There was a lot of bad blood between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal heading into their UFC 251 clash at Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi. But the main event at the location dubbed "Fight Island" wasn't much of a fight as Usman controlled Masvidal with his wrestling and clinch work to retain the UFC welterweight title with a unanimous decision victory.
Masvidal took the fight on six days' notice and looked to utilize his vaunted striking to finally win UFC gold. Usman, however, had no plans to get sucked into a firefight and closed the distance by spending much of the fight putting Masvidal's back on the cage or the mat.
Masvidal got off to a quick start and snapped off combinations, but Usman waited for his moment, caught a leg kick and dragged the fight to the mat. This became the fight in a nutshell as Usman continuously pressed forward and suffocated his rival.
Masvidal showcased excellent defense off his back and impressive takedown defense. But the fact was that he was never in control and found himself trying to escape the champion's grip. Usman didn't just rely on his control, either; he also found spots to sink in body shots, shoulder strikes and foot stomps to keep Masvidal on the defensive and never let him get comfortable at any point.
As the rounds progressed, Masvidal found himself in a deeper hole that he couldn't fight his way out of. By the fourth round, he was exhausted and lacked the snap on his punches and kicks to keep Usman from closing the gap.
The final round was more of the same as Usman secured yet another takedown and used his top game to keep Masvidal down. The "BMF" champion finally made it to his feet with seconds left on the clock but it was too late. Usman retained with scores of 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46.
Alexander Volkanovski needed a second-half surge to narrowly escape with his UFC featherweight title as he beat Max Holloway via split decision in the co-main event.
This rematch was a tale of two fights. Holloway opened strong with pressure and high-volume striking. Volkanovski — who won a unanimous decision over Holloway in December — was fighting an opponent who was incensed and out to prove that the first fight was a fluke. Holloway never stopped coming and fired after every Volkanovski leg kick attempt.
The second half belonged to Volkanovski as he landed at a higher clip and secured several takedowns over the former champion. The leg kicks continued to pile on but didn’t necessarily slow down Holloway.
The third round is the one that will be talked about. The number of strikes landed were nearly even, but two judges saw the round for Volkanovski while a third gave it to Holloway.
The bout was a high-powered chess match between two great featherweights who landed hard strikes and never stopped throwing. It was certainly more difficult the second time around for Volkanovski, but he had his hand raised in victory again, this time with scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 47-48.
Petr Yan weathered an early storm of leg kicks and came on strong in the second half of the fight to stop Jose Aldo in the fifth round to claim the vacant UFC bantamweight championship.
Both fighters were tentative in the first round; Aldo fished for leg kicks while Yan sought to find his range. Yan hurt Aldo late in the round when he reversed a takedown attempt and landed a hard punch to the body that caused the Brazilian to fold up. Fortunately for Aldo, the round came to an end.
Aldo came on strong in the second and third rounds by cutting loose leg kicks and working the body with hooks to the ribs. But Yan sucked it up, noticed Aldo fading and cranked up the pressure in the fourth round.
What started slowly began rolling into an avalanche of punishment as Yan landed with alarming frequency and sent Aldo into retreat mode. By the time the fifth round began, it was clear that Aldo was running on fumes, and Yan took full advantage.
An uppercut sent the former featherweight champion to the canvas, and Yan followed him to the mat with a savage display of ground and pound. Referee Leon Roberts could have stopped the fight at any point during this brutal barrage that went unanswered, and he will certainly be criticized for allowing this fight to go as long as it did. He mercifully stopped it at 3:24 of the fifth, marking the start of a new era in the bantamweight division.
UFC 251 results, highlights
(All times ET)
Kamaru Usman suffocates Jorge Masvidal, retains title with unanimous decision
Result: This was the exact fight that Usman wanted. He controlled it with his wrestling and dominant clinch work. Masvidal had no answers for Usman's strength and control on the inside. Fortunately, Masvidal can walk away knowing that he was never hurt, and he has a built-in excuse of taking the fight on six days' notice. Nevertheless, it was a dominant performance by Usman to retain the title.
