This week, once again, combat sports strongest offering comes from the world of mixed martial arts as the UFC debuts ‘Fight Island’. Circumnavigating the global pandemic once again the UFC is this time coming to us from a tropical paradise in the gulf.
Boxing fans will be tuning into Frank Warren’s 5 fights on BT this Friday but if you’re still missing that Saturday night big event feeling look no further than UFC 251.
As boxing returns with British and commonwealth title fights this weekend the UFC has three, yes three, world title fights. The welterweight (170lbs), Featherweight (145lbs) and Bantamweight (135lbs) belts are all on the line as the UFC debuts on Yas island, Abu Dhabi.
Boxing is back in a small way but the UFC is hosting one of its biggest events ever, so I will be taking you through the card from a boxing fans perspective. Analysing each combatants boxing skill and giving you a fight to watch, and who you might want to route for given who you like in boxing.
Main Event: Usman v Masvidal
This main event is a bonafide megafight as world welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defends against the reigning and defending BMF (Bad Motherfucker) champion Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal has answered the BMF bat signal on just 5 days notice to step in for a COVID stricken Gilbert Burns, not just saving the event but creating an even bigger spectacle.
The Champion: Kamaru Usman 16-1
The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ is a 16-1 and hasn’t lost a fight since 2013. One of the most dominant forces in the recent history of the UFC Usman has grappled his way to the top of the one of the most competitive divisions. After moving to the US from Nigeria he became a wrestling prodigy. He compiled a 53-3 record in high school before getting a scholarship to the University of Nebraska at Kearney helping the school win its first-ever team title in 2008.
He took up MMA in 2012 and after an up and down start he won the Ultimate Fighter TV show beating Hayder Hassan to earn his UFC contract. After beating a string of contenders including top talents Damien Maia, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards and former lightweight world champion Rafael dos Anjos he earned his title shot in 2019.
Using his wrestling background he dominated long reigning champion Tyron Woodly, pinning him to the cage and using his wrestling to stifle his work. He followed this up with a slugfest against fellow wrestler Colby Covington.
His boxing ability is a distant second compared to his wrestling skill. However, he has shown vast improvements and in his last outing he secured the KO with punches. His hooks and uppercuts are rudimentary but his jab is accurate and powerful and his right hand broke Covington’s jaw, so is more than adequate.
Fight to watch: Usman v Covington, striking exchanges throughout.
For fans of: Anthony Joshua, Frank Bruno.
The Challenger: Jorge Masvidal 35-13
Raised on the mean streets of Miami, ‘Gamebred’ is exactly that; game as they come and bred to fight. The man they call ‘Street Jesus’ has had an up and down career taking fights all over the world, but in 2019 he came into his own in a big way.
First Masvidal took on brash Brit, Darren Till in London. This was supposed to be a comeback for Till but it proved a Banana skin as Masvidal survived the early onslaught and knocked Till out with a wicked left hook.
He then moved on to a record time KO when he knocked out virtuoso wrestler Ben Askren with the first strike of the fight. The videos of him flying through the air and smashing his knee into Askren went viral the world over and propelled him into a mega fight with Nate Diaz at Madison Square Garden.
Fighting for the inaugural BMF belt, Diaz was a stern test as he always is but Masvidal outboxed him throughout. Diaz suffered horrendous cuts and the fight was stopped by the doctor.
Boxing is the bread and butter of Jorge’s game, in contrast to Usman. 16 of his career wins are KO’s and 17 are striking heavy decisions with only 2 submission wins. He has ambidextrous power, lighting fast combination punching and a trademark left hook.
Fight to watch: Masvidal v Till, striking exchanges and a stunning KO.
For fans of: Rocky Graziano, Danny Garcia.
Co Main Event: Volkanovski v Holloway 2
The co-feature is an immediate rematch as long standing champion Max Holloway looks to regain his title against the man who took it from him last year, Alex Volkanovski.
Champion: Alex Volkanovski 21-1
After big wins over contenders Elkins and Mendes as well as former champion Aldo the Australian Volkanovski earnt his shot. A huge underdog against Holloway he outstruck the champion with a series of punches and leg kicks.
He used the incredible cardio he developed as a semi-professional rugby league player for the Warilla Gorillas, to maintain his output across the twenty five minutes.
His boxing is tight. He has a high guard and uses hard hooks as he explodes into the pocket. He has a powerful right hand and his short muscular physique is perfect for his explosive style.
Fight to watch: Volkanovski v Holloway 1, 5 rounds of striking action.
For Fans of: Mike Tyson, Dwight Muhammad Qwai.
The Challenger: Max Holloway 21-5
‘Blessed’ has beaten José Aldo twice, he’s beaten Pettis, Lamas, Stephens, Swanson and Ortega. From 2015 to 2018 he went on one of the most destructive runs in UFC history completely clearing up the division Connor McGregor had beheaded and vacated.
These wins all had a common thread and it was Max’s boxing game. He outstruck everyone he encountered stopping most with his slick hands.
Head movement, an accurate jab, switch hitting and punch variety are staples of his game. Coupled with his underrated power and willingness to fight standing toe to toe he’s been one of MMA’s most entertaining strikers for years.
Fight to watch: Holloway v Ortega, Striking Masterclass
For fans of: Emanuel Naverette, Marvin Hagler.
Feature Bout: Yan v Aldo
In May of this year Champion Henry Cejudo announced he was retiring from MMA, this caused both his Bantamweight and Flyweight titles to become Vacant. Now this weekend the Vacant title will be contested by tough Russian Petr Yan and vetran champion Brazil’s José Aldo.
Favourite: Petr Yan 14-1
Like Volkanovski, Yan is a fairly new presence in the UFC making his debut in 2018 but he too has been on a monstrous streak. Andrade, Dodson, Rivera and then UFC legend Uriah Faber have all been overcome on route to this title opportunity.
He only has one submission victory, his others are distributed evenly between boxing heavy decisions and KO’s via punches. Boxing is what Yan does best and for my money he’s one of the most balanced and proficient boxers in the UFC.
A natural southpaw who loves to switch stances he’s made his name by never overreaching. Due to the threat of takedowns in MMA most fighters reach over their base to land strikes, Yan however fights more like a boxer taking his feet with him to follow his opponents.
Fight to watch: Yan v Faber, his biggest win yet.
For fans of: Josh Warrington, Miguel Berchelt
The Underdog: Jose Aldo
To call José Aldo an underdog would have been unthinkable before 2015. Between 2006 and 2015 he didn’t lose a single fight, which in MMA is completely unheard of.
‘Scarface’ scored dominant wins over hall of famers like Faber, Swanson, Brown, Florian, Mendes, Korean Zombie and Edgar.
Although he has had mixed fortunes of late he has moved down 10lbs to the bantamweight division and looked better than he has for some time. Although the judges disagreed, UFC president Dana Whyte thought he won his eliminator and therefore he finds himself in a vacant title fight.
A kick-boxer, Aldo uses leg kicks and big hooks to head and body to wear down his opponents and ultimately finish them in as savage fashion as he sees fit.
Fight to watch: Aldo v Stevens, brutal left hook to the body.
For fans of: Mikey Garcia
In conclusion once again the UFC over delivers in lockdown. Three fantastic world title fights that are competitive, fairly evenly matched and striking focused.
Coverage will start in the UK at 12am on BT sport 1, with the preliminary card commencing at 1am and the main card at 3am. In the United States it will be exclusively on ESPN pay per view.
Fight island will showcase some of the UFC’s top talents and most impressive boxers. I think this weekend's castaway card is absolutely essential viewing for the entire combat sports world.
Ewan Breeze of SimBoxx
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