UFC 251 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2020

UFC 251 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    UFC 251 features a riveting welterweight matchup between the 170-pound champion Kamaru Usman and "BMF" champ Jorge Masvidal in one of the biggest and best fights of the year that amazingly got made on just about six days' notice.

    Including Usman-Masvidal, UFC 251 features three title fights. That makes it just the sixth card in UFC history to feature three chances for UFC gold on one card.

    In the co-main event, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski takes on former champ Max Holloway in an important rematch. The third title fight at UFC 251 is for the vacant UFC bantamweight championship, as Petr Yan faces former featherweight champ Jose Aldo to crown a new bantamweight king.

    UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal takes place on Saturday, July 11, at UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

    Click through to read our staff's main card predictions, and be sure to leave your own in the comments.

Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant

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    Can Amanda Ribas keep the momentum going with another win?
    Can Amanda Ribas keep the momentum going with another win?Mike Roach/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    It's put up or shut up time for Paige VanZant. She's at the end of a contract, has lost three of her last five fights and has been among the fighters campaigning out loud for better pay.

    That's all well and good, but unless she defeats Amanda Ribas—who's 3-0 in the UFC and hasn't lost a fight of any kind in nearly five years—it's unlikely to make much of an impact. And that's a problem, because in her limited run thus far, Ribas has seemed like the real deal. A black belt in both jiu-jitsu and judo, she's picked up a submission and two wide decisions in three bouts and seems the more well-rounded commodity here.

    Ribas via unanimous decision

         

    Kelsey McCarson

    Like Lyle says, all the situational things in this fight make it seem like Ribas is going to win. Her career trajectory is up at present, while VanZant seems like she might be on her way out of the sport or at least gone from the UFC roster.

    As noted in my UFC 251 value picks for bettors piece, I like Ribas overall, but the odds being so much in her favor over VanZant seem wacky to me, so backing the underdog in hopes of a big score isn't a bad idea. But just picking the fight outright? Easy call for Ribas.

    Ribas via unanimous decision

        

    Scott Harris

    Yeah, I'm with Lyle on this one; it's pretty open and shut. VanZant's heart hasn't been in fighting for quite some time now, and that win over Rachel Ostovich wasn't quite enough to right the ship. Ribas should win this going away.

    Ribas via unanimous decision

           

    Tom Taylor

    Ribas will enter her UFC 251 fight with VanZant as the biggest betting favorite on the whole card. While I think VanZant will put up a much better fight than the oddsmakers do, I think Ribas will come out on top.

    She's outlanded her first three UFC opponents, and I suspect she can do the same against VanZant. As Lyle pointed out, she also has black belts in jiu-jitsu and judo, so she should have VanZant's number on the mat.

    VanZant's heart and experience should keep her in the fight for the duration, but Ribas has her beat across the board.

    Ribas via unanimous decision

Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas 2

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    Will Rose Namajunas notch a win in the rematch against Jessica Andrade?
    Will Rose Namajunas notch a win in the rematch against Jessica Andrade?Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    It's never easy picking a beaten fighter to win a rematch, particularly when said fighter was beaten by a stoppage and not a debatable decision. But there's a real opportunity here for Rose Namajunas to reverse the outcome of her first go-round with Jessica Andrade when she was pummeled inside of two full rounds 14 months ago at UFC 237.

    For starters, this fight is three rounds and not five, so she won't have to evade the battering ram for an extra 10 minutes. And her striking game is nuanced and fluid, meaning she can use her speed and footwork to torment Andrade. It says here that she'll do it.

    Namajunas via unanimous decision

          

    Kelsey McCarson

    Andrade ate lots of strikes in the first fight, but she parlayed that diet into the knockout win when she dropped Namajunas on her head.

    I think the second fight could look like the first. Namajunas looks great letting her hands and feet do most of the talking in the rematch, but Andrade scores the most telling blow to score another upset win.

    Andrade, TKO, Rd. 3

         

    Scott Harris

    Here's another one where one of the fighters (Namajunas) simply doesn't appear overly enamored with the sport anymore. Can you blame her? It's not the rosiest of pictures, and for all Namajunas' talent, the game can take a toll.

    Still, she was the champ for a reason and will outfinesse Andrade on the feet to nab the W.

    Namajunas via unanimous decision

         

    Tom Taylor

    Namajunas looked great in her first fight with Andrade. Sure, she ended up getting slammed on her head, but she was delivering a fantastic performance until then.

    I think she'll put forth an even better performance this time and avoid the whole slam situation. I see her soundly outstriking Andrade and ultimately showing off the power she displayed in her first fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

    Namajunas, TKO, Rd. 2

Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo

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    Can Jose Aldo grab the title or has father time caught up to the fighter?
    Can Jose Aldo grab the title or has father time caught up to the fighter?Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    Yan gives every indication he's the real deal. Faced with an interesting trial in veteran Urijah Faber last December, he didn't freeze or get intimidated by his foe's hall of fame credentials. Instead, he blew the older man's doors off on the way to a third-round beatdown. And not long after, he was rewarded with a title shot when Henry Cejudo retired.

    In Aldo, Yan faces another guy with a daunting resume. But the Brazilian is far more relevant at age 33 than Faber was at 40, and he looked good enough in his bantamweight debut to be considered legit. It won't be as easy, but youth gets served again.

    Yan via split decision

         

    Kelsey McCarson

    Justice dictates I pick Yan to win this fight if only because there's no good reason Aldo is getting the title shot in the first place. Maybe it would make sense if Aldo's loss to No. 1 contender Marlon Moraes in last year's contest was a clear robbery, but that's not what happened at all. It was a close fight that judges scored for Moraes but Dana White scored for Aldo.

