Kamaru Usman pushed Jorge Masvidal up in opposition to the cage at UFC 251. He struck Masvidal along with his shoulder, stomped Masvidal’s ft and dug in with arduous punches to the physique.

With an opponent coming in on every week’s discover, Usman’s technique was clear: grind and put on Masvidal out. And it labored fully.

Usman defeated Masvidal through unanimous determination (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) in the primary occasion of UFC 251 on Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. With the win, Usman retained his UFC welterweight title.

Usman vs. Masvidal got here collectively solely up to now eight days. Usman’s scheduled opponent, Gilbert Burns, examined constructive for the coronavirus on July 3, simply hours earlier than the UFC constitution was set to go away Las Vegas for Abu Dhabi. Over the Fourth of July vacation weekend, the UFC was capable of come to phrases with Masvidal — who balked on the promotion’s preliminary supply for the battle six weeks in the past — to battle for the 170-pound title as a late alternative.

“‘[Masvidal] is the most important, baddest dude on the market proper now,” Usman informed UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik after the battle. “I needed to change gears and put together for him on every week’s discover.

“I needed to make a psychological shift. I educated for Gilbert. I had a very completely different sport plan.”

The addition of Masvidal, one of many UFC’s greatest stars, really made the battle extra extremely anticipated. Masvidal and Usman had been feuding since a verbal altercation on Tremendous Bowl radio row again in February.

After Sunday’s assembly, the 2 males confirmed one another respect. Masvidal informed Usman as the 2 embraced that they’d “run it again.”

UFC president Dana White later stated in his postfight information convention that Burns can be subsequent for Usman.

“I feel that Gilbert Burns and Kamaru Usman goes to be a extremely, actually good battle,” White stated.

The Usman-Masvidal bout passed off on the just lately constructed Flash Discussion board on Yas Island, which the UFC has branded “Battle Island” for this monthlong stretch of occasions. The power is within a “protected zone” amid the coronavirus pandemic, the place solely those that have been examined a number of instances for COVID-19 are allowed. These folks embrace members of the UFC touring occasion — fighters, nook folks and workers — and native employees.

Coming in, Usman was tied with Israel Adesanya for sixth on ESPN’s high pound-for-pound MMA fighter listing. Masvidal is No. 2 at welterweight, just under Usman.

Usman’s 12 straight wins ties light-weight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov for the longest energetic successful streak within the UFC. That determine additionally ties Georges St-Pierre for the longest successful streak in UFC welterweight historical past.

Masvidal began out sizzling within the first spherical, pushing the tempo and touchdown arduous kicks to Usman’s legs and physique. Masvidal landed some arduous proper fingers, too, although Usman was by no means in peril.

It was fairly clear Masvidal was making an attempt to complete issues early, since he was coming in on quick discover with out full preparation. Usman was capable of climate that early storm and grind Masvidal’s offense to a halt starting within the second spherical, which led to loads of Usman pushing Masvidal up in opposition to the cage and taking him down. Masvidal had two cuts open up within the second on account of incidental clashes of heads.

“There have been some areas the place I felt with a greater coaching camp I may positively surpass him,” Masvidal stated. “I feel I confirmed loads of my wrestling on six days’ discover, that I am not too straightforward to take down and to carry down on the bottom. I made loads of errors. I attempted to battle in spots, as a result of I felt that my gasoline tank wasn’t the best.”

White stated he wasn’t stunned by the result.

“It performed out the best way I assumed it would,” he stated. “I assumed if Jorge did not catch him with one thing, that is the best way the battle would go.

“[Masvidal’s] takedown protection was unbelievable. He would get taken down and get again up in opposition to Usman, which is hard to do. He did it for 5 rounds and did what he may do. Usman is a beast, man.”

At any time when Masvidal was capable of get separation, he remained harmful, even into the closing seconds of the fifth and remaining spherical. Masvidal closed the battle by throwing a flying knee and arduous kicks. None landed with any significance, and Usman held on for the great victory.

“I am simply at a stage higher,” Usman stated. “I’ve extra instruments within the toolbox. And after I want to drag them out, I can pull them out and use them.”

Usman (17-1) has by no means misplaced within the UFC. The Nigerian-born Florida resident has not misplaced since his second professional bout, in 2013. Usman, 33, was coming off a fifth-round TKO over Colby Covington at UFC 245 in December, the newest UFC title-fight end ever. This was Usman’s second title protection.

Masvidal (35-14) stopped Darren Until, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz inside an eight-month span final 12 months, making him one of many hottest fighters on the UFC roster. The 5-second KO of Askren was the quickest in UFC historical past. Masvidal, a 35-year-old Miami native, had 48 profession fights coming in, which was the second-highest whole ever for a fighter competing in his or her first UFC title bout.