Through five rounds, Kamaru Usman proved once again that his skill level is undeniable.
Usman does not have the sizzle or excitement of Jorge Masvidal, but he retained the Welterweight Championship in the main event of UFC 251 with an unrelenting, stifling approach. Usman forced Masvidal away from trading shots and instead pinned him against the cage, which led to a victory by unanimous decision.
Usman had over 10 minutes of clinch control time, while Masvidal had none. He also had five takedowns, which were five more than Masvidal, and he dominated both total strikes, 263 to 88, as well as significant strikes, 94-66.
Masvidal took the fight on six days' notice after Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw following a positive COVID-19 test, and he brought a tremendous amount of excitement to 251. But Usman curbed that enthusiasm with a performance that left no doubt as to why he is the reigning Welterweight champ.
The lone source of controversy took place in the Featherweight Championship bout when Alexander Volkanovski retained his title against Max Holloway by split decision. Holloway's adjustments from his previous loss to Volkanovski were on display early, particularly with a narrowed stance, and he controlled the action for the first three rounds. Volkanovski made his own adjustments for an edge in the final two rounds, which was enough to sway the judges. Holloway has now lost three of his past four fights, and this decision effectively removes him from title contention.
Although there were three title fights on the 251 card, only one new champion was crowned. Petr Yan obliterated José Aldo in the championship rounds of their fight for the vacant Bantamweight Championship, leading to a referee stoppage in the fifth round that took place at least 60 seconds too late. Yan was seeking a signature win for his fight portfolio, and he now has one after decimating Aldo in the final two rounds. His first title defense of the Bantamweight belt will likely take place before the end of the year against Aljamain Sterling.
Rose Namajunas returned to action and defeated Jéssica Andrade by split decision. Namajunas was last seen in the Octagon when she dropped the strawweight title to Andrade, but she controlled the rematch right up until the final round. Andrade landed a collection of clean shots, but could not attain the knockout finish needed to win the fight. Namajunas should now be first in line for a title shot against Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili, and there is certainly potential for a trilogy fight down the line against Andrade.
UFC 251 opened with its quickest bout, which saw Amanda Ribas force Paige VanZant to tap mid-way through the first round after she locked on an armbar. Ribas plans to return to the strawweight division, but she took this flyweight fight for the opportunity to beat an established name in VanZant. Her plan paid off, and this fight serves as a disappointing finish to VanZant's time in the UFC.
WELTERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: CHAMPION KAMARU USMAN VS. JORGE MASVIDAL -- 1:14 AM ET
The welterweight title is remaining around the waist of Kamaru Usman.
Usman (17-1) put on a wrestling clinic to earn a unanimous decision victory against Jorge Masvidal (35-14).
Masvidal came out swinging his leg kicks, but it did not take Usman long to catch him and take Masvidal down. Masvidal opened the fight with a very aggressive approach, looking to take Usman out of his comfort zone. Usman was a step too quick for Masvidal's knockout attempts, but the opening round belonged to the challenger.
Masvidal's takedown defense, stopping five of Usman's first six takedown attempts, has been critical. Usman was covered in blood by the end of the second round, but that was the result of accidental bumping of heads on two different occasions. Usman controlled the pace in the second round, cornering Masvidal and clinching him against the cage. The round shifted when the two fighters traded shots to end the round, which again played into Masvidal's favor.
The fight was briefly stopped in the third round for a borderline low blow from Usman. As soon as action resumed, Usman delivered back-to-back takedowns. The round ended with a couple more heavy shots from Usman. The fourth round started with Usman playing to his strength by going right back into the clinch. Usman hit some clean shots, but Masvidal's chin somehow withstood the blows.
Usman chipped away in the fifth round, using his strength to take down Masvidal and ground him. Masvidal got back to his feet with 40 seconds remaining but simply could not land the knockout shot.
FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: CHAMPION ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI VS. MAX HOLLOWAY -- 12:17 AM ET
The first controversy of the night has arrived, as Alexander Volkanovski retained his featherweight title by split decision against Max Holloway.
This marks a second straight victory for Volkanovski (22-1) against Holloway (21-6), as well as increases his win streak to 19 in a row.
Though Volkanovski was aggressive in the final two rounds, Holloway controlled the first three rounds, leaving plenty of room to question the judges' scorecards. Holloway has now dropped three of his past four fights, and the defeat removes him from the title picture.
Holloway gained the first edge by ending the opening round with a right kick to the back of Volkanovski's head, sending him to the mat, even if it was only brief. Holloway delivered another knockdown in the closing seconds of the second round, with Volkanovski clearly struggling to keep up with Holloway's versatile attack.
Unlike their first meeting, Volkanovski was not able to continually force Holloway to change stances due to his leg kicks. Holloway displayed a more narrow stance, clearly prepared for Volkanovski's lead left leg. Through three rounds, Holloway dictated the pace and had the advantage in strikes.
Volkanovski came out aggressive to open the fourth round, but he was unable to gain control of the fight. He had a takedown in the final two minutes, but Holloway immediately got back up on his feet. The fourth round was the first that Volkanovski definitively claimed, primarily due to his adjustments. Volkanovski secured a second takedown in the fifth round, but Holloway again quickly returned to his feet. His best takedown was his third, which occurred right before the end of the fight.
Holloway's trademark volume was on display in this fight, and Volkanovski struggled with the nonstop pressure. Volkanovski was fortunate that the judges scored the card in his favor, as this was a decision that appeared to belong to Holloway.
VACANT BANTAMWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: JOSE ALDO VS. PETR YAN -- 11:25 PM ET
Following a dominant performance, Petr Yan is the new undisputed UFC Bantamweight Champion.
Henry Cejudo vacated the bantamweight title in May, which led to the title fight pitting Yan against José Aldo. The two fighters traded shots over the first three rounds, but Yan (15-1) excelled in the championship rounds. He gained control in the fourth round, and simply obliterated Aldo (28-7) in the fifth round for over three full minutes until the referee finally stopped the fight.
In addition to his tenth straight win, the TKO victory finally puts UFC gold around Yan's waist and establishes him as one of the top fighters in the sport. This also likely marks the end of Aldo in the title picture, as he comes up short in his bid to add the bantamweight title to a collection that already includes two reigns with the featherweight belt.
Though the fight shifted in the fourth and fifth rounds, the first three rounds were competitive. Shots were traded in the opening round until Yan seized control in the final 30 seconds as he pounded a grounded Aldo with a flurry of shots from his feet, including a vicious body shot. But a new round gave Aldo new life, and he continued to attack low, regaining control with his leg kicks in round two and remaining competitive through 15 minutes.
Yan started to land at a more accurate rate in the fourth round. Up until that point, it was the most decisive round of the fight, with Yan landing heavy uppercuts whenever it appeared Aldo had a window for some offense. Yan started the fifth round in complete control, sending Aldo to the mat and hitting him with a nonstop array of shots for nearly three straight minutes.
The bantamweight division is loaded with talent, and Yan will have his hands full. His first title defense should be against Aljamain Sterling, which will be an extremely difficult test for the new champ.
WOMEN'S STRAWWEIGHT FIGHT: ROSE NAMAJUNAS VS. JESSICA ANDRADE -- 10:44 PM ET
Rose Namajunas defeated Jéssica Andrade by split decision.
This fight was competitive for all 15 minutes. Namajunas (9-4) had the edge in the first two rounds, which ultimately cost Andrade (20-8) the fight.
Andrade finally found an opening in the round third, busting Namajunas open and taking her to the mat. Namajunas did return quickly to her feet, but that was Andrade's best shot at a finish. Even though Andrade caught Namajunas a couple of times in the final five minutes to leave her with a black eye and a bloody face, she needed a finish to win the fight, which she was unable to secure.
Namajunas is now looking at a fight against Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili.
WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT FIGHT: AMANDA RIBAS VS. PAIGE VANZANT -- 10:20 PM ET
Paige VanZant wanted to avoid Amanda Ribas' armbar.
She did not escape.
Ribas (10-1) forced VanZant (8-5) to tap just over two minutes into the opening round after she tossed VanZant on her back and locked on the armbar. The future for Ribas is in the strawweight division, but she looked spectacular while making quick work of VanZant.
This is Ribas' fifth consecutive win, and she has also won all four of her fights in the UFC. She now has opportunities in both the flyweight and strawweight divisions, and she confirmed after the fight that her next fight will be back in the strawweight division.
As for VanZant, she was a massive underdog entering this fight and that was evident once she stepped into the Octagon. There are opportunities for her in Bellator, but her present run with UFC comes to a disappointing finish.
PREVIEW -- 9:35 PM ET
Throughout his 17-year career, Jorge Masvidal has never been looked at as among the sport's elite.
That all can change tonight.
Masvidal challenges Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman in the main event of UFC 251. This was originally scheduled to be Usman against teammate Gilbert Burns, but that fight was scrapped after Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Masvidal took the fight with only six days' notice, and he now has put himself in position to become one of the signature faces in all of MMA.
In addition to Masvidal-Usman, UFC 251 features three title fights. Max Holloway gets his chance to run it back with Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski. Holloway was overpowered in their first meeting last December, and a second loss to Volkanovski will place him in dead center in UFC purgatory, far removed from the title picture, a place no fighter wants to reside. The vacant bantamweight title will have a new home by the end of the night, as Petr Yan looks to add a defining win to his resume by defeating Jose Aldo. And though Aldo is in the twilight of his career, he’s had a dominant way of showing it. This fight feels like it could be a vintage Aldo performance, showing his uncanny footwork and speed to create a five-round, throwback masterpiece.
There are also title implications in the women's strawweight fight pitting Jessica Andrade against the returning Rose Namajunas. Andrade shocked Namajunas in the only meeting, winning the strawweight title, but the jury remains out as to whether that outcome was a fluke. Namajunas had dominated the fight up until she was dumped on her head. A victory tonight instantly re-establishes her as the cream of the crop in the division.
The opening fight is a women's flyweight contest, with Amanda Ribas looking to give a proper farewell to Paige VanZant in the final fight of her current UFC contract. VanZant seems destined to start a new chapter in Bellator, and a dominating performance by Ribas would go a long way in improving her stock.
UFC 251 offers a loaded fight card, and now is the time to see if the action meets the hype.