UFC 251: A Preview
Written by Jack Zampillo (@Jack_Zampillo15) — July 9th, 2020
The UFC is the greatest sports organization in the world and nobody on this planet can convince me otherwise. The resilience the company has shown makes me extremely proud to be a fan. That being said, let’s briefly recap. Sometime late this past Friday night, news trickled in that Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was out of his scheduled Welterweight title fight against current champion Kamaru Usman. Seeming as though the card was going to proceed with a new main event, Fight Island took its first major blow.
But, we know that’s not how Dana rolls. An event of this magnitude HAS to have a crazy storyline behind it. So, who did they call? The BMF. After months of failed negotiations and frustration, the most highly anticipated fight of 2020 was made. On just 6 days notice, Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal stepped in to fight Kamaru Usman in the main event of UFC 251 for the welterweight strap. That’s a bad motherfucker.
It’s crazy to think that we’re here. After all the questions, curiosity, and anticipation, Fight Island is ready for business. 3 title fights take center stage Saturday night, all of which have Fight of the Year potential. Usman and Masvidal will make the walk for the main event, and I have a feeling the tension in the air will be indescribable. Do these crazy circumstances give Masvidal the advantage over Usman, or will the champ defend the throne?
The traditional co-main event slot features a brewing rivalry that has numerous questions surrounding it. Alexander Volkanovski defeated Max Holloway at UFC 245 to become the undisputed Featherweight champion.Saturday night, Holloway comes for vengeance. Is this the beginning of the Volkanovski era, or can Max make the necessary adjustments and reign supreme once again?
The first of the 3 title bouts is sure to be fireworks. The young, heavy handed Petr Yan gets his first crack at UFC gold as he takes on one of the game’s most respected legends in Jose Aldo. Can Aldo derail the Yan hype train, or will the Russian sensation prove to be the champion he says he is?
Kamaru Usman © vs. Jorge Masvidal
Blood will be shed Saturday night as the UFC’s two most bitter rivals are set to square off in the main event with stakes higher than ever before. Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal have been very adamant on hurting each otherever since this fight was rumored, and the current circumstances make for an even more intriguing storyline. To clarify, I believe that this fight being on a week’s notice makes the matchup more interesting. Both men implement styles that heavily differentiate from the other, which causes an inevitable change in gameplans for both Usman and Masvidal.
Kamaru Usman’s (16–1) game plan is usually centered around exploiting his opponents’ weaknesses. Tyron Woodley is one of the hardest hitting welterweights of all time. So, Usman took him down and held him there for nearly 25 minutes. Colby Covington is a polished wrestler and grappler whose constant pressure against the fence makes him extremely hard to counter. So, Usman beat him up on the feet.
Here’s the difference: Usman had a full training camp to prepare for his opponents’ styles and develop gameplans. Jorge Masvidal (35–13)can be unpredictable. Flying knees, left hooks from hell, and the desire to “baptize” his opponents all make “Gambred” a vicious knockout artist. It’s no secret that Masvidal’s path to victory is to put Usman to sleep, and a guy as versatile and swift as Jorge might just have the ability to do so. “I’m going to remove him from the state of being awake,” Masvidal said Monday morning on First Take.
Kamaru Usman has become such a well-rounded fighter, and figuring out the holes in his game is no easy task. Going back to what I said earlier, the way Usman is able to effectively implement a game plan based on opponent weaknesses is tougher than it sounds. Usman’s in-fight adaptability will be tested Saturday night.
I give all the respect in the world to Jorge Masvidal. He’s been fighting his entire life — 48 times professionally — and he takes his first title shot on 6 days notice. What a story that is, and what a story it would be if he were to win the strap. Unfortunately for Jorge, this fairytale doesn’t have a happy ending. Kamaru Usman is undoubtedly the best welterweight in the world, and I expect to see an even better Kamaru Usman than we saw in December. While Usman will have to endure an early onslaught from the “BMF,” there’s nothing that tells me he can’t overcome it. Expect a patient, relaxed, and confident Kamaru Usman. Why wouldn’t he be confident? He’s the scariest man in the division. The Nigerian Nightmare by late stoppage.
