UFC 251 has come and past and it was one of the most highly anticipated fight cards in recent times, with three title bouts on the main card. The event was great, from start to finish, and was jampacked with pretty much everything that could happen in an MMA card. Winners and losers were determined and I thought it was best to look at what’s next for the winners and losers of the UFC 251 card.
Jiri Prochazka and Volkan Oezdemir
Jiri Prochazka made his highly anticipated UFC debut on the prelims of UFC 251 and won the fight in spectacular fashion as he knocked out #7 ranked light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir in the 2nd round. Jiri is a very unique fighter, a very unorthodox one and that could be a nightmare for some of the guys in the light heavyweight division. It’ll be interesting to see where the UFC take Jiri, he just beat the 7th ranked contender, so do they throw him in the deep end with a top 5 contender like Corey Anderson, do they give him #6 ranked contender Anthony Smith, given Smith is currently on a losing streak, or do they hold Jiri back for now and make a very exciting fight between him and Johnny Walker.
Volkan Oezdemir, before losing this fight, was steadily finding some consistency and was unlucky no to be higher in the rankings this year, given many thought he beat Dominick Reyes back in March of last year. The fight that first came to mind for Volkan was Anthony Smith, but I feel the UFC will give Smith to Jiri. If that’s the case then Volkan will probably be looking at someone who’s in the lower parts of the rankings, maybe someone like Johnny Walker, who needs a win to get his career back on track or maybe someone like Ryan Spann, another rising star in the division.
Amanda Ribas and Paige VanZant
These two women kicked off the main card at UFC 251 and the fight was pretty much over before it started, with Ribas dominating VanZant and submitting her in the first round. Ribas is a star in the making and I feel the UFC haven’t fully grasped that yet, she has a great, marketable personality and she has the fight skills to back it up. She’s currently 14th in the women’s strawweight division, even though she fought VanZant at flyweight.
If she stays at flyweight she should be instantly given a fight against someone like Joanne Calderwood or Jessica Eye, and if she wins that, give her the title shot. If she goes back to strawweight, then she has some great fights to look forward to. Angela Hill would be a really fun fight to watch, or maybe someone higher up the rankings like Carla Esparza or Claudia Gadelha and if she wins that fight, she could then fight some of the stars like Joanna Jedrzejcyk or Jessica Andrade.
Paige VanZant was on her last fight of her UFC contract heading into this fight, and everyone saw how emotional she was making her way to the octagon. The UFC had fired VanZant into stardom ever since she first stepped into the doors of the UFC, she’s incredibly marketable, with a great personality and a huge fan following, and although she never truly reached her potential as a fighter, any promotion would be gaining a huge asset if she chooses to sign with them. The current belief is that she’ll join her husband at Bellator, and given Dana White said in his post PPV press conference that she should go and test free agency, it’s almost certain that will be the case.
Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas
These two have given us two fantastic fights so far in their rivalry, with Andrade winning the first one and then Rose getting revenge at UFC 251 with a win via decision. Jessica Andrade won the belt from Rose and then lost the belt in her first defense against current champion Weili Zhang. I’d love to see these two give us a trilogy fight, but I’m not sure that happens straight away and so Andrade will be looking for a new matchup for the time being and that should be either Joanna Jedrejczyk or Tatiana Suarez.
Rose Namajunas has been teasing retirement for quite some time now, and shocked a fair few MMA fans when she took this rematch against Andrade. In my opinion, if she went on to lose to Andrade a second time at UFC 251, I think she would have retired and that would have been a travesty because she’s one of the best there’s ever been in the women’s division and she has so much more to offer. Current champion Weili Zhang recently said that she believes Rose is the biggest star in the division and the biggest task for her as a champion, so it’s pretty obvious, unless Dana has other plans, that Rose will fight Weili for the belt in the near future, and what a fight that will be. I would love to see Rose have a trilogy fight with Andrade at some point though, as they’ve given us two brilliant fights so far.
