up heavy and get the stoppage setting up the anticipated fight with Aljamain Sterling.

Prediction: Petr Yan by TKO – Round 3

Rose Namajunas vs Jessica Andrade

The second fight on the main card features a strawweight rematch between former champions Rose Namajunas (8-4) and Jessica Andrade (20-7). These two ladies met just over a year ago at UFC 237 and Andrade took that fight by a knockout slam. Andrade is one of the most powerful women in the world at 115 pounds. Andrade has crazy power, good leg kicks, and slams that can knock anybody out.

In this fight, Andrade is going to have to utilize her leg kicks early. In the first fight, Namajunas was having her way with the stand-up. Andrade started finding some success when attacking Namajunas’ legs. Andrade cannot be too patient or she could get touched up early and often by “Thug” Rose.

Namajunas was a budding star in 2019, but she was facing some serious demons. The weight of being UFC champion was a lot on her shoulders. When she lost the title, she looked more relieved than anything else. She admittedly said she wasn’t sure she was going to fight again after she lost the title.

However, recently Namajunas found the love for the sport again. Namajunas has elite footwork for the division. Her striking is quick and precise thanks to her training with Trevor Wittman and Pat Berry. Namajunas was controlling the first fight before she was caught up in that slam. If she doesn’t get slammed, it’s hard to imagine Andrade winning that fight.

In all transparency, it’s hard for me to see Andrade winning this fight unless she gets a flukey knockout. I think Namajunas is so much better on the feet and she’s much faster. I think she’s going to put on a clinic at UFC 251 which will setup a title fight with Weili Zhang down the line.

Prediction: Rose Namajunas by Unanimous Decision

Amanda Ribas vs Paige VanZant

The opening fight of the main card also features the most lopsided odds as Amanda Ribas (9-1) takes on Paige VanZant (8-4). Ribas comes into this fight as a -900 favorite on most betting lines. The Brazilian has a very impressive overall game and she’s been dominant since joining the UFC with wins over Mackenzie Dern and Randa Markos. Ribas has good striking, and she’s very good on the ground. She’s being touted as a potential title contender down the road.

VanZant is on the last fight of her current UFC deal. She burst onto the scene back in 2014 as the next big-time female UFC star. She’s extremely marketable, but she’s struggled against top competition. VanZant has a solid overall game, but against top-tier UFC fighters, she hasn’t found success. She has a 5-3 record in the octagon, but all three of those losses were against top-ten opponents. While VanZant has shown flashes, I’m struggling to see her having much success in this one.

I think this is a brilliant booking decision by the UFC. Ribas has the potential to become a very popular strawweight, and they’ve pitted her against a well-known fighter that is clearly inferior. I think Ribas will control this fight from the opening bell to the end of the fight. I think this will be the last time that we see VanZant inside the octagon.

Prediction: Amanda Ribas by Unanimous Decision

UFC 251 Outlook

UFC 251 is going to be absolutely insane. The card is stacked with so many interesting fights and story lines. I do not think that the fans are going to be disappointed with this card. The UFC is about to kickoff a furious stretch where they have four fight cards in the span of two weeks. Buckle up fight fans, because it’s going to be a fun ride on Fight Island.

UFC 251 adds Usman-Burns and Yan-Aldo title fights to stacked card

UFC President Dana White took to ESPN’s First Take this morning to announce three title fights for the upcoming July 11th on Fight Island.

It started to come out last night that the UFC was planning on booking the featherweight title rematch between Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) and Max Holloway (21-5) for UFC 251. It was rumored that they would be adding two more title fights, and White confirmed the news this morning.

