UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal (TV: ESPN/ESPN+ PPV)
Saturday, July 11th, Prelims 6:00 PM ET (ESPN/ESPN+), Main Card 10:00 PM ET (ESPN+ PPV), Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
Bantamweight Title Fight: Petr Yan (14-1) vs. Jose Aldo (28-6)
Fight odds: Petr Yan -240 Jose Aldo +200
Featherweight Title Fight: Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) vs. Max Holloway (21-5)
Fight odds: Alexander Volkanovski -220 Max Holloway +185
Welterweight Title Fight: Kamaru Usman (16-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-13)
Fight odds: Kamaru Usman -230 Jorge Masvidal +190
UFC 251 will be live from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, July 11th in what is the biggest fight card of the year with 3 Titles on the line. This should be an epic night of fights with former champions in Jose Aldo and Max Holloway attempting to regain their status in the sport and put some tough losses behind them. This will be the first time that the UFC will be staging fights abroad since its return amid the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, the UFC has put on fight cards in Jacksonville, Florida and most recently in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The most recent fight card was UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Hooker on June 27th. In the Co-Main Event, Mike Perry beat Mickey Gall by unanimous decision after 3 Rounds. Gall was looking good early but couldn’t keep the same pace for the full fight and the power, stamina and wrestling of Perry ended up being the difference in a decent fight. Perry landed 103 total strikes compared to only 59 for Gall. Perry also got the better of Gall on the mat, with 5:44 of ground control time and was able to bully the taller and slower Gall in Rounds 2 and 3.
While Perry put on a decent performance inside the octagon, outside of it he has been a loose cannon with video surfacing of Perry punching an elderly man in a restaurant after an altercation. No charges were filed against Perry, but this is not the type of behavior a professional fighter should have. Perry has struggled with alcohol abuse and will be entering a treatment program in order to successfully resume his career. Hopefully, Perry can learn from this mistake and continue to put on performances like he did against Gall. Perry’s mental health is more important than his fighting career. Once Perry is focused and not dealing with these issues his performances in the octagon should improve as he remains one of the most powerful and exciting fighters in the sport.
In the Main Event, Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker put on an absolutely classic fight as neither combatant was willing to take a step back and fans were treated to one of the fights of the year. An incredibly enthralling fight that Poirier won by unanimous decision after 5 grueling rounds. In my estimation, Poirier won this fight 3 Rounds to 2 and showed why he has the better stamina and striking skills against a very tough challenger in Hooker. Both fighters should be very proud of the performances they put on, but Poirier showed that he had better boxing skills and was determined to always push the pace in an attempt to overwhelm Hooker.
Poirier landed 208 total strikes, while Hooker landed 182 total strikes and did well on the mat with 6:02 of ground control time. Poirier showed grit as there were times that Hooker was winning the fight, but in a back and forth affair Poirier once again showed what makes him such a great competitor. Even on the mat Poirier was aggressive from the bottom position going for submissions which didn’t allow Hooker to rest in a dominant top position. The always dangerous Poirier showed that he is capable of winning the fight whether on the feet or on the mat. Both these fighters are top lightweights that always put on exciting fights.
In the third fight at UFC 251, Petr Yan will take on Jose Aldo for the Bantamweight Title at 135 lbs. Yan is 27, 5’7 and 135 lbs. with a 67 inch reach. Aldo is 33, 5’7 and 135 lbs. with a 70 inch reach. Aldo is known for his years competing in the featherweight division at 145 lbs. where he held the Title from 2010 to 2014. Aldo lost his Title when he got knocked out by Conor McGregor in 2015 after only 13 seconds and just like that his reign atop the featherweight division was over. Since losing to McGregor, Aldo has not looked like the same dominant fighter.
Aldo would go on to loose to Max Holloway twice by TKO and is coming off two straight decision losses to Alexander Volkanovski and Marlon Moraes. The fight against Moraes was Aldo’s debut at bantamweight and he fought well in a competitive fight that Moraes won by split decision. Aldo will need an even better performance to beat Yan because Yan is a powerful and versatile striker that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and hasn’t suffered the knockout losses that Aldo has in his career. Yan is undefeated in the UFC and is coming off three straight wins over John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and Urijah Faber. However, Yan has never faced a fighter with Aldo’s resume and will need to remain focused and active to beat the proud former champion.
