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UFC 251 preview: Kamaru Usman tasked with overcoming late change of opponent

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With UFC preparing its “Fight Island” facility in the Abu Dhabi location of Yas Island, this week’s UFC 251 pay-per-view (PPV) event was meant to see a returning Kamaru Usman face off against Gilbert Burns in the main event.

Unfortunately, those best-laid plans were scuppered just a few days ago, as Burns and his coach Greg Jones tested positive for COVID-19 and subsequently have been ordered to spend time in quarantine.

Although this had the potential to delay the comeback of Usman, thankfully a replacement fighter is never that far away, and with Jorge Masvidal stepping into the breach, the show looks set to continue unabated.

Usually, an opponent switch at such late notice has the potential to distort any pre-fight markets and although this has happened in the past, a look at the odds for both Usman and Masvidal suggests this is not the case.

Going into the now rescheduled fight, it is the current UFC Welterweight champion who is unsurprisingly the favorite, while the last-minute replacement Masvidal finds himself as the outsider going into this weekend’s bout.

This fight will be the second title defense for Usman and after getting the better of Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 – the event in which he snared Welterweight gold, he then bested Colby Covington at UFC 245 to maintain possession of the championship belt.

Talking of championship belts, Jorge Masvidal has one of his own and although it is not officially recognized in the lineage of the company, the current holder of the BMF (Baddest Mother F*cker) title will be keen to live up to that moniker.

With that said, the installation of Masvidal into the main event is one that has certainly turned a few heads, and with his contractual status supposedly up in the air, it seems as if all is calm between him and Dana White.

Of course, any relationship that White has with his stable of fighters is fragile at best and you do wonder when the next flashpoint will occur. Then again, there’s no better way to calm things down than by offering the chance to claim one of UFC’s richest prizes.

There does seem to be an almighty plot twist in all of this, as Masvidal initially turned down the fight when first offered back in June and with the Miami-born fighter sensing an opportunity to pounce, it seems as if he managed to go back to the UFC with a much stronger negotiation stance.

A stance that would have been as follows: he needs to be back in the title fold as soon as possible, while MMA’s premier outfit needs to put on a show and is missing a top-level fighter at incredibly short notice.

Whether you or I do the math, we likely come to the same figure and it is one that sees Masvidal cut a decent paycheck, so that UFC 251 has the main event that the luxurious setting of Yas Island deserves.

That won’t be the only fight on the card worth talking about and with the Bantamweight division looking to crown a new king, Petr Yan and former two-time Featherweight champion Jose Aldo will go to war.

The possession of the Bantamweight belt is currently vacant and even though former champ Henry Cejudo won the title only recently, his ascension to the top of the class was quickly followed by his retirement.

That was undoubtedly a hammer blow to the UFC matchmakers and especially when the company is down on star power, as Conor McGregor goes through another retirement period and Khabib Nurmagomedov has tapped out to a travel ban.

With that said, the pairing of Yan and Aldo should provide fireworks and in the case of the latter, it will be a test to see if he can move up a weight class and follow the footsteps of previous fighters who have held the gold in multiple divisions.

If that is to be the case, Aldo is going to have to upset a whole slew of bookmakers, as Yan has been priced as the overwhelming favorite and with the 27-year old currently in the midst of a six-fight winning streak, you can understand why.

The planning of UFC 251 has certainly seen some hurdles and at times, it looked as if they would not be overcome. Thankfully though, we are now set for an evening of combat and what an evening it looks set to be.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 251 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the ESPN portion at 8 p.m. before the PPV main card start time on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 251: “Usman vs. Masvidal” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.