Round 5 (1:46 a.m.): Jab by Usman. Body shot lands. Masvidal counters and Usman takes him down off it. Masvidal getting stacked up by Usman and elbows are landing. Usman is in control. Masvidal trying to escape but Usman’s top control is too much. Usman nearly had full mount but Masvidal hip escaped. Masvidal trying to get to his feet but Usman has a grip on his neck. Masvidal finally gets to his feet but there are only 30 seconds left. Masvidal lands a left hand. Flying knee misses. They swing until the end. They shake hands and have some words. 10-9, Usman (49-46, Usman)
Round 4 (1:39 a.m.): Hard body kick by Usman lands and he shoots for a takedown. Masvidal stuffs and they are back in the clinch. Usman with another takedown. Masvidal gets up but Usman is stuck to him and working him with foot stomps, shoulder strikes and body punches. Masvidal fights his way out of the clinch with a flurry of strikes. Masvidal has a second wind. Masvidal lands some strikes and Usman lands a left hook. Another left hook and Masvidal shrugs it off with a smile. Back to the clinch. Masvidal looking for a way to get Usman off him and eats an elbow. 10-9, Usman (39-37, Usman)
Round 3 (1:33 a.m.): Masvidal smiles as Usman misses every strike on the inside. Usman clinches on the cage and goes back to digging to the body. Short left hand by Usman lands. They exchange. Usman shoots for a takedown but Masvidal fights him off. Impressive. Low blow by Usman halts the action. Masvidal taking his time as Usman glares at him. Action restarts and Usman ducks under a punch to take Masvidal down. Masvidal is up but Usman slams him down and is in side control. Masvidal attempts to pop up and Usman slips into Masvidal’s guard. Usman lands a few elbows as the round comes to a close. 10-9, Usman (29-28, Usman)
Round 2 (1:26 a.m.): Usman continues to look for takedowns but Masvidal is doing a great job fighting them off. Usman lands a hard combination on the break and goes right back to leaning on Masvidal. Usman digging body shots to Masvidal. Masvidal is smiling but he can’t get Usman off of him. He’s looking for an opening to explode but Usman isn’t giving it to him. Masvidal gets some distance and lands. Masvidal finally gets some separation and lands some strikes but Usman is stuck on him. 10-9, Usman (19-19)
Round 1 (1:21 a.m.): Masvidal starts off firing, and Usman catches a leg kick and takes him down. Bad news. Usman lands an elbow and Masvidal smiles. Masvidal kicks Usman off but Usman is right back on his neck. Masvidal finally escapes. Knee from Masvidal and a body shot by Usman. Usman works in a single leg. Masvidal staying upright for now. They clinch along the cage. Short elbow by Masvidal and one fired by Usman. Masvidal is cut. Masvidal with a combination. Masvidal much sharper with the strikes. 10-9, Masvidal
1:01 a.m.: It's time! Kamaru Usman defends his welterweight title against his arch-nemesis Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal fights for his first official UFC title on six days' notice. Can Usman turn back the challenge or will the "BMF" champion become an even bigger star?
Alexander Volkanovski retains title with a narrow split decision over Max Holloway
Result: It all came down to the third round. Holloway took the first two rounds while Volkanovski closed the fourth and fifth strong. Depending on how you look at it, it could have gone either way, but it went to Volkanovski with scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 47-48. Great fight and certainly not a robbery.
Round 5 (12:48 a.m.): Holloway opens with a combination and lands a head kick. Both are fighting with more urgency. Volkanovski lands a right hand off a takedown attempt. Holloway walks into a left hand. Leg kick from Volkanovski and a hard left hand. Volkanovski with a leg kick and a left hand. Holloway fires back and lands a right hand. Volkanovski scores a takedown and Holloway gets right back to his feet. Left hand by Volkanovski and a leg kick. Another combination. Holloway fights off a takedown attempt. Volkanovski cracks Holloway with another jab. They clinch along the cage and Volkanovski takes him down at the end of the fight. 10-9, Volkanovski (48-47, Volkanovski)
Round 4 (12:42 a.m.): Volkanovski opens the round with leg kicks and pops Holloway with the jab. Feels like Volkanovski is gaining momentum. Nice jab by Holloway after missing a flying knee. Nice uppercut from Holloway that backs Volkanovski up. Takedown by Volkanovski. Holloway pops back up and disengages. Volkanovski landing with more frequency and pops Holloway’s head back with a left hand. Holloway lands a right hand at the end of the round. 10-9, Volkanovski (38-38)
Round 3 (12:36 a.m.): Volkanovski working the hell out of those leg kicks. But Holloway isn’t taking a step back. Volkanovski lands to the body with a hook. Hard left hand by Volkanovski buzzes Holloway. Volkanovski shoots for a takedown but Holloway stuffs it. They clinch along the cage. Another hard left by Volkanovski lands. This is a good round for Volkanovski. Leg kick and a left hand by Volkanovski. Holloway not returning fire and following Volkanovski. Volkanovski continuing to stick the jab and leg kick. 10-9, Volkanovski (29-28, Holloway)
Round 2 (12:30 a.m): Volkanovski working the leg kicks to open the round. Holloway with a combination in return. Holloway looks good. Controlling the distance especially well. Not letting Volkanovski do anything without a response. Holloway drops Volkanovski with an uppercut to close the round. Another close round stolen by Holloway with a late knockdown. 10-9, Holloway (20-18, Holloway)
Round 1 (12:23 a.m.): Holloway applying pressure and Volkanovski backs him off with a right hand. Volkanovski working the leg kicks. Nice combination from Holloway. More leg kicks from Volkanovski. Left hand from Volkanovski. He’s chopping off Holloway's legs. Hard right hand from Holloway briefly stuns Volkanovski. Holloway mocks him. Volkanovski lands a right hand over the top. Head kick from Holloway briefly drops Alex. (10-9, Holloway)
12:10 a.m.: Alexander Volkanovski looks to defend his UFC featherweight title against the man he took it from, Max Holloway, in the co-main event. Both have a lot to prove. Holloway is on a two-fight skid after being widely recognized as the best UFC featherweight of all time during his torrid run in the division. Volkanovski aims to silence the naysayers who think he didn't win the first meeting. He's undefeated in the UFC and holds a win over the former champion.
