Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is gearing up for its heavily-anticipated debut of “Fight Island,” as UFC 251 will kick off what is set to be a jam-packed 14 days for the promotion on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Set to go down TONIGHT (Sat., July 11, 2020) on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV), the event will feature a Welterweight title fight as division champion, Kamaru Usman, defends his belt against Jorge Masvidal. Also, Alexander Volkanovski will defend his Featherweight belt against Max Holloway, while Petr Yan and Jose Aldo battle for the vacant Bantamweight strap.
“Fight Island” has finally descended upon us after months of teasing. And to be honest, some doubted that it was even real. Sure, everyone’s hopes and fantasized expectations will not be a reality, but that’s the genius of UFC’s marketing machine. Why, you ask? The promotion recently had an event on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, just nine months ago, which saw Khabib Nurmagomedov take out Dustin Poirier at UFC 242. And, aside from the title fight itself, where was the buzz, the hype, the unbearable anxiety to see Yas Island? It was non-existent.
Again, credit to UFC — not John Oliver — for knowing just how to market “Fight Island.” Imagine Dana White saying this to pump up the slate of fights this month:
“Guys, we’re going to stage four events in the month of July in Abu Dhabi to allow some of our international stars to compete until this COVID-19 mess clears up.”
“I am a day or two away from securing a private island. I have a private island that I have secured. I won’t be able to get all of the international fighters into the U.S., so I have a private island that I am going to start flying them into to do them there. We have all of our own planes and everything that are going to fly into the island and get the fighters.”
Much better, isn’t it?
The promotion has invested a lot of manpower, time and money to make the event a reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has altered normal, everyday life for the entire planet. One thing it hasn’t done, however, is stop UFC from putting on big fights.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal was the fight we were expecting to get all long. But after financial disagreements axed the bout, COVID-19 somehow managed to bring it back to life, ironically. With Gilbert Burns unfortunately contracting the virus, he was forced out, allowing “Gamebred” to step in, getting his money in the process. Masvidal had himself a stellar year in 2019, which has allowed him some leeway to make demands. If he can dethrone Usman, Masvidal can pretty much punch his own ticket moving forward.
But Usman is a proven champion who hasn’t tasted defeat in seven years, winner of 15 straights fights, undefeated inside the Octagon (11-0), with his last three wins coming against former champions. And not once has he looked like he was in any type of danger ... even when fighting at 30 percent. He is that good. Not only can “The Nigerian Nightmare” strike with the best of them, but his wrestling is what really gives people problems, much like I expect it to do to Masvidal. If it stays standing — and I have a feeling it will — it’s anybody’s game, as Jorge’s “three piece and soda” is always on point and can flatten foes in the blink of an eye.
Original Card Vs Actual Card:
The big change, obviously, was Masvidal getting the call up on six days notice to face Usman after Burns was forced out of the fight because of a positive COVID-19 test result. But long before that change-up, Frankie Edgar and Pedro Munhoz were set to face off on the undercard of this event, but were eventually moved to a Fight Night event later in the week, also on “Fight Island.” That bout, though, went up in smoke after Munhoz also tested positive for coronavirus.
Other than Burns coming down with COVID-19, there weren’t any injuries reported prior to the card. However, Alexander Romanov was also forced out of his fight against Marcin Tybura after he tested positive for COVID-19. He was replaced by Maxim Grishin.
The aforementioned Grishin got the call up to make his UFC debut against long-time veteran, Marcin Tybura, after Romanov was forced off the card. Grishin spent the last two years fighting under the Professional Fighters League (PFL) banner, and has won seven-straight fights if you exclude the two draws sandwiched between.
Winner of 10 straight, Jiri Prochazka will look to keep his streak going in his UFC debut against former Light Heavyweight title challenger, Volkan Oezdemir. Prochazka is as tough and durable as they come, and has wins against notable veterans such as C.B. Dolloway, Fabio Maldonado, Muhammed Lawal, and has won 20 of hist last 22 fights.
Roman Bogatav will look to stay undefeated (10-0) as he brings his talents to the Octagon to face Leonardo Santos in Lightweight action. Bogatav is a wrestling machine who can wear out an opponent, knock him out or tap him out. In short, the man knows how to finish, and more important, he knows how to win fights in various ways.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov will look to keep his momentum of four straight wins going when he heads into the Octagon for the first time to face Raulian Paiva. Zhalgas is no stranger to UFC-level competition, owning wins over Tyson Nam and Ali Bagautinov. Paiva, meanwhile, is looking to avoid suffering his third loss in his first four UFC fights.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
The undercard will feature a Light Heavyweight showdown as Volkan Oezdemir welcomes Jiri Prochazka to the Octagon. It seems so long ago that “No Time” competed for the division strap against Daniel Cormier, and was actually considered a threat to Jon Jones. But three straight losses took the air out of his hype balloon, which has slowly started to pump itself back up with two straight wins. Getting a third against Prochazka — winner of 10 straight, nine via knockout — will not be easy, though.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos will look for his second straight win in hopes of building his momentum back up after having his seven-fight win streak snapped by Li Jingliang last year. In his way is Muslim Salikhov, winner of three straight. Makwan Amirkhani will look to avoid the first losing streak of his career when he faces Danny Henry, who recently had his five-fight win streak snapped by rising Featherweight star, Dan Ige.
