UFC arrived at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates last night (July 11, 2020) for UFC 251. In what will surely go down as one of the strongest cards of the year, UFC 251 featured three separate title fights, including the intriguing headliner of Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal. It also represented the first time fighters located outside of the US would able to compete inside the Octagon since the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, so there was plenty of international talent on display.
Let’s take a closer look at the slickest techniques and best performances of the night:
To The Shock Of No One …
Kamaru Usman got the job done last night, similar to how he has on most every other night of his UFC career.
The first round was cool! It showed why Jorge Masvidal had a chance in this match up. He showcased great takedown defense, offensive clinch work, and exploded into strikes aimed at the legs, body, and head when able to gain distance. “Gamebred” looked dangerous, arguably even prepared for the challenge ahead!
Usman brought the world (and specifically, Masvidal) back to reality in the second. He didn’t even land full takedowns. He just kept pressing Masvidal into the fence, punching his mid-section and stomping his foot. Masvidal tried to relax and conserve energy, but even while consciously doing nothing, it’s hard to play that clinch game without tiring.
On six day’s notice, Masvidal had no hope of keeping up with Usman.
Ultimately, Usman just pulled the fight further and further into his control. It wasn’t fun, but Usman doesn’t have to entertain to be one of the best fighters alive.
Max Holloway probably deserved to win his belt back last night (watch highlights).
The bout in which he lost his title was a frustrating one. Alexander Volkanovski came in with a better gameplan, executed well, and out-pointed Holloway over five rounds (see official scorecard). Somehow, without real access to his coaches or training partners, the Hawaiian properly adjusted for this instant rematch, which is difficult under any circumstances.
First and foremost, Holloway kicked with Volkanovski. He did now allow the Aussie to dominate the low kicking game. He kicked right back at the thigh, and near the end of the first, stunned him with a high kick. His uppercut proved another pivotal tool, as it landed often and dropped Volkanovski a second time.
Holloway took the first two rounds clearly. Volkanovski was able to battle back in the next three rounds, through a combination of a more committed jab and sheer force of will. Still, he never managed to take any of those three rounds like Holloway snagged the opening two, so it seemed likely that Holloway would walk with the belt once again.
It didn’t happen. Volkanovski won. I cannot imagine Holloway’s frustration.
Stone Cold Killer
Petr Yan lived up to the “No Mercy” moniker.
The first 15 minutes were excellent, some of the highest level kickboxing to ever grace the Octagon. ALDO THREW LEG KICKS AGAIN! In general, Aldo was the sharper man in the first half of the fight. The low kicks forced Yan Southpaw, at which point Aldo attacked the liver at every opportunity.
Still, Yan was landing too, and he absorbed some hellacious shots from Aldo without major difficulty. In addition, there was a strange moment near the end of the first round where Aldo shot for a takedown and might have hurt himself in the process? Regardless of that outlier, the overall course of the fight was clear: Aldo couldn’t keep up (watch highlights).
By the end of the third, Yan was beginning to land the better shots. In the fourth, he completely dominated. Then, as is sadly often the case in UFC fights, Aldo was simply brutalized in the final round. Yan dropped him almost immediately, and the referee allowed Aldo to lay covered up on the canvas, absorbing brutal shots for far too long.
We expect Yan to attack ceaselessly — it’s his literal nickname! Is it too much to ask for a hint of empathy from the referee or Aldo’s corner?
Thug Rose Endures
Rose Namajunas has the most aesthetically-pleasing striking style in women’s MMA.
She moves so well. In her rematch with dangerous puncher Jessica Andrade, Namajunas pivoted, rolled and side-stepped so many of her opponent’s strikes. Between evasive movements, Namajunas snapped her foe’s head back with stiff jabs, touched with the right hand, and nearly ended the bout with knees.
As with the first fight, Andrade was fighting a war of attrition. It didn’t take full effect until the third round, at which point Namajunas was suddenly much more hittable. Namajunas ate more punches than she would have liked — and her face bore the damage — but she never fell or allowed Andrade to really run away with it.
As a result, Namajunas’ success in the first two round saw her earn the nod. Her victory proved an excellent mix of skill and toughness, fluidity and thuggery.
Light Heavyweight’s New Contender
UFC did not throw Jiri Prochazka a softball for his UFC debut.
Volkan Oezdemir is a serious contender. He’s fought for the title! The Swedish kickboxer has a real solid chin and thunderous power in his punches. Lately, he’s really calmed down, which has largely fixed the issues of his takedown defense and conditioning.
Prochazka didn’t care about any of that. He fought like a young champion, throwing caution to the wind from the first bell. Oezdemir’s punches were of no concern, even when they landed and hurt Czech athlete. He simply returned to his quick movement, confident that his own offense would win out.
It did! In the second round, Prochazka went Southpaw and kicked the leg. Half a second later, he threw up a high kick that landed clean and wobbled the knees. “Denisa” followed up with a vicious right hand, one that completely crumpled the veteran (watch highlights).
Prochazka is just 27 years old, and he’s likely going to be in the title mix for years to come.
- Amanda Ribas defeats Paige VanZant via first-round armbar (RECAP): Ribas made it look really, really easy last night. She backed VanZant into the fence quickly, clinched up, and almost immediately landed a big head-and-arm throw. VanZant was stuck in the scarf hold position for a moment, but when she did really try to scramble, Ribas jumped on the overhooked arm and fell into the armbar position. Moments later, “PVZ” was tapping frantically. Ribas very much looks the part of a contender, ready for top 10 competition.
- Makwan Amirkhani defeats Danny Henry via first-round anaconda choke (HIGHLIGHTS): Amirkhani’s strategy is pretty straight forward. He’s a strong clinch wrestler with an effective blast double leg, and on the mat, that man is absolutely nasty with his front chokes. He kept it simple last night, circling for a couple minutes before exploding into a clinch takedown and immediately wrapping up the neck for a quick stoppage win.
- Davey Grant defeats Martin Day via third-round KNOCKOUT (HIGHLIGHTS): In a few years, this will be looked at as one of those oft-forgotten about wars, one overshadowed by the rest of the event. Make no mistake, however, this was an excellent fight. Grant threw zero strikes without power, fully committing to his combinations of hooks to the body and head. Day fired right back, scoring the first knockdown of the fight. With five minutes remaining, the bout was still up in the air, but Day was pressuring forward and seemingly edging his foe out. Then, a massive hook from a lunging Grant connected perfectly, and Day hit the canvas with a thump.