UFC 251 Preview
The UFC is back and with the latest card being held at the famed “Fight Island,” expectation and excitement alike are riding high among fans. Graeme Sinclair takes you through what to expect from this upcoming card.
THE UFC IS HEADING TO FIGHT ISLAND (there should always be a gnarly electric guitar riff after someone says Fight Island). FIGHT ISLAND IS WHERE LEGENDS ARE MADE, WHERE CAREERS ARE DEFINED AND WHERE… the UFC have held three previous events before. It’s just Abu Dhabi, by the way. Whatever you think of the Fight Island moniker, it’s undeniable that as a promotional vehicle, it’s worked. It may not be Escobar Island, but people are interested to see how UFC 251 is going to look like, as simply saying that the card is in Abu Dhabi doesn’t give fans the clearest picture. The UFC needed somewhere to stage events outside of the United States, and they found somewhere. Props to them for successfully hyping up something they didn’t really need to – there’s still not a lot of sport going on, and they have a stacked card. Pictures from the UFC Twitter have given us an insight as to what the setting will be for Saturday night/Sunday morning’s highly anticipated card, including a training octagon on the beach. It looks like an empty arena – nothing special – but once the fighting starts, no one’s really going to care about whether Fight Island lived up to the image in their head.
There’s been extra restrictions put in place on the island to ensure the event can take place in a controlled environment, which will minimise the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. There’s a safety zone of ten square-metres on the island for fighters and all other personnel that includes hotels, restaurants and training space. All fighters were required to take part in constant COVID-19 testing prior to the event, something which effected the main event (I’ll get to that). Additionally, upon arrival to Abu Dhabi, competitors are required to Quarantine for 24 hours – so far no one’s slipped up in that regard.
It’s looking promising that the event will go ahead without a hitch, and while things could absolutely and probably still change, we have an absolutely stacked card for UFC 251.With three championship bouts, some exciting rematches and a ton of interesting storylines, here are just a few things to watch out for.
‘Gamebred’ Steps In
Here’s the ‘I’ll get to that’ part from earlier. This time last Friday, the main event for UFC 251 was Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns. That was until Burns and his coach tested positive for COVID-19. Up stepped Jorge ‘Gambred’ Masvidal, and with no disrespect intended towards Gilbert Burns, we’ve now got a far more high-profile & interesting fight on our hands. The UFC knows it too, with Masvidal on every promo thumbnail on YouTube, and front and centre in all the hype packages. It’s somewhat surprising Masvidal took this fight, given that he had a very public dispute with the UFC just last month. One would imagine that Gambred will be on the receiving end of a very handsome payslip for stepping in for Burns.
There’s legitimate beef between Usman & Masvidal to give this fight a little extra spice (say this in Chris Eubank’s voice, please). Most noteworthy was when the pair came face-to-face at the Super Bowl in Miami, with the pair exchanging a war of words. The rivalry has continued on social media, with the pair trading jabs at one another.
In the Octagon, those expecting to see a fight similar to Usman’s epic title scrap against Colby Covington might be left disappointed. In that fight, he was able to stand up and throw hands, but Masvidal’s stand up skills are a level above Usman’s. Therefore, expect Usman to use his far superior wrestling skills to suffocate Masvidal, much like his dominating performance against Tyron Woodley that won him the Welterweight strap back in March 2019. For Masvidal, the longer he can keep the fight off the ground, the better his chances. You know he’s going to be looking for another earth-shattering KO like the ones Darren Till & Ben Askren received.
Can Blessed Bounce Back?
No matter what Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway has been telling people in the lead up to his UFC Featherweight Championship rematch with Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski, he lost that fight. It wasn’t even that close. Quite simply, the once dominant champion got beaten by the better man on the night. Max should just be ‘blessed’ that he’s getting an instant rematch, because based off his own performance at UFC 245 in December, he doesn’t deserve one. People like Zabit Magomedsharipov, The Korean Zombie & Yair Rodriguez must feel like it should have been them next in line for a title shot, but it was not to be. Fans’ favourite Holloway got the rematch, but he will need to drastically improve if he is to get his belt back.
