After promising to be one of the events on the year on paper, UFC 251 duly delivered with three top-level title fights.
Headlined by a successful welterweight title defence by Kamaru Usman against Jorge Masvidal, the champion rebounded from potentially dropping the first round to go on to control the rest of the bout. Employing his tiresome clinch work against the cage, Usman would stifle Masvidal’s striking and nullify the space ‘Gamebred’ needed to work.
In the second title fight of the evening, Alexander Volkanovski squeaked by Max Holloway on split scorecards after a real struggle in the first two rounds. While the final three rounds were closely contested, many argued that Holloway deserved the nod in their immediate rematch.
Meanwhile in the vacant bantamweight championship bout, Petr Yan’s cardio allowed him to outlast Jose Aldo and secure a fifth-round TKO – albeit much later than those watching would have liked. After both men displayed excellent technique in a what essentially became a Thai boxing bout, Yan took control in the later rounds before truly dominating in the fifth.
Elsewhere at UFC 251, Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade fought out a fight of the year contender, rising star Amanda Ribas made quick work of Paige VanZant while UFC debutant Jiri Prochazka knocked out the #7 ranked Volkan Oezdemir in the light heavyweight division.
With the first event of Fight Island in the books, and the second fast approaching this Wednesday night, here are five fights to make with the winners of Saturday nights main card:
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns
The most stylish of victories it was not for Kamaru Usman, but ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ did what he does best against Jorge Masvidal as he completely controlled the majority of the bout.
While Usman’s suffocating grappling maybe doesn’t come with the ferocious ground and pound or submission threat of a Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 170 lbs champion simply does not let up on his pressure.
Going forward, Usman will now look to break Georges St-Pierre’s consecutive win record in the welterweight division (tied at 12) and he will most likely have to try and do that against former teammate Gilbert Burns.
With Burns originally scheduled to face Usman on Fight Island before testing positive for COVID-19, it seems only right that the current #1 contender is next up for Usman.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Magomedsharipov / Rodriguez Winner
Despite the controversial nature of the decision, the UFC should probably look to move away from a Volkanovski – Holloway trilogy.
While the result was certainly not a robbery as some have suggested, the wider margin in which Holloway decisively won the first two rounds will no doubt leave a bitter taste in the Hawaiian’s mouth.
Nevertheless, Volkanovski remains the UFC’s 145 lbs champion and his impressive 19-fight winning streak is still intact.
With a plethora of contenders at featherweight, the next championship fight should see the Australian square off against the winner of the upcoming Zabit Magomedsharipov – Yair Rodriguez bout.
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
Since entering the UFC in 2018, Petr Yan has put aside every challenge in his way and on Saturday night became the top dog in the bantamweight division.
Defeating the legendary Jose Aldo, Yan could well become a major star in MMA thanks to his fan-pleasing fighting style.
First and foremost though, Yan must hold onto the 135 lbs title for a while longer and that will be no easy feat in a stacked weight class.
As for his first title defence, there is only one man to turn to and Aljamain Sterling is more than deserving of a crack at UFC gold.
Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang
Righting the wrong of her last fight against Jessica Andrade, Rose Namajunas bested the Brazilian with her technical striking in what will go down as a fight of the year contender.
Operating behind gorgeous footwork and a smart use of distance, Namajunas is simply a great fighter to watch and one any fighter could learn a thing or two from.
With a win over the #1 contender and with fellow top contender Tatiana Suarez on the injured list, a fight with strawweight champion Weili Zhang seems like the smart option in what could be another barn-burning contest.
Amanda Ribas vs. Waterson / Hill Winner
Quickly taking the fight to the mat and snatching up an armbar submission, Amanda Ribas reaffirmed her position as a prospect to look out for in the UFC’s strawweight division.
With such a stacked 115 lbs weight class at their disposal, the UFC has plenty of options for Ribas and their next move will likely depend on how quickly they want to throw her into the deep end.
A more measured approach for Ribas may well come in the form of waiting for the winner of next month’s Michelle Waterson – Angela Hill match-up.