UFC 251 Usman vs. Masvidal Picks and Predictions

UFC 251
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UFC 251 Trends | UFC Expert Picks

  • Date: Saturday, July 11, 2020
  • Venue: UFC Fight Island
  • Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Expected Fights: 13
  • Championship Bouts: 3
  • TV/Time: ESPN, ESPN+, ESPN PPV 6:00 p.m. ET

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UFC 251
Main Card Picks

Welterweight Championship
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal

When Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 eight days out of his UFC 251 showdown vs. welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the logical choice to replace Burns was Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal. After all, Masvidal-Usman was the fight that Dana White, the UFC and all the fans wanted from the start.

This matchup was the plan for International Fight Week on July 11 in Las Vegas going back to White’s postfight media scrum on Dec. 14, when Usman successfully defended his belt for the first time with a fifth-round knockout win over Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington. However, the global pandemic nixed International Fight week.

Negotiations with Masvidal broke down in late May and the promotion moved on to Burns. Masvidal didn’t quit training, though, and when the phone rang last Friday, he was more than willing once his management came to terms with the promotion on money.

As of Tuesday, FanDuel had Kamaru Usman (16-1 MMA, 11-0 UFC) installed as a -300 ‘chalk,’ while Masvidal was the +230 underdog. Also on Tuesday, DraftKings had Usman as a -278 favorite, with Masvidal at +225 on the comeback. The proposition wager for whether the fight would go the distance had ‘No’ at a -148 price, while ‘Yes’ offered a +110 return.

By early Friday afternoon, FanDuel had Usman at -245 with ‘Gamebred’ +200 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $200). The total was 3.5 rounds (‘under’ -124, ‘over’ -102). DraftKings had Usman at -230 with Masvidal as a +185 underdog. The total was 4.5 rounds (‘under’ -148, ‘over’ +110).

When Masvidal (35-13 MMA, 12-6 UFC) got the call for this fight, he weighed 192 pounds last Friday night. Nevertheless, he made weight Friday morning and appeared to do so easily. All 10 fighters on the main card hit their marks at weigh-ins.

Masvidal has only been finished three times in his career (two submissions, one KO) and that hasn’t happened in 11 years. He’s been submitted twice and KO’d just once. On the flip side, ‘Gamebred’ has 16 career wins by KO, two by submission and 17 via decision. All six of Masvidal’s UFC losses have come from the judges in three-round fights, including four split decisions.


Masvidal enjoyed a breakout 2019 that saw his star rapidly rise. With highlight-reel knockouts over Darren Till and Ben Askren, he earned a call out from Nate Diaz and a headlining spot on the UFC 244 card vs. Nate Diaz at Madison Square Garden for the Baddest MF’er title. Masvidal won all three rounds to start the five-round affair and although the scrap remained competitive, the doctor wouldn’t allow Diaz to go out for the fourth stanza due to a cut over his right eye.

Usman brings a 15-fight winning streak into this spot. The 33-year-old ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ hasn’t tasted defeat in more than seven years. He garnered a shot at UFC gold with wins in his first nine Octagon appearances.

Usman destroyed Tyron Woodley to win the belt via unanimous decision (50-44, 50-44, 50-45) at UFC 235 on March 2 of 2019. Usman’s other notable career victories have come over Leon Edwards, Demian Maia and former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos.

This fight is a clash in styles between Masdival, a violent striker with an outstanding kicking game, and Usman, the former collegiate wrestler who won the NCAA Division II national title at Nebraska-Kearney in 2010.

I’m not implying these guys are on Usman’s level in the grappling department, but here are a few fighters who thrive in the on the ground like Usman: Maia, Michael Chiesa, Benson Henderson, Askren and Joe Lauzon. Masvidal is 3-2 in those five scraps, dropping split decisions to Maia and Henderson.

UFC 251 Predictions

Masvidal is so comfortable in his skin right now. He’s carrying an aura of invincibility into this fight. His confidence is palpable. It’s oozing from every syllable that comes out of his mouth, to every bite of pizza he takes and to every interview he crushes.

Whatever “it” is, ‘Gamebred’s had it in bunches since he turned Till’s lights out in London as a road underdog and then, less than an hour later, gave Edwards a “three piece and a soda.” You were able to sense his unwavering conviction going into his fights with Askren and Diaz. It’s been transparent throughout Fight Week from Miami to Las Vegas and across the pond to Abu Dhabi.

Usman might be the champ, but he’s not on Masvidal’s level right now. Usman has a lot of wins, no doubt about it, but do any of them jump off the page at you? I’ll tip my cap to impressive wins over Edwards, Maia, Dos Anjos, Woodley and Covington. However, RDA, Maia and Woodley were past their primes when they stepped into the Octagon with Usman. Sure, Maia won a split decision over Masvidal, but that was before the 305 product caught “it” and put it in a bottle.

I locked in Masvidal the first chance I got Monday morning at +260. I tweeted that same day that those generous odds wouldn’t be around for long. They weren’t, but you can still collect nice plus money. I’m thinking ‘Gamebred’ by KO in the second or third round, but I’m going to leave the props alone. I’ll go with three units on Masvidal in what is NOT an upset!

