Ev­ery­thing you need to know about UFC 251

▶ UFC 251 to be held on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Is­land ‘safe zone’ this Sun­day is tes­ta­ment to vi­sion of or­gan­is­ers

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN McAULEY Opin­ion, page 10

Gil­bert Burns’ mis­for­tune proved Jorge Masvi­dal’s gain. Per­haps the UFC’s too. Maybe even Abu Dhabi’s.

Burns with­drew at the week­end from UFC 251, this Sun­day’s must-see opener to the can­not-miss Fight Is­land, which un­winds through four events and 14 dizzy­ing days on an 11-kilo­me­tre, cor­doned-off patch in­side Yas Is­land.

Burns never made it to the cap­i­tal’s specif­i­cally cre­ated “safe zone”, a dis­ap­point­ing devel­op­ment for one of the UFC’s emer­gent stars at a time the pro­mo­tion pushed on through the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

The Brazil­ian con­tracted Covid-19, the news con­firmed not long be­fore his flight from Las Ve­gas to the UAE. From an or­gan­i­sa­tional per­spec­tive, it was ev­i­dence the Abu Dhabi side of the op­er­a­tion was right to in­sist upon rig­or­ous safety pro­to­cols; still, it was heart­break­ing for the wel­ter­weight di­vi­sion’s No 1-ranked chal­lenger. Burns’ cham­pi­onship bout against Ka­maru Us­man, the ti­tle-holder and a team­mate, con­sti­tuted the great­est op­por­tu­nity of his ca­reer to date.

But, much like it has done through the trunk of the pan­demic, when live sport ground to a halt, the UFC ploughs on. Masvi­dal was a swift and some­what sen­sa­tional stand-in, the head­line-grab­bing Amer­i­can a more than en­thu­si­as­tic pub­lic ri­val to Us­man for much of the year. Even Masvi­dal’s pay dis­pute with the UFC proved not too baulky a bar­rier to over­come.

With his con­fir­ma­tion on Mon­day came fur­ther en­dorse­ment of the flour­ish­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the world’s lead mixed mar­tial arts pro­mo­tion and Abu Dhabi. A five-year agree­ment was penned in April last year, long be­fore the coro­n­avirus be­gan to take hold, but for Dana White to move so de­ci­sively to book Masvi­dal con­veys his re­gard for the emi­rate.

Of course, the UAE cap­i­tal has gone to great ex­pense, both fi­nan­cially and in re­sources, to first land Fight Is­land and then stage it. How­ever, this month’s fight fes­ti­val pro­vides dual ap­peal: it strength­ens Abu Dhabi’s bur­geon­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a hub for elite MMA, while also show­cas­ing its emer­gence from the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. If an enterprise this sub­stan­tial can be car­ried off, then other

global events can look to­wards its shores as a host des­ti­na­tion, as well.

Fo­cus­ing purely on the sport­ing as­pect, Us­man ver­sus Masvi­dal is a size­able cherry on an al­ready im­pres­sive com­bat cake. Yes, Burns’ predica­ment is re­gret­table and the pri­or­ity re­mains for him and his team who too tested pos­i­tive to emerge un­scathed on the other side. There is hope that, when he does, Burns will soon be given an­other shot at the big time.

Masvi­dal, though, is box of­fice. He brings a cer­tain swag­ger, the man ig­nored for too lengthy a pe­riod, who pos­sesses dy­na­mite in his fists and a Tony Mon­tana shtick that broad­ens his at­trac­tion be­yond the oc­tagon. As his moniker sug­gests, Masvi­dal is bred for the game. And he plays it so well.

Us­man, a cham­pion of se­ri­ous sub­stance, now stands across from some­one with whom he shares a gen­uine en­mity; this is not Burns, a spar­ring part­ner and sta­ble mate who promised to share a post-fight drink on Sun­day, ir­re­spec­tive of the out­come.

How that plays into Us­man’s psy­che sim­ply adds an­other de­li­cious layer to UFC 251 and to Fight Is­land over­all. It is a box-of­fice bout that heads two other ti­tle clashes and a cou­ple of re­matches that whet the ap­petite.

In Alexan­der Volka­novski against Max Hol­loway, one of 2019’s most mem­o­rable tus­sles gets an­other air­ing, the for­mer look­ing to shield his feather­weight belt from the man he claimed it from in De­cem­ber. Be­fore­hand, Jose Aldo, a ver­i­ta­ble UFC great, meets Petr Yan, the ex­plo­sive, 6-and-0 Rus­sian who hasn’t hung around since his UFC de­but two years ago. The pair bat­tle for the va­cant ban­tamweight crown.

Then there’s the re­match be­tween Rose Na­ma­ju­nas and Jes­sica An­drade, who clashed in May last year but were then kept apart by cir­cum­stances out of their con­trol back in April. It is highly an­tic­i­pated. It prom­ises to live up to its billing.

Much, you’d ex­pect, like UFC 251 in all; Fight Is­land, more gen­er­ally. Masvi­dal’s 11th-hour re­prieve was a mas­ter­stroke, mag­ni­fy­ing the in­au­gu­ral se­ries’ mag­netism. If Khabib Nur­m­gome­dov stood tall last Septem­ber as the fight­ing face of UFC 242, an af­fir­ma­tion of this land­mark new deal with Abu Dhabi, then its fol­low-up event, how­ever un­ex­pected, gleams with one of the mar­quee match-ups the sport has to of­fer.

There have been months of plan­ning and ex­ten­sive pre­cau­tions taken, with an es­ti­mated 10,000 Covid-19 tests to this point ad­min­is­tered among the 2,000-plus peo­ple in­side the safe zone. The ef­fort has been con­sid­ered, con­sid­er­able. The open­ing buzzer goes early on Sun­day. From there, the four events and the 14 days of high-cal­i­bre com­pe­ti­tion are sure to be worth the en­deav­our.

Yas Is­land will stage four fight nights over the next two weeks, start­ing with UFC 251 on Sun­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.