UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 251 card, set to take place in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: July 8, 2020 • 7:35 PM ET

Max Holloway is looking to regain the featherweight title this weekend.

The UFC will host its first event on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi this Saturday, as UFC 251 is scheduled to be stacked with three title fights, the main event of which being a welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and fan-favorite Jorge Masvidal.

Usman was originally scheduled to fight No. 1 welterweight contender Gilbert Burns this weekend, but a positive Covid-19 test forced Burns to withdraw from the bout. The No. 3 ranked Masvidal will step in on six days notice to fight for his first UFC title.

Usman (16-1 overall) has never lost a bout in the UFC, winning his first 11 contests, aligning him with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as the only two fighters in the promotion who have at least 10 fights with no losses. The 33-year-old won the welterweight title at UFC 235 in 2019 by unanimous decision over Tyron Woodley and followed that performance with his first successful title defense at UFC 245 in December when he defeated Colby Covington by fifth-round TKO.

Including Woodley and Covington, Usman has also collected key victories over Rafael dos Anjos, Demian Maia and Leon Edwards. His only loss occurred in his second career fight in a lower promotion in 2013.

While Masvidal represents a different style fighter than Burns would have presented, Usman is confident heading into the fight.

“The fight will go a specific way, and that’s the way I want it to go,” Usman recently said via TMZ. “I’m dominant from start to finish in each and every one of my fights. Even in that last [Colby] Covington fight, yes I took some licks but I was still dominant in every way. I controlled the fight until I put him out.”

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While Usman will defend the welterweight title for the second time, he also wants Masvidal’s BMF title, even though it won’t be on the line this weekend.

“That’s my sh*t,” Usman said when asked if the title will be up for grabs. “Absolutely. They’re saying it’s the “BMF,” they’re really considering this a real title, kind of like an interim thing or whatever.

“They’re really considering this a title, so you know what? Yes, after I go out there and beat his ass and rag doll him, that sh*t is coming home with me so I can throw it in my closet.”

There has been a good amount of trash talk between Usman and Masvidal for some time now, but Usman isn’t planning on letting it be a distraction.

“There was a certain point where there was no problems, there was no beef to him,” Usman said. “At this moment, he’s done all the talking, he’s let his team, he’s let his management do all the talking to create whatever they wanted to create to get him in the state of mind to be in this fight. That’s fine and dandy; but for me, as of this moment, it is all business.

“I see no face. So he’s going to get the same disciplinary actions anyone else was going to get. July 11, I see no face, it’s all business.”

Masvidal is coming off a dynamic year of highlights in 2019. He started the year with a second-round knockout of Darren Till in London in March and followed that performance with a flying knee knockout of Ben Askren at UFC 239 in July. The win not only blemished Askren’s unbeaten record, but it was also the fastest knockout in UFC history (five seconds into the first round). Then, in his most recent fight at UFC 244 in November, Masvidal won the specially-created BMF title belt over Nate Diaz by third-round TKO.

The 35-year-old Masvidal has fought professionally since 2003 and made his UFC debut in 2013 with a unanimous decision victory over Tim Means. Including Means, he has collected key victories over Michael Chiesa, Jake Ellenberger and Donald Cerrone. After 48 professional fights, he’ll fight for his first UFC title and just the second major title in his career after unsuccessfully challenging for the lightweight championship in Strikeforce in 2011.

Masvidal isn’t worried about taking such an important fight on such short notice.

“If you ask me, are you in shape, maybe not to fight Ben Askren, not in Ben Askren shape because he’s a hell of a wrestler – or even to fight a guy like Darren Till,” Masvidal said via ESPN. “But am I in shape for this bum that I’m about to decapitate and baptize? Hell yeah.”

If Masvidal defeats Usman on Saturday, it would throw a giant monkey wrench into the top of the welterweight division. The biggest question would be, who would Masvidal fight next?

Masvidal has a long-standing, bitter rivalry with Colby Covington and top contender Leon Edwards — both fights would be easy to pitch. However, if Masvidal wins a very close decision, would Usman get an immediate rematch? And where does Burns fit in all this with Masvidal as champion?

