The UFC’s long-awaited “Fight Island” will finally see it’s first of four events on Saturday, including four championship bouts. The main event sees fan favourite Jorge Masvidal step in on six-days notice to fight Kamaru Usman for the UFC Welterweight Championship. Here’s a preview of the hectic and packed UFC 251 card from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Early Prelims (6:00PM EDT / 2:00AM GST) (UFC Fight Pass)
Bout 1: Martin Day (8-3) vs. Davey Grant (9-4) (Bantamweight)
Kicking off the 13-fight card is a bantamweight bout between Martin Day and Davey Grant. The fight will see Day attempt to get his first UFC win in his return. In 2018, Day lost his UFC debut to Liu Pingyuan. He has since had back luck getting another fight, with injury sidelining him twice in 2019. He faces Grant, who has two wins and three losses in the UFC. His last fight was a split decision victory over Grigorii Popov in November.
Bout 2: Vanessa Melo (10-7) vs. Karol Rosa (12-3) (Bantamweight)
In the second bout, Vanessa Melo will attempt to avoid her third-straight UFC loss, fighting Karol Rosa. Melo fought twice in 2019, losing to Irene Aldana and Tracy Cortez via decision. She looks for her first UFC win on Saturday. Rosa just got her first UFC win last year, debuting with a split decision win against Lara Procopio.
Melo weighed in at 141 pounds on Friday, missing the 136-pound limit for non-championship bantamweight bouts.
Bout 3: Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-3) vs. Raulian Paiva (19-3) (Flyweight)
Longtime Fight Nights Global competitor Zhalgas Zhumagulov will get his UFC debut on Saturday, fighting Raulian Paiva. Zhumagulov was the former Fight Nights Flyweight Champion, with his last fight being a five-round defence last October. Paiva is coming off of his first UFC win, stopping Mark De La Rosa in the second round of a fight in February.
Paiva missed weight for the flyweight bout, coming in at 129 pounds, three pounds over the limit.
Bout 4: Marcin Tybura (18-6) vs. Maxim Grishin (30-7-2) (Heavyweight)
In his 40th professional MMA fight, Maxim Grishin will make his UFC debut against Marcin Tybura. Grishin has won seven of his last 10 fights, with two of them draws as well. Grishin competed in the first two seasons of the Professional Fighters League, being taken out in the playoffs both years. Tybura won his last fight, defeating Sergey Spivak via decision. The fight snapped a two-fight losing streak he had before
Preliminary Card (8:00PM EDT / 4:00AM GST) (ESPN / TSN 5)
Bout 5: Leonardo Santos (17-3-1) vs. Roman Bogatov (10-0) (Lightweight)
Former M-1 Lightweight Champion Roman Bogatov will get his first taste of the UFC on Saturday, fighting Leonardo Santos. Bogatov won the M-1 belt in 2018, defending it twice before signing to the UFC. The Russian boasts an impressive undefeated record through 10 fights. Santos, while having a large break from MMA between 2016 and 2019, comes into this fight on an impressive five-fight winning streak in the UFC.
Bout 6: Makwan Amirkhani (15-4) vs. Danny Henry (12-3) (Featherweight)
Both coming off of a loss, featherweights Makwan Amirkhani and Danny Henry will look to rebound on Saturday. Amirkhani’s last fight came in November of 2019, being finished late in the third round against Shane Burgos. The fight was a close one that saw Burgos take over once cardio gave him the upper hand. Henry had his five-fight streak of wins snapped in March by Dan Ige, who caught him early in a fight with a rear naked choke.
Bout 7: Elizeu Zaleski (22-6) vs. Muslim Salikhov (16-2) (Welterweight)
Muslim Salikhov will look to build on his three-fight streak of wins on the prelims, although it won’t be easy when he faces Elizeu Zaleski. Salikhov has attained three wins in the UFC, with his most recent win being a decision against Laureano Staropoli. Zaleski won his last fight, defeating Alexey Kunchenko. He bounced back from his 2019 loss to Li Jingliang which ended his seven-fight winning streak before.
Bout 8: Volkan Oezdemir (17-4) vs. Jiri Prochakza (26-3-1) (Light Heavyweight)
Finishing off the prelims, light heavyweight Jiri Prochazka faces Volkan Oezdemir. In a testament to Prochazka’s skill level, the UFC debut for the Czech Republic fighter comes against Oezdemir, who is in the UFC.com light heavyweight rankings. Prochazka, a former RIZIN Light Heavyweight Champion comes into his first UFC fight on a 10-fight winning streak. His recent loss was a 2015 fight against King Mo, which he avenged in 2019.