Petr Yan and Jose Aldo
These two put on an absolute show in their fight at UFC 251 for the vacant bantamweight championship, with the young star Petr Yan knocking the legend out in the 5th round. Petr Yan is a star and always has been, people have been doubting him to some degree given he had never faced a top 5 contender in the division before this fight, but he shut them up. Many thought the fight for the title would be between Yan and Aljamain Sterling, but Aldo was given the shot, and next up is the most obvious fight anyone could book for Yan and that’s Sterling for the title, which promises to be an absolute show stealer.
Jose Aldo has been a staple name in the UFC for so many years and he dominated the featherweight division for most of those years. He surprised everyone by dropping down to bantamweight, and although he lost his first fight at this weight against Marlon Moraes, many people thought he actually won the fight. Some fans were stupid enough to say that Aldo should hang his gloves up after that fight and that’s completely wrong of them, Aldo put on one of his best performances ever against a young star in Yan, and he showed he can be a true threat at bantamweight. It’ll be interesting to see where Aldo goes, does he have a rematch against Moraes, does he fight Cody Garbrandt who got his career back on track last time out, or does he fight another up and comer like Cory Sandhagen after he lost to Sterling not so long ago.
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway
The second title fight of the night at UFC 251 was a rematch between Holloway and champion Volkanovski for the featherweight title. Volkanovski was given the nod by the judges to retain his belt but there was complete outrage from the MMA community when that was announced as many thought Max had regained his belt.
Volkanovski is on one of the hottest streaks in the UFC at the moment, and still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, he’s now beaten Holloway twice and beat Aldo at featherweight, those are two of the best featherweights to ever step inside the octagon. Volkanovski’s next opponent will be an interesting one, his two fights with Max were close and given most people thought Max won the one at UFC 251, you could see a trilogy fight between them. However, the score is already 2-0 Volkanovski so if Max wins the third fight, do you have a best of 5 between them?
Outside of Max, there isn’t anyone who stands out, given they have their own fights that make more sense. For instance, Ortega and Korean Zombie are being pitted against eachother by fans. Maybe Zabit Magomedsharipov gets the nod from Dana for the title fight, or maybe Calvin Kattar gets thrown in there if he beats Dan Ige.
Max Holloway can count himself very unlucky to not have his featherweight title back after that 5-round battle with Volkanovski, you’d imagine he isn’t very happy with how things turned out and will probably be demanding another shot at Volkanovski, a fight that many would happily watch again. Outside of fighting for the title, Holloway has multiple choices for his next fight, Dana may give him a rematch against Ortega whilst giving Korean Zombie a fight against Yair Rodriguez and Zabit the title fight. He could also face Calvin Kattar, if Kattar beats Dan Ige. I can’t see him moving up to lightweight like he has in the past, that hasn’t worked out well before.
Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal
The main event at UFC 251 was a highly anticipated one as the welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, put his belt on the line against superstar Jorge Masvidal. Usman won the fight pretty easily via decision, but he really didn’t impress fans with his performance. Usman’s next title defense has two contenders currently fighting on Twitter for the opportunity, those are Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards.
Both fighters have decent claims to the fight, Burns was supposed to be the one fighting at UFC 251 for the belt but tested positive for COVID-19 whilst Edwards has been on a meteoric rise in the division. For me, Burns should get the next shot and that hurts to say given I’m a huge fan of Edwards. Burns was supposed to be the one getting the fight anyway so it makes sense that the UFC keep their word and give him the next shot. Edwards needs to beat a top 5 contender, and he had the chance against Tyron Woodley earlier this year, but the fight was called off due to the pandemic. If Edwards beats a guy like Woodley, then he should get the winner of Usman vs Burns.
Jorge Masvidal has been on fire, and I mean on fire, for the past two years. He’s easily become the biggest star in the UFC since Conor McGregor and he shouldn’t be punished or thrown to the side after he lost the fight against Usman, given he took it on 6 days’ notice. Next up for Masvidal is pretty much anyone he chooses. People were hinting at a fight against a returning Conor McGregor when Fight Island was first announced and that could happen. The one that makes the most sense to me is a rematch against Nate Diaz, the two fought before for the BMF title and the fight was called off thanks to a doctor’s stoppage and I’d love to see them have another 5-round battle. The Diaz fight has the most chance of happening given Masvidal said if he won the belt against Usman that Diaz would be first in line.