9 Fights We Need to See After UFC 251
From the early vantage point, UFC 251, the promotion’s first event on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was touted as one of the best cards of 2020 thus far.
It delivered on those lofty expectations.
The card, which commenced at 2 a.m. local time, started with a bang as English bantamweight Davey Grant removed the batteries from Martin Day with a blistering left hand. After a handful of slow fights—and way too many groin shots—the undercard action rolled on with highlight-reel finishes from Makwan Amirkhani and Jiri Prochazka.
The UFC 251 main card, as expected, was no less entertaining.
After a pair of impressive victories for Amanda Ribas and Rose Namajunas, we watched Petr Yan batter Jose Aldo to a bloody TKO win to become the new UFC bantamweight champion. The night concluded with successful title defenses from Alexander Volkanovski and Kamaru Usman, who defeated Max Holloway and Jorge Masvidal, respectively.
It will likely take some time to digest all of the UFC 251 action, but even so soon after the card's conclusion, there are a number of matchups the UFC should look into booking as soon as possible.
Click through the slides ahead to see them.
Leonardo Santos vs. Drew Dober
Leonardo Santos got the win he sought at UFC 251, but it wasn’t pretty.
He defeated Roman Bogatov by unanimous decision on the undercard. While he had his moments in the fight, he was helped greatly when the Russian was docked two points after landing multiple groin shots and an illegal knee.
It wasn’t a win anybody will be talking about at the water cooler on Monday. In fact, it’s one most fans are probably eager to forget. Nonetheless, it pushed Santos onto an impressive 12-fight win-streak, including triumphs over the likes of Efrain Escudero, Anthony Rocco Martin, Kevin Lee and Stevie Ray. He deserves a reward—particularly after surviving 15 minutes with an opponent who seemed to be confusing his groin area for a speed bag.
A fight with Drew Dober, who recently debuted in the lightweight top 15 with a knockout win over Alexander Hernandez, would be perfectly suitable.
Santos’ naysayers might see a fight with a ranked opponent as excessive, but the man’s on an incredible run and is already 40 years old. Now’s the time.
Makwan Amirkhani vs. Bryce Mitchell
On the UFC 251 undercard, Finland’s Makwan Amirkhani rebounded from a tough TKO loss to Shane Burgos in emphatic fashion, choking Scotland’s Danny Henry unconscious with an anaconda choke in the first round of their featherweight fight.
For a finisher like Amirkhani, there is never any shortage of exciting matchup options. Of the many possibilities for his next fight, it’s arguable that none are quite as compelling as Bryce Mitchell.
Mitchell, like Amirkhani, is a submission wizard with a big personality. Like Amirkhani, he’s long stood out as one of the featherweight division’s most underrated competitors, hovering on the outside of the division’s top 15 but unable to enter those hallowed ranks so far.
The time has come to lock these two wily grapplers in the cage together, and see if either man can pick up that elusive, statement-making victory required to earn a spot in the featherweight rankings.
Jiri Prochazka vs. Nikita Krylov
If there was one fight on the UFC 251 bill that hardcore MMA fans were excited for, it was the final bout of the prelims, which pitted No. 7-ranked light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir against debuting former Rizin champion Jiri Prochazka.
Fans who watched Prochazka in Rizin, the entertaining Japanese promotion, know him as a frenzied force of destruction who can end a fight at any moment. He reaffirmed that reputation in his UFC debut.
Forty-nine seconds into the second round, he turned the lights out on Oezdemir with a nuclear right hand, instantly asserting himself as one of the most dangerous contenders in the promotion’s light heavyweight division.
With this win over the UFC's seventh-ranked light heavyweight, he’ll almost certainly earn a spot in the division’s top 10. From that lofty vantage point, he’ll have no shortage of exciting options, from Jan Blachowicz to Corey Anderson to Johnny Walker.
The most suitable option of all, though, is a fight with No. 10-ranked light heavyweight Nikita Krylov, who is riding a dominant unanimous-decision win over Walker.
Krylov is cut from the same cloth as Prochazka, having picked up some seriously jaw-dropping finishes outside the UFC and developed a reputation as one of the division’s most unpredictable and dangerous fighters.
Let these two wild men slug it out for a spot in the light heavyweight top five.
Amanda Ribas vs. Winner of Claudia Gadelha vs. Yan Xiaonan
Brazil’s Amanda Ribas put forth a star-making performance in the UFC 251 pay-per-view opener, tapping out Paige VanZant with an armbar in the first round of an anticipated flyweight fight.
With this submission win over VanZant, who resides among the most popular and battle-tested fighters in women’s MMA, Ribas has earned a big step up in competition. She should get that step up in her native strawweight division, rather than the flyweight division.
From here, Ribas should be matched up with the winner of the targeted September 26 fight between former strawweight title challenger Claudia Gadelha and streaking contender Yan Xiaonan.
If she’s able to beat either of those women, who are both ranked in the strawweight top 10, she’ll be right on the cusp of a title shot—which is starting to look more and more like a foregone conclusion.
Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili
Former UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas got her revenge against Jessica Andrade on the UFC 251 main card.
Andrade defeated Namajunas with a brutal, slam-induced knockout in 2019. In their UFC 251 rematch, Namajunas leaned on a superior striking output through Rounds 1 and 2 to earn an impressive split-decision triumph.
