The UFC kicks off a series of events on “Fight Island” in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, with the stacked UFC 251 pay-per-view going down this Saturday. It looked there would only be two title fights earlier in the week, but we are back to three title fights including a newly put together welterweight showdown between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal. There is also a featherweight title rematch between current champ Alexander Volkanovski and former champ Max Holloway, and an exciting clash between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight strap. Let’s take a closer look at all the fights in this action-packed card.
UFC 251 Prelim Card
The card kicks off as Davey Grant welcomes Martin Day back to the Octagon. Although Day suffered a split decision loss in his UFC debut all the way back in November 2018, he is favored against Davey Grant in their bantamweight matchup.
Karol Rosa is the favorite against Vanessa Melo in their Brazilian women’s bantamweight tilt. Rosa is on a three-fight winning streak and is coming off a split decision win in her UFC debut back in August.
Raulian Paiva earned his first UFC win with an impressive knockout over Mark De La Rosa in February. He should be confident in making it two when he faces promotional newcomer Zhaigas Zhumagulov in their flyweight matchup. They will have to wait for the vacant title fight in their division on the main card to see who to target down the road.
Marcin Tybura endured a tough run with four losses in five outings before returning to the win column against Sergey Spivak in February. The Polish heavyeweight will look to build even more momentum against 36-year-old Russian promotional newcomer Maxim Grishin in their heavyweight bout.
Leonardo Santos hasn't competed in over a year and although he is 40, he hasn't lost since 2009. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist faces a stern test in unbeaten 29-year-old Russian lightweight Roman Bogatov.
Makwan Amirkhani’s weight cut affected him in his last outing in a TKO defeat to Shane Burgos in November. “Mr. Finland” should have more than enough to defeat Danny Henry, who hasn’t competed since getting choked by Dan Ige in March last year.
Elizue Zaleski dos Santos meets Muslim Salikhov in a welteweight fight that could be a sleeper on the card. Despite winning eight of his last nine outings, Dos Santos is surprisingly a slight betting underdog against Salikhov who is on a three-fight winning streak. Both fighters like to end their fights early so expect a finish in this one.
In the prelim headliner, Volkan Oezdemir welcomes former RIZIN light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka to the UFC. Oezdemir is on a two-fight winning streak and looks toward a rise to the top again. “No Time” is the slight betting favorite but the fighter out of the Czech Republic carries enough power to end the fight early, too.
UFC 251 Main Card
Amanda Ribas (9-1) vs. Paige VanZant (8-4)
A women’s flyweight bout opens up the main card as Amanda Ribas looks to continue her impressive winning run against the fan favorite Paige VanZant. Ribas is currently on a four-fight winning streak and notably ended Mackenzie Dern's undefeated run.
VanZant, meanwhile, hasn’t competed since her win over Rachael Ostovich back in January 2019 due to a string of arm injuries and surgeries. Ribas is the heaviest betting favorite of the card, and meets PVZ as her contract with the UFC comes to an end.
Jessica Andrade (20-7) vs. Rose Namajunas (8-4)
It’s been over a year, but we will finally see the rematch between former women’s strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas. Namajunas hasn’t competed since losing her title in a knockout defeat to Andrade viscously slammed her on her head at UFC 237 in May last year.
Andrade lost her title in a first-round knockout defeat to Weili Zhang in August. Although Andrade earned the win over Namajunas, given how the latter was dominating their first fight until the slam, oddsmakers are going with “Thug” to get revenge this time around.
Petr Yan (14-1) vs. Jose Aldo (28-6) - Bantamweight title fight
Former training partners Petr Yan and Jose Aldo collide for the vacant bantamweight strap in a fight that could have very well headlined a pay-per-view on its own. Yan has been on a tear in the UFC with a 6-0 promotional record, having most recently knocked out legend Urijah Faber back in December at UFC 245.
On that same card, Aldo made his bantamweight debut and looked good against Marlon Moraes although he would lose a controversial split decision. Many, including UFC president Dana White, however, thought the Brazilian won and that was enough to merit a title shot. It’s certainly an intriguing fight but logic -- as well as the odds -- favor the younger and quicker Yan.
Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) vs. Max Holloway (21-5) - Featherweight title fight
Alexander Volkanovski will look to defend his featherweight title for the first time and make a statement when he faces Max Holloway in a rematch. Volkanovski earned the title after an impressive decision victory over “Blessed” back in December, and asked for the rematch.
This time, the Australian want to finish the fight early. Holloway says that his COVID-19 training included no sparring and coaching only through Zoom, so Volkanovski is probably the safe bet here, expecially after his effect attack against the Hawaiian in their first battle.
Kamaru Usman (16-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-13) - Welterweight title fight
The new UFC 251 headliner will see Kamaru Usman defend his welterweight title against bitter rival Jorge Masvidal who accepted the fight on just six days notice. It’s not the ideal circumstances Masvidal would have liked for his first title shot, but he has been training all this while and has already been preparing for Usman.
He also got the contract he really wanted after negations for this first bout fell apart and Gilbert Burns, who tested positive for the corona virus this week, stepped in as the original opponent.
That said, Usman is still unbeaten in the UFC and his wrestling will more than certainly prove to be a decisive factor against “Gamebred”. The former streetfighter wants to keep it on the feet in this one, and deliver another highlight KO as he did against both Darren Till and Ben Askren.
Usman is coming off wins over Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley. Masvidal, on the other hand, has been on a tear with wins over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz. While he is a considerable betting underdog against Usman, the man with the BMF title always has a shot to end the fight. Get ready for fireworks in this main event.
About Ryan O’Leary
Ryan O’Leary is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist and commentator. The Swedish-based writer is the founder and editor at MMAViking.com, which is the premier source for Nordic mixed martial arts news since 2008.