MMA Ratings Podcast

July 6, 2020

UFC 251: Jorge Masvidal Saves The Day By Taking Short-Notice Fight Against Kamaru Usman On Fight Island

By Adam Martin

Late on Friday night, news broke that UFC welterweight contender Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was pulled from his title fight against UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 251. Immediately, the UFC went into panic mode, which makes sense considering it lost the main event of its marquee summer pay-per-view. Less than 48 hours later, the UFC has a new title fight nearly official, as superstar Jorge Masvidal has stepped in on six days' notice to take on Usman, pending a negative test for the coronavirus.

Let's examine how we got here in the first place. Back in December, Usman defeated Colby Covington in a war at UFC 245. Afterward, it seemed obvious that Masvidal was the #1 contender after running through Darren Till, Ben Askren, and Nate Diaz en route to becoming the 2019 MMA "Fighter of the Year" alongside UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya. For the next six months, the plan was for Usman to fight Masvidal, but Masvidal wanted more money than the UFC was willing to pay. When the UFC balked at Masvidal's contractual demands and he decided to hold out, the promotion decided to go another route and give the title shot to the red-hot Burns.

Burns was definitely deserving the title shot after beating Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia in two closed-door events, becoming the poster boy for the UFC's "Coronavirus Era" and making the most of opportunities, but let's be fair here. This was Masvidal's title shot, and Burns only got it because Masvidal couldn't come to a deal with the UFC on the money. Burns was an incredible replacement opponent to fight Usman, but this was Masvidal's fight in the first place. Although it's unfortunate that Burns had to test positive for COVID-19 for Masvidal to eventually come to terms with the UFC, ultimately the fighter we all thought would be getting the title shot for the last six months ended up getting it anyway.

The UFC could have chosen not to give Masvidal the title fight and instead wait for Burns to get healthy so they could try to re-book the Usman fight in a few months. That's because, with two other title fights at UFC 251, there were backup main event options if the fight fell through. But then again, this card is different. It's the UFC's debut on "Fight Island," and it has to be special. Although Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 2 is an intriguing fight, it's not a headliner on the same caliber of Usman vs. Masvidal. The UFC knew this and had to do everything it could to get Masvidal in there. With Masvidal on the card, the UFC will sell hundreds of thousands more PPVs.

For Masvidal, after months of having no leverage with the UFC in a sport where the athletes very rarely have the upper hand over the promotion, this time he was actually had some, and hopefully he used it to his advantage. We don't know exactly what kind of money Masvidal is getting for this fight, but you can imagine it's a pretty penny, considering he's stepping in on such short notice. He deserves every penny he gets, and ultimately, his decision to hold out looks like a good one, though again it's worth noting that it took Burns testing positive for this to all work out.

We also have to give a lot of credit to Usman. The UFC Welterweight Champion could have turned down the fight with Masvidal, citing the short-notice factor of the bout, but instead, he's game to take on one of his toughest opponents to date. Burns is a completely different fighter from Masvidal, so Usman is going to have to come up with a new gameplan as well. For Usman to put his 15-fight win streak on the line here says a lot about him as a champion. We've seen other champions in the past turn down short-notice fights, so you have to give credit to Usman for accepting the Masvidal fight.

Ultimately, the fans are the winners here. There's no doubt Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns was going to be a great fight, but Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal is a bigger fight. Masvidal is one of the biggest stars in the sport right now, and he's the perfect guy to headline the first event on Fight Island. It's actually quite incredible that, in the end, it looks like everything is going to work out. Of course, with the coronavirus pandemic a very real thing, no fight right now is 100% official until both fighters step into the Octagon. But as of right now it looks like UFC 251 is good to go, with an incredible title fight in the main event between two fighters at the top of their games. Hopefully, Burns gets healthy and recovers soon, but for most MMA fans, this new fight seems like an upgrade.

UFC 251
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal (UFC Welterweight Championship)

UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal (formerly UFC 251: Usman vs. Burns) was due to take place June 6, 2020 at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. Due to ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus, the event was rescheduled/relocated to July 11, 2020 at Flash Forum in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Click HERE for more UFC 251 Pre-Fight Analysis

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