UFC 251: Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal
After Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw from the event having contracted covid-19, Jorge Masvidal has sensationally stepped up on only six days’ notice to challenge Kamaru Usman for the UFC welterweight title.
Usman will look to his wrestling expertise to get this fight to the mat where he will expect to dominate Jorge. In terms of striking, the Nigerian has a long reach at 76 inches, and utilises this with straight punches primarily from an orthodox stance but often switching to southpaw. Kamaru will look to pressure Masvidal before getting close enough to shoot or clinch up and fight for a takedown.
Kamaru has also been working with the highly regarded coach, Trevor Wittman, in recent weeks so it will be interesting to see if he brings any surprises to the table.
Masvidal has been riding the crest of a wave over the past eighteen months, putting together a string of victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz.
This culminated in being presented with the ‘BMF’ Title last November by none other than Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
The former bare-knuckle street fighter is a very talented striker.
Masvidal is light on his feet, has fast hands and can switch stances fluidly. He will look to put together combinations and find a read on his opponent. He has powerful hooks and has no problem engaging in a brawl.
The American Top Team fighter has a solid arsenal of kicks also. However, the wrestling prowess of Kamaru may make Masvidal think twice about throwing a kick for fear of presenting an easy entry for a takedown.
Likewise, committing to any big swings could leave him exposed and Gamebred will need to be careful.
In terms of defence, it’s fair to say that Masvidal has a good sprawl, great submission defence (refer to his fight with Demain Maia), looks to get back to his feet from the mat and will no doubt have been working with top wrestlers back in Florida.
Yet, he has been taken down in the past and has never come up against someone with the size and wrestling pedigree of Usman.
Prediction: This fight is a classic case of striker versus grappler and I am leaning heavily towards the grappler.
The fighting style of Kamaru isn’t likely to lead to the type of brawl that Jorge enjoys. Instead, Masvidal will have to be cagey and defensive and I see Kamaru dominating this one and taking it to the canvas.
Prediction: Kamaru Usman
Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway
Max Holloway looks to regain his featherweight title against Volkanovski in what serves as a mouth-watering co-main event.
Holloway is typically so comfortable and composed in the octagon. The Hawaiian fighter has a unique stance, holding his hands out in front serving to both distract his opponent and maintain distance, while simultaneously crouching down and inviting his opponent to try and land a shot.
Holloway is also often vocal in the octagon and likes to set up traps to force his opponent to engage.
On top of this, he has exceptional takedown defence and good footwork to get out of the line of fire when required. Holloway also possesses incredible cardio, widely known for his ability to finish fights at the same pace he starts them.
From reading the above you may be at a loss to understand how Holloway, such a well-rounded fighter, is the former as opposed current champ. And this is solely down to the ability and fighting IQ of Alexander Volkanovski.
The Australian implemented an incredibly smart game plan in their last meeting, targeting the legs of Holloway early on.
And despite giving up five inches in height, Volkanovski has a deceivingly long reach and did not allow Holloway to get into his normal rhythm.
Whenever Holloway looked to find his flow, the Australian either attacked first or fired off powerful counters to the head and body of his opposite number.
In a relatively short period of time, Volkanovski has already put himself in the conversation for most talented featherweight in UFC history with victories over Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway in his last three outings.
The big question here is what adjustments Holloway can make in order to negate the effect of those heavy Volkanovski leg kicks. I believe Volkanovski took the first meeting relatively comfortably and deservedly goes in as favourite for this, but I will have to go with Max as solid underdog here. I expect Max to switch stance earlier, attack the legs of Volkanovski and can see him taking a win.
Prediction: Max Holloway
Petr Yan v Jose Aldo
The third title fight of the night sees Jose Aldo take on Petr Yan for the recently vacated bantamweight title.
Personally, this is the bout I’m most excited for, purely in terms of the fighting style of both athletes. Both fighters are aggressive strikes who look to land with power.
Aldo has some very impressive boxing skills. He likes to throw lots of feints with his lead left hand to set up big combinations, often going to the body with a lethal lead left hook.
In addition to this, he is widely known as having one of the most effective leg kicks in the game, although he has not been quite as reliant on this in recent years.
Pacing is an issue for Aldo. He lost twice to Max Holloway where he started off very strong but just ran out of gas, while in his last two defeats to Volkanovski and Moraes, he appeared to be holding back a little bit at times. So, finding the correct tempo across a potential five rounds will be crucial here.
Petr Yan is one of the most exciting prospects on the roster. The Russian fights out of an orthodox stance, occasionally switching, and relies primarily on his boxing. He holds a tight guard with his power hand always protecting his chin. Yan likes to dictate the pace, constantly walking his opponent down and ready to let his hands go with powerful combinations.
The fighter can afford to let hooks go as he has very strong takedown defence and is also very comfortable and dangerous in the clinch, ready to unleash vicious elbows or utilise his dirty boxing if required.
This is a tough one to call and recent form certainly favours Petr Yan. Yet, I’m going to take Aldo here. Yan has not come up against someone with the skillset of Aldo to date, and if the Brazilian can manage to find his flow and implement his boxing and leg kicks, I can see him being victorious.
I would also watch out for Aldo potentially landing big body shots as Yan holding that high guard will be inviting.
Prediction: Jose Aldo