RESULTS | UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal – Aussie Volk ends the Blessed era
IF you forgot how tense the atmosphere during just one UFC title fight is, allow us to remind you of the feeling with three in one night. That was exactly what was delivered at UFC 251, as Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski retained their titles, while Petr Yan joined the club at bantamweight with his late stoppage of Jose Aldo.
In a night which saw plenty of octagon time chewed up, all three title bouts entered the championship rounds, with a further six going the distance over 15 minutes. A TKO and submission stoppage buoyed the main card, but performance of the night honours went to two fighters from the undercard, who boasted the only KO’s of the event.
We recap all the main card action from the UFC’s first venture out to ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi, including our immediate reactions and own scorecards.
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FOTN: Andrade vs. Namajunas
POTN: Jiri Prochazka, Davey Grant
Kamaru Usman [C] def. Jorge Masvidal  | Decision (unanimous) 50-45, 50-45, 49-46
Reaction: Street Jesus endures a Nigerian Nightmare.
If you didn’t like it, I don’t care. Kamaru Usman‘s list of five round dominations now includes the name of one Jorge Masvidal, who put in a valiant effort against the undisputed champ, but had little in the way of answers on just six days notice.
Usman simply did what was required to win against a dangerous, experienced, and hungry opponent, grinding out the five rounds with a wealth of clinch control and chain wrestling to blanket Gamebred’s offence.
While Usman seldom concedes rounds, he may well have done so in this fight as Masvidal came out aggressively, throwing quick boxing combinations and showing no fear for his opponent’s wrestling credentials with a bunch of body kicks.
The frenetic pace was only momentarily slowed by Usman as he caught a kick early and later leant on Masvidal against the fence, but the Cuban-American had made his intentions very clear in Round 1.
That was where Masvidal’s momentum stopped, as Usman got to work in wearing on his opponent’s ability to defend takedowns, adjusting his advances and staying active in the clinch with knees, foot stomps, body shots, and shoulder strikes.
Two accidental head clashes saw Masvidal cut open on his forehead and eye, but in living up to his moniker, the former street fighter waded through the pressure with a psychopathic smile.
While his expression wouldn’t give as much away, Masvidal seemed to be slowing as Usman continued to go to work. His takedown entries were beautifully timed and while Masvidal was often able to power his way out of initial trouble, he could not withstand the second, third, and fourth attempts.
It became clear that Usman would be successful in enforcing his will once again, moving right back into the clinch for Round 4, and later laying on some heavy ground-and-pound to finish the fight.
Masvidal looked dangerous on the break and in space throughout, but had most weapons in his arsenal thwarted by an irresistible adversary.
We had it: 49-46 Usman – a straightforward one, Masvidal takes the first but it was all Usman from there, on.
What’s next: There are few challengers who look like matching Usman at the moment. Nonetheless, Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards have earned their shots, while Colby Covington remains a worthy opponent for either man down the line.
Alexander Volkanovski [C] def. Max Holloway  | Decision (split) 48-47, 47-48, 48-47
Reaction: Vintage Max, but Volk belongs.
Not even a vintage Max Holloway performance could help the Blessed Express steamroll Alexander Volkanovski in their featherweight championship rematch, with the Australian retaining his title in a razor thin split decision nod.
Round 3 proved a pivot point for scoring, with Holloway winning out ever so slightly in significant strikes, but Volkanovski getting the points according to two judges.
The result spawned shades of the two-fight Holloway-Aldo rivalry, which saw the incoming champion forced to prove his initial victory was no fluke against one of the all-time greats.
Volkanovski did exactly as his predecessor had, ensuring Australia would still lay claim to a UFC champion despite facing heavy adversity.
The Hawaiian looked focussed and sharp from the off, utilising a more narrow stance and throwing his own leg kicks in response to those of Volkanovski. If you didn’t already know, Volkanovski used to be a 700-pound rugby player, but was again the clearly smaller man in terms of height, which Holloway used to his advantage in landing sweet uppercuts.
It seemed as if the Blessed Express was well en route to reclaiming the featherweight crown, with typically sharp striking seeing him drop the Australian twice across two decisive opening rounds – once with a head kick, and later with that aforementioned uppercut.