Kamaru Usman & Gilbert Burns fight for the welterweight title

Kamaru Usman (16-1) will be defending his welterweight title against rising challenger, Gilbert Burns (19-3). There has been nobody in the MMA world hotter in the last 10 months than Burns. “Durinho” has looked like a completely different fighter since moving to the welterweight division. He’s 4-0 in the division with wins over Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, Gunner Nelson, and Alexey Kunchenko. The win over Woodley came less than two weeks ago. Burns completely dominated the former champion from bell to bell shutting Woodley out. Burns looks incredibly strong and fast at 170. His striking looks great, and everyone knows his ground game is world class. He poses a very big challenge for the champion.

All year long, welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, believed he would be fighting Jorge Masvidal in July. Those negotiations have fallen completely apart over the last few weeks. Usman will now shift his focus to his teammate, Burns. Usman will look to defend his welterweight title for this second time at UFC 251. Usman is coming off the two biggest wins in his career over Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington. Covington gave Usman a battle, but outside of that, the champion has completely dominated every opponent that has stepped across the octagon from him. I’m very interested to see this fight take place on Fight Island.

Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight title

The vacant bantamweight title will be up for grabs on Fight Island when Petr Yan (14-1) and Jose Aldo (28-6) go head to head. Since joining the UFC just under two years ago, Yan has looked completely dominant. He’s gone 6-0 with wins over the likes of Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera, and John Dodson. Yan is a very strong bantamweight, and he has incredibly good striking skills. One of these two guys in this title fight doesn’t really deserve to be there, and it’s not Petr Yan.

Aldo really should not be fighting for the title at UFC 251. Aldo has lost two consecutive fights and he’s 0-1 in the division. Yes, many people believe he won his bantamweight debut against Marlon Moraes, but the only ones that matter didn’t think so. The only reason Aldo was getting a shot at the title was Henry Cejudo. When Cejudo was champion, he wanted to fight Aldo for legacy reasons. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Cejudo ended up fighting Dominick Cruz after Aldo was promised a title shot. Cejudo retired after defeating Cruz, and the UFC didn’t want to go back on their word to Aldo. With that in mind, the former featherweight king is getting his shot against arguably the best bantamweight in the world. This is a fight that is intriguing on a number of levels, and Aldo will look to become the eighth fighter in UFC history to hold a belt in two different weight classes.

Fight Island kicks off with a bang

UFC 251 is absolutely stacked. Fight Island, which we now know is in Abu Dhabi, has three title fights, and the card is filled with a number of incredible matchups up and down the card. This is one that all UFC fans should be pumped for. Yes, the card doesn’t feature the likes of a Conor McGregor, but if you’re a die-hard fight fan, this is the kind of card to die for.

Five Fights to Make after UFC 250

UFC, Dana White

Last night, the UFC made it’s PPV return to the fight capital of the world, and the card did not disappoint. There was a leg-kick TKO, two walk-off knockouts, and a brilliant performance from the greatest female fighter of all time. With that being said, let’s talk through five matchups that should be booked following UFC 250.

Suga Sean O’Malley vs Top Ten Opponent

Before last night, I said that the UFC did a great job of booking Eddie Wineland as an opponent for Suga Sean. O’Malley (12-0) is an elite striker, and he does a fantastic job at fighting from range. I thought it was the perfect showcase fight for him, and he did not disappoint. About halfway through the first round, O’Malley uncorked a right straight that put Wineland to sleep. O’Malley’s star is only going to continue to shine brighter, but I think the UFC needs to bring him along gradually. They need to use a similar path that they used with Conor McGregor.

O’Malley needs to fight someone in the rankings for his next fight. If you ask me, I would give him someone like a Rob Font (17-4). Font is currently ranked as the tenth best bantamweight in the world according to the UFC rankings. Font is coming off back to back wins, and he would be a good test for O’Malley. Font has been in there with some of the best guys in the world, and has only lost three times since 2016 to John Lineker, Pedro Munhoz, and Ralphael Assuncao. This is another winnable fight for O’Malley, but it would be a fight that would give him some top ten experience. Another win would vault O’Malley closer to the top five and a potential title shot.

