On Saturday, July 12, UFC 251 took place on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. With the UFC’s “Fight Island” debut now in the books, let’s take a look at the biggest winners of the night.
Kamaru Usman made his second successful defense of the welterweight title in the evening’s main event, but it definitely wasn’t the type of performance that left fans clamoring for more. At the end of the day, Usman was able to neutralize Jorge Masvidal’s biggest threat and retain his belt, but he doesn’t earn a spot on our podium.
Bronze Medal: Alexander Volkanovski
Volkanovski’s victory over Max Holloway at UFC 245 was pretty decisive, but he asked for an immediate rematch with the longtime champ in order to prove that he is the rightful king of the 145-pound division. The good news for Volkanovski is that his first title defense is now in the bag. The bad news is that he definitely has a whole lot more doubters now than he did before.
Volkanovski’s display over the final three rounds of the fight earns him a spot on the winner’s podium. Holloway absolutely had the bigger moments in the fight, scoring a knockdown in each of the first two frames. In the big picture, it’s fair to say that Holloway “won” the fight. The Hawaiian did more damage and landed the bigger strikes. You can’t deny, however, that Volkanovski went out and made the necessary adjustments to steal the fight from Holloway. It was a gritty performance from the champ and, quite frankly, it was amazing that he came back to win after those first two rounds. Say what you want about the flawed scoring system in MMA and about “point fighting,” but this wasn’t a robbery.
Silver Medal: Jiří Procházka
There was a fair amount of hype surrounding Procházka prior to his UFC debut. The 27-year-old, a longtime Rizin mainstay, amassed 26 wins throughout his professional career, with just one of those coming via decision, before finally signing with the UFC. When a fighter has such a prolific record against lower-level competition, you always want to see what he can do against the top fighters in the world.
Procházka exceeded expectations by viciously knocking out Volkan Oezdemir less than a minute into the second round of their fight. Oezdemir is not a pushover by any means. He’s stepped into the Octagon with some of the best light heavyweights in the world and held his own each time. We’ve never seen him finished in the manner we did at UFC 251.
Procházka could be a star in the making. He’ll need to tighten up his striking defense, but his personality really shines through with his carefree approach in the cage. He has ridiculous power and certainly earned himself a lot of new fans on Saturday night.
Gold Medal: Petr Yan
Yan has looked unstoppable through his seven UFC fights. The 27-year-old picked up the biggest win of his career by defeating José Aldo and claiming the previously vacant bantamweight championship. The Russian turned in an elite performance. He came out strong, but his ability to weather the storm was the most impressive part of his performance.
Yan put an exclamation mark on the fight by finishing his legendary opponent with ground-and-pound in the final round. He turned in a fantastic all-around performance and proved that he is among the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
There’s a long line of challengers waiting to throw hands with Yan in the extremely stacked 135-pound division. It will be interesting to see if Yan can neutralize the grappling ability of Aljamain Sterling, too. It will be exciting to see how Yan’s title reign plays out.
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