After weeks of hype, the UFC has finally taken over Abu Dhabi, the site of Fight Island and four events throughout the month of July.
Just like their return to the pay-per-view scene with UFC 249, Dana White and company put together an absolutely loaded card for UFC 251, and battled through all sorts of circumstances to give fans as many five-star fights as possible.
So, whether you’re a seasoned veteran, new to the fight game, or picking the perfect time to get into the sport, here’s a guide for anyone looking to buy UFC 251 on ESPN+.
Main event for the Welterweight Championship*: Kamaru Usman (C) vs. Jorge Masvidal (3)
After Gilbert Burns, the initially-scheduled challenger for Kamaru Usman’s welterweight title at UFC 251, fell through due to a positive COVID-19 test a week before the event, all hope seemed lost. Then, “Street Jesus” rose from the ashes to save the day.
On less than a week’s notice, Jorge Masvidal stepped in to take on Usman, a bitter rival, in his first-ever UFC title shot. To add onto the madness, the fight was made official on the UFC’s social channels the second the clock turned to midnight on July 6, the one-year anniversary of Masvidal’s flying-knee knockout of Ben Askren at UFC 239.
Masvidal will bring a unique style and elite striking to the table in an attempt to dethrone the welterweight champion, while Usman’s lethal combination of high-quality wrestling and sheer power in his striking makes it seem like an impossible task for any opponent he squares off with.
All in all, between their talents in the Octagon and their verbal jabs outside of it, this main event is sure to bring some extra fireworks one week after the Fourth of July.
Co-main event for the Featherweight Championship: Alexander Volkanovski (C) vs. Max Holloway (1)
As was the case the last time Usman defended his title, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will be squaring off for the featherweight championship. However, in this rematch, Volkanovski will be the one walking into the Octagon as the defending champion.
Volkanovski brings a skill set full of variety into the cage for his ninth UFC fight and 23rd overall, with great grappling, some superb striking and stellar ground work that make him into one of the most well-rounded champions in the UFC at the moment.
Then, Holloway will be the ultimate wild card, with the ability to use the loss in the duo’s last fight to his advantage. Fans will undoubtedly see a new version of Holloway if he has any hopes of taking back the featherweight title, and it’ll be interesting to see what his team finds as a potential foil to Volkanovski’s plans in Abu Dhabi.
Will Holloway be able to adjust his technique and build up some defense for the champion’s lethal leg kicks? Or will Volkanovski replicate the same result as the last time he and Usman defended belts on the same card?
Bantamweight Championship: Petr Yan (3) vs. Jose Aldo (13)
In the first of UFC 251’s three title fights, fans are guaranteed to see a new champion crowned as third-ranked Petr Yan and 13th-ranked UFC legend Jose Aldo chase the currently-vacated bantamweight championship.
Aljamain Sterling, the man who will likely square off with the winner of this bantamweight bout, has made it clear who he wants to see as the new titleholder, saying Yan “better win your fight” after a dominant performance against Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250. But, it’s not that simple, especially with Aldo on the other end of the cage.
Aldo, entering the night with a 28-6 record and three featherweight championships under his belt (no pun intended) certainly isn’t a cupcake contender, even at 33 years old and a new weight class. He’s one of the UFC’s best of all time for a reason, and without a legendary striking performance from Conor McGregor, his career trajectory could’ve been a lot different.
This fight serves as a chance for Aldo to prove himself as an elite fighter once more, or an opportunity for Yan to usher in a new era in the bantamweight division, all with a capable challenger lying in wait in Sterling.
Women’s strawweight bout: Jessica Andrade (1) vs. Rose Namajunas (2)
The featherweight title fight between Volkanovski and Holloway isn’t the lone rematch on the UFC 251 main card, as top-ranked women’s strawweight contender Jessica Andrade and second-ranked Rose Namajunas take center stage in ESPN+’s second fight.
Both fighters are former champions in their division, with Namajunas losing her belt on a brutal slam from Andrade in their first fight, and Andrade subsequently dropping the title to current champion Zhang Weili. Now, the winner of this fight could determine Weili’s next opponent after her Fight of the Year candidate against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Their last fight ended in the middle of the second round as a result of Andrade’s grappling ability, and Namajunas will be smart to keep her distance and focus on the striking that got her the belt in the first place when she defeated Jedrzejczyk in 2017.
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This fight could shock viewers when UFC 251 goes live on July 11, and could turn into a sleeper pick for Fight of the Night if these two meet their respective full potentials. No matter what, it’ll act as the true catalyst for the rest of the night, serving as the first of four bouts with major implications across numerous divisions.
Women’s flyweight bout: Amanda Ribas (15) vs. Paige VanZant
In UFC 251’s opening bout of the main card, the women’s flyweight division will take over the Octagon in a unique way as 15th-ranked Amanda Ribas takes on an unranked Paige VanZant who is on the last fight of her UFC contract.
VanZant has expressed her desire to explore free agency after her contract runs out, and a solid performance in the first bout on a massive pay-per-view will be the perfect way to showcase her worth.
On the other end, Ribas will be looking to function as the spoiler in VanZant’s master plan, hoping to send a big name packing in her own search of a top 10 flyweight contender. The division has been wide-open behind champion Valentina Shevchenko ever since “Bullet”‘s reign began in 2018, and any highlight reel victory could propel Ribas right up the flyweight rankings.
While it doesn’t quite have the weight of the four fights after the fact, Ribas and VanZant should be just the warm-up the UFC needs as it goes live from Fight Island on Saturday.
UFC 251’s main card will begin on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET on July 11, 2020. Early prelims will kick off on ESPN and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, with the main prelims starting at 8 p.m. ET.