The UFC is back in action, as they finally debut “Fight Island” live from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The card is absolutely stacked from top to bottom, ultimately featuring three title bouts. The first of which is for the Vacant Bantamweight Championship, with surging Peter Yan facing the legend Jose Aldo. Next is a rematch for the Featherweight Championship between newly minted Champion Alex Volkanovski against former Champion Max Holloway. The last, is the headliner which is for the Welterweight Championship. Champion Kamari Usman looks to successfully defend his belt for the second time, as UFC star Jorge Masvidal looks to crown off a phenomenal run with a UFC Championship. This is going to be an insane card, so tune in!
UFC 251 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal – This is going to be an excellent fight. Usman is the total package. I’ve been on his abilities and the belief that he had championship material written all over him. His wrestling is a problem for any fighter, and has showed since the beginning of his UFC tenure to now. However, the one vast improvement to his game, is his striking. In Usman’s last three fights, he has landed over 450 strikes. That’s just an insane output and work rate. With excellent cardio, durability and heavy hands, Usman is literally a nightmare to fight.
As for Masvidal, the Cuban, one-time street fighter has risen from a top fifteen fighter to a complete UFC megastar in just three fights. It started with an upset knockout victory over Darren Till. Then out of no where came a five-second flying knee knockout over the undefeated Ben Askren, which vaulted Masvidal into a massive fight. A BMF Championship fight against Nate Diaz, in which he was decisively was winning until ultimately getting a TKO victory due to the cuts. Masvidal is a very well rounded fighter, who is a striker at heart. His wrestling and ground game are highly underrated too. Cardio and durability isn’t an issue either. The only problem’s in the past for Masvidal were takedown defense and the lack of output in certain rounds aka Coasting. However, since the beginning of this win streak, he’s a whole new fighter.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Masvidal. Usman is the complete package and very well might just rag doll Masvidal. I however, foresee Masvidal putting up a fight in the wrestling department and scrambling back up whenever he is taken down. I also expect a high pace in this fight similar to that of Usman vs. Colby Covington. Unlike Covington, Masvidal has power on the feet. I think if Usman stands and bangs with Masvidal, he’s going to abort at a certain point when he feels the power. Over the course of this fight, I actually favor Masvidal. He’s just a dog and will make Usman work for everything he gets. In the end, I believe Masvidal lands a crushing blow in the fifth round to a tired Usman. So with that, I have Masvidal capturing gold, winning via knockout.
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway – Given how the first fight went, I can see it being hard to side with the challenger Holloway. I mean, Volkanovski absolutely stunted Holloway’s striking. The abundance of leg kicks Volkanovski threw early and often, was smart and allowed him to rack up points every round. While it appeared Holloway got the better of Volkanovski the later the fight went, it wasn’t a whitewash by any means. Volkanovski has solid cardio and just an excellent skill set. He’s a handful for any Featherweight, and lacks weaknesses.
However, I’m siding with Holloway. I believe that every round is going to be close and I recognize Volkanovski’s ability to rack up points with leg kicks. I just have a feeling that Holloway is going to put on more pressure, a higher pace and more output then he did in the first fight. I also believe that Holloway is going to bring it early and not stand there for Volkanovski to chip away at him. In the end, I have Holloway edging it out via decision.
135 lbs.: Jose Aldo vs. Petr Yan for vacant Bantamweight title – The first of the three title fights features the streaking contender Yan, taking on the legend Jose Aldo. Yan is a perfect 7-0 in the UFC, with a nasty KO over Urijah Faber vaulting him into this bout. Yan features potent striking that is highlighted by volume, excellent footwork and a heavy pace. He’s got pretty good wrestling and excellent takedown defense too. As for
Aldo, the former Featherweight king has opened a new chapter in the Bantamweight division. Despite dropping his first fight in the division to Marlon Moraes via decision, the consensus though he did enough to win. Aldo features excellent striking, with heavy hands and his arsenal used to be more deadly when he threw his patented leg kicks. His head movement is excellent, as is his nearly impeccable takedown defense. The concerns for Aldo has always been cardio, and now 10 pounds lighter ignites that concern even more so. Given we only have one fight to sample Aldo’s cardio, it’s hard to say. I mean, he came out like a banshee and showed a second wind in that third round of the Moraes fight. Could he do that for two more rounds?
As for a prediction, I’m going against the grain and picking Aldo. Obviously Aldo is removed from his prime and the concerns over cardio in this new weight class are a red flag. The abandonment of leg kicks is problematic too. However, Yan has yet to face anyone who is the caliber of Aldo on the feet. Yan’s lack of of power gives me pause in thinking he can knockout Aldo. The overwhelming output could put Aldo down the later this fight goes, but I’m thinking it ends early. And with Aldo’s power being the difference maker. So with that, I have the King of Rio turning back the clock and becoming a two division champion, winning via knockout.
115 lbs.: Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas – The difficultly in picking this fight is if Andrade decides to grapple instead of strike here. Andrade’s strength advantage was evident in the first fight and will be evident here should she implement it heavily. However, Namajunas seems to have a fire lit in her and there is no better way to get back on the horse than avenge the opponent who took your title away. Namajunas is the better striker. She’s precise and has sneaky power. Her output is higher too. She’s also an excellent grappler and her guard is not a place to be in, especially with her long legs. With that in mind, Namajunas outpoints Andrade on the feet and even if this hits the mat, Namajunas can potentially submit her. So with that, I have Namajunas winning via submission.
