Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal UFC 251: Fight Island Predictions & Tips

Leigh Copson:

UFC welterweight champion meets ‘Baddest Motherf**ker’ (BMF) champion after a late change to the main event of UFC 251 on July 11, so who will leave Fight Island as the undisputed king of the 170lb division? Kamaru Usman or Jorge Masvidal.

Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal Preview: Where Is Fight Island?

Is ‘Fight Island’ a real thing? If so, what is ‘Fight Island’? And of course, where is ‘Fight Island’? All of those questions have now been answered as the UFC heads to its new home away from home in July. What once sounded like something out of Jean Claude Van Damme movie is now a very real thing.

UFC 251 will kick off a run of four straight events on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi in July, with three UFC Fight Night cards following up a stacked UFC 251 event that features three title fights and is headlined by the welterweight title fight between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal.

Road To Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal

It is not often that a replacement fight tops the originally scheduled fight, but that is certainly the case here. Kamaru Usman had been slated to defend his UFC welterweight title against long-time team-mate Gilbert Burns on Fight Island, but the challenger was forced to pull out of the bout after testing positive for COVID-19 and that left the UFC scrambling to find a replacement for the Brazilian. They quickly found it in Jorge Masvidal, the ‘BMF’ champion. Masvidal passed his tests and hopped on a plane to Fight Island, sparking a massive amount of excitement among fight fans who would have preferred this to be the main event of UFC 251 from the start. So how did both fighters come to this point?

2019 was an outstanding year for Kamaru Usman as he completed his rise to the top of the welterweight division and later silenced a bitter rival. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ was riding a nine-fight win streak when he stepped into the ring to challenge Tyron Woodley in March of that year, and not only did he end the near three-year reign of ‘The Chosen One’, he did it in dominant fashion. Usman did not get the finish on the night, but he ran away with it on the judges’ scorecards to claim a lop-sided decision win and all eyes turned to who would be his first challenger.

At the front of the queue was Colby Covington. Covington had previously been stripped of the interim welterweight crown after opting to undergo nasal surgery instead of fighting then-champion Woodley back in September 2018, but the loudmouth contender was not about to pass up on this opportunity to challenge for THE prize in the 170lb division and it was announced that he would be the first man to challenge Usman in December of last year. The two men went toe-to-toe for almost 25 minutes in a thrilling fight, but unlike the night where he won the belt, Usman did not need the judges here. He floored Covington will around a minute on the clock and then followed up with a flurry of strikes that forced the referee to step in and wave it off with 50 seconds to go. And not only did Usman have the win he craved, he also managed to break the jaw of a man many fight fans wish would just shut up for once.

So can Usman enjoy a second successful defence when he steps into the Octagon on Fight Island?

Standing opposite him is Jorge Masvidal, who enjoyed an incredible year in 2019 that saw him go from gatekeeper to legitimate contender, certified badass and, of course, ‘BMF’ champion. Masvidal went into that year having not fought since suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia in 2017, but he answered the call to face Darren Till in London and has not looked back since that famous night. ‘Gamebred’ stunned the ‘hometown crowd’ as he knocked out the Liverpudlian in the second round of that contest, but the best was yet to come.

Despite a backstage altercation with Leon Edwards in London, it was announced that Masvidal’s next outing would be against Ben Askren, who was finally fighting in the UFC after enjoying a successful career overseas. Askren arrived in the company with great fanfare and won his debut bout in controversial fashion, but it would not be unfair to suggest that perhaps Masvidal broke him in their fight. He charged across the ring at the opening bell and landed a stunning flying knee that separated Askren from consciousness inside just five seconds!

Masvidal concluded the year by stopping Nate Diaz to become the UFC’s recognised ‘Baddest Motherf**ker’ champion, and he has now lived up to his ‘BMF’ crown by agreeing to challenge for the UFC welterweight title… on the other side of the world… in the middle of a pandemic… on seven day’s notice! So can Masvidal now ride this remarkable renaissance all the way to UFC gold on Fight Island, or will Usman cement his status as the number one man at 170lbs? Read on for our Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal UFC 251 predictions & tips…

Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal Predictions & Tips

I have said it already but it is worthwhile repeating, this fight is a whole lot more appealing than the originally scheduled showdown between Usman and Gilbert Burns. That is no disrespect to Burns, but how can you now be exciting about Masvidal challenging for the title with the form he has been in?

Yes, Masvidal is making a major gamble by taking the fight on short notice, but this is not something that will concern him and combat sports has a history of late replacement fighters shocking the world. A few years ago Michael Bisping walked off a movie set to knock out UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, a man who had dominated him in their first fight, and famously last year Anthony Joshua’s reign as heavyweight champion of the boxing world came to a shuddering halt at the hands of Andy Ruiz Jr. Upsets do happen and Masvidal will want to add his name to the list and he has the skills to do it.

‘Gamebred’ has evolved massively from a man who once fought in street fights to the well-rounded mixed martial artist we see today. He is a very talented striker with a diverse attack and bags of knockout potential, and while Usman did stop Covington last time out, he is not renowned for his striking game so you would have to give the edge to the challenger here. He also probably has the edge in the submission game, but this is not the bread and butter of either man’s game and it is difficult to see them ending up in a position where Masvidal could force Usman to tap out.

But what about grappling and wrestling? For me this is where this fight will be won and this favours Usman. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ lives up to his nickname because he is a nightmare for opponents. He is a big, strong, powerful man and a former national champion amateur wrestler – the perfect combination when you are looking to smother and maul opponents. This formula worked to perfection as he took down and beat up Woodley multiple times to win the belt and it is a formula that should allow him to retain the title here. Masvidal is no slouch when it comes to wrestling, but he is clearly not on Usman’s level and that will be there for all to see as the champion drops him on his back throughout and mauls his way to a second successful defence of his crown.

Will Usman get the job done inside 25 minutes though? I would not be surprised to see Masvidal succumb to the punishment in the later rounds of this contest, but the challenger is a gutsy and durable man who has not been stopped in over a decade and has not lost by KO/TKO since June 2008. Therefore it would also not shock me to see him hear the final bell on Fight Island. So with that in mind I would suggest backing Usman to win in Rounds 4, 5 or by decision, but if you are looking for a bigger price then Usman to win by decision is the way to go here.