The joy Jorge Masvidal injected into UFC 251 when he changed Gilbert Burns in the primary occasion on Battle Island appeared able to erupt within the first spherical Sunday morning, when the challenger got here out aggressively, however champion Kamaru Usman knew success trusted focus and persistence.

These aren’t traits of an thrilling struggle, however they mixed to assist Usman safe a unanimous resolution victory over Masvidal, who had lower than every week to arrange. Some will argue the end result would have been totally different if Masvidal had extra time to arrange, whereas others are bored with listening to excuses when Usman wins.

The shortage of fireworks may need disillusioned some followers tuning into the primary of 4 playing cards on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, however the card nonetheless offered loads of compelling storylines.

Did Alexander Volkanovski actually deserve that break up resolution over Max Holloway?

Was Petr Yan‘s efficiency sufficient to entice Henry Cejudo out of retirement?

Has Rose Namajunas returned to kind? What’s going to Paige VanZant‘s legacy within the UFC be if she does find yourself leaving the promotion?

ESPN’s panel of Ariel Helwani, Phil Murphy, Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi break down UFC 251.

What was your huge takeaway from the primary occasion?

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Dominick Cruz and Chael Sonnen give credit score to each Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for his or her efforts in UFC 251.

Helwani: I hope this does not seem to be I am taking something away from Usman, as a result of I actually do not need to, however my largest takeaway is Masvidal gassed out. And I can not assist however surprise if they only would have booked this struggle from the start, would he have been in higher form? I believe so. Masvidal would not sometimes fuel out, and he appeared actually good early on. I scored the primary spherical for Gamebred. However in the long run, Usman did what he needed to do to win. Was it fairly? Not likely. Will it achieve him new followers? No. However that does not matter proper now. He obtained the win towards his bitter rival, and now Usman can transfer on together with his life. Here is hoping the UFC has Usman struggle the winner of Leon Edwards vs. Gilbert Burns subsequent, whereas Masvidal runs it again with Nathan Diaz.

Murphy: Bear in mind when COVID-19 pressured Gilbert Burns from UFC 251? We marveled when the UFC secured Jorge Masvidal, a extra in-demand fill-in, however oddsmakers made Kamaru Usman a heavier favourite. It turns on the market’s a motive these casinos are so huge. And it seems the higher struggle was what we initially had.

Unhealthy blood sells pay-per-views; it doesn’t assure fireworks when the cage door shuts. Masvidal didn’t have a solution for Usman, and nobody would vote the primary occasion as Battle of the Night time.

It is exhausting to not really feel disillusioned this did not entertain like Conor McGregor‘s feud towards Nathan Diaz or Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz or some other nice, heated rivalry. Usman-Masvidal proved a stylistic mismatch bereft of memorable moments.

Fortunately, ready within the wings is a challenger driving a wave of momentum with a talent set extra suited to counter Usman’s strengths. Guide the previous Mundial champion Burns for the autumn, then we’ll see the greatness and flexibility of Usman extra completely displayed.

Okamoto: It was not a enjoyable struggle to observe. I believe everybody would agree with that. However how a lot am I going to carry that towards Usman? Under no circumstances. Zero. It would be simple to say this was Usman’s likelihood to actually achieve new followers and exit and make this an entertaining struggle — however that will even be a ridiculous factor to say. He had a transparent path to victory right here, and he took it. Nearly each time there was house between these two, Masvidal was getting the higher of it. Why would he willingly interact in that? Usman’s most up-to-date struggle, towards Colby Covington, was some of the entertaining of 2019, and the place did that get him? Usman nonetheless went into this one ceding many of the consideration to Masvidal. Usman had a ton to lose on this struggle. Had he misplaced to Masvidal on six days’ discover, it could take a complete lot to come back again from that. I might have appreciated to see a extra thrilling struggle, like everybody else, however I do not blame Usman in any respect for the sport plan he utilized.

Raimondi: It was a reasonably predictable consequence, with Masvidal coming in on brief discover. Masvidal got here out firing early, and I assumed he received the primary spherical. He landed exhausting, pushed the tempo and, for probably the most half, stored Usman off him. With a full coaching camp, there seemingly would have been extra of that. However with Masvidal solely signing to struggle one week in the past, Usman was capable of take management together with his grinding model within the second spherical and just about maintain it the remainder of the way in which by way of. With a authentic coaching camp, Masvidal has higher cardio and might maintain his substantial explosiveness for for much longer. I would wish to see them have a rematch down the street. Take nothing away from Usman. Perhaps if Masvidal got here in beneath peculiar circumstances it could have gone down precisely the identical means. Usman is unbelievable — top-of-the-line on this planet pound-for-pound. However there are some unanswered questions right here in my thoughts.

