A trio of championship bouts headlined a much-anticipated UFC 251 card on Saturday from Abu Dhabi as the promotion made its debut at Fight Island.
Late-replacement Jorge Masvidal certainly stole the headlines by his addition to the welterweight title main event on six days' notice, but it was Kamaru Usman who stood tall to end the evening by retaining his title via dominant decision.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest takeaways from UFC's third visit to the United Arab Emirates.
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1. Kamaru Usman deserves your respect
Masvidal's 17-year journey from backyard brawler to the cusp of a UFC title created the potential for a storybook ending that simply wasn't meant to be. The reason was because Usman really is that good. Not only did he rely on his mauling style as one of UFC's most dominant wrestlers to suck any potential entertainment from the fight, he also showed markedly improved striking in his first camp with coach Trevor Wittman.
Usman was already listed among the top 10 pound-for-pound best fighters in the game entering this fight, but his evolution into a well-rounded champion took even bigger leaps this time around as he smartly focused on exposing Masvidal's lack of a full training camp by gassing him out through grappling in the clinch. Not only was this not the Hollywood ending casual fans had hoped for Masvidal, the fight brought a bit of a fizzle to the momentum that had started and all of the large expectations coming in. But Usman shouldn't be penalized for that. He took Masvidal's best shots early and beat him in just about every aspect of the game over the next four rounds. It would be difficult to imagine favoring any other fighter at 170 pounds against him from here on out.
2. Holloway's next move unclear after heartbreaking loss
The co-main event of UFC 251 was too competitive and entertaining to complain too much about the decision as Alexander Volkanovski defended his featherweight title by split decision over the former champion Max Holloway. But regardless of which way you scored it as the two best 145-pound fighters in the world co-authored a second display of dueling technique, the loss is a difficult one for Holloway considering the adjustments he made to convincingly win the first two rounds. Holloway did everything he didn't do in the first fight -- controlled distance and pace while routinely getting off first. He wasn't able to keep up control, however, as Volkanovski made adjustments to edge a trio of close rounds down the stretch on two of three scorecards.
Although Holloway is just 28 and has already built a near-legendary resume, his next move is far from clear after in a deep division that likely prevents another title shot anytime soon considering he has lost twice consecutively to the defending champion. A move up to a loaded lightweight division could bring Holloway a seemingly endless amount of big-name opportunities, but the jury is still out as to whether he has the power to defeat the division's best fighters. Either way, Holloway fought like a champion on Saturday despite a training camp handled over Zoom that was anything but ideal. It just wasn't convincing enough to bring the title back to Hawaii.
3. As advertised: Petr Yan is an absolute stud
If the new UFC bantamweight champion wasn't as tough and well-rounded as he proved in this vacant title bout, he never would have survived the test given him by 33-year-old former featherweight king Jose Aldo. Yan overcame being hurt by heavy strikes in an exciting slugfest and did well to counter much of Aldo's success with big strikes of his own. He also tugged on Aldo's gas tank and violently finished him when he had him hurt late. Although Yan will have no shortage of big names and difficult tests in front of him as a rising star atop a loaded division, he's a major threat to finish all of them considering his barbaric style that is offset nicely with poise and technique. The Russian destroyer should expect to be lined up next against the toughest of those fights on paper versus top contender Aljamain Sterling following his first-round finish of Corey Sandhagen in June.
4. Namajunas walked through hell to silence her demons
It's hard to remember a betting favorite entering the Octagon with as many questions and red flags about their heart and passion for the sport as Namajunas had facing fellow former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade in their rematch. "Thug Rose" had strongly considered retirement after being knocked out by Andrade in May 2019 and delayed her return after two members of her family died after contracting COVID-19. But Namajunas rediscovered her passion for the sport and it showed with how many times she flashed a smile (and even danced) despite enduring tremendous punishment in Round 3. Namajunas survived a furious finish from Andrade that left her nose busted open and her left eye badly swollen to claim a well-deserved win by split decision. Namajunas, 28, looks like a title threat once again and an opportunity at Weili Zhang's 115-pound belt could produce one of the best fights on paper the promotion can make.
5. The VanZant experiment was a massive disappointment
Coming in as a huge underdog for the final fight of her UFC deal, the 26-year-old PVZ entered the Octagon in tears. Just over two minutes later, she left with a whimper as an emotional Amanda Ribas burst out in tears of her own to celebrate just her latest breakthrough victory after a dominant submission win. VanZant showed plenty of flash and potential as both an exciting fighter and crossover name when she was essentially branded the next Ronda Rousey and given priority marketing by the promotion. She never came close to living up to the hype, however, as injuries and questions about her commitment stunted her growth. VanZant (8-5), who has teased everything from signing with Bellator MMA to making a play at professional wrestling for her next move, likely exits UFC for good with a 5-4 record inside the Octagon including losses in three of her final four fights.