UFC 251 is fast approaching and come July 11th, the UFC will hold its first ever pay-per-view from the newly christened “Fight Island.”
This card is shaping up to be something special and it is easily the most stacked main card on paper since UFC 245 last December. With title implications all over the place and high-profile fights throughout, let’s take a look at some of the major storyline heading into UFC 251.
Let’s begin with one of the major keys as to why “Fight Island” is important.
Since the pandemic struck and travel regulations were enforced around the globe, the UFC has incredibly been able to keep live events coming. The caveat to this has been the talent involved.
There have been very few fighters competing in the events who are originally from outside of the United States. The only fighters who have been able to compete since the quarantine began have been from the continental United States. However, with the introduction of “Fight Island,” the UFC is now able to call upon more of its international talent pool. With that said, let’s now look at the card itself.
Paige VanZant vs Amanda Ribas
The main card opens with the return of fan favorite Paige VanZant taking on Amanda Ribas. VanZant has battled through numerous injuries allowing her to fight only twice in the past three and a half years. This also happens to be VanZant’s last fight on her current UFC contract. With no extension or new contract currently in place, VanZant may be leaving the organization following this fight.
While it is unlikely the UFC will want to let one of their biggest female draws slip away, VanZant has expressed interest in testing the open market. VanZant’s husband, Austin Vanderford, currently fights for rival promotion Bellator and VanZant may look to join her husband soon. This is also an equally important fight for Ribas. Because of the sheer domination by current Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko, the division has essentially been cleared out with no real competitors left.
Ribas is looking to bump up from Strawweight to potentially propel herself into the 125-pound title picture. We saw this work perfectly a few weeks back when Strawweight Cynthia Calvillo did the same thing, defeating Jessica Eye to move into number two in the UFC’s Strawweight Rankings.
Jessica Adrade vs Rose Namajunas
The next fight is the rematch between two former UFC Strawweight Champions in their own right as Jessica Andrade takes on Rose Namajunas. This fight is extremely important for both fighters as the winner will likely be either the number one contender for the Strawweight Championship, or will be next in line should the UFC decide to book a rematch between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. In the first fight, Rose was defeated by Andrade via a slam which knocked the former champion out cold. Andrade then took the title into a fight with current champion Weili Zhang which she lost in the first round.
The only scenario where the winner of this fight does not fight for the title next would be if the UFC were to book the rematch between Zhang and Joanna and Joanna were to win. In that instance, the UFC would most likely want to run that back yet again to complete the trilogy.
Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo
The third fight on the main card will see the crowning of a new UFC Bantamweight Champion when number three ranked Petr Yan takes on the former Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. Yan was last seen defeating legend Urijah Faber whereas Aldo was last seen losing via decision to Marlon Moraes on the very same card. The fact that Aldo is in the fight to crown a new Bantamweight Champion following Henry Cejudo’s retirement has angered most MMA fans. Aldo has had only one fight at 135-pounds and lost to the division’s current number one ranked fighter.
It’s very rare a fighter will get a title shot after a loss and it is even rarer when that same fighter has not proven themselves to be able to win at a new weight class. Opposite from Aldo, many feel that Yan’s title shot is long overdue. Yan is currently on a nine fight win streak and has not lost inside the octagon.
Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway
The co-main event will see the rematch between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway for the Featherweight Championship. Volkanovski is currently on an 18 fight win streak including the last two UFC Featherweight Champions Jose Aldo and Max Holloway. In the first fight at UFC 245, Volkanovski utilized brutal leg kicks to slow down the pace of Holloway. Holloway, being the pressure fighter that he is, was thrown a bit out of sync as he was constantly forced to switch stances to avoid more damage from Volkanovski.
In the rematch, we can expect the former champion Holloway to maintain his distance while still looking to press forward and put the pressure on Volkanovski. It will be interesting to see if Holloway will have adjusted enough to avoid the leg kicks from Volkanovski. As discussed earlier, a trilogy fight would not be out of the question if one of the greatest UFC Champions of all time were to defeat Volkanovski and regain the 145-pound thrown.
Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns
The main event will see Kamaru Usman defending his Welterweight Championship against Gilbert Burns. Burns is riding a hot streak into this championship bout with Usman. Burns has not lost an MMA bout since July of 2018 and is coming off of notable wins against Demian Maia and former Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley. Burns is looking to keep the momentum going against Kamaru Usman. Usman himself has not lost since only his second pro fight and is coming off of a successful title defense against Colby Covington at UFC 245.
Usman has proven himself to be a solid striker who relies on his elite wrestling should her need it. Burns himself is an incredible striker, dominating his last two opponents on the feet. Burns is not afraid to go to the ground however. It will be an interesting dynamic when a strong wrestler faces off against an opponent who is not afraid to fight off of his back. Look for this one to remain standing for as long as these two can exchange blows.
What are you most looking forward to at UFC 251?
Featured Image: MMA Fight Radio