Making the Grade – UFC 251 Main Card

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It’s about that time again. Making the Grade is back and features a look at the UFC’s PPV event, UFC 251 taking place on Fight Island this Saturday night. The card is stacked with a massive three title fights headlining the card. In the main event, Kamaru Usman will be defending the welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal after a positive COVID test sidelined Gilbert Burns. We also will witness the featherweight title rematch between Max Holloway and champion Alexander Volkanovski. A third title fight features Petr Yan taking on Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight championship. It’s a crazy card, much more interesting than UFC 250.

Not only do we have the triple header of title bouts, but we will also finally get to see the UFC’s newly created Fight Island. The island is Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The UFC has held other events on this island, but they’ve built an entire makeshift city to host these events. It looks amazing on the preview videos they’ve released.

UFC 251 Making the Grade

Paige VanZant vs. Amanda Ribas

Let’s be honest for a minute, Paige VanZant probably shouldn’t be on the main card on a major pay-per-view. She’s been on the shelf with arm injuries and makes her way back to the cage, not having fought in 18 months or so. In her last outing, she defeated Rachael Ostovich. Prior to that, she’d dropped three of four and despite the UFC desperately wanting her fight skills to match her marketability, they don’t.

Facing VanZant will be Amanda Ribas. She’s 9-1 as a professional and has won four in a row heading into this contest. She’s a massive favorite with some betting sites listing her a nine to one favorite to keep the winning streak going. Ribas is ranked 14th in the UFC and a win over Paige VanZant will likely see her move up near the top ten.

This isn’t a fight that fans were clamoring to see. Amanda Ribas is a talented fighter and Paige VanZant has become a bit of an Instagram model and celebrity. It’s not a tremendously compelling fight, as Ribas should win a lopsided decision. Overall, this isn’t a PPV quality fight, and as such shouldn’t be here.

Grade: C

Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas

This is a rematch from a world title fight back in May of last year. Jessica Andrade is currently ranked first and needs a victory here to earn another title fight. A loss would shuffle her down the rankings and she could be a long time getting back in line. In their first fight, Thug Rose was getting the best of it, when Andrade showed her incredible power and slammed Namajunas down on her head, ending the fight via TKO. She went on to lose her title to Weili Zhang in the first round via TKO.

Rose Namajunas’ last fight was her clash with Andrade so both fighters enter this tilt coming off of big losses via TKO. It will be interesting to see how it plays out since things were going Namajunas’ way the first time around until the slam. Rose Namajunas is a very popular fighter and currently ranked second in the rankings. A win would in all likelihood get her a title fight against Zhang.

This is a great fight, a rematch of what was an entertaining bout. It’s a rare fight where the number one ranked fighter meets the number two ranked fighter. This is a must-see fight and the winner will likely be in a world title match later this year. If forced to pick a winner, give me Rose Namajunas by submission late in the fight. Can’t wait to see it play out.

Grade: A 

Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo – Bantamweight Championship

This fight is taking place because Henry Cejudo retired and vacated his belt. Cejudo was one of a growing list of fighters upset with his paycheck and decided his time was better spent elsewhere. He joins Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal, and others who are not pleased with their compensation.

Petr Yan has been an absolute killer since coming to the UFC. He’s currently ranked third in the division. He’s 6-0 since joining the UFC and defeated Urijah Faber in his last outing. He hasn’t faced the upper echelon of the division and he won’t Saturday as he faces Jose Aldo, the sixth-ranked fighter in the division.

Jose Aldo is a legend in the UFC but there’s an overwhelming feeling that this title shot isn’t deserved. Most feel that instead of Aldo, it should be Aljo, as in Aljamain Sterling. He’s ranked second currently and just blasted fourth-ranked Cory Sanhagen. That said, this is the fight we have and it should be pretty interesting. Jose has legendary leg kicks and fast hands. He has a ton of fight mileage on him despite being 33 years old.

When breaking down this fight, it appears that Aldo might have some speed and experience advantage but Yan will have power and cardio advantage. Yan has better boxing and uses tremendous footwork to his advantage. He should wear Aldo down over the course of the fight and maybe getting the finish in the last couple of rounds. It’s a world title fight and could be an entertaining one at that. Gotta go with Yan though.

Grade: B

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway – Featherweight Championship

This is a rematch that the MMA world is actually excited about. Alexander Volkanovski has taken the UFC by storm, going a perfect 8-0 since signing with them. He’s knocked off talented fighters like Chad Mendes, Darren Elkins, Jose Aldo, and of course Max Holloway on his way to becoming the undisputed champion. He trains at the highly regarded City Kickboxing alongside Dan Hooker and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

Max Holloway is undoubtedly one of the UFC’s most popular fighters. He has a tendency to bite down on his mouthpiece and let his hands fly with little regard for his own chin. While that makes for an amazingly entertaining bout, it doesn’t bode well for his longevity in the sport. His only losses in the last five years were to Volkanovski and a lightweight fight to Dustin Poirier.  He’s a tremendously gifted athlete who can push the pace for twenty-five minutes as well as absorb a ton of punishment.

In their first bout, Volkanovski utilized leg kicks to keep Holloway off-balance and ultimately forced him to switch to southpaw due to damage to the legs. Volkanovski was the stronger fighter and just seemed to out-power Holloway. All that said, if Max Holloway doesn’t find a solution to the leg kick problem he’ll be in big trouble again. If he’s able to check kicks and flow free with his own standup, we have a classic on our hands. If you weigh it all, Volkanovski will likely be able to control with kicks again and do enough to keep Holloway off-balance and unable to set up shots. Volkanovski wins the rematch between the two best featherweights on the planet. Can’t miss this one!

Grade: A

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal – Welterweight Championship

Kamaru Usman is 11-0 since joining the UFC. In that time the welterweight champion has beaten the best of the division with victories over Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington in his last two outings. He has perhaps the best mix of striking and grappling in the division and has a motor like very few others in the sport. He dominated Woodley and finished Covington in the fifth round of his last fight. He’s an elite fighter and despite being the undisputed champion, is still somewhat underrated. He’s as good as it gets.

When Gilbert Burns found out he had tested positive for Covid-19, he was clearly devastated. The UFC was as well as they were losing their main event. Well, they shined their BMF light into the heavens and Jorge Masvidal answered.  Masvidal became the BMF champion by defeating Nate Diaz. It was a one-off belt that cannot be defended. That said, it will in the minds of the fans be on the line, as long as the welterweight title. Prior to beating Nate Diaz, Jorge finished Ben Askren in five seconds and knocked out Darren Till.  The fight is highly anticipated and should produce fireworks.

This is a heck of a fight between two young, talented fighters. Usman can strike and grapple and Masvidal is a beast. If it were a straight-up standup clash, it would likely favor Masvidal. That said, Usman will likely look to wrestle and control Masvidal on the canvas. Karamu Usman has more paths to victory and is the more well-rounded fighter. This is one heck of a fight and shouldn’t be missed for any reason. It’s going to be a fun main event capping an incredible night of action. Predicting a winner here, go with Kamaru Usman via Unanimous Decision.

Grade: A

Overall Card Grade: B+

Making the Grade Predictions:

KO of the Night: Petr Yan

Submission of the Night: Rose Namajunas

Fight of the Night: Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns

Featured image:
Embed from Getty Images

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Dan has been covering and writing about MMA since 2001 when he started at Sherdog. He is a fan of all Bay Area sports teams and loves the San Francisco 49ers.

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