After the flip-of-a-coin third round, Volkanovski began to up the volume and get into range to inflict his desired style of fight. As was the case in the pair’s first meeting, Volkanovski’s leg kicks were beginning to take toll, and he added another element to the bout with grappling exchanges.
While Holloway managed to get back to his feet on almost every occasion, Volkanovski’s point scoring and octagon control saw him turn the tide in his favour.
The fight was poised at either 2-2, or 3-1 to Holloway depending on how you scored it, so Volkanovski was always going to be the aggressor in Round 5.
It proved a vital factor, as the remaining champion continued to up his output and land a big takedown late to clearly take out the final period.
Some thought the takedowns counted for too much, and that Holloway’s two knockdowns should have meant a hell of a lot more, but this fight was far from a robbery.
We had it: 48-47 Volkanovski – Round 3 was the key pivot point, we had Volkanovski edging it, and the final two periods. Holloway took 1 and 2 decisively.
What’s next: There are some killers at 145-pounds awaiting Volkanovski. Let’s see which of the top three (Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, and Chan Sung Jung) puts their hand up highest.
Petr Yan  def. Jose Aldo  | TKO (punches) 3:24 Rd 5
Reaction: Champion at 27? He might be there for a long time yet.
Petr Yan is the new, undisputed bantamweight champion after outlasting the legendary Jose Aldo across just over 23 minutes. The Russian boxing phenom simply got better as the fight wore on, eventually wilting his opponent in a brutal fight-ending sequence.
Aldo, the much more experienced man in terms of title fights looked sharp to begin with, matching the speed and power of Yan as the two stood toe-to-toe within boxing range.
The Brazilian’s trademark leg kicks and a slick jab proved his weapon of choice, while Yan’s right hand looked ominous across an evenly contested opening two rounds.
Some late ground-and-pound in Round 1 appeared to hurt Aldo, but he came out strongly after the fact to force the Russian into switching stances with those punishing kicks – one of which swept Yan off his feet.
After Round 3 returned another incredibly close period, the championship rounds were ironically where Yan began to take over.
The technical battle saw Aldo rip shots to the body and take no backwards steps, with either man responding to the other’s attacks instantly – racking up career bests for significant strikes landed.
But the pace is eventually what took toll on Aldo, as Yan continued to find his range with uppercuts, and inflict some hard ground-and-pound to send an ominous message heading into the final five minutes.
A big 1-2 stunned Aldo, with an advancing Yan sending him to the mat and hunting for the finish. Hard elbows and short, powerful punches looked to be breaking the Brazilian, who was in a terrible position and could only cover up.
In form reminiscent of Mario Yamasaki, the referee allowed Aldo to take a hell of an unnecessary beating as Yan poured on the unanswered shots, with the fight finally ended to hand the bantamweight boogeyman his deserved belt.
What’s next: Two words, Aljamain Sterling.
Rose Namajunas  def. Jessica Andrade  | Decision (split) 29-28, 28-29, 29-28
Reaction: THUG ROSE! ?THUG ROSE! ?THUG ROSE! ?
Thug Rose Namajunas exacted revenge on Jessica Andrade in what felt like a fourth title fight for the evening, edging out the Brazilian in yet another tight decision.
The former champion looked slick as the taller and longer woman, giving Andrade trouble with her intelligent distance management and footwork from the outset.
She had the credit in the bank across Rounds 1 and 2 on account of a greater volume of strikes and more effective offence, despite Andrade’s heavy hands threatening to again end the fight in a flash.
The Brazilian clearly took out Round 3, eventually catching up with Namajunas’ evasiveness to land cracking hooks and bloody up her nose. A hip toss late in the piece put Andrade on top as the American began to fade, but she hung in there for the win and even threw up some late submission attempts.
We had it: 29-28 Namajunas – a very close call, Namajunas pieced Andrade up on the feet to bank Rounds 1 and 2, but clearly gave up the third.
What’s next: For Rose, a title shot awaits.