    It's dumb Aldo is fighting Yan for the vacant title, especially when there are so many other deserving contenders, so I'm picking Yan to stop him in a shocker.

    Yan, KO, Rd. 2

          

    Scott Harris

    You know what? I was going to go into this whole thing about how bad I wanted to pick Aldo over the upstart in Yan. But I'm not going to do that. Yan is a rising star in this game and he's ready for the spotlight. He's not quite there yet, but with that striking and cardio (I realize that's reductive but still), he should be able to topple the old lion and make some cage space for someone new.

    Yan, TKO, Rd. 2

            

    Tom Taylor

    It's so easy to forget how great Jose Aldo is. Sure, Petr Yan is good too, and possibly a future champion, but at UFC 251 he's fighting one of the best to ever do it. In this fight, I see Aldo putting on a vintage performance with crisp boxing, a steady diet of leg kicks, and maybe a few takedowns. It'll be a moment we won't soon forget as the Brazilian legend, in the twilight of his career, begins another reign as king.

    Aldo via unanimous decision

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 2

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    Has Max Holloway learned from the past so he can take the win over Alexander Volkanovski in their rematch?
    Has Max Holloway learned from the past so he can take the win over Alexander Volkanovski in their rematch?Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    I watched the first one and kept hearing how Volkanovski was going to be the toughest challenge for the fighter labeled the best featherweight ever. And as the former Australian rugby player began each round by outhustling and outstriking his higher-echelon foe, I kept waiting for Holloway to flick the switch and dispense with the tenacious interloper. But it never happened, which left analysts scrambling to decide if the new champion was that good or the deposed king had an off night.

    That's where I am, too. And as much as I like Volkanovski, he's got to do it twice to convince me it wasn't the latter.

    Holloway, TKO, Rd. 5

          

    Kelsey McCarson

    I picked Volkanovski in the first fight against Holloway because he's so powerful and he's shown he's most clever when it really counts. That's exactly how the first fight played out. Volkanovski's massive leg kicks tore Holloway up during the opening rounds, but he also got the better of the exchanges later in the fight when Holloway's back was up against the wall.

    Since their first encounter, Holloway has remained in denial about what happened at UFC 245. He grew out super long hair and told Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole he only trained through Zoom calls for the rematch. None of those things make me believe he's on his way to recapturing his title. Holloway is tough enough to avoid the stoppage, but Volkanovski wins the rematch even more convincingly than the first fight.

    Volkanovski via unanimous decision

            

    Scott Harris

    "Blessed" is Holloway's nickname, but it could apply to both guys. Volkanovski has entered the pound-for-pound discussion—and with good reason, given all his success. But give me Holloway. That reach and his knowledge in the clinch or on the ground is still pure greatness.

    Holloway via unanimous decision

           

    Tom Taylor

    In my eyes, Volkanovski's first win over Holloway was pretty clear. I'm not sure Holloway has changed enough since then to do any better this time around, particularly if he's done most of his training on Zoom. Volkanovski told ESPN he's planning on finishing Holloway in this fight. I doubt he can do that—if Dustin Poirier couldn't, nobody can—but I do think he can pick up another clear win.

    Volkanovski via unanimous decision

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal

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    Made in just six days, this is a main event for the history books.
    Made in just six days, this is a main event for the history books.Mike Roach/Getty Images

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

    To me, this one mirrors 2005's boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti. Mayweather had done nothing but win on the highest level. Gatti was far more popular because he absorbed shots from middling opposition and returned fire. But when he climbed the elite ladder, he was beaten down by both Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, losing two fights in a combined 11 rounds.

    The gap here isn't as wide, but it's still significant. Usman is better on the mat, as much or perhaps more varied on his feet and has way too much going for him to lose.

    Usman, TKO, Rd. 4

          

    Kelsey McCarson

    I can totally see how in hindsight I might look back at my pick for Usman vs. Masvidal someday and shudder to think about how much I chose with my gut feeling over anything I actually saw. That being said, I'm rolling with Masvidal to get the "super necessary" upset win over Usman on Saturday night.

    Sure, this might be just like Lyle suggests with his Mayweather vs. Gatti analogy. But to also borrow from the boxing world, sometimes fighters just level up and do huge things that nobody saw coming.

    I remember in 2008 when Manny Pacquiao wanted to move up to welterweight to fight Oscar De La Hoya and everybody thought he was crazy. But Pacquiao dominated and stopped De La Hoya and turned into one of the most fascinating buzzsaws of the new century. I think that might be the kind of run Masvidal is on right now, so I like Masvidal to stop Usman late in the fight after some back-and-forth action.

    Masvidal, KO, Rd. 4

           

    Scott Harris

    Like many "superfights" this one has "anticlimactic" written all over it. Usman has the wrestling to bring down a tractor-trailer. Masvidal has sharp boxing and amazing clinch skills, but he's giving up size and pure power to one of the best in the world today.

    Usman, TKO, Rd. 2

          

    Tom Taylor

    It hurts me to admit it, because it would be so cool to see Jorge Masvidal capture the UFC welterweight title so far into his career, but this is Usman’s fight to lose. He’s easily one of the best wrestlers in the welterweight division. His striking looks sharper every time he fights. He has power. He knows how to develop and follow a game plan. So long as he avoids a slugfest, I see him mixing his martial arts beautifully en route to a clear decision victory.

    Usman via unanimous decision