When Gilbert Burns was forced out of his welterweight title fight against champion Kamaru Usman due to a positive COVID-19 test, many lost hope as it relates to UFC 251. But, Dana White and the UFC weren’t going to let the company’s first event on Fight Island go off without a bang.
Enter Jorge Masvidal, who decided to step in on less than a week’s notice to fight Usman, a bitter rival, in the main event on July 11.
Fight fans went into a frenzy when the fight was made official on the UFC’s social channels at midnight on July 6, a year to the day of Masvidal’s incredible, record-setting knockout of Ben Askren at UFC 239.
But, during this whole process, those reporting the developments throughout the two fighters’ negotiations have been very careful about making sure prospective UFC 251 viewers don’t get too excited ahead of Saturday’s event.
Why’s that? Because there are numerous obstacles that Usman, Masvidal and the UFC itself have to clear before the two welterweight stars step inside the Octagon for a big-time title fight.
Luckily for the UFC, the company has already been able to jump over a few hurdles over the span of the weekend alone. They got through negotiations with both Usman and Masvidal without a hitch, so the money is set. They got through the official signing of the bout agreement, so the fight itself is “set.”
Then, the special circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in. Masvidal and Usman did, and will, have to go through extensive testing before they could even fly out for UFC 251.
They got through the first test on Sunday, clearing them for takeoff on Monday en route to Abu Dhabi, the home of Fight Island. Then, as ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was quick to point out, they’ll have to take another COVID-19 test at the hotel once they land in Abu Dhabi, and quarantine at the building until they get their official results, and pass.
Before they step on the scales on Friday for weigh-ins, they’ll have one more COVID-19 test, their third of the week. If they pass those tests, Friday will serve as the pivotal day before things really get interesting.
On Friday, Masvidal will have to make championship weight, 170 pounds, on just a week’s notice after flying from Miami to Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi, all before his first title shot of his career. Meanwhile, Usman will have to make weight himself, which shouldn’t be a problem after a full camp ahead of his initial fight against Burns.
Once the weigh-in is finished, they’ll be subject to another COVID-19 test, the final of the week. If they pass that, everything is set, and fans can officially lose their minds as the build-up for UFC 251 heightens.
It’s a long process, and one with many more circumstances at play than a usual fight week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the UFC, Usman and Masvidal are already through some of the tougher logistical challenges, and fans will just have to sit on the edges of their seats for a few more days until things are more concrete.