Cory Sandhagen vs Jimmie Rivera

Last night did not go as planned for Cory Sandhagen (12-2). Sandhagen entered the matchup riding high having been unbeaten in the UFC. Sandhagen was submitted early in the first round by Aljamain Sterling (19-3). The only positive for Sandhagen was that he didn’t take damage in this fight. Sterling was able to get his back very quickly, but didn’t land a ton of shots. Instead, Sterling used his diverse ground attack to lock up a rear naked choke. With the loss, it’s back to the drawing board for Sandhagen.

To me, Jimmie Rivera (22-4) would be a good next opponent for Sandhagen. Rivera is currently ranked eighth in the world, but he’s coming off of back to back losses to Petr Yan and Sterling. Rivera is a tough guy who has consistently been one of the best in the world at bantamweight. Rivera hasn’t fought since last June so you have to believe he’s looking for a fight. With the limited damage, I’m guessing Sandhagen would like to get back in there as soon as he can. This would be a solid matchup of two top ten bantamweights who are looking to get back on the right track.

Cody Garbrandt vs Marlon Moraes

Cody Garbrandt (12-3) might have landed the best clean walkoff knockout of all time last night. Garbrandt had his back against the wall and he was facing a very tough challenger in Ralphael Assuncao (27-8). Garbrandt showed massive improvements last night in terms of his fighting IQ. Garbrandt stayed on the outside and used his speed brilliantly in this fight. Just before the second round ended, Garbrandt unleashed a right hand that put Assuncao to sleep. After getting knocked out three times in a row, this is exactly the type of win that Garbrandt needed.

“Magic” Marlon Moraes (23-6-1) is in a very weird spot in the bantamweight division. Moraes is currently the number one ranked bantamweight and he’s coming off of a win against the man who is getting the next title shot, Jose Aldo. Moraes is 5-1 in his last six fights with his only loss being to former champion, Henry Cejudo. It’s very clear that Aljamain Sterling is getting the next title shot, but a Garbrandt/Moraes fight would be perfect to setup the next challenger. Yan and Aldo will fight this summer, but maybe the UFC looks to book Sterling against the winner with Garbrandt/Moraes on the under card. Either way, I think this is the fight that makes the most sense.

Aljamain Sterling vs Winner of Yan/Aldo

There is no one in the UFC right now that is probably more deserving of a title shot than Aljamain Sterling. Sterling has now won five straight fights since his last loss to Marlon Moraes. Sterling has looked sensational in his last three fights, but last night he went to the next level. He went through the fourth ranked bantamweight like he was nothing. Sterling made an emphatic statement that he is next for the title, and honestly, he should be fighting for the title now.

Petr Yan (14-1) and Jose Aldo (28-6) have their fight finalized for sometime in July. Dana White announced that the fight was done and would take place in July. Sterling will be watching this fight very closely to figure out who he’s going to be taking on for the title.

Amanda Nunes vs Megan Anderson

To be honest, I really don’t know what to do with Amanda Nunes (20-4). She looked better than ever last night completely out-classing poor Felicia Spencer (8-2) over the course of a five-round beat down. Nunes is so much better than her competition it’s not even funny. I don’t see anyone in either of her two divisions giving her a challenge. Her only realistic challenger would be the UFC’s flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. I previously said it’s a super fight the UFC needs to make, but last night, Dana White said that fight wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.

With that in mind, we look at her two divisions for some challengers. After previously defending her bantamweight title a couple of times in a row, I think Nunes will look to defend her featherweight title for the second time in a row. The logical choice for a challenger would be Megan Anderson (11-4). Anderson is 3-1 in her last four fights with her only loss being to Felicia Spencer. Anderson is a very tall woman and could pose some interesting challenges for the champion. However, I don’t think anyone would give Anderson much of a chance in this one. Nunes is just so much better than anyone which is why she is the greatest of all time.