Amanda Ribas [14 SW] def. Paige VanZant | Submission (armbar) 2:21 Rd 1
Reaction: So much for keeping away from the clinch. Ouft.
Amanda Ribas made quick work of Paige VanZant in their main card slot, submitting the fan favourite American within the first round.
The main story to come out of the result may unfortunately be VanZant’s lack of free agency leverage, having lost convincingly in what was the final fight on her UFC contract.
But the attention should be set firmly on Ribas, who put on a clinic in her one-off move up to flyweight to improve to 4-0 in the UFC, and 10-1 overall on the back of a five-fight win streak.
VanZant had made it clear she would look to stay away from Ribas’ clinch, but her attempts proved futile as the Brazilian popped some nice knees from that exact position, before landing a beautiful judo throw to bring the fight to the mat.
From there, she would step over as VanZant looked to slip out the back, snatching up an armbar and going bell-down to finish the job as the American tapped.
What’s next: Let’s get Ribas a top 10 opponent at strawweight, VanZant’s future is far less clear.
A mixed bag of preliminary card matchups saw two bouts finish early, and two go the distance as a couple of sleepers delivered on entertainment factor. UFC newcomer Jiri Prochazka headlined the finishes in his featured bout against former light heavyweight title challenger, Volkan Oezdemir, taking the seventh ranked fighter out in Round 2.
The fight promised not to go the distance and Prochazka ensured it wouldn’t, producing a clinical fight-ending sequence. The Czech native went low to high with his kick and wobbled Oezdemir, before hunting him down towards the fence and landing a massive right hand on the end of a jab to put ‘No Time’ out.
The newcomer’s mannerisms may take some getting used to, and his lack of a guard may be questionable to some, but there is no doubting his finishing ability with 24 KO/TKO victories across his 27 career wins.
In a bout which was also pitted as a potential barn-burner, Muslim Salikhov earned a tight split decision nod over Elizeu dos Santos at welterweight. In what was an incredibly technical battle fought almost exclusively on the feet, the ‘King of Kung Fu’ got the better of ‘Capoeira’ with his sharp counters, spinning kicks, and power punches.
Both corners believed their man was up 2-0 heading into the third round, and you could have flipped a coin for the result of this one. dos Santos had arguably the bigger moments as two nasty right hands seemed to wobble Salikhov, and even landed more strikes overall, but failed to claim the points.
The first submission of the night belonged to exciting Finnish prospect Makwan Amirkhani, who slept Danny Henry with his patented anaconda choke in the first round. The now 16-4 fighter out of SBG Ireland was methodical in his approach, downloading all the reads he needed before closing in with a flying knee, securing a takedown, and moving into submission territory.
The first and only venture to the mat saw Amirkhani almost immediately lock in an arm-in guillotine, before transitioning to that slick anaconda choke to yield the tap from Scotland’s Henry. He was all-class after the fact too, helping raise his unconscious opponent’s legs to bring him back.
The preliminary card curtain jerker made for one of the more frustrating 15-minute viewing experiences one could ask for, but Leonardo Santos would have no qualms about it having earned a unanimous decision victory.
His opponent, Roman Bogatov, went very close to having the bout stopped via DQ with two illegal groin shots and a knee to his grounded adversary. While the second groin shot looked to actually land on Santos’ midsection, the flagrant knee to his head while grounded saw Bogatov deducted two points.
Marc Goddard scolded him like a child and was rightly unhappy, although the deduction would have done little to change the final result as all three judges saw Santos winning two rounds to one.
Jiri Prochazka def. Volkan Oezdemir  | KO (punch) 0:49 Rd 2
Muslim Salikhov def. Elizeu dos Santos | Decision (split) 30-27, 28-29, 29-28
Makwan Amirkhani def. Danny Henry | Submission (anaconda choke) 3:15 Rd 1
Leonardo Santos def. Roman Bogatov | Decision (unanimous) 29-26, 29-26, 29-26
EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD
Marcin Tybura def. Alexander Romanov | Decision (unanimous)
Raulian Paiva  def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov | Decision (unanimous)
Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo | Decision (unanimous)
Davey Grant def. Martin Day | KO (punch) 2:38 Rd 3