All the pressure is on Usman, as he currently sits as a -265 favorite (Bovada).

Co-main event

Saturday’s co-main event will be a rematch for the featherweight title between champion Alexander Volkanovski and former champion Max Holloway. The two fought a five-round war at UFC 245 in December with Volkanovski winning by unanimous decision.

Holloway (21-5) had successfully defended the belt three times prior to the fight with Volkanovski, having lost only once in 15 fights. The 28-year-old has defeated the likes of Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo (twice), Brian Ortega, Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson and Andre Fili.

Tied for second all-time with 13 straight wins in his UFC career, Holloway feels he has the right attitude heading into the rematch and doesn’t believe Volkanovski does.

“In my eyes, you’re the champ, what are you trying to prove?” Holloway said at a recent media scrum. “If you believe you’re the champ, who are you trying to prove anything to? I’m not trying to prove anything to no one.”

Holloway is arguably the greatest featherweight in UFC history, and becoming a two-time champ would make his argument for such a title much stronger.

Volkanovski (21-1, 8-0 in the UFC) hasn’t lost a professional bout since 2013. Including Holloway, he has key wins over Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Darren Elkins. Many MMA pundits believe the first fight with Holloway was much closer than the scorecards indicated, but Volkanovski knows he truly won the fight.

“People are saying he had later rounds better, but I still won those rounds, so it just shows you when he made adjustments I was still better,” Volkanovski said via MMA Junkie. “I had a broken hand, and I was still better. So I’m not throwing shade, but I just have his number.

“I am the best featherweight in the world. I proved that in December, and I’ll prove it again this weekend.”

The 31-year-old Volkanovski can solidify a new championship era with another win over Holloway. The only question will be, how long can he hang onto the belt in a loaded division with so much talent?

A third title fight will be featured on the UFC 251 card for the vacant bantamweight title, as No. 3 ranked Petr Yan will face former featherweight champion Jose Aldo.

Yan (14-1) has won nine straight fights, most recently defeating Hall of Famer Urijah Faber at UFC 245 in December. He also has key victories over Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson.

The 27-year-old Yan respects the legend of Aldo, but plans on winning in convincing fashion this weekend.

“I’m very happy to have this opportunity,” Yan told BJPENN.com. “I’m one step away from my goal of being a UFC champion. I’m very excited.

“It’s great to be part of such a historical event on Fight Island during the pandemic. Jose is a big name and achieved a lot in this sport. I respect him a lot, but it won’t affect me in any way. July 11, he will be just an obstacle from my goal. I will make the most of this opportunity.”

Despite losing two straight fights, the No. 6 ranked Aldo will fight for another title. The losses came to Marlon Moraes by split-decision in his bantamweight debut and to Volkanovski in his last featherweight bout.

The future Hall of Famer was the long-time featherweight champion, having went nine years without a loss. He has key victories over Renato Moicano, Jeremy Stephens, Frankie Edgar (twice), Chad Mendes (twice), Ricardo Lamas, Chan Sung Jung, Kenny Florian, Mark Hominick, Urijah Faber and Cub Swanson.

The 33-year-old Aldo made his professional debut in 2004 and in 34 fights, he has only six losses. He can cement his legacy and place as an all-time great by adding another title to his resume.


The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. EST

Women’s strawweight bout - No. 1 Jessica Andrade vs. No. 2 Rose Namajunas

Women’s flyweight bout - No. 14 Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant




ESPN Prelims at 8 p.m. EST

Light heavyweight bout - No. 7 Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka

Welterweight bout - Elizeu Dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov

Women’s strawweight bout - No. 1 Jessica Andrade vs. No. 2 Rose Namajunas

Featherweight bout - Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry

Lightweight bout - Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov


UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims at 6 p.m. EST

Heavyweight bout - Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin

Flyweight bout - No. 14 Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Women’s bantamweight bout - Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo

Bantamweight bout - Martin Day vs. Davey Grant

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