Petr Yan stops Jose Aldo in fifth to claim vacant UFC bantamweight championship
Result: Aldo started off strong but faded fast beginning in the fourth round as Yan ramped up the activity. Aldo simply couldn't keep Yan off him and was too tired to fight back. In the fifth round, Yan stormed in, dropped Aldo with an uppercut, took top position and brutalized Aldo with some serious ground and pound. He's the new champion.
Round 5 (11:55 p.m.): Yan crushes Aldo, sends him down and keeps pounding on him. The end is near. Yan looking to mount and instead cracks Aldo with an elbow and more strikes. Aldo is looking to escape but Yan is beating him up. Yan continues to smash Aldo and gets Aldo’s back. He’s smashing Aldo. Hammerfists. More punishment. Elbows. A knee to the butt. He’s beating the brakes off Aldo. And, finally, it's over.
Round 4 (11:49 p.m.): Aldo lands a hard hook to the body and Yan comes roaring back with a combination of his own. Feels like Aldo is slowing down and getting a little careless on defense. Aldo has never been much of a five-round fighter. He’s always struggled after three. Let’s see if Yan takes advantage. Aldo is bleeding from the nose and Yan is cranking up the pressure. Lands a hard left hook and a body shot. Aldo retreats. Aldo might be in trouble. Yan is all over him and landing some hard strikes. Yan takes him down. Aldo breathing hard as Yan postures up and lands some heavy strikes. It ain’t gonna take much to get Aldo outta here. Yan is banging punches off Aldo’s head as the round comes to a close. 10-9, Yan (38-38)
Round 3 (11:43 p.m.): Gotta think that Yan has kind of let Aldo back into the fight. Aldo is ripping those body kicks. Five-round fight and Aldo is making deposits into the midsection that could pay off late. Aldo is landing some serious shots to the body. Yan needs to make him think twice about that. Yan turning up the heat but Aldo escaping a lot of those strikes. Aldo lands a body shot but Yan comes firing back with a combination. Might have stunned Aldo. The momentum is shifting again but Aldo may have squeezed that round out. 10-9, Aldo (29-28, Aldo)
Round 2 (11:36 p.m.): Aldo working the leg kicks finally and Yan seemingly is hurt by one of them. This is a good bounce-back round from Aldo because Yan hasn't done much of anything thus far. Big body kick by Aldo and the confidence is coming back. Aldo working the body well. Yan hasn't had much to offer. This is an Aldo round. Aldo, 10-9 (19-19)
Round 1 (11:30 p.m.): Both sides feeling each other out. Yan able to land a right hand while Aldo manages to get in a few leg kicks. Aldo attempts a takedown but Yan reverses position and ends up in Aldo's guard. Some ground and pound follows that hurts Aldo. He survives until the bell but he's damaged. Yan, 10-9
11:10 p.m.: The first of three title fights is up next as former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will face the surging Petr Yan for the vacant UFC bantamweight title. It's an interesting choice to have Aldo in there — he's 0-1 in the division and 2-4 in his last six fights. Yet, here he is taking on Yan, who is undefeated in the UFC and coming off a knockout of Urijah Faber.
Rose Namajunas escapes with split decision over Jessica Andrade
Result: Despite the third-round surge by Andrade, Namajunas did enough in the first couple of rounds to take the decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29). Namajunas' physical advantages were a lot for the shorter Andrade to overcome. Andrade shouldn't hang her head, however, because she looked excellent in the final round and inflicted significant damage on Namajunas. It's possible that these two will meet again.
