Jorge Masvidal emerged on just six days' notice for a long-awaited showdown with UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, proving there's a reason he's the BMF champion. But Usman showed his championship skills over five rounds, neutralizing the always-dangerous Masvidal on his way to a wide unanimous decision victory in the main event of UFC 251 from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Masvidal came out strong in the opening round, throwing flurries of fast strikes and popping up from an early Usman takedown. But Usman took over the fight from the second round on, using a grueling clinch game to neutralize the striking threat of Masvidal. Without the benefit of a full camp, it was clear the pace and style of the fight had wore Masvidal down and he had less and less offense to offer as the minutes ticked by.
As Usman took control, he held Masvidal firm against the cage, using old school foot stomps and shoulder strikes in between digging to the body and thighs of Masvidal with punches. A pair of headbutts in the early rounds opened up small cuts on the face of the challenger, but it was that grueling, grinding style of Usman that was the true deciding factor.
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In many ways, by following a strict and smart gameplan, Usman disappointed. With trash talk over the past months, including a confrontation that almost resulted in the two coming to blows during last year's Super Bowl radio row and both coming off classic brawls -- Masvidal against Nate Diaz and Usman against Colby Covington -- expectations were high for fireworks. But Usman left no doubt as to which man was the better fighter on this night.
Before the scorecards were read, the bad blood seemed to be laid to rest, with the men shaking hands and Masvidal telling the champion that he would get a few more wins and, "we can run it back."
The level of dominance shown by Usman throughout the fight can be summed up in two simple post-fight statistics. Usman landed 263 strikes to just 88 for Masvidal. And more than 10 of the 25 minutes of the fight were spent with Usman having control of the clinch. The final scorecards read 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46, all for Usman.
Following his victory, Usman seemed slightly disappointed in not getting the finish, but gave Masvidal credit.
"Gamebred is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now," Usman said. "I had to change gears to face him on six day's notice. I trained for Gilbert [Burns]. I had a totally different gameplan. That's no excuse. Gamebred is tough.
"Jorge is a tough guy and I give him credit for that. They call him Gamebred for a reason, he's always game for a fight. I'm just a level better. I have more tools in the toolbox and when need to pull them out, I can pull them out and use them."
As for the next step in his career as champion, Usman simply said he's hoping the world will get back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic so that he can grant his daughter her wish to go on a vacation.
Elsewhere on the card, Alexander Volkanovski retained his title with a controversial split decision over Max Holloway in a rematch of their fight from December 2019. In almost a reverse of how that fight went, Holloway took the opening rounds before Volkanovski made late adjustments to take it on two of the three judges' cards. Plus, Petr Yan became the new bantamweight champion with a late stoppage of former featherweight king Jose Aldo.
CBS Sports was with you throughout UFC 251 with updates, results and highlights. Relive all the action with our fight card recap below.
UFC 251 card and results
- Kamaru Usman (c) def. Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46)
- Alex Volkanovski (c) def. Max Holloway via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
- Petr Yan (c) def. Jose Aldo via fifth-round TKO (punches)
- Rose Namajunas def. Jéssica Andrade via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Amanda Ribas def. Paige VanZant via first-round submission (armbar)
- Jiří Procházka def. Volkan Oezdemir via second-round knockout (punch)
- Muslim Salikhov def. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
- Makwan Amirkhani def. Dan Henry via first-round submission (anaconda choke)
- Leonardo Santos def. Roman Bogatov via unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26)
- Marcin Tybura def. Maxim Grishin via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Raulian Paiva def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Karol Rosa def. Vanessa Melo via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
- Davey Grant def. Martin Day via third-round knockout (punch)