Plus, Leonardo Santos will look to finally emerge from the shadows in hopes of getting some respect put on his name by getting his eighth straight UFC win. The man has won 11 straight fights (with one draw), has a knockout win over Kevin Lee and hasn’t lost in a decade. And still most people (Dana White included) likely couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. This man deserves his shine and some PR love. Instead, he gets put on the undercard of a PPV event against an undefeated (10-0) Russian bulldozer making his UFC debut, Roman Bogatov.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
No one is really “struggling” coming into the event, but Paige VanZant needs a win badly here if she wants to get her money. I have absolutely no issue with any fighter asking for more cash, but you have to show me something first. Show me you can win the big fights, maybe win a title and prove you can be a force to be reckoned with. I am not discounting VanZant and her skills, but this sport is “what have you done for me lately.” And while injuries have plagued “12 Gauge,” the last couple of years haven’t really shown me — or UFC — a whole lot to prove a pay raise is in order. Because while you may have some sort of crossover appeal, the body of work in MMA still has to mean something if you want the big paydays the sport itself has to offer.
I like Paige, she has talent and was well on her way to becoming one of the faces of UFC a few years ago. But to do that and get pay increases, you still have to win, regardless of how much “it” factor you have. And VanZant hasn’t been doing a whole lot of that on a consistent basis. She is just 2-3 in the last five years and doesn’t really have that staple win on her resume to remind everyone of what she can do. If she can defeat rising star Amanda Ribas (preview), it will go a long way in helping her land a better deal with UFC — or someone else — moving forward.
Interest Level: 10 of 10
Though we’ve had a few sneak peaks here and there, we get to see with our own eyes what “Fight Island” is all about. Again, while it likely won’t meet everyone’s expectations, we might still be in store for something different. And yes, I am disappointed the fights aren’t going to be outside and right on the beach as initially advertised.
As far as the event itself, it’s pretty stacked, which could lead to some memorable showdowns and the crowning of new champions ... or former ones getting their belts back. Max Holloway will look to do just that when he takes on Alexander Volkanovski, the man who dethroned him in Dec. 2019. And as much talent as “Blessed” has, I just don’t see it happening. Volkanovski dominated their first encounter and barring a knockout or submission for Max, I expect the same Saturday night. Should that be the case, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Holloway decides to make a permanent jump up to Lightweight.
Aldo will look to add to his already-impressive mixed martial arts (MMA) legacy by collecting his second title in a different division, as he once again makes the drop down to 135 pounds in search of Bantamweight gold. And yes, he deserves to be there despite back-to-back defeats. But the 34-fight veteran will have a tough time trying to get through the immovable force from Russia, Petr Yan. “No Mercy” has been a man on a mission since first stepping foot inside the Octagon, winning six straight fights in his first two years with the promotion. And if you aren’t excited for this fight, you should be, as it could be a stand up war for the ages. Both men prefer to stand-and-bang, and both have proven to have dynamite in their hands. One is in search of his past glory days, while the other desperately wants to taste UFC gold for the first time, so we should be in a for a treat.
Also, two former women’s Strawweight champions, Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade, will look to make their case for another shot at the strap when they engage in a rematch a year in the making. In the first encounter, Namajunas was having her way with “Bate Estaca” in the striking department. But what looked like a long night for Andrade quickly shifted when she managed to catch Rose in a precarious position during a submission attempt. As a result, Andrade managed to slam Namajunas hard on the canvas, knocking her out cold, winning the title in the process (see it). Now, Jessica will get the chance to prove her win wasn’t a fluke, while Namajunas hopes to prove she is the better combatant of the two. The prize — if you dare call it that — will likely be a fight against division champion, and all-around monster, Weili Zhang.
VanZant made the bold decision to not sign a contract extension ahead of UFC 251, which will see her face Amanda Ribas in the last fight of her deal. Paige has repeatedly gone on record to remind everyone that her pay with UFC is a joke, and that she can make more money dancing with stars, promoting on Instagram, or just getting a normal, everyday job. And she’s said all that without never really trashing the promotion.
So her plan is to get a win to either get some leverage with UFC, or entice another promotion to pay her the big bucks she desires. And while a loss usually ruins all of that, VanZant doesn’t believe that is the case with her. That’s because she is relying on her “name” to take her to the next level.
Ribas, meanwhile, has been on a tear, winning nine of her first 10 professional fights, including all three of her UFC bouts. She even derailed the Mackenzie Dern hype train, defeating her via unanimous decision in Oct, 2019. The 26 year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist has proven that she is no pushover and can hang with the best of them. Getting a win over VanZant — which I wouldn’t exactly call a “big money” fight — will help raise her stock and rankings position, and get her closer to a title fight sooner, rather than later.
Enjoy the fights!
Full Fight Card:
UFC 251 PPV Main Event On ESPN+:
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal — (DETAILS)
UFC 251 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
135 lbs.: Jose Aldo vs. Petr Yan for vacant Bantamweight title
115 lbs.: Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
125 lbs.: Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
UFC 251 ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
205 lbs.: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka
170 lbs.: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov
145 lbs.: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry
155 lbs.: Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov
UFC 251 Early ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin
125 lbs.: Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
135 lbs.: Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
135 lbs.: Martin Day vs. Davey Grant
***Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to drastic change because of the various global quarantine restrictions.***
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 251 fight card this weekend 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.