125 lbs.: Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant – I just don’t see VanZant winning this. She’s tough and durable, but Ribas has all the tools to be a title contender. She’s throws heavy hands, has solid gas tank, great striking defense, mixes in wrestling well and has solid takedown defense. This is going to be a runaway and dominant decision victory for Ribas.
UFC 251 ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
205 lbs.: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka – This is going to be fireworks! If you don’t know Prochazka, please tune in. Since October of 2013, Prochazka is 20-1-1. He’s finished all 20 of those fights, with 17 of them coming in the first round. The man is a striker, a creative one whom utilizes the flying knee more than any fighter I’ve seen. His power is evident and he’s fought some experienced foes heading into this debut. As for the former Light Heavyweight Title Challenger Oezdemir, a two fight win streak heading into this bout has him right back into title talks. “No Time” features heavy hands and for the most part, stout takedown defense. His problem lies in cardio. The later the fight goes, the more likely you’ll see a visibly slower and tired Oezdemir.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Prochazka. I believe his full arsenal of striking is going to give Oezdemir fits. The later this fight goes, the more likely I see Prochazka winning it. So with that, I’ll say Prochazka gets it done via TKO.
170 lbs.: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov – This is a fun fight and enters Fight of the Night territory. dos Santos offers dynamic striking, with a nice mix of wrestling. He’s got legit power, good cardio and can put on a hard pace. Salikhov too is a dynamic striker, whom isn’t afraid of throwing highlight reel strikes. He’s an excellent counter-striker, with legit power to boot. The one weakness, is his takedown defense. If Salikhov can shore that up, especially given his durability, he’s got top five potential in a strong Welterweight division.
As for a prediction, I’ve got Salikhov. I realize dos Santos could floor him and his BJJ is excellent. I just feel, the power of Salikhov is going to turn this fight in his favor. So with that, I have Salikhov winning via knockout.
145 lbs.: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry – This fight goes either two ways. Amirkhani asserts his grappling and strength advantage to get this to the ground several times against Henry. Maybe a submission victory or on the heels of two rounds Amirkhani wins this. Or, Amirkhani and his suspect gas tank is on display yet again, as a feisty and durable Henry weathers the early storm and puts it on Amirkhani in the latter part of the fight. This could result in a draw or a late finish. As for my prediction, I’m going with Mr. Finland. I’d have to believe that he’s doing everything in his power to improve his cardio. His wrestling is strong and I expect him to win on the heels on that via decision.
155 lbs.: Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov – Santos might one of the more forgotten fighters, due to his lengthy inactivity. With an undefeated UFC record, which includes knockouts over Kevin Lee and Stevie Ray, the 40 year is ever so slightly climbing the rankings. This fight though, seems tailor-made for Santos. Bogatov from what. I’ve seen, heavily relies on his takedowns. That won’t fly against a BJJ black belt of Santos caliber. Throw in the vast improvements in Santos striking and I don’t expect Bogatov to have a welcoming debut to the octagon. So with that, I have Santos winning via submission.
UFC 251 Early ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin – I want to pick Grishin so bad here, as he’s been on a tear on the regional scene. For a guy who started his MMA career 7-5, to go 23-2-2 after that is just spectacular. However, nearly all of those wins have come at Light Heavyweight. At Heavyweight is where Grishin has struggled the most in his career, with 6 of his 7 losses coming in the division. While Tybura has been awful of late and his chin has been suspect, the distinct weight advantage and the short notice of this fight for Grishin leads me to side with Tybura. Don’t be surprised if Grishin lands an early knockout, as he’s got legit power. However, I foresee Tybura using the bigger cage to avoid striking and bullying Grishin on the cage, while working in dirty boxing and takedowns. In the end, I see Tybura getting the decision nod.
125 lbs.: Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov – This is a really fun fight and perhaps a front runner for Fight of the Night. Paiva, while only 1-2 in the UFC, is a powerful striker. In a division which lacks power, Paiva certainly doesn’t. An iron chin, good cardio, good takedown defense and scrambling abilities round out Paiva’s skills. Zhumagulov is well rounded, but a striker with high output, excellent cardio and a suffocating pace. Often in his fights, Zhumagulov easily outstrikes his opponents, but the fight is often closer due to the constant harassment of takedown attempts he endures. While his takedown defense can be cracked, he scrambles well. In this fight though, I don’t expect anything but a standup battle.
As for a prediction, I’ve got the newcomer Zhumagulov sneaking this out. While Paiva can clearly take a punch and has heavy hands, it’s Zhumagulov high output that is going to win over the judges. So with that, I have Zhumagulov winning via decision.
135 lbs.: Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo – For someone like Melo, who is 0-2 in the UFC, one of thought a favorable or winnable matchup would be in store. That’s a negative on that front. Melo has been the punching bag in both her fights and now fights Rosa, whom landed 171 strikes in her debut victory. Break out the frozen peas, cause Rosa is gonna land at will on Melo en route to a dominant decision victory.
135 lbs.: Martin Day vs. Davey Grant – Obviously when talking about octagon time missed, these two guys fit that conversation. As for that fight, I believe Grant, while flawed, has a distinctive wrestling and grappling advantage that should negate Grant’s striking edge. In the end, a dose of takedowns and top control lead Grant to a decision victory.