UFC 251: Usman vs Masvidal at Fight Island - Three main takeaways

Two champions retained and one vacant title got a new owner at UFC 251 during the promotion's Fight Island debut in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Jorge Masvidal punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event.   -  Getty Images

Two champions retained and one vacant title got a new owner at UFC 251 during the promotion's Fight Island debut in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sunday.

Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski stuck to their gameplans and successfully defended their welterweight and featherweight championships by unanimous and split decisions respectively. Meanwhile, Petr Yan finished off veteran Jose Aldo in the fifth and final round to win the bantamweight title belt.

Here are the important takeaways from UFC 251:

- MASVIDAL PUTS UP A FIGHT, BUT USMAN DOMINATES -

Usman might not be a fan favourite due to his wrestling-heavy fighting style but he once again proved to be one of the most dominant forces in UFC by dominating Jorge Masvidal in all five rounds to retain his championship.

On the other hand, Masvidal had just six days to prepare for Sunday's main event. He was a makeshift replacement for #1 contender Gilbert Burns, who had tested positive for coronavirus. So going the distance against the champion, despite very little preparation, should be a confidence booster for the losing challenger.

“I’ll get a few more wins and we’ll run it back,” said Masvidal to Usman at the end of their bout.

UFC 251: Usman grinds down Masvidal, Namajunas trumps Andrade  

The title clash was mostly fought on one side of the octagon with Usman trying his best to complete takedowns on Masvidal, who was using the cage to his advantage. The champion did manage to complete a few but those weren't enough to overpower Masvidal.

The challenger, ranked #3 in the division, did connect with some good strikes in the first round, which he had won in one out of the three judges' card. However, Usman, who has now equalled Georges St. Pierre's record of 12 straight welterweight wins, hardly gave him an inch to work on throughout the remainder of the bout.

"Gamebred (Masvidal) is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now, so I had to switch gears preparing for him on six days' notice. All these guys are preparing for one guy and that's me, at the top of the mountain," Usman told during the post-fight conference.

With this victory, the welterweight titleholder has beaten the contenders ranked from #2 to #5 (Colby Covington, Masvidal, Leon Edwards and Tyron Woodley) in the division currently. He has also triumphed over #7, Demian Maia. So the only possible future bout for Usman will be against Burns after the latter recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Masvidal is touted to face Nate Diaz again in a rematch of their November 2019 encounter. A huge number of MMA fans would also love to witness him in a mouth-watering fight against Conor McGregor. 

- VOLKANOVSKI RETAINS OVER HOLLOWAY BY THE TINIEST OF MARGINS -

Many critics and fans had expressed their displeasure over the result (split decision) of the co-main event featuring current and former featherweight champions Volkanovski and Max Holloway.

The judges awarded a split decision win to reigning champ Volkanovski who has now completed his first successful title defence. But several UFC followers across the world felt Holloway was robbed of another run with the title.

Even the MMA promotion's president Dana White spoke about the poor judging standards at UFC 251 to the media after the event.

“Listen, man, you can’t leave it to these guys. We got some bad judging, we got some bad judging and I don’t know has Max been in here yet? I’m sure he’s devastated,” he claimed.

All three judges awarded Holloway the first two rounds, while they handed Volkanovski the fourth and fifth. The round in question was the third one. Several fans expressed their frustration online, claiming that they thought the challenger was leading 3-1 heading into the final round.

UFC 251: Usman vs Masvidal, Volkanovski vs Holloway - All you need to know  

Volkanovski himself was trying to knock out Holloway in the fifth, possibly thinking he was trailing in the overall fight. He threw caution to the wind, even completed a couple of takedowns and went for the finish. At the end of the day, he successfully retained the belt.

“It was a tough fight, he stood there and didn’t take a backwards step. But I dug deep in the last round and got the job done. I went for the finish but fortunately got the decision. I said no-one can outdo me in there,” the featherweight champion said.

Volkanovski had just claimed the title from Holloway in December last year at UFC 245. Next up, we could potentially see a third bout (trilogy) between the two superstars, considering the controversial decision in this contest.

- YAN IS THE NEW KING OF THE BANTAMWEIGHTS -

Ever since Henry Cejudo hung up his boots at UFC 249 after defending the bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz, the Yan-Aldo bout took centre stage in the division. The former came into the encounter as the favourite and he didn't disappoint his fans as he took home the belt after a technical knockout (TKO) win due to a referee stoppage in the fourth minute of round five.

Aldo did start the clash in bright fashion pushing Yan to the backfoot early on. But both the competitors were pretty much on equal footing in the first three rounds. In the fourth, Yan took advantage of a tiring Aldo.

'Fight Island' opens with three UFC titles up for grabs  

The champion threw some lethal punches at his challenger in the final two rounds and dominated him. Aldo targetted Yan's legs for most parts of the outing but once he lost steam the eventual champion took him down with powerful strikes and ended up on the winning side.

After the bout, Yan said: “I expected it to be a hard fight. That was our plan, to get him tired early on, and then in the third round, start attacking.

"In the beginning, we wanted to put pressure on him and make him tired and after the third round, start attacking. And that’s exactly what happened,” he added.

Yan's next challenger could be one among the stars ranked from #1 to #3 (Marlon Moraes, Aljamain Sterling and Cody Garbrandt) in the division. All three of them are extremely talented and they'll have to be at their best to challenge the champion in the future.

Meanwhile, Aldo has now lost three in a row in UFC, and six out of his last nine fights. He might take a short break to analyse his situation with the company.