Aldo will need to utilize his leg kicks and go for takedowns in order to keep Yan off balance. Yan needs to mix up his striking and not just head hunt against Aldo. This will be a competitive fight, but the younger and quicker Yan should be able to overwhelm Aldo in the later rounds and get a knockout win. Yan could give Russia it’s second UFC Champion with Khabib Nurmagomedov being the other champion at lightweight (155 lbs).
The Co-Main Event will feature a re-match in the featherweight division at 145 lbs. between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. Holloway is 28, 5’11 and 145 lbs. with a 69 inch reach. Volkanovski is 31, 5’6 and 145 lbs. with a 71 inch reach. The former rugby player, Volkanovski has enjoyed an epic rise to the top of the featherweight division and continues to improve in each successive fight. Volkanovski is undefeated in the UFC and is coming off two unanimous decision wins over Jose Aldo and Max Holloway, arguably the two greatest featherweights in UFC history. While Volkanovski was the underdog in his first Title fight against Holloway, in their rematch he is the favorite and will want to show that his first win over Holloway wasn’t a fluke.
Volkanovski never allowed Holloway to gain a striking rhythm by keeping him off balance with powerful leg kicks and decent boxing that kept Holloway on the outside. Volkanovski won the striking battle landing 157 total strikes with 75 of them landed on the legs of Holloway. Holloway landed 135 total strikes in what was predominantly a standup battle. Holloway will need to defend the leg kicks better and use more combination punching in an effort to overwhelm the very slick Volkanovski who has proven hard to hit in his career and looks to have the better defense in this matchup.
Holloway was on quite the win streak, going undefeated from 2014 to 2018. However, in April of 2019 Holloway challenged Dustin Poirier for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship moving up in weight in an effort to become the champion in two divisions. Poirier had the size, strength and stamina advantages as he overpowered Holloway over the course of 5 Rounds en route to a unanimous decision win over the thinner and beat up Holloway. Since taking that beating against Poirier, Holloway hasn’t looked like the same fighter and it showed in his decision win over Frankie Edgar, a fighter that Holloway should’ve been able to finish before the final bell. Hopefully, Holloway is back to his championship form and can regain his Title against Volkanovski. But, until Holloway shows something different than his recent performances the edge goes to Volkanovski who should win this rematch by split decision. Volkanovski’s advantages in striking versatility and wrestling should be enough to once again get the win.
In the Main Event, Kamaru Usman will defend his Welterweight Title (170 lbs.) against Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal is 35, 5’11 and 170 lbs. with a 74 inch reach. Usman is 33, 6’0 and 170 lbs. with a 76 inch reach. Usman was originally scheduled to fight Gilbert Burns, but that fight was cancelled after Burns unfortunately tested positive for the coronavirus. The UFC was able to save its Main Event and Masvidal stepped in to take on the champion with 6 days notice. Masvidal had to cut over 20 pounds of weight in under a week order to make weight at 170 lbs. and he was able to do so. The question remains of how that extreme weight cut will effect him come fight night. Masvidal may come in a little fatigued, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor against Usman.
Masvidal, the 2019 UFC Fighter of the Year is one of the most popular fighters in the UFC and is coming into this fight with a lot of momentum. Masvidal is capable of anything in the octagon as we saw against Darren Till and Ben Askren, landing a flying knee on Askren to secure the fastest knockout in UFC history at 5 seconds. Masvidal is coming off a TKO (doctor stoppage) win over Nate Diaz after 3 Rounds after it was determined that Diaz could no longer continue because of the massive cuts and bleeding on his face. Masvidal would’ve still won that fight without the doctor stoppage and is now fighting for the Welterweight Title for the first time in his career.
Usman is a great wrestler and his striking is getting better in each fight. Masvidal may have the slight edge in striking, but if Usman makes this a grappling match he should be able to control Masvidal on the mat. This is a hard fight to predict because of the unorthodox way that Masvidal fights. The optics make it seem that Usman is a dominant champion with unanimous decision wins over Leon Edwards, Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos and Tyron Woodley. After beating Woodley to win the UFC Welterweight Title, Usman outlasted Colby Covington to win by TKO in the 5th Round in his first Title defense.
Usman has never faced a fighter that can be so unpredictable and throw strikes from weird angles like Masvidal can. However, Usman’s advantages in wrestling and stamina should be enough to secure a unanimous decision win over Masvidal. UFC 251 will be an epic event that is surely not to be missed and each underdog in the three Title fights could definitely spring the upset. These competitive matchups make the fights all the more intriguing and difficult to predict. Make sure to tune in to UFC 251 on ESPN+ PPV.