UFC 251 takes place this coming Saturday night, July 11th from Fight Island (aka Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Main Card ESPN+ PPV)
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
Masvidal comes into this fight on just six days notice after Gilbert Burns was forced out due to testing positive for Covid-19, and as it happens this was the fight many fans had been calling for since the beginning of the year.
That being said, the circumstances for such a big fight are far from ideal, especially for Masvidal, who had spent the last two weeks distracted by verbally sparring with the UFC over his pay without realizing that his first ever UFC title fight was looming large.
Usman also has to adapt on the fly, but he’s already in five round title fight shape and his core wrestling game, high output striking, endless cardio and physical strength give him a strong, well-rounded base to deal with whoever is put in front of him.
Nevertheless, Masvidal isn’t the type of fighter you’d ideally be wanting to fight on short notice as he’s a vastly experienced and slick striker who has evolved from a clinical counter-striker to becoming a more offensively-mindedm, dynamic finisher, and it’s paid off for him with stunning highlight-reel finishes and a rapid rise to stardom.
Don’t underestimate Masvidal’s ground game too as he’s actually surprisingly comfortable there despite his reputation as a striker and has good takedown defense too.
That being said, Usman is a dominant wrestler and given that he’s not had adequate time to prepare for Masvidal I think he may lean more heavily on that aspect of his game to get the job done here, looking to grind down his late-notice challenger in order to secure a decision victory.
Kamaru Usman wins by decision.
Alex Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
For a long time Holloway was the dominant force at 145lbs, but Volkanovski looked remarkably calm and composed as he got the better of him for large portions of their first encounter to seize the featherweight title last December.
Part of Volkanovski’s success in that first outing was thanks to heavy leg kicks that soon took there toll, but Holloway eventually seemed to adapt to that in their last outing and will be wise to it this time around.
Still, Volkanovski remains a stocky powerhouse, who actually has a slight reach advantage over Holloway despite being 5″ smaller than the former champ, and hits hard into the bargain. He’s also a very good wrestler and may look to utilize that more often this time around, though Holloway’s takedown defense is excellent.
Holloway will need to take the fight to Volkanovski more this time around and take advantage of the fact that he has the greater variety of weapons at his disposal on the feet and is the slicker striker. Unfortunately the limitations of his fight camp during the coronavirus situation may have made it more difficult to make the adjustments he needs to win.
Meanwhile, though Volkanovski may not be as dynamic, he has an efficent and effective approach that is hard to break down and can also use his wrestling to potentially control Holloway, or if not to at least keep him guessing as to what’s coming next, which will help him on his way to a decision victory.
Alex Volkanovski wins by decision.
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
The vacant bantamweight title is up for grabs here and Yan has certainly looked worthy of title contention after a very impressive string of victories, while Aldo actually lost his 135lb debut against Marlon Moraes back in December, but gave a good account of himself and looked more energetic and offensive than in other recent outings.
Aldo is a very skilled boxer who manages distance well, is comfortable in the pocket, works well on the counter and has heavy leg kicks and dangerous knees to back up his hard punches.
Yan is a force-of-nature on the feet, constantly apply pressure and land hard-hitting offensive flurries, and while he can be hit, his pace is so relentless that he’s never been stopped and pushes a pace that it’s extremely difficult to keep up with.
Aldo could make something happen in the early rounds here, but Yan’s constant pressure and output is gradually wear down the Brazilian and take a toll on his cardio, paving the way for a fight round TKO finish.
Petr Yan wins by TKO in Rd5.
Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade
Namajunas appeared to be getting the better of Andrade the first time these two fought, right up until the moment that Andrade knocked her out in the second round by slamming her on her head to win the strawweight title!
That was a reminder of Andrade’s impressive brute strength, but its hard to imagine she’s going to be able to pull off the same finish twice – though it won’t stop her from trying!
Aside from the slams, Andrade is exceptionally tough and never seems to tire despite her constantly aggressive, brawling approach on the feet and hard-working wrestling game.
In terms of technique, movement, speed and skill though, Namajunas is operating at a different level on the feet, and is aided by having 3.5″ in height and 3″ in reach over the Brazilian here, which should enable her to be hit and not be hit back as she works from a safe distance with her crisp, accurate and technical striking.
Andrade could simply look to outmuscle Namajunas on the mat, but ‘Thug’ Rose is a very good scrambler and has a potent submission game which could well pose her problems.
As long as Namajunas is mentally focused then I believe she should be able to keep Andrade at the end of her strikes for the most part, playing matador to the bull while picking apart the holes in Andrade’s defense to secure a decision win.
Rose Namajunas wins by decision.
Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
PVZ gets back into the Octagon for the final fight on her current UFC deal after an 18 month layoff due to repeated issues with a broken arm.
It’s unfortunate that injuries, ailments and opportunities outside of the Octagon over the years have held the 26-year-old back (especially more recently with just two fights in three-and-a-half years) as she always had raw athletic talent and a never-say-die attitude, but there were a lot of holes in her skill-set that likely haven’t been addressed properly in the mean time.
Meanwhile, the similarly aged Ribas has won all three of her Octagon fights while VanZant has been out injured, and is a well-rounded fighter who has momentum on her side.
Ribas is a very capable kickboxer and I think will prove to be a bit more potent and effective than PVZ, who is a willing striker, but lacks substance from her output at times.
On the mat VanZant does well in scrambles and her excellent cardio serves her well, but technically I favor Ribas to come out on top in the grappling exchanges and will fight her way to a decision victory.
Amanda Ribas wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Jiri Prochazka vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Muslim Salikhov vs. Elizeu Zaleski
Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry
Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov
Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
Davey Grant vs. Martin Day
Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin