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Kamaru Usman imposed his will exactly as one should against a short-notice opponent.
“The Nigerian Nightmare” used grueling clinch work, takedowns and top pressure to grind out a unanimous decision triumph over Jorge Masvidal in the UFC 251 headliner at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night. All three judges submitted scorecards for the reigning welterweight champion: 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46.
Masvidal, who emerged as one of the promotion’s most popular fighters during a breakout 2019 campaign, accepted the title bout on six days’ notice after Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw from the event due to a positive COVID-19 test. “Gamebred” sprinted out of the gates in the opening frame, attacking with punches, elbows and upkicks from his back after being taken down within the first 30 seconds before returning to his feet and threatening Usman with a multi-faceted arsenal during standup exchanges.
“‘Gamebred’ is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now,” Usman said. “I had to switch gears and prepare for him on six days’ notice. All these guys are preparing for one guy and that’s me at the top of the mountain. I had to make a mental shift. ‘Gamebred’ is tough and he showed it out there.”
While Masvidal’s gas tank waned, Usman (17-1, 12-0 UFC) only got stronger as the fight progressed. Even when his opponent’s takedown defense held up, “The Nigerian Nightmare” stayed active in the clinch, chipping away at Masvidal (35-14, 12-7 UFC) with a variety of body shots, shoulder strikes and foot stomps. When he did plant Masvidal on his back, Usman was able to drop punishing elbows from top position. After the opening five minutes, the "BMF" champion found very few openings to generate any kind of offense against Usman’s suffocating pressure.
“Jorge is a tough guy and I give him credit for that. I’m just a level better,” Usman said. “I have more tools in the toolbox and when I need to pull them out, I can pull them out and use them.”
Volkanovski Rallies Late, Retains Featherweight Belt
Alexander Volkanovski is 2-0 against Max Holloway, but only by the slimmest of margins.
The Australian retained his featherweight title, earning a split-decision over Holloway in the evening’s co-main event for his ninth consecutive UFC triumph and 19th straight professional win overall. Two judges scored the contest 48-47 for Volkanovski, while a third submitted a 48-47 tally for Holloway, who has now lost three of his last four.
“I’m a well-rounded fighter. He’s tough, he’s a gamer,” Volkanovski said. “We’re both hard workers, but I got the job done. Nothing but respect to Max.”
After losing a unanimous decision in their first meeting at UFC 245, Holloway (21-6, 17-6 UFC) came out with a purpose in the rematch. He blended punching combinations with kicks and knees effectively in the opening 10 minutes, buckling his opponent with a high kick at the end of Round 1 and with an uppercut late in Round 2. While leg kicks were again a primary weapon for Volkanovski (22-1, 9-0 UFC), they weren’t as prevalent as they were in the first bout.
Volkanovski displayed a greater sense of urgency as the bout progressed. The City Kickboxing representative pressured his opponent, threw punches in greater volume, forced the clinch and landed a couple of takedowns. Holloway wasn’t on the canvas for long, however, and he made every exchange competitive right up until the final horn. Still, it wasn’t enough to sway the scorecards in his favor.
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Yan Batters Aldo, Claims Vacant Bantamweight Crown
Petr Yan found an extra gear in the championship rounds that Jose Aldo just couldn’t match.
The 27-year-old Russian claimed the vacant bantamweight strap with a technical knockout of Aldo, bringing a halt to the contest with a barrage of brutal ground-and-pound 3:24 into Round 5. Yan became the sixth 135-pound champion in UFC history, assuming the throne after Henry Cejudo relinquished the title following his retirement in May.
Aldo (28-7, 10-6) didn’t go down without a fight. The longtime former featherweight king looked to be in vintage form early, as he attacked Yan (15-1, 7-0 UFC) with hard kicks to the legs and body along with crisp boxing. The bout was extremely close through three rounds, but Yan began to land punches in more volume in Round 4 and put his Brazilian foe on the defensive.
“I expected it to be a hard fight,” Yan said. “But then he hit my leg and I had to change stance. It got me off a little bit.”
Aldo didn’t have much left in the tank by the final frame. The Russian rocked his foe with a two-punch combination near the fence and followed Aldo to the canvas, where he began to unload a furious barrage of punches and elbows from the crucifix position. Referee Leon Roberts gave Aldo every chance to recover, but “No Mercy” battered and bloodied the Nova Uniao standout until he was no longer able to intelligently defend himself.
Namajunas Gets Revenge, Takes Split Verdict
Rose Namajunas is right back in title contention.
The former strawweight queen avenged a previous loss to Jessica Andrade, earning a hard-fought split-decision triumph in rematch of their title bout from May 2019. Two judges scored the bout 29-28 Namajunas, while a third saw it 29-28 in favor of Andrade. In victory, Namajunas moved past a difficult slam KO defeat to the Brazilian at UFC 237 that had her briefly contemplating retirement.
“It was fun, man,” Namajunas said. “I just was in the right state of mind. That’s everything.”
For two rounds, Namajunas (9-4, 7-3 UFC) was able to utilize solid footwork, head movement, precision straight punches and the occasional clinch knee to rack up an early lead on the scorecards. While “Thug” Rose was able to avoid a firefight early, Andrade (20-8, 11-6 UFC) picked up her intensity in Round 3, tagging her opponent with powerful uppercuts and right hands. By the end of the fight, Namajunas’ face was wearing the damage of the Brazilian’s attacks, but the Colorado-based fighter was pleased to be able to weather the storm.
“Early in the fight, I was great. I think she turned on the desperation button and really unloaded,” Namajunas said. “She caught me a couple times obviously, but I just really stayed strong.”
Ribas Armbars VanZant, Wins Fourth Straight UFC Bout
Amanda Ribas continues to establish herself as a rising star in the UFC’s female ranks.
The Brazilian earned her fourth consecutive UFC triumph, tapping out Paige VanZant in a featured 125-pound clash. An armbar brought an end to the contest 2:21 into Round 1 and could mark the end of VanZant’s promotional tenure, as the “Dancing With the Stars” competitor was on the last fight of her UFC contract.
It didn’t take long for Ribas (10-1, 4-0 UFC) to suck VanZant (8-5, 5-4) into the clinch, where she tossed her foe to the canvas and landed in side control in a scarf hold position. When VanZant attempted to scramble out of danger, Ribas transitioned to an armbar and went belly down with the maneuver intact, forcing “12 Gauge” to ask out of the fight moments later.
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