Fight Island is real and is happening this weekend.
UFC 251 takes place on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi on July 11th with three title fights headlining the card. Before that happens though, the early prelims and prelims with host four bouts each.
Last time out for UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs Hooker, I selected 6/10 winning fighters in my predictions with one of those completely correct (winner, method, round). I’m confident I can improve on that this time around though. Following on from the early prelim predictions for UFC 251 and the prelim predictions, I make my predictions for the main card here.
Amanda Ribas (9-1) vs Paige VanZant (8-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
After three broken arms and a stint on Dancing With The Stars, Paige VanZant makes her return to the Octagon for the final fight on her UFC contract. She steps in to take on Brazilian Amanda Ribas who has won all 3 of her UFC bouts. VanZant is one of the toughest fighters in the women’s division but her technique leaves much to be desired. She likes to kick but her striking with her hands is Ronda Rousey-esque, which isn’t a compliment. Ribas has six stoppages on her record, 3 via KO and 3 via submission and has the huge edge on the feet. She’s also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Overall, she’s just got too much for VanZant who’s head isn’t in the UFC anymore. She’s already spoken about testing free agency following this fight and is expected to join her husband in Bellator eventually. I think it’s off the back of a fairly significant decision loss.
PICK – Amanda Ribas via Unanimous Decision
Jessica Andrade (20-7) vs Rose Namajunas (9-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
In a rematch from their UFC title fight last year, ‘Thug Rose’ and Jessica Andrade clash again in this strawweight clash. In the first bout, Rose completely outclassed and outstruck Andrade in the first round and for much of the second round. That was until ‘Bate Estaca’ took her name quite literally and slammed Namajunas into the ground head first, knocking her unconscious. It was clear that Rose’s camp had come up with the kimura lock as a way to discourage Andrade from slamming her but clearly it didn’t work. She’ll have to come up with a totally new method of preventing it this time around, which might just be to avoid getting into clinch situations as much as possible. Her jab was too quick and accurate the first time around and while she didn’t seem to have enough power to knock Andrade out, she caused plenty of damage with her hands. If she sticks to that plan and avoids being slammed again, her ground game is strong enough to keep up with Andrade and probably get back up. I think Rose takes her win back from Andrade in this one via a close decision.
PICK – Rose Namajunas via Unanimous Decision
Petr Yan (14-1) vs Jose Aldo (28-6) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
After Henry Cejudo’s shock retirement at UFC 249, all eyes turned to who the UFC would pit against each other for the now vacant title. Petr Yan was a shoe-in following his big KO win over Urijah Faber last time out, but Jose Aldo’s inclusion came as a shock to many considering he lost his division debut to Marlon Moraes. His record speaks for itself though and as the consensus greatest featherweight of all-time, his reputation has earned him a shot at a second belt in the UFC. A striking battle is what will ensue, with box fighters preferring to box their opponents. Aldo is one of the best counter strikers in MMA history and his leg kicks are legendary, although he’s not used them as proficiently in recent times. Yan carries so much power in his hands however and pushes a tremendous pace. Aldo these days can’t take as much punishment as he used to and a fast pace caused him problems against Max Holloway at 145lbs. The weight cut won’t help him in that sense and Yan will know he can push the pace for as long as he wants. This fight has potential for fight of the night and could probably go either way but I think the UFC gets it’s second Russian champion.
PICK – Petr Yan via Knockout, Round 4
Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) vs Max Holloway (21-5) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Another rematch on the card but this one is so hard to call. Volkanovski went into the first fight as the challenger and ended up taking a decision win 48-47 x2, 50-45 to snap Holloway’s win-streak in the featherweight division. The New Zealander attacked the legs of his opponent throughout the fight and closed the range well landing good overhand rights cleanly. ‘Blessed’ was forced to fight in a Southpaw stance for much of the fight because of how badly his leg was chewed up and he’ll need to do something about that this time around. Holloway will take encouragement from the fact that he likely won the final two rounds (despite one judge’s scorecard) and in the fifth round especially we saw Volkanovski look up at the clock more. This could be a sign that he was tiring and with Holloway always fresh, he may look to push the pace harder and faster this time around. That said, ‘The Great’ carries more knockout power in his hands so in a wild exchange it’s more likely to be the Hawaiian to fall. I don’t think it will come to that though as both will be wary of the striking credentials of the other. Volkanovski did enough in the first fight to convince me that he just has too much power and toughness for Holloway to get him out of there, so I think a repeat result is likely.
PICK – Alexander Volkanovski via Unanimous Decision
Kamaru Usman (16-1) vs Jorge Masvidal (35-13) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
In one of the most hectic fight weeks in recent memory, Jorge Masvidal saved the main event of this card. Gilbert Burns dropped out after he and two corner-men contracted Covid-19 and on six days notice both fighters agreed to make the most anticipated fight in the welterweight division happen on Fight Island.
Usman is a dominant wrestler as he showed in his win over Tyron Woodley, but he also showed that he can give and take on the feet when he knocked out Colby Covington in his first title defence in December. Masvidal is the opposite. He is a fearsome striker with powerful legs, kicks and knees as he showed in his last three bouts knocking out Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz. He isn’t a slouch on the ground either though. ‘Gamebred’ has good wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills but he won’t want to be grounded by Usman. Masvidal has only ever been stopped 3 times in his career, and even then the KO loss came after a horrible stoppage from the referee.
Both fighters hold a grudge and will be highly motivated to finish this one but ultimately I think it goes the distance. Masvidal will land some big shots clean and early but Usman showed his chin in the Covington fight. I think he eats them and gets the takedown before laying in some ground and pound. This becomes a pattern throughout the fight and Usman gets the unanimous decision win.
PICK – Kamaru Usman via Unanimous Decision