Featherweight Championship
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway

In the co-main event, featherweight champion Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski (21-1 MMA, 8-0 UFC) will defend his strap for the first time in a rematch against the former 145-pound kingpin, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway. Volkanovski won the first meeting to win the title by UD (48-47, 50-45, 48-47) at UFC 245.

According to MMADecisions, all 19 media members scored the bout for Volkanovski. One media member had it 50-45, another had it 49-45, 10 scored it 49-46 and seven had it 48-47.

As of early Friday, FanDuel had Volkanovski listed as a -198 ‘chalk’ with Holloway as a +166 underdog. The total was 4.5 rounds (‘over’ -225, ‘under’ +172).

Volkanovski hasn’t lost since May of 2013, winning 18 consecutive fights. The 31-year-old Aussie’s best career victories are over Darren Elkins, Chad Mendes and longtime featherweight king Jose Aldo.

Holloway (21-5 MMA, 17-5 UFC) lost in each of the first three instances in which he was an underdog, falling to Dustin Poirier in his Octagon debut at UFC 143 in 2012. The 28-year-old Holloway lost a split decision to Dennis Bermudez at UFC 160 as an underdog in 2013, and the Hawaiian also fell to Conor McGregor by UD later that year in another ‘dog spot.

Since then, however, Holloway is 3-0 as an underdog. This will be his first scrap as an underdog since his first fight with Aldo when he won the belt via third-round KO at UFC 212. Holloway was also a ‘dog in wins over Cub Swanson and Andre Fili.

Since ripping off a 13-fight winning streak, including three successful title defenses, Holloway is 1-2 in his last three fights. We should note that his 13-fight surge was snapped only when he went up to lightweight and lost for a second time to Poirier at UFC 236.

Current 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was suspended at the time, so Holloway attempted to become a double champ and capture the interim lightweight belt. Poirier won by UD (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) in Atlanta. Holloway bounced back to defend his title via UD victory over Frankie Edgar at UFC 240, but then he lost to Volkanovski last Dec. 14.

Holloway has four wins over three former champions in Aldo (twice), Edgar and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. He owns other notable career victories over the likes of Brian ‘T-City’ Ortega, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, Charles Oliveira, Leonard Garcia and Cole Miller. Holloway handed Ortega his lone career defeat and beat Oliveira, who has captured six Performance of the Night bonuses during his current seven-fight winning streak in the lightweight loop. (Oliveira is also the UFC’s all-time leader in career wins by submission.)

Holloway is the featherweight division’s all-time leader in wins (16) and wins by KO/TKO with eight.

The 5-foot-11 Holloway will enjoy a five-inch advantage in height, but Volkanovski’s 71.5-inch reach gives him a 2.5-inch edge.

UFC 251 Predictions
Volkanovski vs. Holloway

The loss of his belt didn’t devastate Holloway by any means. Even in his post-fight Octagon interview with Joe Rogan, he was smiling and said, “Hey, I’m still just 28 and I’m only getting better.” Volkanovski was the better fighter on that Saturday night this past December, but not by a wide margin. I think this is a toss-up fight, so I’ll take the generous underdog odds with one unit on Holloway for a +200 return.

Bantamweight Championship
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo

The third title fight on the card is in the bantamweight division, where the belt was left vacant by Henry Cejudo’s retirement after his UFC 249 second-round KO win over Dominick Cruz. This loop is full of killers like Aljamain Sterling, Cody Garbrandt, Marlon Moraes, Sean O’Mally and Saturday’s two competitors –Aldo and Petr Yan.

As of early Friday, FanDuel had Yan (14-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) installed as a -225 favorite with Aldo at +188 underdog odds. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -186, ‘under’ +144).

The 33-year-old Aldo (28-6 MMA, 10-5 UFC) lost his debut in the 135-pound loop by split decision vs. Moraes, but MajorWager scored the bout in favor of the former featherweight kingpin by a 29-28 score.

Aldo appeared to have a second straight easy weight cut down to bantamweight. He is mired in a 2-4 slump in his last six bouts, but two of the defeats came against Holloway, another to Volkanovski and the controversial one vs. Moraes. The Brazilian squeezed in a pair of KO wins over Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano between those defeats. Aldo owns other notable career scalps over the likes of former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar (twice), Kenny Florian, The Korean Zombie, Mendes (twice), Uriah Faber, Cub Swanson, Mark Hominick and Ricardo Lamas.

This is an enormous step up in class for the Yan, the 27-year-old Russian who has seven career wins by decision, six by KO and one via submission. Yan is off third-round KO win (headkick) over Faber at UFC 245. We should note that Faber is 40 and was fighting for only the second time since retiring for three years.

Yan also has a UD win over Jimmie Rivera at UFC 238 and another UD triumph over John Dodson.

UFC 251 Predictions
Yan vs. Aldo

This is going to be a dogfight. Aldo is still fighting at an elite level and he has a better-than-decent chance vs. Yan. Let’s go with one unit on Aldo for the +188 payout.

Women's Flyweight Bout
Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant

In the main card’s curtain jerker, Amanda Ribas (9-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) will make her flyweight debut against Paige ’12 Gauge’ VanZant. As of Friday, FanDuel had Ribas listed as a -900 ‘chalk,’ leaving VanZant as a +610 underdog. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -124, ‘under’ -102).

Ribas made her promotional debut on June 29 of last summer, defeating Emily Whitmire via second-round submission (rear-naked choke). Then the 26-year-old Brazilian captured a UD triumph over Mackenzie Dern on Oct. 15, and Ribas also won a UD over Randa Markos at UFC Brasilia on March 14.

Van Zant (8-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) has been out for 18 months due to two surgeries on her right arm, the same one she broke back in 2018. She’s on the last fight of her contract with the promotion, so the former ‘Dancing With The Stars’ performer has loads of motivation going into this spot.

VanZant is off a second-round submission victory over Rachael Ostovich on Jan. 19 of 2019. The win came after back-to-back losses to Michelle Waterson (submission) and Jessica-Rose Clark (UD).

UFC 251 Predictions
Ribas vs. VanZant

Ribas has never fought at 125 pounds before. VanZant is the toughest opponent she’s faced in her brief UFC tenure. I’ll take a shot with one-half unit on the monster underdog for a +610 return.

Light Heavyweight Bout
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka

In the Prelims headliner on ESPN, Volkan Oezdemir (17-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) hopes to ruin the Octagon debut of former Rizin light-heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka. As of Friday, FanDuel had Oezdimir installed as a -158 favorite, with Prochazka at +134 on the comeback. The total was 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -152, ‘under’ +120).

Oezdemir beat Ovince Saint Preux in his Octagon debut by split decision back in February of 2017. Then after needing just 70 combined seconds to dust Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa with first-round knockouts, ‘No Time’ was given a title shot vs. Daniel Cormier, who beat Oezdemir via second-round TKO (punches).

Oezdemir lost his next fight by third-round submission against Anthony Smith, and then lost a third straight fight via split decision to Dominick Reyes. Since then, however, the 30-year-old Swiss striker has a second-round KO victory over Ilir Latifi and a split-decision triumph over Aleksandar Rakic.

Prochazka (26-3-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has 23 victories by KO and two via submission. Two of his three defeats have been by KO and the other came via submission. Only one of Prochazka’s 30 career fights have gone the distance.

Prochazka’s last three fights have been wins over name opponents, but foes that are well past their prime. He won via first-round KO in each instance over ‘King Mo,’ Fabio Maldonado and C.B. Dolloway.

UFC 251 Predictions
Oezdemir vs.Prochazka

If all of his totals were 1.5 rounds like this one is, the ‘under’ would own a 24-6 in Prochazka’s career. Oezdemir has 12 career wins by KO and one by submission. Three of his four career losses have been by finish (two submissions, one KO), so only five of his 21 fights have gone the distance. This is going to be a slugfest that remains on the feet for most (if not all…) of the contest. I like ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +120 return for three units.

UFC 251
Octagon Nuggets
Bonus Picks

-- I also like a two-fight parlay featuring a pair of favorites. Let’s go with two units on Rose Namajunas (over Jessica Andrade) and Makwan Amirkhani (over Danny Henry) to get 2.5 units of profit. Both favorites are in the -200 neighborhood and should get back a payout in the +125 range.

-- Heat will be factor at UFC 251, perhaps even more than it was for the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier card last summer. For that show when ‘The Eagle’ defended his lightweight strap with a third-round submission victory, the fights were at night in Abu Dhabi (and in the early afternoon in the Eastern time zone, as Abu Dhabi is six hours ahead). This time around, the fights are being held in prime time in the United States, so the main card begins at 4:00 a.m. local time on Yas Island.

-- When ESPN’s Ariel Helwani informed Masvidal of his heavy underdog status in an interview Monday, he said, “It’s get paid time, baby. Shout out to the oddsmakers. I appreciate this payday.” When asked for his prediction, Masvidal said, “Me baptizing his ass in front of the whole world. Cold blooded as can be. His body’s [gasping] for air as I got my hand raised over him. I’m going to baptize him for the world to see. It’s going to be violent. It’s going to start violent [and] end violent.”

-- Pedro Munhoz tested positive for COVID-19 and is out of the July 15 co-main event vs. Frankie Edgar on ‘Fight Island.’

-- After a disturbing incident Tuesday night in Lubbock, Texas, UFC welterweight ‘Platinum’ Mike Perry won’t be offered another fight from the promotion until he seeks and completes counseling for anger-management issues. According to a police report, Perry allegedly struck three people at Table 82 restaurant. One victim was knocked unconscious and needed medical treatment. Another was a woman, the girlfriend of a man Perry was arguing with. Perry also used extremely inappropriate language, including the N-word on three occasions. He also walked out without paying his tab, and the restaurant told MMAFighting it’s going to pursue theft charges. Perry was issued a misdemeanor $500 fine, but he somehow avoided a trip to jail.

-- During his Friday media scrum after weigh-ins, Dana told the press that the pay-per-view buys were trending toward Conor McGregor like numbers.

UFC 251 Expert Picks