Five reasons to watch UFC 251 on Fight Island

Fight Island is not the undeveloped land hidden from commissions and governors in international waters that fans were expecting. The locale is actually the furthest thing from a top-secret host to a Bloodsport-style tournament, not seen since the dark days of mixed martial arts.

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Yas Island was announced to be Fight Island, and is a tourism project located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The ostentatious island is home to golf courses, extravagant architecture and Ferrari World— which, yes, is a Ferrari-themed amusement park.

This Saturday, UFC 251 goes down at Fight Island. The card features three title fights and some of the biggest names in the sport today. So without further ado, let’s breakdown what you should be excited for Fight Island.

Kamaru Usman (C) vs. Jorge Masvidal for the welterweight title:

After a stellar 2019, Jorge Masvidal was expected to challenge for Kamaru Usman’s title. When the promotion and Masvidal couldn’t agree on the terms, Gilbert Burns was tapped as the next title challenger. Burns vs. Usman was still an interesting fight, but not what fans had been hoping for. Then, on July 3rd, Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Burns has mild symptoms and is doing well at the time of writing, but this left Usman without an opponent. Suddenly, Masvidal had all the leverage. Now the two will be the first main event on Fight Island.

We don’t know the deal reached between “Gamebred” and the UFC, but one has to think Masvidal will be cashing a fat check. He is taking on one of the most dangerous men in the world on just a week’s notice. But don’t think this is a squash match for Usman.

From fighting on the streets of Miami, to Bellator, to Strikeforce and now headlining his second UFC PPV,  Masvidal is a 17-year veteran of professional MMA. His meme-generating knockouts of Ben Askren and Darren Till lead to a Madison Square Garden main event spot where Masvidal thrashed Nate Diaz until the doctor stopped the fight due to a cut.

Usman’s career is not as storied as Masvidal, but is still impressive. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is on a 15 fight win streak that includes victories over the likes of Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington in a fight of the year contender. The evolution of Usman’s game has been a treat to watch. The standout collegiate wrestler has always been able to hit takedowns and dominate on the ground, but lately we’ve been seeing more of Usman’s improved striking.  His stand up still has plenty of flaws, but is used rather effectively to push his opponents into the fence to work his exhausting clinch and takedown game.

Masvidal is mainly known for his crisp boxing, vicious body kicks and knees. The Miami native is also competent in the grappling department. He’s a hard man to take and keep down and hasn’t been submitted in 11 years. Masvidal also excels in the clinch and uses it to lay into rivals with elbows and body work, but that may be a game he should try to avoid come Saturday.

Alexander Volkanovski (C) vs. Max Holloway 2 for the featherweight title:

Featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway meet once again in an immediate rematch. In order to understand this contest, we just need to go back in time 7 months and look at the last one.

The pair first met at UFC 245 back in December. Then it was Max Holloway the champion, and had looked unbeatable at featherweight. Holloway hadn’t lost at 145-pounds in six years and had put on some immaculate performances.

Holloway’s beat down of Brian Ortega was legend status due to its technical mastery. The Hawaiian’s willingness to point to the ground and challenge Ricardo Lamas to a slug fest in the waning seconds of their fight has been viewed countless times.

Volkanovksi was on a 17-fight win streak that included victories over Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes. Sure, they were still very good fighters and Volkanovski had executed the perfect game plan to beat them both, but Mendes and Aldo were both past their prime at that point. People just didn’t think Volkanovski was ready for “Blessed.”

Over five rounds Volkanovski worked his leg kicks to great effect. He used the kicks to set up rights to the body and over the top. Volkanovksi feinted and stayed mobile for 25 minutes. Holloway just couldn’t get his high volume boxing flowing due to the Australian’s disruptions.

Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight title

In the wake of Henry Cejudo’s retirement, there is a void in one of MMA’s most stacked divisions. Petr Yan was an obvious choice to battle for the vacant title. The Russian Master of Sport in Boxing has won all of his six bouts in the UFC and looked damn impressive doing so.

Aljamain Sterling or Cory Sandhagen made sense as competitors to battle for the vacant title. Both men had been on tears at the time. Nobody expected the UFC to match Yan against someone who had never won a fight in the bantamweight division but the company did.

Of course, that ‘someone’ is the greatest featherweight of all time.

José Aldo held the 145-pound title for six years and defended it nine times. Aldo’s impressive resume lists the likes of Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, and Ricardo Lamas. Losses to Conor McGregor and Max Holloway left many thinking that Aldo’s championship reign was over. Aldo went on to pick up a couple of wins before losing to Volkanovksi. The loss prompted Aldo to cut to bantamweight late in his career. Though he looked emaciated prior to the fight, Aldo made the weight and looked rather good in his first foray to 135.

Sure, he lost on most media’s scorecards, and he lost on the judges scorecards, but he still showed more than a few glimpses of the Aldo of old.

So, this Saturday, one of the best boxers ever in MMA meets one of the best rising boxers in the sport. While both men are strikers at their core, they vary in their approaches; Aldo is generally calm and uses his defense to stay in the pocket or at range and play off his opponent’s game while Yan is more than happy to enter that range, pressure and slug it out. Both fighters throw hands to the body regularly  and stay pivoting and shifting to keep their opponents guessing.

Rose Namajunas vs Jessica Andrade 2

Rose Namajunas and Jéssica Andrade’s last fight was for a world championship. At the time, Namajunas was looking for her second title defense and Andrade had hopes of usurping the then-strawweight queen. Early into the fight things weren’t looking good for Andrade, who was getting tuned up and picked a part by “Thug Rose.”

Then, in the second, Andrade went full-on Incredible Hulk, lifted Namajunas high into the air, and dropped Rose onto her noggin. Namajunas was unconscious and Andrade was the champion.

Andrade lost her gold in her first defense so there will not be a belt on the line in this one. But there is a good chance the winner could be close to or next in line for a title shot with a win. It also gives Namajunas a chance for redemption and Andrade a chance to prove that her victory wasn’t a fluke. This one is finesse vs. ferocity and should be fun for as long as it lasts.

Jiri Prochazka vs. Volkan Oezdemir 

Former RIZIN light heavyweight champion Jiří Procházka makes his UFC debut this weekend. Prochazka is currently on a 10-fight win streak with nine of those victories coming via stoppage.  “Denisa” has some solid wins but has also spent most of the last five years testing himself against fighters who are past their primes.

Saturday, Prochazka jumps into the “big leagues” full steam when he meets former UFC title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.

Oezdemir will be looking to extend the two-fight win streak he’s on and prove he still deserves a spot among top-ranked light heavyweights.