UFC 251 recap
Photo Credit: Fox Sports

UFC 251 Fight Island Recap

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Well, it’s in the books folks. UFC 251 Fight Island was a success and now we have some answers as well as questions after the bouts.

 

The night’s main event saw champion Kamaru Usman (17-1) successfully defend his title for the second time as he defeated Jorge Masvidal (35-14) via unanimous decision. The highly anticipated bout between the two rivals didn’t give us the all-out war for which many were hoping. Still, it did show us once again that it’s not going to be easy to unseat the current champion of the welterweight division.

 

UFC 251 ReCap
Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In the game of combat sports, with such high stakes, it is better too often play to your strengths to ensure victory. Yes, the highlight knockouts or devastating submissions will always be fun to watch, but there is something to be said about one who can develop a game plan and execute it through five full rounds of fighting.

It’s a game of chess, not checkers, and this was on full display by the champion. The striking advantage was in favor of the challenger Masvidal. Instead of a standup battle, Usman decided to rely on his roots of wrestling to control the pace of the fight and win rounds convincingly.

 

Just after the opening bell, Usman was able to secure a takedown and apply some ground and pound. Despite his efforts of getting back to his feet, Masvidal would be held against the cage in the clinch while Usman dished out ruthless body shots.

There were moments in the bout where the challenger looked to get some distance and could unload some combinations. But the constant pressure and clinch work of Usman didn’t leave many opportunities to land anything with substance.

Through this bout, we were able to see why the champion hasn’t lost a fight since 2013 and has now tied a division record with 12 straight wins matching Hall of Famer and one of the all-time greats George St. Pierre. Credit has to be given to both fighters, including Masvidal, who stepped in on six days notice, cut 20lbs through the week, and was tasked to face one of the toughest and most consistent fighters on the UFC roster. A tall task for anyone, but Gamebred makes no excuses. After the bout, he told Usman he’d like to run it back after he gets a couple wins under his belt.

 

In the night’s co-main event, we were treated to five more rounds of action as Alexander Volkanovski (21-10) once again edge out Max Holloway (22-6) to retain the Featherweight title.

 

These two have battled for ten rounds now, and we want more from them. A clash of two warriors who have shown that they have what it takes to bring their A-game on the big stage. While in the early portions of the match, the former champ looked to be in control, even landing two knockdowns, one from a head kick, and the other a short uppercut.

 

UFC 251 ReCap
Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

The champion showed heart and determination by making proper adjustments and making his comeback in the later rounds. While leg kicks have been a key for Volkanovski given Max likes to stand heavy on his front leg, the Hawaiian seemed to make some adjustments to avoid some early on attempts. He was pushing forward, throwing front kicks and leading with a jab, keeping the champion wheeling and often unable to find his rhythm. But once the kicks started to land, Holloway would slow, and Volkanovski would get to his style of in and out combinations.

It was a razor-thin decision, and while the promotion doesn’t usually do trilogy bouts when one fighter is up 2-0, it’s easy to see why a third fight between these two down the road wouldn’t be a hard sell for the fans.

 

The third title fight of the night saw a new Bantamweight champion crown as Petr Yan (15-1) stopped Jose Aldo (28-7) in the fifth round.

 

Two heavy hitters were looking to sit atop the division vacated by former champ Henry Cejudo after his retirement. These two would square off and exchange heavy punches for the better part of the match. Both would land big shots at the end of the first, and Yan would land a body shot to Aldo while he was on the floor that seemed to hurt the former featherweight champion and almost ended the fight, but the bell rang, and Aldo was saved.

 

UFC 251 ReCap
Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

Heavy right hands would come flying from both as Aldo would seem content on going to the body while Yan was headhunting. It wasn’t until one of the rare grappling exchanges that Yan was able to get control of Aldo and apply ground and pound for over two mins before the ref stepped in and called the fight. A good showing by both, and now with a new king in the division, the rest of the challengers have a new target in Yan.

Also on the card, we saw a Fight of the Night performance by two former champions in Rose Namajunas (9-4) winning a split decision over Jessica Andrade (20-8) in a three-round war. These two Strawweights showed that while they have different styles, they can both bring that pain. A clash of speed and technique vs. strength and power, as the saying goes, styles make fights. A back and forth affair from start to finish, both women showed they would be a top contender in the division for the foreseeable future. And we also had Amanda Ribas (10-1) get a first-round armbar submission win over Paige VanZant (8-5).

 

 

All in all a good night of fights, a great showcasing by the champions to retain their titles, coupled with a great accomplishment for a new titleholder. While in defeat, all challengers showed that they are still amongst the top names within their respective divisions, it just wasn’t their night.

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-Kalani Lua – Franchise Sports Media

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