Kamaru Usman outworked and outhustled Jorge Masvidal to make the second defense of his UFC welterweight title at UFC 251 on Saturday. “The Nigerian Nightmare” drained “Gamebred” in the clinch in order to take home scores of 50-45 (twice) and one 49-46. The 33-year-old was all the more impressive given how Masvidal replaced Gilbert Burns at the last moment, and how the champion adjusted to training under a new coach in Trevor Wittman. The Fight Island showcase in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, also featured title fight success for featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski and bantamweight ruler Petr Yan, so let’s take a look at six fights which should happen after UFC 251.
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards
Riding an eight-fight win streak going into the global lockdown, Leon Edwards’s career has stuttered since his bout with Tyron Woodley was canceled in March. The Brit, whose strengths include a sky-high fight IQ and an enviable range of kicks, holds wins over Rafael dos Anjos and Gunner Nelson and it’s about time the number #4 ranked welterweight had a crack at the belt. Although Usman outpointed the Englishman back in 2015, both fighters have developed since then. Let’s see who’d win a rematch.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Gilbert Burns
Masvidal admitted in the post-fight press conference that he might need another visit to the Octagon to be ready for another championship bout. How about the in-form Brazilian, Burns? While Masvidal has won three of his four, Burns is unbested in four after moving to 170 pounds though many felt Edwards should have been granted a title shot instead of “El Durinho” in the first place. Masvidal would enter with a three-inch reach advantage, but once Burns recovers from coronavirus, he could trouble the American Top Team man with his forward pressure and jiu-jitsu prowess.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Winner of Yair Rodriguez-Zabit Magomedsharipov
After sneaking past Max Holloway in their rematch with scores of 48-47 (twice) and one 47-48, featherweight champion Volkanovski told Jon Anik that he’s now chasing new contenders. That’s a refreshing outlook and he could do worse than take on the winner or Rodriguez and Magomedsharipov, who throw down on August 29. Rodriguez has all the potential in the world but has bounced around gyms, leaving many to feel he hasn’t made the most of his skills yet. Magomedsharipov, on the other hand, has stuck with Mark Henry in New Jersey, honing a variety of weapons on the feet to compliment his world class jiu jitsu.
Max Holloway vs. Loser of Yair Rodriguez-Zabit Magomedsharipov
While Holloway can feel hard done by in not getting the decision against Volkanovski – he momentarily dropped the champion twice, the latter occasion with an uppercut through the guard – there should be no rush for “Blessed” and “Alexander The Great” to run it back a third time. Holloway has lost three from four (with one defeat up at lightweight), after all. That’s not to look down on the former champion – he boxed beautifully on Saturday, utilizing fakes and feints and that jab of his which snakes up with such disguise. For him to take on the runner-up from Rodriguez and Magomedsharipov would be no disgrace at all.
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
Yan became the second Russian to clinch UFC gold when he knocked out Aldo with a rally of ground and pound which was as vicious and decisive as it was difficult to watch. “No Mercy” honed in with straight punches and elbows around the Brazilian’s defenses for over a minute until referee Leon Edwards stepped in. Sterling should be next for Yan after the New Yorker submitted Cory Sandhagen in June with a rear-naked choke, scooping up a performance of the night bonus and one of the finest finishes of 2020. The American of Jamaican heritage uses all kinds of tricks and decoys on the feet but time will tell if he can match up to the champion.
Jose Aldo vs. Cory Sandhagen
The Brazilian’s defeat at the weekend was his sixth in his last nine, with four of those coming by knockout. The latest onslaught he suffered wasn’t as violent as his one-punch shellacking at the hands of Conor McGregor but it was damaging nonetheless. While can still uncork leg kicks and body assaults with the best of them, he seems unable to adjust once his opponents survive the first two rounds. Sandhagen has the height and range to befuddle Aldo yet doesn’t pose as much knockout power as another surging bantamweight, Cody Garbrandt. As such, Sandhagen would provide a benchmark to see where Aldo sits at 135 pounds.
Alistair Hendrie is a freelance writer for The Body Lock MMA. He has previously written for Mirror.co.uk and Fighters Only. Check out his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, featuring interviews with Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more.