11:02 p.m.: Namajunas continued to operate beautifully on the outside in the second but you could sense that Andrade was closing the distance. In the third, Andrade landed hard right hands and the damage was worn all over Namajunas' face. A relentless pace to close the fight as both swung for the fences. Looks like Namajunas should escape with the victory but Andrade surely closed the gap and could have used another round or two.
10:50 p.m.: The first round was a continuation of their first meeting as Namajunas demonstrated a significant advantage in striking. Using her height and reach advantage, Namajunas kept Andrade on the outside with a jab and swatted away her advances with straight right hands. Andrade is going to have to find an entry point or else it's going to be a long night.
10:36 p.m.: Up next is a rematch between former champions as former UFC strawweight champ Rose Namajunas looks to avenge a devastating knockout loss to fellow former champ Jessica Andrade. Namajunas was dominant early but a brutal slam by Andrade knocked "Thug Rose" out and crowned a new champion. Andrade dropped the title to Zhang Weili in her next fight. Now these two aim to get another crack at UFC gold.
Amanda Ribas swiftly submits Paige VanZant
10:23 p.m.: Ribas sent VanZant packing quickly with a one-sided victory. Ribas wasted little time taking VanZant down and transitioning into an armbar attempt before sinking it in deep. Not the way VanZant envisioned her final fight, with her UFC contract ending. Ribas is certainly one to watch in this division with her fourth straight victory in the UFC.
10 p.m.: It's time! Arguably one of the most stacked UFC PPVs in recent memory. Three title fights and a pair of former champions squaring off. My picks are: Usman, Volkanovski, Yan, Namajunas and Ribas. Let's see how it all plays out. Tonight kicks off with Paige VanZant facing Amanda Ribas in the final fight of her UFC contract.
9:50 p.m.: Jiří Procházka made sure there would be no concern about the prelims causing the start time for UFC 251's main card to be pushed back. He made his UFC debut a memorable one with a brutal second-round knockout of Volkan Oezdemir. Procházka was debuting against a former light heavyweight and finished him in devastating fashion. A head kick rattled Oezdemir and Procházka followed with a brutal right hand that cut the lights out. It also formally announced the arrival of a new threat at 205 pounds.
9 p.m.: Makwan Amirkhani deserves a bonus for moving this card along as he put Danny Henry to sleep in the first round with an anaconda choke. Thank goodness, because it's a race against the clock. One hour before the PPV and two fights to go.
8:48 p.m.: Well, things just got worse. Leonardo Santos and Roman Bogatov engaged in one of the most bizarre fights you will ever see. Santos nearly finished Bogatov in the second round with roughly 10 unanswered strikes; however, referee Marc Goddard allowed the fight to continue until Santos exhausted himself. From there, we had multiple fouls and low blows that stopped the action and caused a 15-minute fight to last nearly half an hour. Santos won, but we all lost watching that one.
8:16 p.m.: After we got started with a bang, the next three fights were more of a fizzle with a trio of decisions. The lowlight was Marcin Tybura's drab decision over Maxim Grishim. Hopefully, things pick up as the prelims get started with Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov in lightweight action.
6:45 p.m.: What a way to kick off "Fight Island!" Davey Grant and Martin Day were having themselves an entertaining scrap until Grant turned the lights out with a brutal left hook that put Day to sleep upon contact in the third round.
UFC 251 full fight card results
- Kamaru Usman def. Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision to retain UFC welterweight championship (50-45, 50-45, 49-46)
- Alexander Volkanovski def. Max Holloway via split decision to retain the UFC featherweight championship (48-47, 48-47, 47-48)
- Petr Yan def. José Aldo via 5th-round TKO for the vacant UFC bantamweight championship (3:24)
- Rose Namjunas def. Jessica Andrade via split decision (29-28 29-28, 28-29)
- Amanda Ribas def. Paige VanZant via 1st-round submission (2:21)
- Jiří Procházka def. Volkan Oezdemir via 2nd-round KO (:49)
- Muslim Salikhov def. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos via split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
- Makwan Amirkhani def. Danny Henry via 1st-round submission (3:15)
- Leonardo Santos def. Roman Bogatov via unimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26)
UFC Fight Pass prelims
- Marcin Tybura def. Maxim Grishim via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Raulian Paiva def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Karol Rosa def. Vanessa Melo via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
- Davey Grant def. Martin Day via 3rd-round KO (2:38)