Top-ranked Welterweight contender, Jorge Masvidal, steps up on just one week’s notice (full details) to face Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Kamaru Usman, this Saturday (July 11, 2020), headlining the promotion’s inaugural “Fight Island” event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
UFC 251’s ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) main card also features a rematch between Featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, and the man from whom he took the belt, Max Holloway, and a vacant Bantamweight title fight that pits the surging Petr Yan against the legendary Jose Aldo.
Before that, though, we’ve got a full suite of eight “Prelims” undercard bouts, half on ESPN+/Fight Pass and the remained on ESPN+/ESPN. Dust off that $4.99/mo. subscription and let’s see what’s in store:
265 lbs.: Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin
Marcin Tybura (18-6) emerged as a Heavyweight contender with consecutive victories over Viktor Pesta, Luis Henrique, and Andrei Arlovski, only to lose four of his next five. He managed to right the ship in February, taking a comfortable decision over Sergey Spivak in Norfolk.
“Tybur” is the taller man by one inch.
Maxim Grishin (30-7-2) has lost just once since 2011, amassing an 18-1-2 record and falling only to top prospect Magomed Ankalaev in that span. He’s recently cut his teeth in PFL, going 4-0-2 with a decision over UFC vet Jordan Johnson and a 48-second knockout of Mikhail Mokhnatkin.
He steps in for Alexander Romanov on a week’s notice.
It’s hard to think of a more dramatic opponent shift in recent memory than the one Tybura faces. Romanov is an absolute behemoth who specializes in power takedowns and top control, while Grishin is a natural Light Heavyweight who does his best work with adept kicks and a nasty right cross.
I still have “Tybur” winning, to be fair, but it’s definitely a dramatic left turn.
Though Grishin has some pop in his strikes and should enjoy a speed advantage, his arsenal doesn’t look sufficient to make up for the size disparity. The larger Tybura is a solid kickboxer in his own right and figures to test Grishin’s wrestling, which occasionally failed him against a natural Middleweight in Johnson. Tybura embarks on his first win streak in ages with a competitive decision win.
Prediction: Tybura via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Raulian Paiva (19-3) entered UFC on a 12-fight win streak, but stumbled out of the gate thanks to a narrow decision loss to Kai Kara-France and a gruesome cut stoppage against Rogerio Bontorin. He came up big with his back against the wall in February, though, flattening Mark De La Rosa with a right hand late in the second round.
He stands three inches taller than “Zhako” at 5’8.”
A five-round decision over Tyson Nam earned Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-3) a Fight Nights Global title shot against Team Nurmagomedov rep Tagir Ulanbekov, whom Zhumagulov narrowly edged by majority decision. Then came former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov, who likewise fell via close decision.
He has scored six professional wins by knockout and one via submission.
While I’m sure Zhumagulov will appreciate the chance to face a fellow striker after spending his last 50 minutes in the cage against suffocating wrestlers, Paiva looks poised to give him a rough welcome. The Kazakh oftentimes relies on explosive rushes to close the distance against rangier opposition, and that height difference looks like it’ll give him some issues, especially since Paiva is no stranger to the sort of high-octane firefight Zhumagulov prefers.
Paiva is also a fair bit crisper and tighter with his punches, which should allow him to exploit the openings Zhumagulov’s full-body swings leave behind. Zhumagulov could sway the judges with his output, constant leg attack and visually-appealing haymakers, but expect Paiva’s more telling blows to secure the decision.
Prediction: Paiva via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
Karol Rosa (12-3) — a training partner for former UFC Strawweight champion Jessica Andrade — made her UFC debut on the heels of two consecutive third-round finishes. She made the most of the opportunity against unbeaten Nova Uniao-trained product Lara Procopio, ultimately landing over 170 significant strikes en route to a unanimous decision win.
Half of her professioanl wins have come by stoppage, four of them (technical) knockouts.
Less than two months after defeating Strikeforce vet Jan Finney, Vanessa Melo (10-7) stepped up on short notice to face Irene Aldana, ultimately dropping a decision to the Mexican bruiser. She again stepped up against Tracy Cortez shortly thereafter and again fell short on the scorecards.
“Miss Simpatia” gives up 2.5 inches of reach to Rosa.
Rosa impressed me against the very capable Procopio, whom I expected to remain undefeated. She has an easier task ahead of her in Melo; though Melo has some striking chops and counters well, she’s terribly inaccurate. Both Aldana and Cortez nearly lapped her in significant strikes landed, and Rosa, who landed a mind-boggling 11.40 strikes per minute against Procopio, looks poised to overwhelm her in similar fashion.
To make matters worse for Melo, her lack of stopping power means she can’t make up the difference with eye-catching blows. And if anyone’s scoring a knockdown or at least visibly hurting her opponent, it’s Rosa. In the end, power and volume win the day in a 15-minute striking battle.
Prediction: Rosa via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Martin Day vs. Davey Grant
Martin Day (9-3) bounced back from his unsuccessful “Contender Series” bid with three consecutive victories, setting up a debut against Chinese prospect Pingyuan Liu. Though Day kept it close in hostile territory, he ultimately lost his second decision in five fights.
Injuries and coronavirus delays make this his first fight since Nov. 2018.
Two submission wins and a scale fail on the part of Anthony Gutierrez sent Davey Grant (9-4) to the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale, where he tapped to a Chris Holdsworth rear-naked choke. Various misfortunes have held him to just four appearances since that 2013 defeat, the most recent of which saw him edge out Grigorii Popov in Nov. 2019.
All eight of his submission wins have come by form of choke.
This is isn’t the closest fight on the undercard odds-wise, but it’s the one I’m most conflicted about. Day’s key weakness — the thing that cost him on “Contender Series” and against Liu — is his grappling. Grant’s six takedowns against Popov showed that he is not at all shy about exploiting a shaky ground game, and Day’s habit of leading with naked kicks leaves him vulnerable to having them caught.
At the same time, Day rather thoroughly shut down Liu’s takedowns — the dangerous ground situations came about when Liu pulled guard on a guillotine and when he dropped Day with strikes. Plus, Day can keep that acrobatic attack going all night long, while Grant was absolutely exhausted after three rounds with Popov. Ultimately, though, I’m going to go with my initial instinct and pick Grant because he’s a better wrestler than Liu and Day just leaves too many openings for takedowns.
Prediction: Grant via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 251 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including my most anticipated Octagon debut of 2020 and what could be absolute chaos at Welterweight. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 251 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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