What did you consider the scorecards in Alexander Volkanovski’s victory?

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Regardless of being knocked down by Max Holloway’s excessive kick in Spherical 1, Alexander Volkanovski rebounds to defend his featherweight title by break up resolution.

Helwani: I assumed it was a very shut, enjoyable struggle. I scored it 3-2 for Holloway. I assumed Holloway received the primary and second fairly convincingly, after which I assumed Volkanovski received Rounds Three and 4. Spherical 5 was an in depth one, however I scored it for Holloway. Price noting: All three judges agreed with me on Rounds 1 by way of 4, whereas two had the fifth for the Aussie. Powerful break for Holloway, who I assumed appeared actually good early and made strong changes for the reason that first struggle. Talking of changes, I assumed Volkanovski made nice ones after it was clear Holloway obtained the most effective of him early on. Ultimately, not a theft, only a actually, actually shut struggle.

Murphy: Asking, “Who received the 25 minutes?” and “Who received every of the 5 rounds?” yields totally different solutions.

Holloway’s physique of labor was extra convincing; Volkanovski received three of the 5 stanzas. The struggle was too near name it a theft. A case will be made for both fighter, significantly within the decisive third spherical.

Debate will heart on the judges themselves. In an empty area, they’re now not influenced by a crowd. But when they’re inside earshot of commentary, opinions might simply as simply be swayed.

I really feel for Clemens Werner, the choose whose scores had been learn final. This was solely his fourth UFC occasion and his first championship bout, in response to MMADecisions.com. His inexperience — even with a wonderfully cheap interpretation of the struggle — will lead some to query his credentials, and with it the legitimacy of Volkanovski’s win.

Okamoto: I assumed they mirrored what occurred. They had been as shut as you may get. Cut up resolution, all 48-47. Both means that call went, individuals had been going to disagree. Not a theft in any respect — though you knew that phrase was going to get thrown round afterward. The primary two rounds I assumed had been fairly clearly Holloway. Two knockdowns. The fourth spherical was clearly Volkanovski, in my view. The third and fifth had been very shut, as I watched dwell. You’re taking all that into consideration and also you may need break up scores. It is powerful that Holloway has to drop to 1-Three in his previous 4 fights after a loss like this. It makes it really feel like he has fallen additional than he actually has. And for the document, I did rating it for Holloway. However guys, we have now to cease utilizing the phrase “theft” each time there is a shut struggle. There are robberies once in a while on this sport; this wasn’t considered one of them.

Raimondi: It was an especially shut struggle. No theft on the playing cards in any way. It actually might have gone both means. I really had Volkanovski profitable 48-47. I had Holloway profitable the primary two rounds and Volkanovski profitable the ultimate three. The ultimate three rounds had been nearer than the primary two, although. Holloway undoubtedly received the primary two, and if the judges had him profitable one of many remaining three, I might have completely understood. MMA shouldn’t be a sport like many others. There is not any remaining, cut-and-dried rating on the finish, with one workforce having extra factors than the opposite. It is referred to as “judging” for a motive. It is imperfect and inexact. I can perceive why some individuals can be upset, however that is the way it goes typically.

Would you need to see Henry Cejudo come again to struggle Petr Yan?

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Petr Yan lands a number of mixtures on Jose Aldo en path to a TKO end, incomes Yan the bantamweight title.

Helwani: Sure, completely. However not fairly but. I need to see Aljamain Sterling get his title shot subsequent. I believe he has earned it, particularly after his win over Cory Sandhagen final month and his present profitable streak. With Cejudo taking part in the hard-to-get recreation in the meanwhile — and never doing a terrific job at it, I would add — Sterling deserves it. Then have the winner face Cejudo subsequent yr. I firmly imagine Cejudo will come again in some unspecified time in the future, and I would like to see him struggle Yan. Really. However not but. The division is on fireplace proper now and will use some recent matchups. Hold it going this fashion. Plus, Yan and Sterling have a legit beef, so the buildup can be very enjoyable.

Murphy: I need to see Henry Cejudo struggle for a belt once more, as a result of he’s among the many greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Petr Yan, a deserved champion, has nothing to do with that want.

If the barrel had run dry at bantamweight, maybe there can be extra desperation to see Triple C again within the UFC. However the 135-pound weight class is among the many deepest within the sport. Yan’s first title protection might simply as simply come towards Marlon Moraes — initially scheduled to face Yan in June in Kazakhstan — or fast-rising Aljamain Sterling. A step behind these lively choices, former champ Cody Garbrandt appears to be rejuvenated beneath Mark Henry’s putting tutelage, and Sean O’Malley is arguably the most popular prospect within the sport. It is shaping as much as be an thrilling 12 to 24 months up and down the bantamweight ladder, with or with out Cejudo.

