It may not be the real International Fight Week fans are used to getting, but UFC is delivering the product in the cage on Saturday night with UFC 251. The promotion boasts a trio of title fights on the PPV main card as it kicks off a three-week stay at "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi. Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is set to take on fan-favorite Jorge Masvidal, featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski is ready to rematch Max Holloway and Petr Yan will square off with Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight crown.
UFC is giving fans everything they could ask for this weekend from the United Arab Emirates. Fighters from first-time UFC appearances all the way to former champions fill out the massive card going down on Fight Island. And there's plenty to get excited about.
Let's take a closer look at the fights to keep an eye on this weekend, starting with a pair of interesting preliminary bouts.
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Muslim Salikhov -130 vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos +110, welterweights: On a fight card loaded with great matchups, Salikhov (16-2) vs. dos Santos (22-6) has some sneaky potential to end up winning Fight of the Night. Only eight of dos Santos' 28 career fights have gone to a decision with Salikhov having an even more impressive rate with only two decisions across 18 career fights. Salikhov is riding a three-fight winning streak and an 11-1 record since 2015. Only one fight in that span went to a decision. Meanwhile, dos Santos rebounded from a loss to Li Jingliang with a victory in his last fight. The Jingliang loss snapped a seven-fight win streak for the Brazilian. He is 8-2 since 2015, with three Fight of the Night performances in that stretch.
Volkan Oezdemir -170 vs. Jiri Prochazka +145, light heavyweights: Rizin veteran Prochazka (26-3-1) is a finisher. He has only seen the judges scorecards once in his 30 fight career, including 23 knockout wins. On Prochazka's current 10-fight winning streak, he has won nine by knockout, including his eight most recent fights. Oezdemir (17-4) is a former world title challenger, losing by knockout to then-light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier. That loss set off a spiral for Oezdemir's career as he would go on a three-fight losing skid. Oezdemir has since bounced back, winning back-to-back fights coming into the showdown. Oezdemir's finishing ability should not be overlooked as he has finished in 13 of his 17 career victories.
Amanda Ribas -800 vs. Paige VanZant +550, women's flyweights: While the attention is on VanZant (8-4), as it often is, Ribas (9-1) is the heavy favorite coming into the fight. There's good reason for that, of course, with Ribas undefeated in the UFC Octagon and on a four-fight winning streak. Ribas has even distribution of her wins, with three each coming by submission, knockout and decision for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Her two most recent showings were decision wins over Mackenzie Dern and Randa Markos, both high-value wins in the flyweight division. VanZant is fighting out the last bout on her current UFC contract after going 5-3 to date in the Octagon. After three impressive wins to start her UFC career, VanZant's hype-to-performance ratio was thrown out of whack when she lost step-up fights against Rose Namajunas, Michelle Waterson and suffered a broken arm in a loss to Jessica-Rose Clark in her flyweight debut. In her most recent performance, VanZant submitted Rachael Ostovich for her first win in the division, putting her in a big spot as she closes out her contract with her future uncertain.
Rose Namajunas -200 vs. Jessica Andrade +170, women's strawweights: This is a rematch of the UFC 237 main event where Andrade (20-7) won the 115-pound title from Namajunas (8-4) with one of the most brutal slams in UFC history. Andrade improved to a four-fight winning streak by beating Namajunas in that bout, but then lost the title in her next outing, getting stopped in just 42 seconds by Weili Zhang. Andrade has seven wins by knockout and seven by submission. Namajunas started her career 2-2 but has since gone 6-2, twice racking up three-fight winning streaks. She has five submission wins in her career and a lone knockout victory. Namajunas has not fought since the May 2019 loss to Andrade.
Bantamweight Championship -- Petr Yan -230 vs. Jose Aldo +190: Aldo (28-6) is a legend and the greatest featherweight in MMA history. But receiving a title shot here has been controversial after he moved to bantamweight and lost a close, competitive fight with Marlon Moraes, putting him on a two-fight losing skid and leaving him 0-1 at bantamweight. Aldo is 3-5 since 2015, but those losses came against Conor McGregor, Max Holloway, Alexander Volkanovski and Moraes, all elite-level fighters.
While Aldo may be on the downside of his career, Yan (14-1) appears to be just getting going. Yan is on a nine-fight winning streak, including six UFC victories. Three of those wins came by form of knockout, matching his 50% career finish rate. In December, Yan picked up a victory over the biggest name he has faced to date, knocking out Urijah Faber in the third round of their UFC 245 clash.
Featherweight Championship -- Alexander Volkanovski (c) -220 vs. Max Holloway +180: Volkanovski (21-1) won the featherweight title by beating Holloway (21-5) at UFC 245 in December. The rematch marks Volkanovski's first defense of the championship. The champ is riding an 18-fight winning streak, including eight victories in the UFC Octagon. A former rugby player, Volkanovski packs big power in his strikes and managed to outstrike the talented Holloway in the first meeting despite giving up five inches in height. Volkanovski has also finished 14 of his 21 career victories. His lone loss came by knockout, but was in the fourth fight of his career in 2013.
During his run with the championship, Holloway began to pick up hype as the greatest featherweight of all time, challenging Aldo's status. He came into the first Volkanovski fight with 14 straight victories at featherweight -- a lone loss to Dustin Poirier in a lightweight bout took place two fights prior -- and having stopped Aldo twice. Holloway has scored 10 knockouts and two submissions in his 21 career victories.
Welterweight Championship -- Kamaru Usman (c) -260 vs. Jorge Masvidal +210: This fight -- which was the fight everyone wanted to see -- came about after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Now, Masvidal (35-13) has stepped in to fight the champ on less than one week's notice. Masvidal is on the best run of his career, winning three straight fights by stoppage, first knocking out Darren Till, then scoring the fastest knockout in UFC history against Ben Askren and then stopping Nate Diaz on cuts after dominating their fight for the BMF title. Masvidal's last five wins have come by knockout, making up nearly a third of his 16 career knockout victories.
Usman (16-1) has won 15 consecutive fights and will be making the second defense of his welterweight title. He won the belt in a dominant performance against Tyron Woodley and successfully defended by stopping rival Colby Covington in a thrilling war. While he has many other quality wins, including over Rafael dos Anjos, Leon Edwards and Demian Maia, the Covington and Woodley fights serve as a great look at his best tools. Usman showed a great chin and heart, improved striking and big power against Covington. Against Woodley, he showed his dominant wrestling skills and ability to flip quickly between firing strikes and moving back to grappling. Usman has scored seven knockouts and one submission in his 16 career victories.
Who will win Usman vs. Masvidal, and how exactly will each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight on Saturday's UFC 251 card, all from the accomplished expert who's up almost $21,000 and has nailed 12 straight main events.