Usman vs Masvidal live In the rare occurrence of a short-notice main event actually improving a card, Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman will do battle to close out the loaded UFC 251 at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
The initial main event of Gilbert Burns and Kamaru Usman would have been an intriguing fight, but Masvidal’s ascension to star status made this the more desirable fight after Burns was forced off the card following a positive COVID-19 test.
It’s a great clash of Masvidal’s highly entertaining brand of fighting and Usman’s wrestling-heavy approach. Masvidal will be looking to spring a similar upset to his five-second knockout of Ben Askren.
Elsewhere on the card, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will put on a sequel of their UFC 245 clash. Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will also square off for the vacant bantamweight championship.
Paige VanZant faces a tough test and Rose Namajunas returns to round out a compelling main card. Here’s a look at the entire lineup of fights along with the biggest questions heading into the night.
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV at 10 p.m. ET)
Kamaru Usman (-300; bet $300 to win $100) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+250; $100 bet wins $250) (welterweight title) Alexander Volkanovski (-220) vs. Max Holloway (+185) (featherweight title) Petr Yan (-240) vs. Jose Aldo (+200) (vacant bantamweight title) Jessica Andrade (+175) vs. Rose Namajunas (-200) Amanda Ribas (-1000) vs. Paige VanZant (+650)
Prelims (ESPN at 8 p.m. ET)
Volkan Oezdemir (-160) vs. Jiri Prochazka (+140) Muslim Salikhov (-125) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (+105) Makwan Amirkhani (-190) vs. Danny Henry (+170) Roman Bogatov (+160) vs. Leonardo Santos (-180)
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. ET)
Maxim Grishin (-105) vs. Marcin Tybura (-115) Raulian Paiva (-185) vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (+165) Vanessa Melo (+200) vs. Karol Rosa (-240) Martin Day (-165) vs. Davey Grant (+145)
Odds via Caesars Palace
Does Jorge Masvidal Have Another Knockout in Him?
As fun as the ascension of Masvidal has been in the last year, the odds are really stacked against him in this one. Gamebred has traditionally struggled with wrestlers, especially ones who will relentlessly close the distance.
While Usman was willing to stand and trade with Colby Covington, that isn’t likely to be the strategy here. Usman is going to look to drive Masvidal to the fence, take him down, wear him out and try to seal a late finish.
The same could have been said about Ben Askren before his date with Masvidal. We all know how that one went. Masvidal pulled off one of the most memorable finishes of all time and set a record for the quickest knockout in UFC history in just five seconds.
Usman won’t repeat the same mistake, but it’s going to take something similar for Masvidal to pull off the same upset. He has three straight wins by TKO or knockout, and this is going to need to be the fourth. If it turns into a five-round affair, Masvidal isn’t built to win it.
Confidence is a lethal weapon in this sport. Masvidal’s current run to a title shot 49 fights into his career is a perfect example. Handing Usman his first loss in the UFC would take tremendous confidence from Masvidal to bite down on his mouthpiece and throw the perfect shot to end the night early.
It could happen, but it wouldn’t be wise to count on it.
Prediction: Usman via decision
Has Holloway Figured out Volkanovski?
Alexander Volkanovski took a unanimous decision when he met Max Holloway at UFC 245. He clearly had Holloway’s number in the early rounds and built a lead on his leg kicks and ability to neutralize the Hawaiian’s forward pressure.
As the fight went on, it became more competitive though. Holloway was able to adapt to Volkanovski’s leg kicks and land offense of his own when the fight got to the championship rounds.
There are two ways to look at that. Either Holloway figured some things out and can now apply them to this fight and potentially create a barnburner for five rounds and win his title back, or the closer championship rounds could have been a case of Volkanovski gassing a bit and coasting after a strong start.
Ultimately, it could be a combination of both. Holloway may have picked up on some strategies to counter what Volkanovski did to him in the first fight. He could also be in better shape than the Australian. However, Volkanovski’s camp did a great job of game-planning for Holloway in the last fight, and this time should be no different.
Prediction: Volkanovski via decision
What Does Jose Aldo Have Left?
Jose Aldo is a future Hall of Famer. In his prime, he was the most dominant force at featherweight and still has a case as the greatest of all time in the division. He reigned as champion from 2009 to 2015 going back to his time with the WEC prior to its UFC merger.
That’s why the 33-year-old was given this title shot. It certainly isn’t based on what he has done recently. Since the day Conor McGregor took his title from him in December 2015, he is 3-4 with wins against an old Frankie Edgar, Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano.
In short, Aldo is still good enough to beat anyone who isn’t an elite fighter, but he hasn’t had a win over a championship contender since 2014.
He’s still dangerous. His counter-punching, fight IQ and toughness will give him a chance against the up-and-coming Petr Yan, but looking for an old school Aldo performance is to set up for disappointment.
Yan looks the part of a champion. He’s undefeated in six UFC fights and shows improvement every time out. He’s a well-rounded fighter with skills wherever the fight may take him, but this is definitely the biggest spotlight he has seen.
On paper, he has all the advantages, but Aldo still has a shot when it comes to the intangibles. Whether that can be enough to keep him in this title fight is one of the biggest questions on the card.