Usman keeps UFC welterweight title, beats Masvidal
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Kamaru Usman retained his welterweight title with a smothering victory over short-notice challenger Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251 Sunday on Yas Island, the UAE tourist destination turned into a secure bubble dubbed “Fight Island” by the UFC during the coronavius pandemic.
The mixed martial arts promotion will host four shows this month at the arena, with more expected in the upcoming months at its haven from the coronavirus.
Usman (17-1) earned his 16th straight MMA victory and defended his belt for the second time with a cerebral, technical performance against the 35-year-old Masvidal (35-14), who gallantly accepted his first UFC title shot on six days’ notice when Gilbert Burns tested positive for the coronavirus.
“(Masvidal) is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now,” Usman said. “I had to switch gears and prepare for him on six days’ notice. I know a lot was made of him taking the fight on short notice, but all these guys are preparing for one guy, and that’s me at the top of the mountain. I had to make a mental shift. I had a completely different game plan.”
Masvidal was eager for a knockout, and the former backyard brawler came out swinging in an exciting first round. But while Masvidal’s wind faded, Usman coolly took charge with wrestling takedowns, foot stomps and judicious strikes mixed with superior conditioning.
Two judges scored it 50-45 for Usman, and a third had it 49-46.
Some fans might have booed Usman’s strategy, but there were no fans inside the temporary arena. UFC 251 began well before dawn Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi to meet the time demands of the lucrative North American pay-per-view audience, and the sun rose as the card progressed.
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