UFC: Landscape of the Bantamweight Division prior to UFC 250

Less than a month ago, Henry Cejudo (16-2) stopped Dominick Cruz (22-3) in the second round at UFC 249 to retain his bantamweight title. To the surprise of pretty much everyone, “Triple C” announced in the Octagon that he was leaving the sport following the Cruz victory. Cejudo said he felt like there was nothing left for him to accomplish and hinted that he wasn’t getting paid enough to stick around for any additional fights. With Cejudo out of the mix, the bantamweight division is wide open. While we do have some clarity in the title picture, the rest of the division is wide open with a lot of intriguing possibilities.

Yan vs. Aldo for the Title

UFC President, Dana White, came out last week and announced that Patr Yan (14-1) and former featherweight champion, Jose Aldo (28-6) would be fighting sometime this summer for the vacant bantamweight title. It was a fight that personally left me a little surprised. Jose Aldo is coming off of a loss in his divisional debut to Marlon Moraes (23-6) back at UFC 245 although many people including myself believe that Aldo won the fight. Aldo was called out by the former champion despite losing the fight on the scorecards. Because Cejudo wanted to fight him, Aldo was granted the title shot. With Cejudo out of the picture, I figured the UFC would pivot to someone at least coming off of a win. However, the UFC is still giving the former featherweight king the shot. Yan is the one guy in the equation who you cannot deny deserves the shot. He should have been in line ahead of Aldo in the first place. Yan is 5-0 since joining the UFC and has looked spectacular in every outing. He’s coming off an incredible win where he demolished UFC Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber. With Cejudo gone, Yan is the #1 guy in that division if you ask me. It will be a very interesting fight when he and Aldo square off given their skillsets. If you would have asked me a few years ago who would win, I would lean towards Aldo. However, if you ask me tonight as I’m writing this, I would lean towards the Russian, Yan. It will be a fun fight that fight fans should be looking forward to at some point this summer.

UFC 250 Has Big Implications

The rest of the division is completely wide open. There are two fights scheduled for UFC 250 which should help narrow down the contenders a bit, but it’s still not easy figuring out who would be next in line after the Yan/Aldo fight. Using the UFC’s rankings, #2 Aljamain Sterling (18-3), and #4 Cory Sandhagen (12-1) will be squaring off next Saturday in a fight that on paper would likely indicate the challenger for the winner of the Yan/Aldo fight. Sterling has rattled off four consecutive wins and Sandhagen is unbeaten since joining the UFC. A lot of people believed that Sterling should have been given the title shot over Aldo. The same night of the Sterling/Sandhagan fight we have former bantamweight champion, #9 Cody Garbrandt (11-3), and #5 Raphael Assuncao squaring off. Garbrandt was on the fast track to stardom after he dethroned Dominick Cruz for the title back in December of 2016. “No Love” was a knockout artist who looked like he could lead the division for the long haul. Garbrandt’s career has completely been derailed since that victory over Cruz. Garbrandt has dealt with numerous injuries and has been knocked out in three consecutive fights. This is a fight that could get him going back in the right direction. Assuncao, who is 11-3 in his last 14 fights, has been on the cusp of a title shot numerous times. Right before he’d get the shot someone would beat him. Back at UFC 200, it was TJ Dillashaw, then at UFC Fight Night 144 it was Marlon Moraes. Both guys were previously defeated by Assuncao, but he would fall to them both when a title shot was on the line. A win over Garbrandt could once again get Assuncao close to a title shot.

