Ultimately, UFC 251 proved to be a success for both the UFC and fight fans.
The immensely stacked event lived up to all the hype, providing plenty of action for those quarantined at home. Serving as the first card on the infamous “Fight Island”, UFC 251 was an extremely successful showcase for the UFC, boasting some of the promotions brightest stars and most colorful talent.
Now only two nights removed from the historic event, a number of contenders lay poised in the wings ready to receive their shot at each of the three champions who made a statement on the grandest stage of them all. Bantamweight and welterweight are examples of just two divisions bursting with legitimate contenders, prompting the decision of UFC matchmakers to be a difficult one.
Here is your list of fights to make for UFC 251’s winners.
Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1) vs #4 Corey Anderson (13-5)
After a spectacular second-round knockout of former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir, Jiri Prochazka officially marked his arrival in the UFC.
Following a difficult first round, Prochazka switched up his gameplan and upped the aggression, forcing his opponent to retreat backward where he then connected with a robust right hand. This instantly handed him contender status as he will likely find himself ranked within light heavyweight’s top 7. It’s evident that the Czech deserves a step up in competition, and what better man to test himself against than Corey Anderson.
Anderson was just one win away from a title shot before he met Jan Blachowicz in February, who needed less than five minutes to render him unconscious. Despite coming up short, he finds himself ranked at No. 4 and is eager to once again return to the win column; Anderson is also one of the few top 5 fighters in his weight class not already booked to fight.
Stylistically, the two-match up very well. Prochazka is known for aggressive stand-up skills and knockout power, whereas Anderson enjoys draining the energy from his opponents with non-stop takedowns and ground and pound. A win over the latter would show that Prochazka means business and would move him one step closer to reigning champion Jon Jones.
#14 Amanda Ribas (10-1) vs #11 Tecia Torres (11-5)
Amanda Ribas is quite clearly the fastest rising prospect in all of women’s MMA and July 11 proved no different. Following a picturesque judo throw, Ribas forced Paige VanZant to tap through an armbar, taking her UFC win streak to four.
Although the fight took place at flyweight, Brazil’s Ribas has made her intentions clear that she will call both 115 and 125 home, meaning she’ll be a threat across not one, but two divisions. After proving her skillful attributes for the fourth time, Ribas deserves a savvy veteran with battle experience; Tecia Torres is that vet.
Torres recently snapped a four-fight losing streak with a dominating victory over the highly-touted Brianna Van Buren weeks ago, but don’t let her record fool you. Torres has a wealth of experience at the pinnacle of the sport as she holds wins over both Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson, demonstrating her ability to hang with some of strawweight’s best.
“Tiny Tornado” would offer many problems for Ribas and her game, having the potential to cause real damage while in the dominant position on the ground; witnessing how Ribas deals with this adversity would answer a lot of unknown questions about her.
Ribas vs. Torres makes sense for all the right reasons following UFC 251, and I’m hoping the UFC pursue this avenue.
#2 Rose Namajunas (10-4) vs (C) Weili Zhang (21-1)
At UFC 251, former strawweight queen Rose Namajunas put on a phenomenal Fight of the Night performance over Jessica Andrade, taking home the split decision win. She received her long-awaited redemption while moving closer to reclaiming the division’s championship title.
Namajunas vs. Tatiana Suarez is the fight to make, however, due to Suarez’s extensive neck injury, it appears unlikely that we will not see her in the Octagon again soon. Because of this, Namajunas vs. Zhang should be booked (if the UFC is adamant about having Zhang defend her title ASAP).
Both Namajunas and Zhang are some of the divisions more well-rounded athletes with an ability to finish the fight wherever it goes; they both hold wins over the greatest strawweight in history, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and did so in exciting fashion.
I believe the two would settle the score on the feet, determined to find out which 115-pounder is the better striker. I would lean towards Zhang, albeit wouldn’t be surprised if Namajunas prevailed.
(C) Petr Yan (15-1) vs #2 Aljamain Sterling (19-3)
In what was one of the more saddening parts of the evening, Russia’s Petr Yan folded former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo in the fifth round, brutalizing him with strikes en route to a late TKO win. He defeated one of the greatest in all of MMA and captured the vacant bantamweight belt in the process.
The fact of the matter is, Aljamain Sterling is the rightful number one contender and should’ve received a title shot before Yan. An incredible five-fight win streak against some of bantamweights stiffest challenges cannot go unnoticed – his time is now.
Despite all these achievements, UFC President Dana hinted at UFC 251’s post-fight press conference that Marlon Moraes would be the first challenger to Yan’s fresh throne, even though he has only one (very controversial) win since his last title shot.
Whether you like him or not, Sterling deserves your respect and attention; the clear-cut, dangerous contender versus the now dominant champion is a fight with vast potential. I truly believe that if both men showed up, we would be in store for one of the greatest fights in the division’s history.
There is no other – Yan vs. Sterling is the only fight we want to see.
(C) Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) vs #1 Max Holloway (21-6)
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway once again traded leather for five solid rounds, with the former edging out a close split decision win. While I can see a case for Volkanovski winning, I personally scored the fight for Holloway upon the first inspection, and believe he should’ve walked away as a two-time featherweight champion.
As of right now, featherweight has no clear No. 1 contender. Chan Sung Jung is slated to fight Brian Ortega, while Zabit Magomedsharipov needs another triumph before calling his shot at the champ. Because of this – including the closeness of their rematch – we need to see a trilogy between Volkanovski and Holloway.
Holloway made the correct adjustments heading into the rematch at UFC 251, winning the first three rounds (in my opinion) in spite of them being closely contested. Volkanoski had his moments, too, arguably doing enough to steal the last two rounds. Watching two athletes compete at their very best is a special, special thing, and we have been fortunate enough to see this twice already with these gentlemen.
Sure, Volkanovski is now 2-0 against the former champion but that doesn’t do each fight justice, particularly the second, as each warrior was in it until the very end.
It’s very rare that we see a trilogy take place back-to-back-to-back, but this is a very unique predicament after all. Book a trilogy between the pair and depending on how that goes, we will reassess the future of the weight class.
(C) Kamaru Usman (17-1) vs #4 Leon Edwards (18-3)
After a dominating win over short-notice replacement Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman extended his professional record to an almost perfect 17-1, remaining undefeated within the UFC. Many were quick on their claims that Gilbert Burns – Usman’s original opponent – deserves the next championship opportunity. I disagree.
Welterweight is a shark tank at this present time, with a perfect mix between fan-friendly fighters and technical wizards. One of these wizards is Leon Edwards, the fighting pride of Birmingham, England.
Edwards has not tasted defeat since his 2015 bout with Usman, where he was soundly beaten over the course of three rounds. Since then, the Brit has compiled eight straight victories, including two presiding wins over Gunnar Nelson and Rafael dos Anjos. He may not run his mouth like various other notable contenders, but Edwards is the real deal, and he needs only 25 minutes to prove this.
It is understandable why many think Burns should receive the next crack at Usman after UFC 251. The two were scheduled to compete before a positive COVID-19 test ruled Burns ineligible to compete and on top of this, he ran through former champion Tyron Woodley in his previous outing, sliding into the No. 1 contender spot (rankings wise). However, if you take your mind back to February, Edwards was set to fight Woodley up until COVID-19 took the world by storm; his coming out party was ruined, and boy would it have been a spectacle.
“Rocky” Edwards has done more than enough to challenge for the welterweight title. In one of the UFC’s premier divisions, he has compiled a substantial win streak, beaten top contenders and all the while doesn’t receive his dues. The true number one contender hails from the United Kingdom, not Brazil.