Usman (17-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) stayed perfect in the UFC and outworked Masvidal (35-13 MMA, 12-6 UFC) for a unanimous decision Saturday. Usman took a pair of 50-45 scores and a 49-46 on the judges’ cards thanks in large part to his control in the final four rounds – though Masvidal defended more takedowns than he fell victim to. In all, Usman landed five takedowns and had more than 10 minutes of control time in the 25-minute fight.
Masvidal took the match on short notice after original title challenger Gilbert Burns had to withdraw when he tested positive for COVID-19. And Masvidal’s coach at American Top Team, Mike Brown, tested positive, as well, and wasn’t able to corner him.
The welterweight title bout was the UFC 251 main event at Flash Forum at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It aired on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN/ESPN+ and early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
“‘Gamebred’ is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now, and I had to switch gears and prepare for him on six days’ notice,” Usman said. “I had to make a mental shift. I trained for Gilbert. I had a completely different game plan. … ‘Gamebred’ is tough, and he showed it out there. He took a lot of big elbows, and he didn’t quit.”
Usman wasted no time and put Masvidal on the canvas with relative ease in the opening seconds of the fight. He tried to go to work on top in Masvidal’s guard, but then had to fend off upkick attempts from the challenger. But 90 seconds in, Masivdal got up and out to his feet. Usman worked to take him back down midway through the frame, but Masvidal defended with his back against the cage.
Usman landed a jab with a minute left and backed Masvidal up a little, and he showed a cut above his left eye from an accidental head clash. Masvidal nearly landed a big right hand, then another started to stagger him a bit. When Usman tried to bully his way inside, he was able to land several body shots before the horn.
Usman worked for a takedown straight away in the second, but Masvidal defended two solid attempts. A solid elbow two minutes in was followed up by a right-left combination. When they tied up again, Usman tried shoulder strikes to the chin in the clinch and he kept Masvidal’s back to the cage. Usman worked punches to the body, as well. Masvidal broke free with 30 seconds left and mounted some offense, but not enough to turn the tide. It wasn’t a sexy round for Usman, but it was effective.
Masvidal kicked to the body in the third, but Usman again tied him up and with his back to the fence, Usman continued an annoying strategy he had employed several times in the first two rounds by stomping on Masivdal’s feet. They broke apart and Masvidal kicked again to the body – and again had to contend with Usman looking for a takedown. But once again, Masvidal stayed on his feet.
A mild low blow from Usman gave Masvidal a little time to recover, and they started back in the center with half a round to go. With 1:45 left in the round, Usman landed his second takedown of the fight. Masvidal was back up quickly, but Usman scooped him up and landed a big takedown and went to work in side control with more than a minute left in the round. Masvidal tried to explode out, but ate an elbow. He got to full guard from it, though, which helped from a defensive standpoint.
Usman’s strategy remained the same in the championship rounds: work for the takedowns, and try to stay away from Masvidal’s power when not in control. He landed a pair of solid left hands with less than 90 seconds in the fourth, but Masvidal ate them and stayed upright to defend another takedown attempt in the clinch.
A minute into the final round, Masvidal wasn’t able to stop one final Usman takedown attempt and was stuck on his back. Usman postured up and tried to land elbows in tight, then worked for a choke that wasn’t quite close enough. Masvidal got back to his feet late and landed a couple knees, then went for broke in the final 20 seconds. But the Hail Mary wasn’t there, and Usman had enough to retain his belt.
Up-to-the-minute UFC 251 results include: