Kamaru Usman put on a Fight Island masterclass yesterday to retain his UFC welterweight world title by grinding down a brave Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m at the top of the mountain and everyone’s looking at me,” said the 33-year-old Usman after scoring a unanimous points decision 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 on the three judges’ cards.
The Nigerian-American Usman (17-1) looked the fresher fighter, with Masvidal (35-14) having taken the UFC251 headline bout at just six days’ notice when Brazil’s Gilbert Burns (19-3) tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to travel.
Photo: Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY
The Las Vegas-based UFC pulled off a power-packed schedule with three world title fights to launch a series of mixed martial arts cards.
It helped fulfil UFC president Dana White’s vision of a virus-free Fight Island, something he first floated when the pandemic caused a global shutdown of sport in March.
UFC has decamped to Abu Dhabi’s locked down Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates until the end of this month to isolate fighters from the threat of COVID-19 and to ensure that the shows roll on.
Strict protocols mean athletes and staff are tested twice before leaving for the UAE and twice again on arrival before spending 48 hours in quarantine — measures that caught out Usman’s original opponent Burns (19-3).
Usman never gave the 35-year-old replacement Masvidal the space to land the combinations for which he is noted, and he monstered the Cuban-American when the action hit the cage and the canvas.
The pair had exchanged heated words via social media in the lead-up to the event, Masvidal saying that his opponent had “crossed lines,” and they were chipping away at each other in between rounds.
However, there were smiles at the end when the judges ruled overwhelmingly in favor of Usman, with Masvidal, who was without his coach, Mike Brown, who had also tested positive for COVID-19, applauding his opponent.
The headline fight and the two other title fights delivered on the hype that had been built around the Fight Island showpiece.
Australian featherweight world champion Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) edged the tightest of split decisions 48-47, 47-48, 48-47 in a thrilling rematch against former champion from Hawaii, Max Holloway (21-6), while Brazil’s former three-time world champion Jose Aldo (28-7) was stopped in the fifth by relentless Russian Petr Yan (15-1), who claimed the vacant bantamweight crown.
Before the title fights was a women’s strawweight rematch between Rose Namajunas (10-4) and Jessica Andrade (20-8). The pair traded blows before Namajunas, her face bloodied, edged a split decision 28-29, 29-28, 29-28.
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