UFC 251 on Struggle Island continues to evolve. From visions of palm bushes surrounding an Octagon on a seaside with Kamaru Usman defending his welterweight belt towards Gilbert Burns to what seems like an indoor venue with a potential primary occasion of Alexander Volkanovski defending his featherweight title towards Max Holloway.

And we nonetheless have every week to go.

Information broke early Saturday morning that Burns was scratched from the cardboard, and that neither he nor Usman had been on the UFC’s constitution jet to Abu Dhabi.

Jorge Masvidal instantly supplied to step in, and his supervisor, Abraham Kawa, advised ESPN his fighter is “completely prepared” to take this bout on every week’s discover. Is that the play the UFC must make?

Volkanovski and Holloway do not assume the cardboard is lacking a primary occasion.

“This was the actual primary occasion,” Volkanovski stated Saturday of his bout. “Lots of people thought this was the primary occasion, so it is in its rightful place.”

So the place will we stand? At this level, there are two title bouts, together with Jose Aldo going through Petr Yan for the vacant bantamweight crown, and a key rematch between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade.

ESPN’s panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim break down the July 11 card, which would be the first of 4 straight on Yas Island.

Ought to the UFC do every part it could to get Masvidal to exchange Burns?

Helwani: Completely. That was speculated to be the unique primary occasion, anyway. It is the welterweight title combat we had been promised since Usman and Masvidal had their little kerfuffle at Tremendous Bowl media day months in the past in Miami. Now, as a lot as I would like to see this combat in seven days — and I am sure it will generate far more pay-per-views than the Usman-Burns primary occasion — it nonetheless appears like a little bit of a protracted shot in the meanwhile. Sadly, it is not as simple as simply selecting up the telephone and providing it to Masvidal. Along with all of the testing and quarantine procedures that can little doubt should happen each in America and Abu Dhabi in a really brief period of time, they can even have to barter a cope with Masvidal, and, nicely, that is simpler stated than finished. The 2 sides have not seen eye-to-eye these days however, hey, perhaps the sense of urgency helps the state of affairs? Crazier issues have occurred.

Okamoto: No. If that had been the case, the UFC ought to have finished every part it may to e book Masvidal the first time round. Proper? I’ve stated quite a few instances, one of the best combat the UFC may have made for Usman was Masvidal. And if the 2 sides had been capable of come to phrases on a title combat now for, say, September — I would be OK with it, although that’d be a tough end result for Burns. However to scramble now? Why would the UFC skip Masvidal again then — when you possibly can have given time to arrange for the combat and have time to essentially put it up for sale — solely to pay him now? I hope the UFC and Masvidal ultimately come to phrases. I hope they arrive to phrases tomorrow. I wish to see him combat. However to scramble for an occasion that’s now seven days away? Does not make sense to me.

Raimondi: No. Essentially the most affordable factor for the UFC to do now’s to simply reschedule Usman vs. Burns for one more card, maybe because the co-main occasion to the Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier three heavyweight title combat at UFC 252 on Aug. 15. Usman mustn’t should combat somebody coming in on every week’s discover. Plus, Usman did not make the journey with everybody else from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi on Friday evening. If the plan was to seek out one other opponent for him, Usman would have been on board. Usman and Masvidal, if that is the matchup that will get made, may at all times catch a flight within the coming days, nevertheless it’s unclear what the journey restrictions could be going to the United Arab Emirates. There was a cause the UFC chartered flights from Las Vegas; Sao Paulo, Brazil; London; and Moscow for the fighters, corners and employees members. The UFC already has two different title fights at UFC 251. There isn’t any good cause to pressure a late-notice alternative at this stage given the challenges.

What one factor should Max Holloway do with a purpose to change the end result within the rematch?



Max Holloway explains to Ariel Helwani the difficulties he encountered due to COVID-19 throughout his coaching for his rematch vs. Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 251 on Struggle Island.

Helwani: Verify leg kicks. In fact, it will be foolish to imagine Volkanovski will make use of the very same recreation plan as he had again in December, however let’s be trustworthy, he’ll undoubtedly assault the leg till Holloway defends it correctly. And that was an enormous key to Volkanovski’s win again in December. How efficient had been the leg kicks? Based on UFC Stats, Volkanovski landed 75 of 93 leg strikes throughout their five-round combat at UFC 245. Large. Holloway really landed 18 extra head strikes and 17 extra physique strikes, however Volkanovski landed 58 extra leg strikes. The Aussie was Zero for Four in takedown makes an attempt, so one may hypothesize that if Holloway prevented/defended the leg strikes higher he’d nonetheless be champ. In fact, all that is simpler stated than finished. Volkanovski has received 18 in a row for a cause: he is actually good and exhausting to beat.

