For the first time since 2007, the UFC will host its annual, marquee, pay-per-view event for the month of July at a location other than Las Vegas, as UFC 251 will be held Saturday on “Fight Island.” It will be the first of four consecutive cards on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.
The event features three title fights, including a main event, welterweight matchup in which the challenger — Jorge Masvidal — accepted the fight on six days’ notice, and the champion — Kamaru Usman — was told to fly home just over a week ago, because his fight appeared to be off after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19.
The buildup to UFC 251, which will take place inside a “safe zone” amid the coronavirus pandemic, has been anything but conventional, but we’ve still arrived at arguably the best MMA card of the year.
In addition to Usman (16-1) vs. Masvidal (35-13), UFC 251 will see a featherweight title rematch between Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) and Max Holloway (21-5), and a bantamweight championship featuring Jose Aldo (28-6) and Petr Yan (14-1).
Another key bout features the return of Rose Namajunas, who faces Jessica Andrade in a rematch of their May 11, 2019, bout in which Namajunas lost her title via second-round KO. Andrade went on to lose the belt to Zhang Weili, and Saturday’s winner could be Weili’s next opponent.
Follow all the action here with live results, analysis and social media reaction from various fighters.
Fight in progress:
Women’s flyweight: Amanda Ribas (9-1, 3-0 UFC, -750) vs. Paige VanZant (8-4, 5-3 UFC, +525)
Light heavyweight: Jiri Prochazka (27-3-1, 1-0 UFC) def. Volkan Oezdemir (17-5, 5-4 UFC) by knockout
Recap to come.
Welterweight: Muslim Salikhov (17-2, 4-1 UFC) def. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (22-7, 8-3 UFC) by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos hits Muslim Salikhov with a series of punches in the first and second rounds.
It wasn’t the kind of all-action fight some expected, but it was another solid notch in the belt of the surging Salikhov.
In a very close fight, Salikhov was able to get the nod in a split decision over Zaleski dos Santos. The bout primarily remained standing — as expected — with both men having their moments.
Perhaps the most significant strike of the night came right at the end of the first when Zaleski dos Santos dropped Salikhov with a right hand. Outside of that, Salikhov was able to mix his striking — his nickname is the “King of Kung Fu” for a reason — with his experience in the grappling arts. At one point in the second, he landed a hard throw after catching a Zaleski dos Santos kick.
Zaleski dos Santos actually outlanded Salikhov in significant strikes in the fight (46-40).
Salikhov (17-2) has won four straight and has not lost since his UFC debut in 2017 against Alex Garcia. The 36-year-old Dagestan native has only that one loss on his record since 2012. The win over Zaleski dos Santos represents his biggest in the UFC and should earn him a step up in competition.
Zaleski dos Santos (22-7) has dropped two of his last three following a seven-fight winning streak. The 33-year-old Brazilian owns wins over the likes of Lyman Good and Max Griffin.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Men’s featherweight: Makwan Amirkhani (16-4, 6-2 UFC) defeats Danny Henry (12-4, 2-2 UFC) by first-round submission
Makwan Amirkhani uses a knee to push Danny Henry up against the cage, then takes Henry down and secures the win by using a suffocating anaconda choke.
Makwan Amirkhani continues to add to his reputation as one of the most entertaining featherweights in the world, as he submitted Danny Henry via anaconda choke just 3:15 into the bout.
Amirkhani, who had won two performance bonuses in seven UFC appearances coming in, locked in the choke as Henry attempted to scramble to his feet after an early takedown. Amirkhani became only the third fighter in UFC history to finish multiple fights via anaconda choke. He defeated Chris Fishgold with the same move in 2019.
“I’m pretty slick with this move,” Amirkhani said. “John Kavanagh, my coach, he’s always laughing at the gym when I do this to everybody. People come and ask how they can defend it, John says it’s a never ending story. I’m just way too slick with this. There is no defense for this one.”
It also marked the third first-round finish of Amirkhani’s career. The 31-year-old Finnish featherweight has now won three of his last four. This win gets him back on track after a tough TKO loss to Shane Burgos in November.
Lightweight: Leonardo Santos (18-4-1, 7-0-1 UFC) vs. Roman Bogatov (10-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision
Roman Bogatov is warned by referee Marc Goddard following a second low blow to Leonardo Santos, then Bogatov loses two points on an illegal knee shortly thereafter.
Bogatov landed a knee below the belt that caused Santos to take almost the entire five minutes allotted to recover. Then Bogatov landed another knee to the groin and, minutes later, an illegal knee to Santos’ head.
Referee Marc Goddard had no choice but to deduct two points from Bogatov for the repeated fouls. The bout ended up finishing with Santos winning a very bizarre unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26).
Santos nearly finished Bogatov in the second round. He landed a big right hand out of a clinch that rocked Bogatov. Santos followed up with several more right hands that sent Bogatov reeling. Goddard came close to stepping in on two occasions as Santos poured it on. But Bogatov survived and actually ended the round on top landing ground and pound on Santos, who was clearly tired from his previous onslaught.
Santos (18-3-1) remains unbeaten in the UFC and has eight straight fights without a loss. Despite the impressive streak, the 40-year-old Brazil native hasn’t built a ton of momentum. This was only his third fight since 2015. But Santos has won six in a row, tied for the third longest active stretch in the lightweight division. Bogatov (10-1), a 29-year-old Russia native, is the former M-1 lightweight champion.
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura (19-6, 6-5 UFC) vs. Maxim Grishin (30-8-2, 0-1 UFC)
When history looks back on the UFC’s first event at Fight Island, Saturday’s heavyweight fight between Marcin Tybura and Maxim Grishin will not be one of the first things mentioned.
