As far as the UFC traveling circus goes, any hopes of a global tour in the past few months have been curtailed, and although there have been several shows to keep the betting apps in New Jersey busy, they’ve not had much in the way of an international flavor.
That is until this weekend and the staging of UFC 251, a fight card that not only sees combat take place in the United Arab Emirates, but also unleashes its private ‘Fight Island’ to MMA fans all around the world.
This means that the Abu Dhabi location of Yas Island takes on a slightly different moniker for the next few days and, in doing so, ably steps in as host of an event that was initially scheduled for Perth, Australia.
While the scheduling issues do not stop there and just when Dana White’s best-laid plans looked like they would go off without a hitch, it only takes a pandemic to scupper proceedings and potentially leave the show without the main event.
A main event which initially had Gilbert Burns lined up for a crack at Welterweight gold, and unfortunately for the man who turns 35 this month, there is every chance he will be spending his birthday in quarantine.
Burns and his coach Greg Jones, have both tested positive for COVID-19 and due to the incredibly strict testing protocols that have been put in place, there is no chance the Brazilian-born fighter can compete.
Which put the UFC and current Welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, in something of a bind, and with the clock ticking, the race for a replacement began in earnest. Thankfully, there is always someone ready to take a shot at glory, and the man in question is Jorge Masvidal.
Masvidal will first play the act as a savior, and in agreeing to the fight at short notice, UFC 251 still gets the top-level fight it was expecting. However, soon after, Masvidal will want to play the role of spoiler.
That’s because the 35-year-old will not be making the journey to the Middle East for a quick payday, and with him already in possession of the BMF championship belt, he will now want to add the Welterweight version to his burgeoning collection.
Of course, standing in his way is the champion, Usman. With a winning streak that has gone on for seven years plus, it would take a courageous man to bet against the current Welterweight king and his bid to extend his MMA record to 17-1.
It was when Usman moved onto 15-1 that he climbed to the top of the Welterweight mountain, and after going the distance against Tyron Woodley at UFC 235, the judges would score the fight in his favor and crown him champion.
From there, Usman has fought just once, and that was the only current defense of the Welterweight division’s richest prize. Although it was a fight that also went to the fifth and final round, his UFC 245 effort against Colby Covington eventually delivered a knockout.
That knockout was delivered at the end of 2019, and there is almost a feeling of grand return as far as Usman is concerned - a return, that when you consider that the UFC is low on star power at present, is very much needed.
With Conor McGregor in another of his retirement phases, Khabib Nurmagomedov grounded due to flight restrictions (although the creation of ‘Fight Island’ may soon ease that), and with Henry Cejudo calling time on his career, the talent well is starting to run a little dry.
Cejudo’s decision to quit MMA was something of a shock – especially as the decision came so soon after he won the Bantamweight belt back at the recent UFC 249 event, with a win over Dominick Cruz.
With the Phoenix-based fighter vacating the Bantamweight division, it has offered the opportunity for two other men to claim possession of the championship belt, and with Petr Yan going up against former Featherweight champion Jose Aldo, this has all the makings of an exciting clash.
In one corner, you have a Russian fighter who currently possesses a 14-1 MMA record and is also in the midst of a six-fight UFC winning streak, and in the other, you have a man looking to become a champion at two separate weight classes.
That means UFC 251 viewers will be treated to two title fights this weekend, and no matter who walks out of the Octagon as respective champions, there will undoubtedly be no shortage of blood and thunder beforehand.