So, what will Holloway need to do this time around? Well, in the first fight against Volkanovski, the story of the fight was Volkanovski’s leg kicks. Holloway’s style has always been his pace and volume, but Volkanovski’s leg kicks slowed Holloway down, and he will need to defend them better. Volkanovski has vowed to finish Holloway this time around, a feat that no one has accomplished since 2012. His strategy will be very similar to the first, but if he’s looking for a finish, he will have to up his aggression. With that, he’ll have to be wary as it might lead to him gassing out or getting caught with a lethal shot from Holloway. This is set up to be an exciting fight. Volkanovski is the favourite, but no one’s writing Max Holloway off, as Holloway will look to get his quest to be the greatest Featherweight of all-time back on track.
The Forgotten Title Fight
The last of the three title fights is a battle for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship, between Undefeated Russian Petr Yan & Brazilian legend Jose Aldo. Former champ Henry Cejudo vacated the belt at UFC 249 in May when he retired from competing, and UFC president Dana White personally put this match together. This fight has received significantly less attention than the other two title fights, and even the Rose Namajunas vs Jessica Andrade fight. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hype this one up. Petr Yan has an exciting style and true knockout power but speaks very little English and has very few big wins on his resume.
Following his loss against Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 237, Jose Aldo surprisingly dropped a weight class, moving into Bantamweight after dominating the Featherweight class for the majority of his illustrious career. Aldo has earned this fight, as although his last fight against Marlon Moraes at UFC 245 was chalked up as a loss, Aldo was the deserved winner in the eyes of everyone but the judges on the night. Almost as way of an apology, Aldo has his shot at yet another title. However, he hasn’t been seen much in the promo material. Pure speculation here, but it’s uncomfortable to look at Aldo while he’s cutting weight to bantamweight, and before his fight with Moraes he looked legitimately ill when stepping on the weight scales. I’m not surprised he’s not been seen almost at all in the build-up.
After the judges screwed him against Moraes, Aldo has declared he is going to have to finish everyone he comes up against to avoid the outcome going to the scorecards, so this should be a fight to look forward too. Petr Yan’s last fight resulted in a brutal knockout of a UFC legend, this one being Urijah Faber. He’ll be hoping to do the same to another legend with Aldo. With both men looking for a finish, hopefully they both stick to their words, and we get a highly entertaining scrap.
A Championship rematch without the Championship
The last time Jessica Andrade & Rose Namajunas fought, it was for Thug Rose’s UFC Strawweight Championship at UFC 237 in Rio. Namajunas looked amazing through one and a half rounds, until Andrade angle slammed her head on to the mat and finished her to become the champion. Andrade has since also lost the belt to Zhang Weili of China, so this is the first time that these competitors have fought since losing their titles.
Namajunas revealed she hated the pressure of being champion after Andrade beat her, so with less on the line, the arrows point to Namajunas for this fight. She looked better in the last fight until a fluke ended her evening, so she’ll hopefully have learned from her mistakes and correct them in the rematch. Andrade is one of few women with one punch knockout potential and is always a threat to end a fight. Her best chance of winning will to be and try and catch Rose like she did in their first encounter. The winner of this fight will almost certainly be Weili’s next opponent for the Strawweight belt, so despite the title not being on the line, the stakes are still massive.
There’s a number of other, smaller things to look forward to at UFC 251. Popular Women’s Flyweight, Paige Van Zant returns to the octagon to face Amanda Ribas. It’s Van Zant’s first fight since January 2019, since then she’s had a lot of recurring problems with a broken arm. Czech fighter Jiri Prochazka makes his UFC debut against former Light Heavyweight title contender Volkan Ozedemir. Prochazaka comes with a big reputation, having competed in Japanese organisation Rizin for most of his career. There’s also fights for recognisable names to more hardcore UFC fans such as Makwan Amirkhani, Marcin Tybura & Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who will look to further their UFC careers.
Finally, EA’s UFC 4 will be revealed at UFC 251, which is big news for gamers. Fans of the series (me) will be looking for an improved career mode, enhanced presentation on the level of other UFC game, and a better ground game system.