In 2018, Oezdemir lost a UFC Light Heavyweight Championship bout against Daniel Cormier. Following that, Oezdemir lost to high-level 205-pound fighters Anthony Smith and Dominick Reyes. He snapped his losing streak in 2019 with wins over Ilir Latifi and Aleksandar Rakic.
Main Card (10:00PM EDT / 6:00AM GST) (PPV)
Bout 9: Paige VanZant (8-4) vs. Amanda Ribas (9-1) (Flyweight)
Kicking off the main card, flyweights Paige VanZant and Amanda Ribas will clash. A large portion of the focus in this fight has been on VanZant, who has been vocal about this being the last fight on her UFC contract. VanZant’s fight is a return after an extended layoff, having last fought in January of 2019 with a win over Rachael Ostovich.
Ribas made her UFC debut in 2019 and has been nothing short of successful since. With three wins in a row including her most recent, a win in March, Ribas is becoming one of the more notable rising flyweights.
Bout 10: Jessica Andrade (20-7) vs. Rose Namajunas (8-4) (Strawweight)
Before the championship fights, the main card sees a rematch of a fight that was for the UFC Strawweight Championship in its first time around. In a strawweight bout, Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas will battle. Their first meeting came in mid-2019, where Andrade won the strawweight belt off of Namajunas via slam finish. Andrade went on to lose the belt to Weili Zhang in August of 2019.
Bout 11: Petr Yan (14-1) vs. Jose Aldo (28-6) (Vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship)
The first of three championship fights on the card has Petr Yan and Jose Aldo fight for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship. The belt was previously held by Henry Cejudo, who vacated his belt after announcing his retirement at UFC 249.
Aldo, a longtime featherweight, moved to bantamweight last December when he fought Marlon Moraes. Despite losing a split decision, Aldo was lined up to fight Cejudo in May. Due to COVID-19, that matchup did not happen. Aldo has obtained UFC gold before, being the inaugural UFC Featherweight Champion from 2011 to 2015.
Yan has become one of the fastest rising fighters in the bantamweight division. Since debuting in the UFC in 2018, Yan has won six-straight fights. His most recent fight saw him defeat UFC veteran Urijah Faber.
Bout 12: Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) vs. Max Holloway (21-5) (UFC Featherweight Championship)
In the co-main event of the evening, Max Holloway has a chance to reclaim his UFC Featherweight Championship in a rematch versus Alexander Volkanovski. Volkanovski won the belt last December, defeating Holloway with a unanimous decision. The fight was the Australian’s eighth in the UFC, extending his undefeated streak in the promotion.
Holloway held the featherweight belt for a long period of time, defending it three times in his reign. Holloway suffered a loss in 2019 to Dustin Poirier after a failed attempt to become a lightweight champion as well.
Bout 13: Kamaru Usman (16-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-13) (UFC Welterweight Championship)
A week ago, the main event of UFC 251 was set to be Gilbert Burns versus Kamaru Usman. However, after Burns tested positive for COVID-19, the plan fell through. In an unexpected circumstance, Jorge Masvidal stepped in and took his place on short notice. So with that, a welterweight title fight remained on the card.
Usman’s championship run has been short but impressive. It started in early 2019, where Usman bested former longtime champion Tyron Woodley via unanimous decision. After that, Usman squashed rival Colby Covington, finishing him in the fifth round after a close striking matchup. He now looks for a win over the most prolific active welterweight in Masvidal.
Mainstream fame might no longer be a new feeling for Masvidal, although it’s not old either. The flying knee knockout that Masvidal earned last summer over Ben Askren made him one of the bigger non-champions in the UFC. He followed that win up with one over Nate Diaz, main eventing pay-per-view event UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, USA.
Being a veteran of the sport and someone who has had their well known moments, a win under the circumstances he is currently under would be a historic one.
EXTRA READING – Column: Jorge Masvidal’s Most Memorable (Or Forgettable) Moment
EXTRA LISTENING – Podcast: UFC 251 Preview by OverTheLineSports
In an unusually quick turnaround for the UFC, the promotion will hold a “Fight Night” event from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on July 15th. Headlining the card is a featherweight battle between Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige.