On paper, UFC 251 might just be the best mixed martial arts card so far in the bizarre year that is 2020.
It’s a rare triple title fight event topped by a grudge match between reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and BMF titleholder Jorge Masvidal that has fight fans salivating. The men’s featherweight and bantamweight belts are also on the line, but beyond that it’s a deep lineup – a worthy offering for the first of four Fight Island events scheduled for July.
Even if you removed the three featured title fights and instead promoted the remaining bouts as a Fight Night card, it would be well worth your time.
The main card offers a pair of exciting women’s fights and the preliminary card is stacked with talent, including an anticipated light-heavyweight tilt featuring a top prospect on a dominant 10-fight winning streak.
Before we settle in for a trio of five-rounders we’ll see a championship rematch between former strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas.
Andrade knocked Namajunas out with a slam when they fought at UFC 237 last May. Namajunas held onto a standing Kimura too long and Andrade used her tremendous strength to lift “Thug Rose” in the air and slam her onto her head, rendering her unconscious. Prior to that moment, Namajunas had been dominating the fight.
Namajunas hasn’t competed since that loss, the first via knockout in her career. Meanwhile, Andrade wasn’t able to defend the title as she was stopped by current champ Weili Zhang in August in only 42 seconds.
Andrade and Namajunas are ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 contenders, respectively, at 115 pounds so there are title implications for whoever emerges victorious – particularly if Namajunas can avenge her loss.
Namajunas holds two wins over fellow former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who lost a split decision to Zhang in an instant classic at UFC 248. A Zhang-Namajunas encounter could generate a lot of hype. A rematch between Zhang and Andrade might not be what fans want if Andrade wins, considering how that first fight went.
Tatiana Suarez and Yan Xiaonan are a couple other strawweight names to keep an eye on.
Opening the pay-per-view portion of the card is a women’s flyweight bout between Amanda Ribas and Paige VanZant. They were scheduled to meet in march but VanZant had to withdraw due to an arm injury that has plagued her often throughout her MMA career.
VanZant has fought just twice since 2016 and she is often underestimated because of her star power. Between that and the fact Ribas is 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Mackenzie Dern and Canadian Randa Markos, it’s no surprise Ribas is heavily favoured to beat the former Dancing With The Stars contestant.
VanZant has been somewhat openly critical of the UFC’s pay structure lately. This is the final fight on her current contract, so a win could mean a lucrative new deal, where a loss could potentially spell the end of her UFC tenure.
— UFC News (@UFCNews) July 8, 2020
In the featured preliminary bout, knockout artist Volkan Oezdemir welcomes highly-touted prospect Jiri Prochazka to the UFC.
Prochazka has finished nine of his past 10 opponents by knockout or TKO, including UFC veterans C.B. Dollaway, Fabio Maldonado and former Strikeforce champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.
The 205-pound division is always starving for new contenders so whenever someone like Prochazka steps into the Octagon for the first time it seems to generate a little extra buzz. Still, Oezdemir has faced the much stronger competition throughout his career and is the betting favourite.
Oezdemir is ranked No. 7 in the division, which tells you how highly the UFC matchmakers think of Prochazka. Debuting fighters don’t often get ranked opponents their first time out unless it’s on short notice.
Prochazka has been among the more regarded fighters outside the UFC for a couple years but a win over Oezdemir would put him onto the map with an exclamation point.
Fight Island was partly a means to accommodate international fighters who’ve had a difficult time entering the United States during the coronavirus pandemic for events at the UFC APEX, so the prelims are full of fighters from all over the world.
Here’s a look at the full UFC 251 lineup.
— Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal (for welterweight title)
— Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway (for featherweight title)
— Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo (for vacant bantamweight title)
— Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
— Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
— Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka
— Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov
— Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry
— Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov
— Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishan
— Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
— Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
— Martin Day vs. Davey Grant