Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

UFC 251 on Saturday night, didn’t bring with it, a whole bunch of surprises in regards to the outcome of its trio of championship clashes. All betting favourites emerged victorious.

Kamaru Usman retained his welterweight title in a clinch dominant performance against short-notice replacement, Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal. At featherweight, Alexander Volkanovski remains the pack leader via a narrow split decision win over former champion, Max Holloway in an even better matchup the second time around. Russian striker, Petr ‘No Mercy’ Yan solved the puzzle of tricky veteran, José Aldo with an eventual fifth-round knockout in an exciting back-and-forth to claim vacant bantamweight gold.

For the defeated parties on Yas Island – it’s not so much straight forward in terms of a return pairing. Masvidal was outshone by Usman, relatively one-sidely. Holloway exacted an excellent performance, but that’s his second consecutive loss against Volkanovski, and his third in four outings. For Brazilian favourite, Aldo – that’s three consecutive defeats, two of which have come in his brief stint at bantamweight. Below, I play matchmaker.

Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns:

There should be no surprises here. The original headliner of the promotion’s first event on ‘Fight Island’ was set as Usman vs. Burns for the welterweight title. A positive COVID-19 test return from streaking contender, Burns ruled him out. Masvidal took his place on six days’ notice, however, Burns hasn’t fallen out of title favour whatsoever.

Since his move back to 170-pounds in August of last year – the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace has made short work of Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, compatriot, Demian Maia, and at the end of May, easily outworked former titleholder, Tyron Woodley on his way to a dominant unanimous judging. With all the chips falling in order, expect to see Usman vs. Burns before the turn of the annum.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington:

Despite Masvidal’s intentions to deny Covington a bout, these two bitter rivals and former teammates may need to go through each other to earn their second respective tilts at welterweight spoils. Covington hasn’t featured since his final-frame knockout defeat to Usman last December at UFC 245 and recently parted from American Top Team in Coconut Creek, after gaining heat due to his verbal onslaughts against stablemates, Masvidal, Dustin Poirier, and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.

Covington’s expected to remain in South Florida ahead of his next outing, and a matchup alongside former roommate, Masvidal would garner huge attention, not just for the possible pre-fight barbs, but the stylistic matching of two more than familiar welterweight forces.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Leon Edwards:

If not Covington – then let’s go with perennial contender, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards. Covington and Masvidal have a storied history, while Edwards and the latter have a brief, yet violent antiquity. At UFC Fight Night London last March, Masvidal had finished Darren Till in shocking fashion, after Edwards had outpointed the aforenoted, Nelson. In a now-infamous backstage encounter, Masvidal – who had been interrupted during his interview by Edwards in a matchmaking attempt, struck the Birmingham based all-rounder with a combination, later christened a “three-piece and a soda“. Let’s settle this in the Octagon before the year’s shut.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov – Yair Rodríguez winner:

City Kickboxing mainstay, Volkanovski is now 2-0 against Holloway, however contentious the weekend’s rematch decision proved. We must move on from that pairing now, for the simple fact that the division is jam-packed with worthy contenders. Two such contenders; Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Yair Rodríguez.

Expected to meet at a UFC Fight Night Vegas event on August 29th. – talented challengers, Zabit and Rodriguez will have to, similarly to the aforementioned Masvidal and Covington, go toe-to-toe to earn their first title challenge under the UFC’s banner.

I’m overlooking both Chan Sung Jung and Brian Ortega at this time, for the simple fact that they’re still not pencilled in to meet each other following the fallout of their initial bout at UFC Fight Busan last December, while Zabit and Rodríguez are.

Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar – Dan Ige winner:

Undoubtedly, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway will remain a top contender in the featherweight ranks for the distant future. Two contenders who’ve really emerged in the last eighteen months, is Boston native, Calvin Kattar, and another Hawaiian, ‘Dynamite’ Dan Ige. Those two will meet on Wednesday night in Abu Dhabi, with the victor edging their way forward toward the upper-echelons of the 145-pound division.

Holloway has as noted earlier, dropped three of his last four, and a non-title bout would offer a fresh change of pace for the fan-favourite, alongside one of these two fresh contenders.

Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling:

This one – like Usman vs. Burns, writes itself. Arguably, Yan vs. Sterling for the vacant championship was the fight to make, in place of Aldo’s highly controversial title opportunity. Longtime contender, Sterling put in the performance of his career at UFC 250 in June, finishing Cory Sandhagen with a slick first-round rear-naked choke. Number-one contender status earned.

It’s an intriguing stylistic matchup as well. Yan, as seen against Aldo – has some of the sharpest hands in the bantamweight pile, while Sterling can mix it up as good as anyone, and offers a grappling threat, whether off his back or from the top.

José Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz:

Back in March, I compiled a list of ten matchups I’d like to see this year. A bantamweight matchup between former UFC and WEC bests, José Aldo and Dominick Cruz featured prominently.

Aldo vs. Cruz is one of the most overdue matchups in Octagon history, and following both men’s championship challenge knockout losses in the last four months, now seems the perfect time to make this pairing. Cruz replaced a VISA restricted Aldo at UFC 249 in March, losing a second-round stoppage to the recently retired, Henry Cejudo, but revealed his plan to continue his journey to reclaiming the bantamweight throne. It may be an outdated idea, but on paper, these two style frontrunners need to meet before they call time on their gold-laden careers.


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