The UFC’s first visit to Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’ is in the books, and while it was a solid enough show, it wasn’t an all-time classic by any means.
The show featured three title fights, and in the end, only one belt changed hands. That was always going to happen though – the UFC Bantamweight title was vacant coming into the event. Aside from that, the UFC Featherweight and Welterweight titles remained with the current champions – albeit in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Here are the best and worst moments from UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal.
#1 Best: Yan breaks Aldo down in violent fashion
Of the three UFC title fights on tap last night, I definitely enjoyed the UFC Bantamweight title clash between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo the most. With the two men doing battle for the title recently vacated by Henry Cejudo, most people were expecting a striking war, and in the end the fight delivered hugely.
The first two rounds were fascinating as Aldo appeared to be having a lot of success. Sure, he found himself in some trouble on the ground late in the first round, but he didn’t allow Yan to corral him into the fence and was landing some huge low kicks and body shots to the Russian.
In the third, the Brazilian veteran even seemed to have Yan wilting – but ‘No Mercy’ was not to be denied. By the end of that round he’d begun to turn the tide, and he appeared to have Aldo on the ropes in the fourth.
Once he dropped him early in the fifth, the fight was largely over. Quite why ref Leon Roberts let Aldo take so much punishment is anyone’s guess. In the end though, despite a valiant fight, Yan was a little too much for the Brazilian great.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Aldo hang it up after this fight and if he does, he will have gone out with a real bang. In my opinion this was one of the best post-COVID fights the UFC has put on, and I’m fascinated to see how Yan’s title reign will unfold from here.
#1 Worst: UFC Fight Island turns out to be pretty ordinary
Due to the overall quality of the fights last night, it’s hard to really pinpoint anything truly bad. So I’m going to be a little controversial and say that the worst thing for me was the fact that Abu Dhabi’s ‘Fight Island’ felt like a bit of a letdown.
Maybe I was being a little deluded coming into the show, but seeing the UFC’s social media updates throughout the past couple of weeks showing the Octagon on the beach with the sea apparently just metres away gave the impression that we’d be getting something genuinely different last night.
In the end though, with the lights dimmed and the same setup as you’d get at any UFC show, it was impossible to tell that we were actually on ‘Fight Island’. Overall, things felt no different to the UFC’s previous behind-closed-doors events in Jacksonville or Las Vegas.
How could the UFC have done things differently? Well, I guess the only way would’ve been to have the show take place in daylight. That would’ve been impossible though due to the heat and the issue of timing in terms of the pay-per-view broadcast.
In hindsight, everyone should’ve seen this coming and I feel naive for expecting anything different. But when you’re hoping for the UFC to produce its own Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and they give you a regular UFC show, it’s hard not to be slightly disappointed.
#2 Best: Usman proves why he’s the best
The UFC’s Welterweight division has been a thing of flux ever since Georges St-Pierre – the greatest fighter of all time for my money – gave up his title back in 2013. Since then we’ve had numerous champions, but none of them have really come close to the greatness of GSP. Until now, that is.
Last night’s main event saw the current UFC Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman take on perhaps his most dangerous foe yet in the form of Jorge Masvidal. And sure, ‘Gamebred’ was taking the fight on late notice, but if anything, that made him even more of a threat. Essentially, he was a man with nothing to lose.
In the end though, he simply had no answer for Usman’s strength – particularly from the clinch – and cardio. Masvidal tried, but Usman simply wore him down over five rounds, never really giving him a chance to get going. When the fight ended, it was clear who’d come out on top.
Sure, it wasn’t a wild fight like ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ put on with Colby Covington at UFC 245, but it also never felt like Masvidal was in with a chance. And to me, that’s a sign of genuine greatness.
Who’s next for Usman? Probably Gilbert Burns, as he was initially supposed to be fighting for the title last night prior to a positive COVID-19 test.
Does he stand a chance? In all honesty, ‘Durinho’ is a great fighter, but I just don’t think anyone can defeat Usman right now. He’s too strong, too smart, and too well-rounded for anyone else in this division. Not only is he probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now, but he also has the opportunity to match the greatness of GSP if he can keep up this form.
#2 Worst: Will Volkanovski’s close fight with Holloway cause a logjam at 145lbs?
When Max Holloway lost his UFC Featherweight title to Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 245, it was in pretty clear fashion. The Aussie surprised Holloway with his speed and leg kicks, and clearly got the better of him over five rounds.
The UFC could easily have had Volkanovski defend his newly-won title against one of their red-hot contenders at 145lbs – Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez or the Korean Zombie – but it felt like the right thing to do to was give Holloway an immediate rematch. After all, the Hawaiian had held the title since 2017 and had made 3 successful defenses of it.
And so the two men faced off again last night to settle the score. Unfortunately, despite a tremendous fight, it doesn’t feel like anything was settled at all.
Holloway made a lot of adjustments and took the fight to the champ in the first two rounds, dropping him twice. ‘Alexander the Great’ then made his own adjustments to come back in the final three rounds, landing takedowns in rounds four and five. But when we went to the scorecards, it felt nearly impossible to pick a winner.
Personally, I scored the fight 48-47 for Volkanovski, giving him the final three rounds. Two of the three judges agreed, allowing the Aussie to retain, but it seems that across the MMA media, just as many people felt Holloway deserved the nod.
So why’s that a bad thing? Well, given UFC President Dana White appears to be one of them, there’s every chance the UFC books a third fight between these two. From a quality standpoint that’d be fine, but what happens to the ever-growing list of contenders?
Basically, they wind up in a logjam. We’ve seen this happen numerous times in UFC history – the Lightweight title picture from 2010 to 2012 instantly comes to mind – and to be frank, it’s never good.
Does Holloway deserve a rematch? I guess so, and I expect the UFC to give him one. But realistically, others have more than earned their crack, and to see them likely be denied is sad.
#3 Best: Prochazka makes a mark in his UFC debut
Last night’s prelims were a mixed bag, but by far the best fight on offer came in the UFC’s Light-Heavyweight division. Perennial contender Volkan Oezdemir welcomed Czech newcomer Jiri Prochazka into the UFC, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.
Prochazka – who largely made his name in Japan – looked wild in the opening round, dancing around with little regard for the dangerous power of Oezdemir. It appeared to get him into trouble on a couple of occasions, but he was able to survive.
In the second round though, he turned the tables on the Swiss fighter, hitting him with some huge strikes before knocking him silly with a right hand. Not only was this a big win for Prochazka over a genuinely hardened UFC veteran, but it was the first time Oezdemir had been properly knocked out in the Octagon.
This win makes Prochazka an instant UFC title contender – just as Oezdemir’s wild knockouts did the same for him back in 2017. Whether he can go all the way, or simply ends up becoming the next Johnny Walker is unknown, but judging on last night, it’ll be fun either way.