Alexander Volkanovski and Kamaru Usman both needed the full 25 minutes to see off Max Holloway and Jorge Masvidal respectively, while Petr Yan became the new 135lbs king with a dominant win over veteran Jose Aldo for the vacant crown.
Elsewhere Rose Namajunes and Jessica Andrade engaged in 15 minutes of war, and while we may have seen the last of Paige VanZant in the Octagon for now, her opponent Amanda Ribas’ story is only just beginning.
Here’s the rundown of a wild night at the Du Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and a look at where the results of UFC 251 take us next.
Kamaru Usman def Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision to retain the UFC Welterweight title
If ever you wanted a picture-book example of how to nullify the threat of an explosive striker, Kamaru Usman provided it across 25, at times arduous, minutes in Abu Dhabi.
The champion was able to dominate in the clinch with more than 40% of the fight (10 minutes plus) taking place against the cage with Usman wearing down his opponent with body shots, foot stomps, and shoulder strikes. It may not have been the spectacle many were hoping for but it was certainly effective.
Masvidal, fighting off six days’ notice, arguably took the first with a high work rate, but found himself stifled and lacking the space he needed to operate for much of the remainder.
Usman (17-1 overall, 12-0 in the UFC), may now likely have to turn his attention to a former adversary in Leon Edwards. The pair went the distance back in 2015 with Usman getting the nod on that occasion. Since then Edwards has amassed an eight-fight winning streak of his own, and arguably could have felt aggrieved not to be in the title conversation sooner.
Despite this being Masvidal’s 49th professional fight, the immediate aftermath showed his hunger is still there, telling Usman they would run it back again after a couple of wins. A match against Usman’s last victim Colby Covington, might be a good place to start.
Alexander Volkanovski def Max Holloway via split decision to retain the UFC Featherweight title
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These two men have fought for 50-minutes together in the last seven months, and still we can find very little to separate them.
Many thought Holloway had done enough here to regain the belt he lost last December, and in truth there could have been few complaints had the decision gone either way.
The taller Holloway found his range well in the opening two stanzas, picking his shots and taking control of the fight. The third round proved crucial though as Volkanovski came back with the pressure and work rate that served him so well in their first fight.
With Volkanovski picking up the final two rounds, it was the switch in fortunes midway through the fight that ensured the title would be returning to Australia.
The champ, now 22-1 overall and 9-0 in the UFC, will likely have to consider the challenge of Zabit Magomedsharipov when it comes time for his next defence. Holloway will once again challenge for the gold, but much like Masvidal will need to take a couple of steps back first.
Petr Yan def Jose Aldo via fifth round TKO to win the vacant UFC Bantamweight title
View this post on Instagram THE NEXT GEN IS HERE. A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jul 11, 2020 at 9:02pm PDT
It is tough not to let this fight be tainted by what was a horribly late stoppage.
Jose Aldo had been competitive for much of the fight but to see him practically defenceless for a good chunk of the fifth round, taking hammer fists he didn’t need to was not a great visual.
Yan, 15-1 overall and 8-0 in the UFC, is electric at 135lbs and a clash against Aljamain Sterling certainly whets the appetite.
The Russian suffered on the feet at times during this fight, with Aldo scoring well with leg kicks and his hands. But, it was his durability in the championship rounds that really showed with an emphatic fourth, and finishing fifth.
For Aldo, the finish is even tougher to swallow. He has lost his last three straight, and five of his last seven – but still shows glimpses of what he is really capable of, making the unnecessary damage at the end less palatable. He will continue, but you suspect this may have been a last shot at UFC gold.
Rose Namajunes def Jessica Andrade via split decision
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The first fight between these two was spectacular for its finish, but this one trumped it with an all-out war for 15 minutes – and one befitting the fight of the night bonus.
Namajunes was the more composed of the two from range, with Andrade busy and bustling to try and get on the inside.
Both were more than willing to trade power shots with Namajunes getting the best of the action in the first couple of rounds, before Andrade came back with a vengeance to bust up her foe in the third.
A genuine contender to Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the women’s fight of the year.
Namajunes moves to 9-4 and a likely date with strawweight champion Zhang.
Andrade gets back in line, but will remain a fearsome opponent for anyone in the 115lbs division.
Amanda Ribas def Paige VanZant via armbar in the opening round
View this post on Instagram QUICK WORK! 🇧🇷 @AmandaUFCRibas with the first round submission at #UFC251 We are LIVE on ESPN+ PPV ➡️ LINK IN BIO #InAbuDhabi @VisitAbuDhabi A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jul 11, 2020 at 7:32pm PDT
While the fight was something of a non-event with the dominant Ribas ending this early with a slick takedown and strong ground game it was the narrative around the fight that took much of the attention.
VanZant is now out of contract with the UFC and out to assess her options in the market.
Going out on a loss will not have helped, but at 26 there is still plenty 12-Gauge to fight for.
She has constantly reiterated her desire to fight despite the trappings of fame that come with huge social media followings and mainstream television appearances.
At 8-5, this is likely the last time we see her in the Octagon with a hop over to Bellator, the promotion her husband fights under, a feasible option.
For Ribas, 10-1 overall and 4-0 in the UFC, a return to 115lbs and continued progression there is the order of the day.
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Britain’s Davey Grant got things under way with a peach of a left hook to sleep Martin Day.
Leandro Santos took an eye poke, two low blows, and an illegal knee to the head in overcoming Roman Bogatov.
Makwan Amirkhani slept Danny Henry with an anaconda choke in a perfect performance.
Jiri Prochazka knocked Volkan Oezdemir out cold with the most impressive of UFC debuts