Alexander Volkanovski © vs Max Holloway 2
The UFC’s featherweight division has a legacy of greatness, and the co-headliner of UFC 251 features 2 men who will accept nothing less. In a rematch that is sure to answer questions, defending champion Alexander Volkanovski (21–1) rematches one of the most decorated champions the 145-pound division has ever seen in Max Holloway (21–5). Holloway, who is looking to avoid dropping 3 out of his last 4, comes into this fight with a chip on his shoulder. Despite being one of the greatest champions the UFC has ever seen, Holloway has been out-fought twice in the last two years. What does another loss mean for him? Is Volkanovski just that good?
The answer is yes. Fighting out of Australia, the 31-year-old has been through a murderer’s row of opponents on his way to becoming champion, convincingly beating high-profile guys like Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes. With 11 wins via (T)KO and 3 via submission, Volkanovski presents a deep arsenal of techniques that counteract Holloway’s style perfectly. Holloway is a guy who thrives off of overwhelming pressure and volume from his hands. How is that style neutralized? With kicks, movement, and the ability to counter the counters. All areas the champion excels in.
Standing across from Volkanovski and looking to have gold wrapped around his waist once again is Hawaii’s own Max “Blessed” Holloway, who reigned supreme atop the division for 3 years. However, it is reported the former champion used somewhat of an interesting strategy to prepare for this fight, getting coached over Zoom and deciding against sparring sessions. Nonetheless, if there’s anyone who has the focus, grit, and determination to defy the odds, it’s the “Blessed” one
The biggest question surrounding this fight is whether or not Max Holloway can make the necessary adjustments needed to counteract Volkanovski’s style. Max fell victim to 75 leg kicks in their first meeting. A guy who tends to lean heavy on his front leg in the pocket, Holloway needs to be wary of the distance Volkanovski is able to land at. There’s only so much those legs can take.
Alexander Volkanovski is a great fighter and champion. The way he was able to break Max down over the course of 25 minutes was nothing short of impressive. However, I believe Max is about to remind everybody who he is. The former champion has such a polished striking game and suffocating volume punching. As long as he is wary of the distance, something he is smart enough to do, I have Max winning 3 rounds and taking the belt back.
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
What better than a good ole’ legend vs. rising superstar matchup to kick off the row of title fights? Future hall of famer Jose Aldo looks to once again raise gold as he takes on the dangerous and hungry Petr Yan. In a fight that has been oft-deemed illegitimate, Jose Aldo walks in with something to prove. Many don’t think Aldo deserves to be in the position that he is in. Can he silence the doubters? Or will Yan prove he is the hot commodity he’s being made out to be?
Fighting out of Russia, 27-year-old Petr Yan has consistently improved as he’s climbed atop the bantamweight ladder, and championship gold is now within reach. The Siberian native comes in having won 9 in a row with an undefeated record in the UFC of 6–0 (14–1 overall). Not only has Yan beaten everybody he’s fought in the UFC convincingly, he’s done it against high-level competitors. Jimmie Rivera, John Dodson, and Urijah Faber are all solid names to have on a resume, and his growth through experience is apparent when he fights. I feel like every time we see Yan he looks better than his last outing, and I’d bet the house on us seeing the best version of Petr Yan we’ve ever seen Saturday night.
Making his 35th walk to the octagon is longtime champion Jose Aldo. Aldo (28–6) is surrounded by a lot of doubt considering he’s dropped 3 of his last 5. However, the King of Rio has found himself in a position where he has the opportunity to reinvent himself and once again become a champion in the UFC.
Look guys, I get it. Jose Aldo with a belt wrapped around his waist is eye candy, and as much as I would love to see this story end happily for Aldo, I don’t see a scenario where it does. Let’s look at the facts: Petr Yan has done nothing but improve since stepping foot into the UFC. As much as I hate to say it, Jose Aldo has regressed. He has shied away from his brutal leg kicks, offensive wrestling, and I just don’t see the “dog” in him anymore. Jose Aldo has looked too conservative in his recent fights and I personally believe Yan is going to pick him apart. I expect Aldo to find some early success while Yan makes his reads, but once Yan finds his range, it could be a long 25 minutes for the King of Rio. Yan implements relentless pressure, and has ridiculously fast hands with the ability to put anyone out. His ability to overwhelm and trap opponents against the cage will bode very well in this one, considering Aldo’s speed. We’ll have 2 Russian champions by the end of Saturday night. Get ready. Petr Yan by stoppage, round 3.