Now she’s back in the win column, there’s seemingly only one suitable option for her: a crack at the strawweight division’s champion, Zhang Weili.
Zhang, who defeated Andrade by TKO to win the title in 2019, recently defended the belt with a thrilling decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Not long after that successful title defense, she told ESPN that she views Namajunas as a deserving title challenger.
"I would fight anyone that the UFC offers to us, but my preference is to fight Rose because I believe she is the highest-level and most-skilled martial artist outside of myself in the division.
"She would be a good challenge for me."
Now that Namajunas has avenged her loss to Andrade, the fight makes all the sense in the world. Book the pair of elite strawweights in the main event of a Fight Night card or a pay-per-view co-headliner, and let's find out who truly deserves the spot on the throne.
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
The UFC has a new, undisputed bantamweight champion.
In the first of the three title fights on the UFC 251 bill, Petr Yan picked up the biggest victory of his career with a bloody, fifth-round TKO victory over former featherweight champion and MMA legend Jose Aldo. The win earned him a seat on the throne left vacant by recently retired former champion Henry Cejudo.
From here, there’s only one option for Yan: a fight with No. 2 bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling.
Speaking purely in terms of rankings and recent wins, the streaking Sterling should have been the one in the cage with Yan at UFC 251. Instead, however, the promotion gave the title shot to the more popular fighter in Aldo, who was riding a controversial decision loss to Marlon Moraes and matched Sterling up with Cory Sandhagen.
Yan beat Aldo. Sterling beat Sandhagen by first-round submission. When the dust settles, and any potential injuries have healed up, it's time for these two top bantamweights to fight for the title.
Anything else would be a travesty.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Jung
If the immediate outcry on social media was any indication, not everybody thought Alexander Volkanovski deserved his split-decision win over Max Holloway in the UFC 251 co-main event, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled.
With this win, the Australian featherweight champion is now 2-0 against the Hawaiian former champion, having also defeated him by decision at UFC 245 in December.
While there is an argument for a trilogy fight between Volkanovski and Holloway—both of their fights were very close—it’s probably time for something new for both men.
For Volkanovski, the next move should be a title defense against the ever-entertaining "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung.
Jung is currently linked to a grudge match with former title challenger Brian Ortega, though the fight is not yet official. The UFC should delay that plan, and give Jung, who is riding back-to-back knockout wins over Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar, a shot at the belt.
Volkanovski stated post-fight that he’s hoping to fight again before year’s end. It’s doubtful that Jung, who’s been out since December, would object to that timeline.
Let these two featherweight stars duke it out for gold in the fall.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington
Things didn’t go the way Jorge Masvidal planned at UFC 251, as he was outgrappled to a clear-cut unanimous-decision loss by UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
Despite this lopsided loss, Masvidal is unlikely to lose much ground. He can be excused for a less-than-stellar performance, having replaced Gilbert Burns against the champ on just six days’ notice, and remains one of the most popular and entertaining fighters on the roster. It will likely only take another win or two to regain his position near the top of the welterweight division.
From here, Masvidal should look to get back on track against Colby Covington, who has not fought since he lost via fifth-round TKO to Usman at UFC 245 in December.
Not only does a Masvidal vs. Covington fight make tons of sense from a rankings standpoint, but the pair are also archenemies.
For many years, they were close friends and training partners at American Top Team in South Florida. As they both began to close in on welterweight title shots, however, their friendship decayed into a bitter rivalry.
Now's the time to give them the chance to settle their beef in the cage and begin working their way back to Usman and the welterweight title.
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns
UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was the picture of dominance against short-notice title challenger Jorge Masvidal in the UFC 251 main event.
Over the course of their five-round encounter, the champ collected more than 10 minutes of grappling control time and landed plenty of meaningful striking offense, making the judges' job very easy. By the time the bout concluded, there could be no other option than a unanimous decision in his favor.
Usman was originally expected to defend his title against No. 1 welterweight contender Gilbert Burns in the UFC 251 main event, but he accepted a fight with Masvidal when Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Once the champ is ready to return to the cage, and Burns has a clean bill of health, the UFC should revisit that planned matchup.
UFC President Dana White has already suggested Burns would likely be next for the Usman vs. Masvidal winner.
"[Burns is] the No. 1 contender,” White told MMA Junkie on Friday. "He’s the No. 1-ranked guy in the world. Yeah—he’s the No. 1 guy in the world. The kid is hungry. He wants to fight. He wants to be a world champion—and he’s No. 1. Yeah, that puts him in a pretty good spot."
Let's hope he makes good on that comment and it's Usman vs. Burns next.
UFC 251 Full Results
- Kamaru Usman def. Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision
- Alexander Volkanovski def. Max Holloway via split decision
- Petr Yan def. Jose Aldo via fifth-round TKO
- Rose Namajunas def. Jessica Andrade via split decision
- Amanda Ribas def. Paige VanZant via first-round sub (armbar)
- Jiri Prochazka def. Volkan Oezdemir via second-round KO
- Muslim Salikhov def. Elizeu Zaleski via split decision
- Makwan Amirkhani def. Danny Henry via first-round sub (anaconda choke)
- Leonardo Santos def. Roman Bogatov via unanimous decision
- Marcin Tybura def. Maxim Grishin via unanimous decision
- Raulian Paiva def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision
- Karol Rosa def. Vanessa Melo via unanimous decision
- Davey Grant def. Martin Day via third-round KO