Okamoto: I do not assume there’s one factor Holloway wants to repair. Look, I believe Holloway is among the greatest fighters, pound-for-pound, of the final decade, however Volkanovski’s coach, Eugene Bareman, stated one thing to me the opposite day that I agreed with: The combat was not that shut. It was actually aggressive, nevertheless it’s not as if there was one apparent tweak Holloway may have made to considerably alter it. Volkanovski received each spherical on one of many choose’s scorecards. And for those who take a look at the scorecards collectively, Holloway solely received the fifth, when it comes to two of the three judges scoring it for him. Apart from that, so far as the primary 4 rounds, Volkanovski received all of them. Holloway’s going to want to make a number of changes, which is tough to forecast contemplating he stated he did not work carefully together with his coaches in the course of the outbreak.

Raimondi: The largest benefit Holloway has coming in is that now he has 25 minutes beneath his belt with Volkanovski throughout from him. Volkanovski is a difficult opponent with a superb workforce behind him. He does issues within the putting recreation, notably together with his kicks, that not everyone seems to be doing. However Holloway has seen that now and might make the required changes. Keep in mind, Holloway received the ultimate two rounds on the scorecard of 1 choose and received the fifth spherical on the scorecard of one other at UFC 245. He was already adapting to what Volkanovski was throwing at him. Holloway would not essentially should neutralize Volkanovski’s leg kicks — he landed 75, essentially the most ever for a male fighter in a UFC bout in December — however Holloway wants to determine how you can succeed together with his personal offense regardless of Volkanovski’s assault.

Wagenheim: Each breakdown of this rematch that I’ve seen factors to the identical factor: leg kicks. However what finally will decide Holloway’s success isn’t just how the decrease a part of his physique fares. Look to his head, too. Holloway has misplaced two of his final three fights, each decisively. Previous to that, he was on a 13-fight profitable streak and being lauded as the best featherweight ever. How will he deal with strolling into the Octagon as a challenger? Holloway’s self-image as an athlete who belongs on the high of the game has suffered a blow. Can he rise above that?

What about combating in Abu Dhabi presents the most important problem — the journey, the warmth, the early time or one thing else?



Dana White releases video detailing the testing and infrastructure of UFC “Struggle Island” in Abu Dhabi.

Helwani: I do not assume the truth that the fights are taking place within the early morning of July 12 in Abu Dhabi will have an effect on nearly all of the primary card fighters as a result of most of them prepare in America or close to America. So, these fighters can simply observe their native clocks and be comparatively good. It jogs my memory of when the UFC held that FOX occasion in Stockholm in 2015 or UFC 204 in Manchester in 2016 in the course of the evening to accommodate the American TV viewers. In these circumstances, the American fighters simply slept in the course of the day and wakened at evening whereas they had been abroad and gave the impression to be OK with that course of. That stated, I believe it may have an effect on the Petr Yans and Alexander Volkanovskis of the world as a result of they should dramatically change their physique clocks to peak when they’re often sleeping since Yan trains in Thailand and Volkanovski trains in Australia. So, ultimately, I am going to go together with the warmth. When you recall, the final time the UFC was in Abu Dhabi most of the fighters complained in regards to the sweltering warmth. Now, on the brilliant facet, they’re in a distinct “area” this time round, so hopefully the AC points have been rectified. However, on the damaging facet, that card was in September. July is far hotter. Saturday morning, for instance, it was 103 levels Fahrenheit at Four am native time, which is when the cardboard could be taking place this weekend. One would assume it will be cooler within the morning, however not in Abu Dhabi. Additionally, as soon as once more, they’re in a makeshift area, so one wonders how the weather will have an effect on the athletes. Once I coated UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi again in April 2010, it was extremely sizzling, as nicely. However, that was outdoor. So, I’ve little doubt the warmth will play an element, the query is how huge.

Okamoto: I used to be there for the latest occasion — UFC 242 in September — and I’ll let you know, the warmth is actual. It isn’t simply the triple digits (residing in Las Vegas, I am really used to these), it is the humidity. That local weather is stifling, and virtually each fighter I spoke to at that occasion commented on it. It impacts the way you heat up, and your endurance. I bear in mind one cornerman telling me he virtually burned himself on the metallic of the Octagon, it was that sizzling. ‘Struggle Island’ can be in a distinct facility, so hopefully it is higher this time round, however I am going to say the warmth is the most important problem. However the journey will not be simple, both, notably now. It isn’t simply journey, it is quarantining in a lodge for days earlier than chopping weight. That might have an actual impression on fighters making weight, and the way they carry out after rehydrating.

