By Matteo Caglianone
In a whirlwind turn of events over the last week, we have seen UFC 251 take a drastic change. Gilbert Burns was originally planning on flying to Abu Dhabi from Las Vegas on Friday, July 3rd.
His morning started off with an unexpected call from Hunter Campbell. Hunter informed Burns that he had tested positive for Covid-19. He was scheduled to take a second test that day to confirm his positive test. Then monkey wrench ensued from there when his second test confirmed that he did indeed contract the Covid-19 virus.
As the UFC scrambled to keep the main event of UFC 251 in place, rumors began to circulate that Jorge Masvidal was back in the mix. Given the recent turmoil between Masvidal and the UFC, some fans were unsure exactly what they would be able to pull off in such a short timeframe.
Masvidal now appeared to have the leverage to renegotiate his contract and finally get his shot at UFC Gold. Bring on Fight Island and Kamaru Usman (16-1-0) Vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-13-0). This is exactly the fight the fans wanted to see.
Masvidal has been riding an all-time high since his highlight-reel knockout of Darren Till on March 16th, 2019 at UFC Fight Night in London. Perhaps an even bigger highlight of that night came when Masvidal delivered the now infamous “3 Piece & a soda” to Welterweight contender Leon Edwards, who actually defeated Gunnar Nelson right before Darren Till was knocked unconscious in front of his home crowd at the O2 Arena.
The year continued to be a meteoric rise for the South Florida native as Masvidal continued his climb up the Welterweight Division with a vicious KO of Ben Askren via a flying knee to set the UFC record for the fastest KO (5 seconds). Onto the BMF Title at Madison Square Garden under the brightest lights in the country, where Masvidal got the nod over Nate Diaz after the DR stopped the fight seconds before the 4th Round started.
Fast forward to Super Bowl LIV where the drama slowly built up like a primetime soap opera. Masvidal and Usman exchanged several words during the Radio Row interview panels. Here we are 5 months later and most of that sizzle has cooled off, yet were now getting the fight we have been longing for since this beef stirred up down in South Beach during February.
Kamaru Usman is also coming into this fight red hot! This man has not lost a fight since May 24th, 2013! (Submission Loss via Rear Naked Choke vs Jose Caceres). Usman can tie Georges St. Pierre’s record for the longest welterweight winning streak in history (12).
Meanwhile, Masvidal will fight for his first UFC title in his 49th career bout, the most experience of anyone in history before getting a title shot. Masvidal has won 46% of his wins by way of KO/TKO with only 2 submissions in his career (6%) and 17 wins via decision (5%).
He has been very vocal about his plans to try and Baptize the Champ in Usman. Kamaru will utilize his collegiate wrestling background to get this fight to the mat and do what he does best. He may try to channel his performance against RDA back in 2018 where he successfully completed 12 of 18 takedowns.
Masvidal has an average takedown defense at a distance where he surrenders to 28% of attempts. Masvidal will likely look to keep this fight standing up where he has a clear edge. He tends to mix up his strikes better then Usman has done in recent memories and Masvidal has 4 knockdowns in his last 3 fights, and 6 in his last 7 bouts.
Masvidal will be without his head coach Mike Brown in his corner as he tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. The odds seem to be stacked against Jorge Masvidal here, coming into this fight on less than 1 weeks’ notice and no Head Coach to help lend that ever-needed voice a veteran fighter relies on.
He will also have to drop a significant amount of weight in short order and an unusual style as he will have to quarantine in his hotel room for the first 48 hours after arriving in Abu Dhabi. This is exactly the type of situation Masvidal has thrived off of during his prolonged career.
Can the Miami native rise to the occasion and get that UFC gold so many fighters seek, or will Usman continue his dominance and extend his overall winning streak and mark the 2nd successful defense of his welterweight strap? Tune in Saturday night as UFC 251 takes place on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Fight Island is here!