“The Answer” Drops Down

Last week there was another big announcement for the UFC’s bantamweight division in that former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar (23-8) would be dropping down to 135 to make his debut against #7 Pedro Munhoz (18-4). The last time we saw “The Answer” he was certainly not at his best. Edgar took a short notice fight against Chan Sung Jung and was taken out early in the first round. That loss came on the heels of his title loss to former featherweight champ, Max Holloway. Edgar hasn’t held UFC gold since 2011 and this drop to 135 is looked at as his last chance to win a title. Edgar had a solid run at featherweight but went 0-3 in his title opportunities. Now, Edgar is moving to the weight class he probably should have been in for a long time. Pedro Munhoz will be standing across from Edgar after a year layoff following a loss to Aljamain Sterling back at UFC 238. Going into the Sterling fight, Munhoz was riding a three-fight win streak which included a knockout of former champion, Cody Garbrandt. Munhoz is an extremely tough customer for Edgar’s first fight in the bantamweight division, but you wouldn’t expect anything less for Edgar. With his history, an impressive win over Munhoz on July 11th could vault Edgar right into title contention. I would like to see him get a couple of wins at 135 before getting a shot, but with the UFC, you never know.

What About GOATs?

With no disrespect to Henry Cejudo, the two greatest bantamweights of all time are Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw. Yes, Cejudo did beat both, but he beat an older Dominick Cruz who hadn’t fought in three years and he beat a very depleted TJ Dillashaw at flyweight. When it comes to the body of work and longevity, the two best ever at 135 are Cruz and Dillashaw. So where do they fit into all of this? TJ Dillashaw popped for EPO back in January of 2019 after his loss to Henry Cejudo. Dillashaw had never failed a drug test before, but admitted he used it to assist him in having the energy to get himself down to 125 pounds. Dillashaw was suspended for two years, but that suspension will be up in January. Dillashaw thinks that he could warrant a title shot once he returns, but I’m not convinced the UFC will go in that direction.

Then you have Dominick Cruz. Cruz looked a step off in his fight against Cejudo at UFC 249. It was his first fight since the Garbrandt loss back at UFC 207 and he did not appear to be very sharp. In his time away from the sport due to injuries, Cruz continued to perfect the craft of being a commentator appearing on many of the UFC’s events over the last few years. Cruz is primed for a career at the booth once his career is over, but I’m not convinced he’s done just yet. He hinted that he might have retired if he would have won the belt from Cejudo, but I can’t see Cruz going out after that loss especially ending the way it did. So if Cruz isn’t going to retire and Dillashaw doesn’t get the title shot, what do you do with both of them? You can probably see where I’m going in suggesting you have them headline a card in January. I don’t see Cruz taking a fight against just anybody in the division and he might want to give himself a long training camp before his next fight. Dillashaw is going to need a big name for his return, and the two have a history with Cruz edging out Dillashaw for the title back in 2016. A fight between these two makes a ton of sense to me and I would not be shocked to see this fight announced in the fall.

Where’s the Magic?

I feel like someone is missing from all these potential matchups. Well, how about the UFC’s #1 ranked Bantamweight Marlon Moraes. I’ve mentioned Moraes a few times, but I haven’t talked about who he’s fighting next. Well, that’s because there’s no fight currently scheduled for him. Moraes, according to Dana White, was going to fight Yan in June, but that fight has been scrapped in favor of the title fight mentioned above. At this point, there’s not anyone for Moraes to fight that wouldn’t be a big step down in competition with most of the top ten already booked. At this point, I guess the UFC will likely pair Moraes up with one of the winners from UFC 250. You honestly have to feel for Moraes who holds wins over Aldo, Sterling, and Assuncao yet seems to be without a dance partner. If I had to take a guess, if Aljamain Sterling wins at UFC 250, he will likely get the next shot at the title. That would mean that the UFC will likely pair Moraes up with either Assuncao for the third time or he will fight former champion Cody Garbandt in his next fight. Of course, that is all speculative at this point.

Stacked Division, Stacked Fights

The UFC’s bantamweight division is incredibly stacked as we’ve laid out in this article. I didn’t even mention guys like Sugar Sean O’Malley, Jimmie Rivera, Urijah Faber, John Dodson, Song Yadong, and Marlon Vera in this article. With no champion, this talented weight class has entered chaos in the best possible way. There are so many fun matchups that are already scheduled and there are so many fun matchups to day-dream about. This division will become a lot more clear over the next six weeks, but until then, let the chaos commence.