UFC 251 Main Card Recap

UFC 251
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 12: (L-R) Max Holloway kicks Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

UFC 251 is officially in the books! In a memorable first night on the fabled Fight Island, there were three title fights, big rematches, and exciting finishes. Join us as we recap the entire main card fight-by-fight!

UFC 251 Main Card Recap

Kamaru Usman (C) vs. Jorge Masvidal

July 3rd, 2020 – Reports began to surface that Kamaru Usman’s UFC 251 opponent Gilbert Burns had tested positive for COVID-19. Both Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal took to Twitter within hours to announce they were each willing to take the fight. After the UFC underwent negotiations with both possible replacements, Jorge Masvidal was ultimately chosen as the new opponent. The grudge match between the newly crowned BMF champion and the UFC welterweight champion was a go.

Though this fight came together on a weeks’ notice, the buildup for this matchup had been very much alive for several months. The appetite for this collision was arguably higher than ever. Whenever the cage door closed, there would be a massive contingency of fight fans tuning in.

The Fight

Both Masvidal and Usman walked out to the cage, exuding confidence. Somewhere in the world, a gambler had that same confidence when he bet $200,000 on the 3-1 underdog, Jorge Masvidal. Unfortunately for him, he would lose every penny of his wager. Masvidal came out aggressive in the first round. He landed heavy kicks and threw shots every chance he had. Usman countered this attack by taking Masvidal down less than a minute into the fight. Masvidal continued to throw punches and kicks from the bottom and stood the battle back up. By the end of the first round, Masvidal had significantly out-landed Usman.

Usman began utilizing the clinch to stifle Masvidal’s lethal striking and to tire out ‘Gamebred.’ As the fight went on, Masvidal continued to stuff Usman’s takedowns but had trouble being effective while clinched up against the cage. Masvidal slowed down as the match progressed but refused to quit against the champion. Kamaru Usman wouldn’t let Masvidal mount any significant offense and clinched his way to a dominant decision victory. Though this isn’t the most exciting form of fighting, it is still a genuine part of combat. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ proved it once again at UFC 251. Kamaru Usman is the rightful UFC welterweight champion, and he looks like he’ll be difficult for anyone to beat.

Alexander Volkanovski (C) vs. Max Holloway

Max Holloway was a dominant featherweight champion. Though he only defended the belt twice, he did so by brutalizing and ultimately finishing Brian Ortega and Jose Aldo. Those title defenses were part of a 13 fight win streak in the UFC. Within those victories, there were names like Jeremy StephensCub SwansonAnthony PettisRicardo Lamas, and Charles Oliveira. This undeniably impressive featherweight run earned Holloway an immediate rematch when he lost his belt to Alexander Volkanovski. But the new champion had also experienced longstanding success. Riding an eight-fight winning streak in the UFC, and an 18-fight winning streak overall, Volkanovski hadn’t tasted defeat in over seven years. The first bout between these two was a battle between winners, and the rematch would be as well.

Max Holloway dropped Alexander Volkanovski at the end of rounds one and two. In a competitive third round, Holloway out-landed Volkanovski. In the fourth and fifth rounds, Volkanovski continued to mount a comeback by out-striking Holloway. The champion shot for takedowns, but Holloway either stuffed them or was able to get up almost immediately every time.

In the end, this fight would be a split-decision that two of the three judges scored for Alexander Volkanovski. As is the case with most close five-round battles, many fans took to social media to cry robbery. Though the decision was debatable and certainly draws attention to a problem with the scoring criteria in MMA, a case can certainly be made that Volkanovski was the winner. But if social media is of any indication, the only majority who scored this fight for Volkanovski was the three-judge scoring panel.

Jose Aldo vs. Petr Yan

After Henry Cejudo vacated the UFC bantamweight title, it wasn’t long before a fight for the vacant belt was put together. The final WEC featherweight champion and the longest-reigning UFC featherweight champion of all time, Jose Aldo would be challenging for a belt at 135 pounds. His opponent would be the number three ranked bantamweight in the world, Petr Yan. Yan would be coming into this bout at 6-0 in the UFC and 14-1 overall. Not unlike Jose Aldo, Petr Yan was known for his impressive striking acumen. Knowing this, it was unlikely we would see either of these men stray far from their usual style of fighting–even against dangerous strikers in one another.

The battle between the talented strikers appeared to be quite competitive in the first three rounds. Aldo turned back the hands of time by landing the leg kicks that he was famous for in his WEC days. Yan even began switching stances after some of the kicks crashed into his legs. But when the championship rounds came, Petr Yan started to pour it on the former featherweight champion. At the start of the fifth round, Yan dropped Aldo and landed several punches. This continued for some time until referee Leon Roberts waived off the contest. Petr Yan became the new UFC bantamweight champion in impressive fashion. He will be bringing the belt home to Mother Russia.

Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas

In what would be Rose Namajunas’ first fight back since losing her title, she would be rematching the same Brazilian powerhouse that ended her championship reign. Unfortunately for ‘Thug Rose,’ this would not be a title fight. After slamming Namajunas on her head in Rio de Janeiro, Jessica Andrade attempted to defend the UFC strawweight belt in Shenzhen, China. Zhang Weili would TKO Andrade in 42 seconds on that night and claimed the championship as her own.

This UFC 251 fight would be a rare case of two former UFC champions facing one another in their first fights back after losing their belts. And on top of that, it would be an exciting rematch of raw power vs. technical precision.

This fight would go all three rounds and took place primarily on the feet. Though there could only be one winner, both women put on a fantastic performance. Andrade had clearly improved her technical striking, and Namajunas further displayed how incredibly talented of a striker she is. In this author’s opinion, Namajunas appeared to win the first two rounds. Still, Andrade inflicted significant damage to clearly win the third. In the end, Rose Namajunas earned a split-decision victory. She won the fight with a cut on her nose, a swollen black eye, and a smile on her face. Both fighters should be commended for what was a magnificent back-and-forth battle. Rose Namajunas is undoubtedly setting her sights on UFC strawweight champion, Zhang Weili.  

Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant

The unranked, but talented Amanda Ribas would be Paige VanZant’s opponent in the final fight of her UFC contract. Ribas came into UFC 251 at 3-0 with the promotion and 9-1 overall. While amassing wins as a mixed martial artist, Ribas’ most notable victory came over BJJ standout, Mackenzie Dern. That bout would mark Dern’s first loss in MMA and become somewhat of a coming-out party for Ribas. VanZant came into the fight at 5-3 with the UFC and was coming off a submission victory over Rachael Ostovich. However, VanZant also hadn’t competed in over 18 months due to injuries. In fact, all three of Ribas’ UFC fights had happened during VanZant’s surgery hiatus.

Paige VanZant started fast in the fight, but Ribas quickly took her to the ground. She held VanZant in a side control headlock until VanZant tried to roll out of the position. Ribas was able to get ahold of VanZant’s arm and catch her in an armbar. While Ribas cranked on the same arm that VanZant had broken three times and had as many surgeries on, ’12 Gauge’ grimaced in pain. Though she tried to fight it, VanZant was already in too deep and was forced to tap. Amanda Ribas defeated Paige VanZant via submission in round 1. This is a significant victory for Ribas on a massive stage. Paige VanZant will be going into free agency with a loss. Luckily for her, many promotions would love to have VanZant, and it’s hard to imagine she doesn’t receive an enticing offer. 

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