Three title fights on “Fight Island”.
Nothing screams the UFC more than how this card came together, which sees some of the promotion’s top fighters fly to the other side of the world during a global pandemic for the sake of entertainment.
UFC 251 is the first in a string of events to take place on the Dana White-dubbed “Fight Island”, which is actually Yas Island where the UFC has hosted three events prior to Saturday’s pay-per-view.
The card is headlined by three championship fights, which is the first of its kind since UFC 245 last December and only the fifth in the history of the fight promotion.
Let’s take a look at the three title fights and other notable fights slated for Saturday night.
UFC Welterweight Championship: Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal
Not many times does a replacement improve the quality of a fight, but it is what has happened here as Jorge Masvidal, the “BMF” champion, steps in for a COVID-stricken Gilbert Burns on a week’s notice to fight welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
Usman has dominated in the UFC since his early beginnnings on The Ultimate Fighter. What has made Usman a champion and one of the best fighters in the UFC is an unpredictable game plan. In his last two fights, he took the title away from former champion Tyron Woodley with a wicked grappling game and an outclassing in the standup game, and in his first title defense against Colby Covington, Usman proved he is not afraid of a stand-and-trade war as he went toe-to-toe with Covington for five rounds before finishing him.
For Masvidal, he should be going into this fight with the mindset of a victory is the only possible outcome. Let’s be honest here: Masvidal would not be in this position if was not for scoring the fastest knockout in UFC history against Ben Askren last summer. Looking at his resume, there is nothing that jumps off as amazing. It’s top-five worthy but Masvidal was in no contention to earn a title shot with such a stacked division. Masvidal has wicked hands as he proved in a back-and-forth fight with Nate Diaz, but Masvidal will need to be patient and disciplined to handle Usman’s grappling and pressure.
With that being said, I don’t see a path to victory for Masvidal. Usman is the all-around, perfect fighter and I see him dominating all five rounds.
Prediction: Usman def. Masvidal via decision
UFC Featherweight Championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Max Holloway
The ultimate chess match took place between these two last December. Surprisingly, it would be Volkanovski out-striking Holloway to earn the featherweight championship.
I don’t see this fight playing out much differently than the first time around. If Holloway can apply pressure constantly and make Volkanovski keep moving, then there is a real chance the title goes back to him. However, Volkanovski’s power will keep Holloway from accomplishing that and we will see times where Holloway will stand in the center and allow Volkanovski to land the effective shots to earn him points.
Prediction: Volkanovski def. Holloway via decision
UFC Bantamweight Championship: Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo is a legend. It cannot be disputed. However, he is way out of his league dropping to bantamweight and taking on one of the fastest rising stars in the UFC in Petr Yan.
Aldo lost his bantamweight debut in a split decision loss to Marlon Moraes. While Aldo will show hints of his greatness, Yan is another animal and will not allow a vacant title to slip away from him.
Give us Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling. PLEASE.
Prediction: Yan def. Aldo via TKO
Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
This is a highly-anticipated rematch after these two clashed back in 2019 for the UFC Strawweight Championship. In the first round, Namajunas pieced up Andrade and, at times, looked like she would score the finish. In round two, however, Andrade would pick up and slam Namajunas on her head, knocking her out. Andrade would become the champion but would lose it in her first title defense to current champion Weili Zhang.
I expect a fun, high-pace, high-volume fight in this rematch. Both women are looking to get back in the title picture and neither can afford a loss at this time. Both of them are coming off of lengthy layoffs to so it will be intriguing to see who has made the most of their time off.
Prediction: Namajunas def. Andrade via decision
Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
Every fight has come off as a must-win for VanZant. It is concerning as to where VanZant’s mindset is as her social media shows less of her training and preparations for this fight and more of her cringe-worthy dancing. However, she had an impressive performance in January of 2019 as she submitted Rachael Ostovich with ease.
Ribas is undefeated in the UFC and boasts a four-fight win streak. With both women being skilled on the ground, expect some wild scrambles and transitions, which will turn into someone getting caught in a submission.
Prediction: Ribas def. VanZant via submission
The preliminary fight don’t carry much weight. Some names like Volkan Oezdemir and Makwan Amirkhani will be nice to see but the one fight to keep your eye on before the main card is Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos versus Muslim Salikhov. Both men are wild on the feet and you should expect in absolute banger of a fight to get you amped and focused for the remainder of the night.
Predictions for rest of card:
- Jiri Prochazka via TKO
- Makwan Amirkhani via decision
- Roman Bogatov via submission
- Marcin Tybura via decision
- Raulian Paiva via TKO
- Karol Rosa via decision
- Davey Grant via decision
UFC 251 begins at 6:00 p.m. EST with the early prelims on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass. The prelims move to ESPN at 8:00 p.m. EST. The main card begins at 10:00 p.m. EST on ESPN+ pay-per-view.