The previous champ definitely provides to that wealthy menu of choices. It feels inevitable we’ll see him problem for a belt once more. Within the meantime, it is refreshing to see new names get their shot.

Okamoto: Let me preface this by saying I’m all the way down to see Cejudo come again each time. He’s on the brief listing for the most effective pound-for-pound fighters on this planet proper now. In fact I need to see him compete. If you happen to’re a fan of this sport, you need to see the most effective, and that undeniably consists of Cejudo. However to reply the query extra particularly: no. Why? Why would Cejudo retire and quit his belt, solely to come back again instantly to face the primary dude who wins it? In that case, should not he have simply, I do not know, not retired? I do imagine Cejudo can be again when it makes probably the most sense. When is that? I am unsure. I believe we’ll realize it once we see it. However for proper now, Yan is the brand new champ — let him be that. And Aljamain Sterling deserves a title shot.

Raimondi: In fact. I do not assume many individuals — exterior of his haters — wished to see Cejudo retire within the first place. One of many causes he stepped away, I would think about, was due to an absence of big-name contenders at bantamweight. The 135-pound division is superb. It is one of many deepest within the UFC on the high. However when it comes to big-money attracts, they weren’t there. That is why Cejudo stored calling out individuals resembling Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz. He was trying so as to add to his legacy by dealing with legends and making some cash within the course of. After Yan’s efficiency at UFC 251, it’s important to imagine Cejudo’s aggressive juices are flowing. Cejudo can come again and develop into a two-time champion versus an especially worthy contender. Aljamain Sterling mustn’t get handed up once more for a title shot, however after all, a Cejudo comeback can be nice for the division.

What did you consider Rose Namajunas’ return?

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Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade commerce vicious blows within the third and remaining spherical of their strawweight bout.

Helwani: Whereas her face was banged up afterward, make no mistake about it: It was a terrific night time at UFC 251 for Rose Namajunas. She clearly received the primary two rounds, in my view. She exorcised the demons of her loss to Jessica Andrade in Could 2019, and she or he reasserted herself as top-of-the-line strawweights on this planet. Did Namajunas have a spherical fairly like the primary spherical of their first struggle final yr? No. However she was darn shut. She is considered one of my favourite fighters to observe due to her crisp and fluid putting, and it was nice to see her again in good kind. Now, it obtained dicey within the third, little question about it, however Namajunas weathered the storm and obtained a well-deserved win. I would not thoughts seeing her struggle Zhang Weili subsequent after a victory like that.

Murphy: “Thug” Rose picked up the place she left off — fortunately, except for getting picked up and slammed down.

At UFC 237, Namajunas placed on a putting clinic earlier than Jessica Andrade abruptly ended the present with an unforgettable slam KO. Namajunas’ opening exchanges at UFC 251 proved time away from the Octagon offered the ever-desired “relaxation with out rust.” Namajunas appeared sharp sufficient to press present champion Zhang Weili. Namajunas’ greatest avenue to getting again the belt is the method much like that taken by Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her Battle of the 12 months-caliber loss to Zhang. I think about oddsmakers would mission a reasonably even struggle, with Zhang as a slight favourite, influenced by some vulnerably proven by Namajunas within the third spherical towards Andrade.

Okamoto: I assumed it was completely phenomenal for 10 minutes, clearly. The final 5 minutes, Jessica Andrade roughed her up. However that is all proper, so far as I am involved. Let’s not fake Andrade is not an elite, former world champion herself. Andrade went into “desperation” mode — as Namajunas referred to as it — and Namajunas ended up carrying a few of it in the long run. Effective. Namajunas nonetheless appeared like maybe the most effective 115-pound fighter on this planet within the first and second rounds, and she or he dug deep and survived the third spherical when she wanted to. When Namajunas is on, there aren’t many fighters on this planet I would fairly watch. And she or he’s solely 28. The game is best when she is lively. Now with all that mentioned, I do not assume this efficiency has to ship Namajunas instantly right into a title struggle. Personally, I would be in favor of seeing the rematch between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk and having Namajunas struggle the winner.

