Matches to Make After UFC 251

By Brian Knapp Jul 12, 2020

Jorge Masvidal ran stride for stride with Kamaru Usman for five-plus minutes. Then the reality of his situation set in.

Usman utilized a physical clinch, landed multiple takedowns and applied suffocating top control, as he kept his stranglehold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title with a unanimous decision over “Gamebred” in the UFC 251 headliner on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Scores were 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46.

Masvidal—who replaced Gilbert Burns on short notice after the Brazilian tested positive for COVID-19— outstruck the champion in the first round but enjoyed considerably less success as the fight unfolded. Usman corralled him along the fence, where he scored with shoulder strikes, foot stomps and knees to the body. “The Nigerian Nightmare” even had his moments in standup exchanges, his lead growing with the passage of each five-minute period. Usman delivered takedowns in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, as he salted away his 16th win in a row and improved to a perfect 12-0 in the UFC.

In the aftermath of UFC 251 “Usman vs. Masvidal,” here are five matches that ought to be made:

Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns: Few pressing challenges exist for Usman, who now owns victories over four of the UFC’s Top 5-ranked welterweights. His Hard Knocks 365 teammate stands as the lone exception. Burns has been nothing short of a revelation since he returned to the 170-pound weight class in 2019, as he has spliced together wins over Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley. Provided he recovers from his infection, the multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion figures to be next in line for Usman. Beyond Burns, contenders like Stephen Thompson, Michael Chiesa and Geoff Neal lurk.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov-Yair Rodriguez winner: Volkanovski retained his featherweight crown by the narrowest of margins, as he eked out a split decision over Max Holloway in a contentious co-main event, improved to 2-0 in their head-to-head series and put his 19th straight win in the books. All three judges struck 48-47 scorecards: David Lethaby for the challenger, Mark Collett and Clemens Werner for the champion. Holloway mixed his attacks to the head, legs and body while appearing to jump out to a two-rounds-to-none lead, but he gradually allowed “Alexander The Great” back into the fight. Volkanovski did his best work in the fourth and fifth rounds, where he incorporated takedowns, hid chopping right hands behind a punishing jab and chipped away with kicks to the inside and outside of the Hawaiian’s lead leg. Magomedsharipov and Rodriguez will lock horns at UFC Fight Night 176 on Aug. 29.

Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling: A little more than two years after he first touched down inside the Octagon, Yan has ascended to the top of the 135-pound weight class. “No Mercy” waded through a decent amount of adversity, buried Jose Aldo with an avalanche of fifth-round ground-and-pound and laid claim to the undisputed UFC bantamweight championship, assuming the throne that was vacated with the retirement Henry Cejudo in May. Aldo was effective at the start, as he focused on the Russian’s body with hooks from both hands and attacked his legs with repeated kicks. However, his pace slowed midway through the match. After a lopsided fourth round, Yan set his sights on a finish in the fifth. An uppercut prompted Aldo to retreat to the mat, where he was met with a sustained burst of strikes. Elbows, punches and hammerfists flowed from Yan and ultimately forced the stoppage 3:24 into Round 5. Sterling extended his winning streak to five fights at UFC 250, where he needed just 88 seconds to submit Cory Sandhagen on June 6.

Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang: Namajunas made her first appearance in more than a year and avenged her May 2019 knockout defeat to Jessica Andrade with a split decision in a wildly entertaining women’s strawweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28: Collett for Andrade, Anders Ohlsson and Vito Paolillo for “Thug Rose.” Namajunas spent the first two rounds peppering the Brazilian powerhouse with crisp punching combinations and lightning-quick jabs, her efforts revolving around stellar head movement, sharp footwork and superior speed. Andrade found another gear in Round 3, where she smashed the Trevor Wittman protégé’s nose with right uppercuts, damaged her left eye with clubbing right hooks and executed a takedown. The bloodied Namajunas kept her composure under considerable duress, withstood the Parana Vale Tudo cornerstone’s advances and chewed up the remaining time on the clock. Zhang retained her undisputed women’s strawweight championship with a five-round split verdict over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 on March 7.

Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira-Thiago Santos winner: Performance exceeded the hype associated with Prochazka, as he knocked out Volkan Oezdemir in the second round of their featured light heavyweight prelim and announced his arrival in the UFC with a vulgar display of power. Oezdemir went to sleep 49 seconds into Round 2, the latest victim of a runaway Czech Republic freight train. A closely contested first five minutes gave way to the dramatic conclusion in the middle stanza. Prochazka staggered the Swiss standout with a head kick, flurried with punches and backed him to the fence, where he created some distance with a jab and unleashed a devastating right cross that froze his counterpart upon impact. The 27-year-old promotional newcomer now finds himself on a run of 11 consecutive victories, the last 10 of them by knockout or technical knockout. Teixeira will face Santos in the UFC Fight Night 177 main event on Sept. 12.

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