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UFC 251: Fight Island (Yas Island), Abu Dhabi

I am back with more UFC action. This time it’s UFC 251, taking place in the Emirates, on the island formerly known as Yas but for the next few weeks will go by the moniker Fight Island. The move from Dana White to temporarily procure an island off the coast of the U.A.E has to go down as not only the most baller moves ever but also the most innovative idea from a promoter in the history of the fight game. White continues to excel during these past few crazy months and this time is no different.

The figurehead at the top of the MMA world has really gone on to reaffirm his place as one of if not the world’s most preeminent promoter. It is his ability to constantly think outside of the box that has enabled the continuing success of the UFC during this tumultuous year. Now with the location set and the fights booked it is time to get down to the task at hand, so here I go picking up the action again from the late prelims, now its that time of night to tape up your fists and to prepare for action, because, its fight time.

UFC 251 Prelims

 

UFC 251 Lightweight Division 

Leonardo Santos (BRA) def. Roman Bogatov (RUS) — (Unamious Decision – 29-26, 29-26, 29-26)

After a strong start from Santos, Bogatov made a comeback as the fight wore on, but a 2 point deduction following persistent fouling cost the Russian on the judges scorecards. This one was pretty close until Bogatov hit Santos with two low blows and an illegal knee strike whilst he was down on one knee causing the aforementioned points deduction and put paid to any hope Bogatov had of staying undefeated. Santos was the deserving winner of this matchup as Bogatov didn’t heed the official warnings and continued to fight sloppily and it cost him dearly.

UFC 251 Featherweight Division 

Makwan Amirkhani (FIN) def. Danny Henry (SCO) — (Submission RD1 – Anaconda Choke)

Both competitors fought very tidily for the duration of this one, but it didn’t last long as a competition. After the pair tied up Amirkhani came out on top and after trying a guillotine, which wasn’t successful he transitioned into an Anaconda choke, putting the squeeze on the Scotsman who couldn’t escape his opponent’s tight hold. Eventually succumbing to his grip, giving Amirkhani the victory and an early night. Not much else to say on this one except Amirkhani became only the third fighter to add a second Anaconda finish to his resume and should be excited for what the future holds.

UFC 251 Welterweight Division 

Muslim Salikhov (RUS) def. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (BRA) — (Split Decision – 30-27, 28-29, 29-28)

The matchup between Salikhov and dos Santos has everyone licking their lips from the moment it was booked. We all wondered in the buildup how the Kapoirea stylings of dos Santos would blend with the Wushu-Sando skills that Salikhov brings to the table and the two didn’t let us down for the most part. Both of the men showed their ability to strike on numerous occasions with some big, eye-catching shots, but it was dos Santos even in defeat seemed to have gotten the better of the exchanges, especially when you consider that he scored two knockdowns. Although dos Santos looked the superior of the two fighters it was Salikhov’s night, extending his win streak to four. If dos Santos was to feel a little aggrieved by the result I wouldn’t blame him,  scoring two knockdowns in two separate rounds of a three-round fight and not getting the victory is surprising, to say the least.

UFC 251 Light-Heavyweight Division

Jiri Procházka (CZE) def.  Volkan Oezdemir (SUI) — (Knockout RD2)

The story goes that Procházka was previously offered a UFC contract but turned it down, citing that he was not ready for the big time and would not rush into the major leagues of the MMA world. Well upon witnessing the Czech’s debut it is hard to disagree with his decision. He is big, long, and packs a punch, Procházka has an unusual style but it seems to be extremely effective and devastating. For a debut he was in with really tough opposition, Oezdemir can count the likes of Daniel Cormier amongst his previous opponents.

The Swiss proved his toughness in the first round but was caught early in the second with a low kick/high kick combo and began to falter from then on. Following the high kick, Oezdimir wobbled a little, this caused Procházka to up the tempo and pressure, finishing off with a beautiful jab followed quickly with a massive right hook to end the fight as a contest. I think this performance from Procházka will have everyone on high alert, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that will be keeping an eye on the Czech’s progression in the UFC.

Procházka lands a massive righ hook as Oezdemir falls to one side on his way down to the canvas.
Procházka lands the finishing blow.

