Dubai: Fight Island is finally here in Abu Dhabi and UFC 251 kicks off what promises to be an explosive two weeks of mixed martial arts, with three belts up for grabs in a stacked 13-fight card on Sunday morning. Yes, Sunday morning.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the embargo of a live audience at Yas Island, the timings have been set to accommodate a worldwide television audience, with the early preliminary card beginning at the standard UFC start time of 10pm ET on Saturday, (2am Sunday, UAE), with the main card tentatively expected to commence at 6am local time.
The card boasts one of the best line-ups in recent MMA history with the three title fights, headed by the welterweight main event between champion Kamaru Usman and late replacement Jorge Masvidal.
Before that, the featherweight rematch between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway, plus a bantamweight showdown between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo are sure to whet the appetite of the legion of UFC fans on the planet.
Usman against Masvidal is an intriguing matchup.
Legendary grapplers such as Georges St Pierre, Demian Mia and Khabib Nurmagomedov built their legacy in the Octagon with their high-level top game and Usman will bid to use the same formula to negate the striking power of Masvidal and dominate the action when it goes to the ground.
Masvidal can draw inspiration from the fact that fighters such as Justin Gaethje and Michael Bisping stepped in at short notice and defeated their more fancied opponents, although most bookmakers believe that Usman will win at short odds.
The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ boasts phenomenal cardio and likes fights to go the distance, which work in his favour as he showed in fights against Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington.
Against Woodley, Usman and landed 141 significant strikes with two takedowns, while against Covington he landed 175 significant strikes and eventually knocked out the No 2 ranked fighter in the fifth round.
More importantly Usman, who has an exceptional 50 per cent takedown accuracy, clearly has the skills to wrap himself around Masvidal with his wrestling before he secures the submission.
The fight for the vacant bantamweight title between Yan and Aldo, one of the best fighters to have ever fought in the UFC, looks an absolute potboiler.
However, Aldo could be approaching the final leg of his career and will rely on his experience to stay out of range from Yan, who has incredible knockout power in his fists.
Aldo lost his last fight to Marlon Moraes while Yan comes into the bout with a third-round KO over California Kid Uriah Faber.
UFC boss Dana White has delivered on his promise and secured some of the best talent from around the world for the prelims including exciting prospects such as debutants Jiri Prochazka and Zhalgas Zhumagulov, as well as such established fighters as Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Volkan Oezdemir.
UFC 251, July 12, Fight Island, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Live on the UFC Arabia app
Main Card (from 6am UAE)
Welterweight (Title bout): Kamaru Usman (Champion) v Jorge Masvidal (#3)
Featheweight (Title bout): Alexander Volkanovski (Champion) v Max Holloway (#1)
Bantamweight (Title bout): Petr Yan (#3) v Jose Aldo (#6)
Women’s Strawweight: Rose Namajunas (#1) vs Jessica Andrade (#2)
Women's Flyweight: Paige VanZant vs Amanda Ribas
Prelims (from 4am UAE)
Light heavyweight: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka
Welterweight: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs Muslim Salikhov
Featherweight: Makwan Amirkhani vs Danny Henry
Lightweight: Leonardo Santos vs Roman Bogatov
Early prelims (from 2am UAE)
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura vs Alexander Romanov
Flyweight: Raulian Paiva vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Women’s bantamweight: Karol Rosa vs Vanessa Melo
Bantamweight: Davey Grant vs Martin Day