Raimondi: I do not assume any single a type of issues is a game-changer, however all mixed may result in some trepidation. I am notably involved about those that have a tough weight reduce — I am taking a look at you Jose Aldo — and should journey a far distance. So far as the warmth goes, it may trigger some discomfort throughout combat week. However so long as the precise occasion venue has air con, which was a difficulty at UFC 242 final September, the fighters must be positive. I am actually undecided if the odd begin time — the primary card will start at 6 a.m. native time in Abu Dhabi — can be an excessive amount of of an element. Fighters are fairly comfy with overcoming adversity. Once more, although, all of these issues talked about above will certainly make for distinctive obstacles for the athletes to get previous.

Wagenheim: Warmth is the unknown issue. The UFC has stated the world can be correctly air conditioned, which might be a welcome departure from the recent, humid circumstances that fighters needed to endure throughout final September’s occasion on Yas Island. Some fighters reported that there was AC within the dressing room, however as soon as they had been contained in the Octagon and beneath the obtrusive lights, the warmth was brutal. If circumstances contained in the constructing find yourself being something like they had been final time, it’ll adversely have an effect on performances. This combat card does start in the course of the evening native time, which is able to assist slightly. It is perhaps solely 95 levels somewhat than within the 100s. However the AC must be working nicely sufficient to permit these athletes to be at their greatest.

What prelim combat are you most excited for?

Helwani: Straightforward one: Jiří Procházka vs. Volkan Oezdemir. Procházka is the previous Rizin mild heavyweight champion and that is his UFC debut. He enters the combat on a 10-fight profitable streak, and he has victories over acquainted names like C.B. Dollaway, Muhammed Lawal, Fabio Maldonado, Brandon Halsey and Jake Heun. However you may make a case that numerous his wins got here towards fighters who had been both previous their prime or not fairly UFC-caliber. So, how does he look towards former title contender Volkan Oezdemir, who has received two in a row, and is at all times a troublesome out? I am curious to seek out out.

Okamoto: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka, fingers down. These two mild heavyweights have a mixed 43 profession wins, and 35 of these have come by way of knockout. Prochazka, who’s making his promotional debut, is among the most fascinating acquisitions the UFC has made in current reminiscence. He has the potential to do what Oezdemir himself really did in 2017, when he burst onto the scene with back-to-back first-round knockouts of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa to earn a title shot in simply his fourth UFC look.

Raimondi: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka. Prochazka, a Czech Republic native, was actually glorious for the Japanese promotion and has all the talents to be top-level 205-pound fighter within the UFC. Oezdemir has already fought for the title at mild heavyweight within the UFC and continues to be solely 30 years previous. Prochazka is simply 27 years previous. We could possibly be taking a look at the way forward for the division on this bout.

Wagenheim: Except you are an MMA diehard, you may not acknowledge numerous the names within the prelims. However there are a number of fights with the potential to steal the present. Certainly one of them is the welterweight matchup of Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Muslim Salikhov. The Brazilian, dos Santos, was on a roll with seven straight wins earlier than dropping by knockout final summer season to Li Jingliang in China. He obtained again on observe in March with a win over Aleksei Kunchenko. Now he faces one other Russian, this one a five-time world champion within the Chinese language kickboxing artwork often called Wushu Sanda. Muslim Salikhov has received three in a row and poses a risk to the person nicknamed “Capoeira,” after the standup martial artwork he is been working towards since age 4.

My daring prediction for this card is …



UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas explains simply how robust COVID-19 has been on her household, as she misplaced two relations inside days of one another initially of the outbreak.

Helwani: This can be Paige VanZant’s closing UFC look. Win or lose, PVZ will take her skills elsewhere, most probably to Bellator. She’s solely 26, and sure, she’s been injury-prone as of late, however there she continues to be a draw, for my part, and a win would give her numerous leverage as she enters free company. Excessive stakes for the Oregon-native on Saturday evening.

Okamoto: Jessica Andrade beats Rose Namajunas to make their matchup 2-0. I believe Namajunas is among the very best on the earth, however I am shocked she is sort of a 2-to-1 betting favourite. She might have fought the right combat final time she met Andrade, and nonetheless misplaced her championship. She additionally overtly contemplated retirement. Once more, I am nonetheless an enormous believer in Namajunas and I believe she is greater than able to reclaiming the UFC title, however to see her as a big favourite after the 2 issues I simply talked about is a shock.

Raimondi: Jose Aldo will change into simply the eighth fighter to ever win UFC titles in two totally different weight courses. By doing so, he’ll cement himself as soon as once more as one of many biggest MMA fighters of all time. It looks as if folks have forgotten simply how good Aldo was. He held the WEC/UFC featherweight title for six years. At one time, he was proper there with Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva within the dialog for greatest ever. By beating Petr Yan for the vacant title at UFC 251, Aldo will regain a few of the luster his legacy misplaced when he was knocked out in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor in 2015.

Wagenheim: I am going to exit on a limb and say that neither of the title bouts, as thrilling as they promise to be, can be remembered because the combat of the evening. I believe the rematch between former strawweight champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade goes to be a tough act to observe.