Main Card

Now to the start off a stacked Main Card, Jon Anik and UFC legend Michael Bisping are behind the mics at this event, and the two excelled once again. Bisping is so naturally funny, outspoken, and makes for great commentary every time, he is not only incredibly knowledgeable but he is also remarkable witty and never misses a chance to share some of his many musings on the competitors in the ring. On the other side of the commentary table Jon Anik’s mustache was in danger of stealing the show outright but the action later on the Main Card just managed to pull this one out of the bag. Now with that bit out of the way, now let’s get to the first action of the Main Card of UFC 251.

Flyweight Division

Amanda Ribas (BRA) def. Paige VanZant (U.S.A.) — (Submission – Belly-down Armbar)

The first fight of the Main Card saw a fourth UFC victory for the Brazilian Amanda Ribas, as she conquered the returning Paige VanZant, who just got back from an 18-month lay off from the Octagon. This one didn’t last long and I’m sure VanZant will be disappointed not to get a few more minutes in the ring, but there wasn’t much she could do when she found herself sinched in deeply by Ribas’ belly-down armbar, living to fight another day VanZant tapped and Ribas was victorious.

Strawweight Division

Rose Namajunas (U.S.A.) def. Jessica Andrade (BRA) — (Split Decision – 29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

This one saw the eagerly anticipated rematch of the Strawweight Title fight between Rose Nmajunas and Jessica Andrade. The Brazilian came out victorious in the pairs first meeting but wasn’t so fortunate this time around. It was clear from the off that the two learned from their first encounter, Namajunas who was slammed onto her head and subsequently knockout, made sure to keep her opponent at distance this time, whereas Andrade upped her upper body and head movement considerably from the first fight.

After Namajunas dominated the opening two rounds with the jab, using her length and distance really effectively, she took a lot of damage in the final round, finishing the fight with what looked like a broken nose and huge swelling under one eye, but if you ask me was good value for the points victory. I’m not sure where “Thug Rose” goes next, Zhang Wei Lei looks so impressive, but I’m sure Namajunas will want to take that fight, I just can’t see her winning it because she gets tagged a lot and Wei Lei is a very big hitter.

Bantamweight Division – Vacant Title Fight

(C) Petr Yan (RUS) def. Jose Aldo (BRA) — (Technical Knockout RD5 – Referee Stoppage)

After the big announcement from Henry Cejudo about his retirement post-victory over Dominic Cruz the landscape of the Bantamweight Division had been shaken up. Dana White didn’t take long to put Yan in the position to win his first UFC title, the only unknown was his dance partner, but that didn’t last long either as Jose Aldo was announced to take on the formidable Russian. Aldo a UFC legend in his own right now had the task to redeem himself after a close call defeat against Marlon Moraes in his Bantamweight debut. The Brazilian looked good early on, dropping Yan to the ground with a nice calf kick, but as the action wore on the Russian came back into, landing some big shots of his own as Aldo began to tire.

The two stood mostly in the center of the Octagon for the entirety of the fight, exchanging shot for shot. Then in round four Yan slowly began to take over and showed some excellent conditioning to keep the pressure on, eventually landing a huge shot before taking Aldo to the ground and waled on his more experienced opponent until the referee stepped in and called a halt to the action. Yan looks like he could be a fierce champion for any future contender but with what it looks to be Aljamain Sterling just over the horizon it won’t be long before his championship mettle is tested to its limits. Although all roads look like they lead to Sterling, former champ Henry Cejudo did have some choice words for Yan on Twitter post-fight, so who knows what might be on the cards in the future for the new Bantamweight Champion.

Featherweight Division – Title Fight

(C) Alexander Volkanovski (AUS) def. Max Holloway (U.S.A.) — (Split Decision – 47-48, 48-47, 47-48)

In the second rematch of the night, the Featherweight Title was put on the line as Alexander Volkanovski looked to end the Blessed Era in the division. At first, Holloway looked the sharpest of the two, bringing excellent combinations and controlling the distance very well from the perpetual forward motion of the newly minted Champion. The first two rounds went exactly to plan for Holloway, who was coming off the back of a less than conventional training camp—due to Coronavirus restrictions in Hawaii—but still managed to drop Volkanovski twice in the opening two entries of this one. Holloway looked like he was all set to regain his title but the former rugby player Volkanovski showed that he will not wilt easily. As the fight wore on Holloway began to show some signs of fading, especially in the fourth as Volkanovski got the better of Blessed, and again in the fifth but it was much closer than the fourth.