Raimondi: She actually did not lose a step. It was fairly spectacular to behold. Now I really thought Andrade did higher on this struggle than the primary one (previous to the slam knockout, after all). However Namajunas appeared actually easy on the ft. Her jab was popping, and her motion was slick. A lot of her recreation is based on timing and rhythm, but it by no means looks as if ring rust creeps in, regardless of how lengthy she was out and for what motive. Namajunas, to me, nonetheless has an opportunity to be an enormous star within the UFC, if she chooses to be. “Thug Rose” has issues extra expensive to her than fame — like city farming. However let’s face it, talent for talent, Namajunas would possibly nonetheless be the most effective in what has develop into a very strong strawweight division.

If Paige VanZant leaves the UFC, what’s her legacy within the promotion and the place do you count on her to go?

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Paige VanZant and Amanda Ribas tangle towards the cage as Ribas will get the sting with a pleasant takedown that places VanZant in a troublesome spot.

Helwani: First off, sensible cash says that was VanZant’s remaining struggle within the UFC. She rolled the cube and, sadly for her, misplaced. I think she’ll now be a part of her husband, the undefeated Austin Vanderford, in Bellator. I do know Bellator is thinking about her companies, however one wonders if her inventory dropped a bit after that efficiency. That is the danger with combating out a contract. However she in the end wasn’t joyful and needed to do it, in her opinion. That mentioned, regardless of the very fact the contract ended on this word, I do not assume it is truthful to say her UFC run was a complete waste. Her 4 UFC losses got here towards powerful fighters (Rose Namajunas, Michelle Waterson, Jessica-Rose Clark and Amanda Ribas). Nothing to scoff at. VanZant’s document contained in the Octagon is 5-4, and whereas none of her wins got here towards elite competitors, she was all the time recreation and made probably the most of her run. Subsequent for her is one other arm surgical procedure, which she knew she must bear earlier than this struggle, after which free company.

Murphy: VanZant’s early UFC success generated a advertising push that set expectations past what she ever reached. Whereas PVZ benefited immensely from her reputation — touchdown on “Dancing With the Stars” objectively boosted the checking account — that introduced higher scrutiny when outcomes turned inconsistent. It is truthful to acknowledge losses, however schadenfreude felt extreme from a subsection of followers and fighters when VanZant faltered.

I’ll keep in mind VanZant as anyone who introduced the struggle. It’s uncommon for any strawweight or flyweight to have seven of 9 fights finish in finishes. She additionally had underrated toughness. In a lopsided loss to Rose Namajunas — which does not look as unhealthy on reflection — there have been a number of exit ramps PVZ might have taken. Bloodied, she pressed on. VanZant refused to faucet in a loss to Michelle Waterson. Current years had been hampered by a damaged arm suffered in a loss to Jessica-Rose Clark, a struggle that went all 15 minutes regardless of the harm.

5 wins in 9 Octagon appearances will not land VanZant within the Corridor of Fame. However she made struggle playing cards higher, interval. So far as the place she’ll go subsequent, that is simple: She’s going to virtually definitely be a part of her husband in Bellator.

Okamoto: Historical past will most likely keep in mind VanZant’s time within the UFC as extra of a “marketable fighter” than an actual fighter, which I believe is extraordinarily unfair; nevertheless it’s the truth I see for her. VanZant’s reputation and title recognition all the time exceeded what she had completed within the Octagon, and due to that, I believe it is simply pure for lots of people to discredit what she did. What number of instances over the course of VanZant’s profession did we hear issues like, “How lengthy will she struggle? She’s obtained so many different choices. She ought to simply go to Hollywood.” And what number of instances did VanZant reply — both straight saying it or by way of her actions — that she is and was all the time a fighter first? The one ladies VanZant misplaced to within the UFC had been Amanda Ribas (who’s trying like a future contender), Michelle Waterson (a 115-pound mainstay), Rose Namajunas (a former champion) and Jessica-Rose Clark (towards whom she broke her arm). VanZant was a fighter within the UFC, even when she additionally was a advertising software. And I am guessing she is going to go to Bellator MMA.

Raimondi: From 2014 to 2016, the longer term appeared extremely shiny for VanZant. She was profitable fights, misplaced a conflict towards Rose Namajunas (who later turned strawweight champion) and was granted a spot on “Dancing With the Stars.” On the time, she was some of the widespread feminine fighters within the UFC. After the present, she returned with a leaping kick knockout over Bec Rawlings and it appeared like a star can be born. Since then, although, she has misplaced three of 4 and has handled accidents and weight-cutting points.

VanZant definitely didn’t dwell as much as her potential, however she’s nonetheless solely 26 years outdated. That is an MMA world the place Jorge Masvidal turned a real mainstream star at 34 years outdated, 16 years into his profession. In all chance, VanZant will find yourself in Bellator together with her husband, Austin Vanderford. There, she can be given the chance to rehab her profession. It must be enjoyable to observe.





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