Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) staged the UFC 251 ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) event last night (Sat., July 11, 2020) on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, the first of four events this month on “Fight Island.” The main event saw Welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, defend his 170-pound strap against Jorge Masvidal, dominating him for five rounds to earn a clear-cut unanimous decision win (see it again here). The co-main event saw Featherweight kingpin, Alexander Volkanovski, successfully defend his title against former champion, Max Holloway, in what proved to be a highly-controversial decision (highlights). Petr Yan, meanwhile, stopped Jose Aldo in the fifth round to become the new Bantamweight champion (video replay here).
Biggest Winner: Kamaru Usman
Usman just keeps on winning, earning his sixteenth straight victory to remain undefeated inside the Octagon (12-0) after dominating Masvidal from pillar to post. While I’m sure many will use Masvidal’s six-day notice as reason for his lack of output, that won’t discredit what “The Nigerian Nightmare” did. Coming into the bout, most already knew Usman’s best bet was to simply out-wrestle “Gamebred” and avoid a striking war. And he did that to perfection, taking down the Miami legend at-will and controlling him on the mat throughout most of their 25-minute contest. While Masvidal did show flashes of good takedown defense, “The Nigerian Nightmare’s” relentlessness ultimately proved superior. Once it was over, Usman looked like he could go another five rounds, as his gas tank proved to be another big weapon in the fight. With two title defenses under his belt, Usman should start getting the respect a true champion deserves, as his resume over his last five bouts is truly impressive, scoring wins over Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and now Masvidal. With bragging rights over “Gamebred” in his back pocket, don’t be too surprised if Usman’s the next man to hit UFC up for a pay raise.
Runner Up: Petr Yan
Yan once claimed that UFC wasn’t interested in having another Russian champion on its roster alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov. While I highly doubt that’s the case, it doesn’t matter much now as the promotion has two tough-as-nails Russians holding titles after “No Mercy” knocked out Jose Aldo in the fifth and final round to earn the vacant Bantamweight strap. It’s truly been a meteoric rise for Yan, who made his Octagon debut just two short years ago, winning all seven of his fights with the promotion to bring his win steak to 10. And the scary part about it is — at least for all the combatants competing at 135 pounds — Yan hasn’t really looked vulnerable during his stint with the promotion. Sure, Aldo tagged him a few times with some nice shots and body kicks, but Yan made the proper adjustments to eventually score a late finish over the MMA legend. But with the title around his waist now, Yan will have a huge target on his back, though I’m sure he welcomes the pressure and the challenges that come with being a UFC champ.
Honorable Mention: Jiri Prochazka
Upon first glance, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that Prochazka was making his Octagon debut last night, as the towering 27-year old looked like a long-time Octagon veteran against Volkan Oezdemir. Indeed, Prochazka was calm, cool and collected from the jump, tagging “No Time” at-will early on. And while he did show brief signs of being a bit reckless, his striking power proved to be on point, knocking out Oezdemir cold with a solid right hand, giving him his eleventh straight win. The performance also scored him a nice $50,000 post-fight bonus check. While it’s obviously too soon to start singing his praises on the highest note, Prochazka showed that the hype is real by taking out a former 205-pound title contender in impressive fashion in his first-ever UFC fight.
Biggest loser: Paige VanZant
VanZant decided to roll the dice and bet on herself, opting to not sign an extension with UFC going into her final fight against Amanda Ribas on “Fight Island” in hopes of securing the bag in free agency. It was a move that ultimately didn’t work out for “12 Gauge,” as she was submitted by Ribas midway through the first round (recap), never really getting the chance to pop off any offense. It’s a tough loss for the former “Dancing With The Stars” competitor because the defeat definitely cost her some leverage at the negotiating table. But VanZant didn’t seem to sweat that prior to the fight — she was confident that win lose or draw, her name value alone would be more than enough to score her a better contract with UFC (or with another promotion). It was a statement that struck me as odd seeing as how she is just 2-3 (now 2-4) in the last five years. And while the crossover appeal has proven to be there, wins in the sport are what matter if you want to score bigger and better paydays. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being confident in yourself, but I hope the thought of having enough name value to secure her future payday — regardless of the outcome of her final fight — didn’t somewhat cause her to overlook Ribas ... even the slightest. Regardless, her management team will now have to work a bit harder when it comes time to discussing a new deal with whatever promotion is offering one.
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