Which left many people thinking Holloway had done enough in the first three rounds to seal the victory on the cards, but it was not to be as Volkanovski won on two of the judge’s scorecards to retain the title. I think I have to agree with the majority of the people that watched this one, I had Holloway 3-1 up going into the final round, and I was as surprised as anyone to see Volkanovski get his hand raised. Now with it 2-0 overall between these two I can’t see the third fight for some time, it is unfortunate because like many I felt Holloway did enough in the early rounds to secure a victory. In a tight fight like this, the decision might have come down to a case of recency bias and Volkanovski’s late takedowns may have turned the tide in his favor. In what is one of the stronger divisions in the UFC it should be interesting to see who challenges Volkanovski next, I’m sure whoever it is it won’t be an easy night at the office.

Usman scores a rare takedown on Masvidal, grabbing him by the waist and tossing him to the ground.
Usman scores a rare takedown on Masvidal.

Welterweight Division – UFC 251 Title Fight

(C) Kamaru Usman (NGA) def. Jorge Masvidal (U.S.A.) — (Unanimous Decision – 50-45, 50-45, 49-46)

Taking this fight on six days’ notice shows just what type of fighter “Gamebred” Jorge Masvidal is, stepping in after a positive test for COVID-19 for Usman’s previous opponent Gilberto Burns, Masvidal set about shaking up the world. We all sat on the edges of our seats to see if the self-proclaimed “Street Jesus” was going to baptize another one of the UFC’s elite Welterweights but it wasn’t to be. Apart from some early joy in round one, Masvidal was otherwise nullified by Usman’s physicality in the clinch. The defending champion got “Gamebred” up against the cage and that is where the action stayed for the most part as Usman wore down Masvidal’s stamina with consistent body/leg blows whilst pressing him against the cage, it didn’t look pretty but Usman stuck to his strengths and that is what champions do.

When they traded shots it became quickly evident that Masvidal was the faster of the two, and got the better of Usman on those exchanges, but Usman used his excellent strength and conditioning to take the contest out of the challenger’s hands. One thing that has to be given to Masvidal is how impressive his takedown defense was, snuffing out all but a few of Usman’s takedown attempts, which is a rarity against the “Nigerian Nightmare”. In the end, though, Usman ran out the deserved winner and will look to the future. Next up for the Champion will be a date with Gilbert Burns, as soon as he is back to health after that hopefully Masvidal is allowed the opportunity to get a full camp under his belt and given another chance to fight for the title.

Final Thoughts on UFC 251

UFC 251 kicks off a hectic two week period for the UFC on Fight Island and we weren’t disappointed, although the main event of the night lacked some excitement, it was another huge string in Usman’s bow and we should consider ourselves lucky to watch such a supreme talent operate at the highest level like this. There was also so much on the cards, with three title fights in one night and once again the UFC proved to be one of the best forms of fight night entertainment out there right now, with not too many fight promotions able to pull off the consistently deep cards that the MMA leader is able to do on an almost week to week basis.

This proved to be another one of those nights, filled with the beautiful brutality that is high-level MMA. Now that three of the titles have been decided it should be interesting to see how active those respective Champions are, Volkanovski already said he wanted to get out again this year, we will quickly find out if both Usman and Yan share his sentiments. Speaking of Champions, next up for the monthly UFC events will be UFC 252 in August where Stipe Miocic will defend his Heavyweight Title against Daniel Cormier, which will decide for many the number one in the history of the division. Like many, I am salivating in anticipation of that one and I can’t wait to see who comes out on top, so until then that’s me signing off and I hope you enjoyed the action, I’ll be back for UFC 252.

For more great UFC coverage, stay tuned to SportsObsessive.com

Written by Vincent Greene

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