Where to watch: Saturday, July 11, 2020, FIGHT ISLAND, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Available on ESPN+ PPV.
On the face of it, Kamaru Usman defending his Welterweight title versus streaking (6 fight win streak) Brazilian Gilbert Burns was big enough. A positive Covid 19 test later, UFC chief Dana White was left with a defending champion and no main event. In comes fan favorite, Jorge Masvidal to save the day and keep the “mega fight” title on this most impressive of cards in the “Covid Era”.
You can be cynical, and say, this is too cute by half. Jorge Masvidal made a huge stink about fighter share (revenue), and caused a controversy by going on every show on the UFC’s main partner (ESPN) to complain about how the PPV revenue is divided up, while also threatening to ask for his release. Masvidal made a simple but very good case. Jorge Masvidal took issue with the PPV share because as he put it: “I could understand you don’t want to give me that much on the guaranteed (money). But on the pay-per-view, what I bring in, what people purchase, I want more money on that – and they weren’t budging, and that was that. So all this craziness had to happen for them to come to their senses.” (ESPN) So as it stands, he takes the dangerous but lucrative fight on short notice, so all must be well between Jorge and Dana, or as good as it can be.
Now, Jorge Masvidal gets short notice to fight Usman, and he gets it while reportedly 22 pounds “overweight”, and when in route from Dallas, Fort Worth to his home in Miami. A private plane trip later to “Fight Island”, a photo op with a pizza slice, while wearing a pink robe, and Masvidal has arrived. After testing negative for Covid 19 he is purportedly well on his way to making weight for this championship fight.
So can he actually…win? Short answer: YES.
First of all, short notice upsets are not new to the UFC. One of the biggest fights in UFC history (PPV Buys) featured a short notice Nate Diaz stepping in for Rafael Dos Anjos to defeat UFC golden boy Conor McGregor, and of course you had Michael Bisping defeating Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title after waiting for nearly a decade for a title shot. Bisping accomplished that feat after being defeated with relative ease merely 18 months earlier by the same Luke Rockhold.
FIGHTS ON SHORT NOTICE .
NO SIGNIFICANT VISIBLE DIFFERENCES THAT AN BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE DIFFERENCE IN FIGHTERS TAKING FIGHTS ON 14 OR 49 DAYS NOTICE.
(STATS 2014-CURRENT) pic.twitter.com/vnsn6QcBBj
— GOLD BELT MMA (@GoldBeltMMA) December 20, 2019
So how does he win? Avoid takedowns. Jorge Masvidal’s takedown defense is as good as anybody’s in any division in the UFC. The very strong Usman can also be baited into trading, as was seen in his epic fight with Colby Covington where he did not even have a takedown attempt through the entire 5 rounds (He ended it by stoppage in the final minute of the fight). Trading punches with Masvidal has proven to be a poor strategy. As for the “hype”, these two have history. During Super Bowl week here in Miami, Usman and Masvidal engaged in a screaming match, near a bank of elevators, as they challenged each other to a fight.
As for how Kamaru Usman wins? Easier said than done, but it can be easy if he can accomplish one thing. Get takedowns on Masvidal. Usman is the superior wrestler/grappler and he can rain punishment on Masvidal if he can pull this off. So it’s the striker/grappler matchup once again, and it could be as easy as who gets to “their fight” first. One thing is a fact. Neither guy can win at the other’s game.
Prediction: Kamaru Usman (-260) wins by Decision over underdog Jorge Masvidal(+200).
As for the rest of the card, it’s a great one headlined by Alexander Volkanovski (-220) vs. Max Holloway (+180) (Part 2), for the UFC Featherweight Championship, and Petr Yan (-230) vs. Jose Aldo (+190) for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship.
All UFC 251 odds cited are via William Hill US.
Alfredo Arteaga (@Alf_Arteaga) is one-third of the trio that does the Three Yards Per Carry (@3YardsPerCarry) podcast.