Tybura, of Poland, picked up a unanimous-decision win over former PFL light heavyweight Grishin, in one of the slower-paced fights of the evening. In the end, Tybura picked up his sixth win in the UFC via scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 — although the performance was not necessarily as dominant as the scores suggest.
Tybura seemed intent on getting Grishin to the floor, but struggled to do so in the first and second rounds. He landed a total of 87 strikes in the contest, compared to just 56 for Grishin, but none of them caused any significant damage. The majority of the fight was either spent locked into a stalemate in the clinch, or with a great deal of space between the two.
Midway through the third round, Tybura finally got the takedown he was looking for and he did eventually move to full mount, but there was still not a ton of offense to speak of. Grishin took the bout on short notice after Tybura’s original opponent, Alexander Romanov, was forced to pull out at the last minute.
Men’s flyweight: Raulian Paiva (20-3, 2-2 UFC) defeats Zhalgas Zhamagulov (13-4, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision
Activity. Volume. Pressure.
Those three things seemed to be what helped Paiva earn a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Zhumagulov in a very close fight.
Paiva pushed the pace from the beginning and routinely pushed Zhumagulov’s back against the cage with his striking. Zhumagulov had moments in each round. In the second, he landed a beautiful judo throw to ground Paiva. And in the third, Zhumagulov landed a left hand that wobbled Paiva momentarily, one of the best blows of the bout.
But Paiva, though his shots didn’t do a ton of damage, threw more and was the more aggressive fighter, which the judges seemed to give the nod in the end.
Paiva (20-3) missed weight coming in by three pounds and forfeited 20% of his purse to Zhumagulov. The Brazilian fighter has won two straight. Paiva, 24, dropped his first two UFC fights, but has emerged as a flyweight prospect. Zhumagulov (13-4), a 31-year-old Kazakhstan native making his UFC debut, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.
Women’s bantamweight: Karol Rosa (13-3, 2-0 UFC) defeats Vanessa Melo (10-8, 0-3 UFC) by unanimous decision
Brazilian bantamweight Karol Rosa has been scheduled to fight on four separate occasions in 2020, only to see all of them fall through due to circumstances caused by the coronavirus. When she finally got to make an appearance on Saturday, she did not disappoint.
Rosa thoroughly dominated her Brazilian counterpart Vanessa Melo over the course of three rounds, en route to a unanimous decision. Rosa won on all three judges cards, via scores of 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27.
Melo, who falls to 0-3 in the UFC, showed heart in the loss, but it was obvious she was completely out-matched. Rosa picked her apart on the feet for 15 minutes, landing jabs, inside leg kicks and right hands at will. According to UFC Stats, Rosa out-landed Melo in total strikes 159 to 85.
Rosa was scheduled to face Julia Avila in March, April and May, but every date fell through due to logistical challenges. Avila eventually moved on to a new opponent as well, as she knocked out Gina Mazany at a UFC Fight Night event in June. Rosa is now 2-0 inside the Octagon.
Men’s bantamweight: Davey Grant (12-4, 3-3 UFC) defeats Martin Day (8-4, 0-2 UFC) by third-round KO
Davey Grant catches Martin Day in the exchange with a vicious left hook and knocks him out in Round 3.
Grant fights incredibly infrequently. This was only his sixth UFC fight in the last seven years. Yet, when he’s in the Octagon he’s usually good for some thrills. He brought those to Fight Island.
Grant put Day to sleep with a left hand to notch a knockout at 2:38 of the third round in the UFC 251 opener Saturday night. Grant finished a punching combination with a left hook. Day didn’t get his hand up in time to block it — he was looking to counter — and ended up falling to the canvas unconscious.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 11, 2020
Afterward, Grant said he broke his jaw earlier in the bout. Day dropped Grant in the first round. Grant was able to come back with fast punching combinations that hurt Day in the second. It was a very fun, fast-paced bout throughout.
Grant seemed tired in the third, but every time Day landed a combination, Grant came back with every more volume. At the end, Grant whipped a right hand that Day blocked and quickly came with a left, which Day never saw. That was it.
Grant (12-4) has won two straight following a two-fight losing streak. The 34-year-old England native has only been to a decision twice in his UFC run, though this was his first time earning a finish in a UFC win. Day (8-4), a 31-year-old Hawaii native, has lost two straight to begin his UFC career.
“I knew what he was coming for and I knew what I wanted,” Grant said. “I thought I’m going to try and be technical in the first two rounds. I thought if it was all working, I’d go to town and then have a war. I wanted the first fight on UFC Fight Island to be a good war. I think we gave them that.
“I knew that if I could get inside (I could knock him out). I knew he has really good kicks and good hands. He dropped me in the first and I didn’t know where I was at. I thought I’m still going to stand and trade with him. I wanted a fight like this in the UFC. I feel like I’ve been a bit cautious. I wanted to stand in the pocket and bang — that’s how you get the knockout. I want to be a main-card fighter.”
Still to come:
PPV (via ESPN+), 10 p.m. ET
Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (16-1, 11-0 UFC, -230) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-13, 12-6 UFC, +190)
Men’s featherweight championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) (21-1, 8-0 UFC, -220) vs. Max Holloway (21-5, 17-5 UFC, +185)
Men’s bantamweight championship: Petr Yan (14-1, 6-0 UFC, -240) vs. Jose Aldo (28-6, 10-5 UFC, +200)
Strawweight: Jessica Andrade (20-7, 11-5 UFC, +175) vs. Rose Namajunas (9-4, 6-3 UFC, -200)
(c) = defending champion
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