Home Sports UFC 251: Handicapping Jorge Masdival-Kamaru Usman bout at Fight Island

UFC 251: Handicapping Jorge Masdival-Kamaru Usman bout at Fight Island

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It took some deft last-minute dealing by the UFC to sign Jorge Masvidal to fight Kamaru Usman after the premier “Fight Island” main event was jeopardized when Usman’s original opponent, Gilbert Burns, was pulled due to COVID-19.

Masvidal originally had been negotiating for the opportunity to fight Usman but was unable to reach agreement with the UFC in contract talks. That was then, however. Now, this bout is scheduled to be the main event on a UFC 251 card Saturday night from Abu Dhabi that features three championship matches.

Usman was the -250 favorite at BetMGM as of Thursday evening to retain his welterweight (170-pound) title. Masvidal backers could get +200.

Masvidal, 35, took this fight on six days’ notice, which seems insane. Yet he has been fighting professionally since 2003 and in high-octane “fight club”-type competitions for years before that.

Just based on his pedigree and history, I view Masvidal as more prepared for a short-notice fight than anyone in the organization now or previously, Gracie family excluded.

Masvidal makes up for being a touch undersized for the division with catlike movement, a savant’s fight IQ, precision striking and true killer instinct. He was preparing for Usman before the negotiation snafu, and reportedly has remained in the gym since then, which I believe is true — to an extent.

Jorge Masvidal fights against Nate Diaz in UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, 2019.
Jorge Masvidal fights against Nate Diaz in UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2, 2019.Anthony J. Causi

Masvidal needs to employ movement, quickness and unpredictability early and often to keep the forward-pressing Usman at distance. In space he might use kicks, strikes, knees and elbows to try to catch the advancing champion.

Masvidal lands 4.33 strikes per minute and will need to use that volume to pepper Usman and gain points, but I don’t believe he’ll have the cardio to execute that plan for a full five rounds because of the short notice.

I’m left with the impression that Masvidal needs another strategic approach, as he used against Darren Till, or even another gimmick, like his KO of Ben Askren, or he’ll eventually be dominated on the mat by Usman.

Usman will be impacted by the short notice, too, for Masvidal brings very different tools to this tussle than did Burns. With a full camp, physical advantages of an inch of height and 2 inches of arm and leg reach plus the unrelenting pressure wrestling he employs, Usman earns the position of heavy favorite. Usman’s striking has been steadily improving, and though Masvidal has fluidity, speed and precision, Usman will use forward pressure and power striking.

Usman’s plan will be to eliminate any space for Masvidal — smother him, bully him up against the fence and then to the floor for top control. Usman’s size, devastating ground attack and ability to sustain high effort for 25 minutes separate him from most other fighters in the division.

Masvidal has been doing this for years and has made it clear he needs to get paid after compiling a 35-13 professional record. In my judgment, fame, riches and private jets seem at least part of Masvidal’s motivation after all the years he served pioneering this sport. And in this bout, he is the beneficiary of being in a win/win situation.

If Masvidal gets smoked, he goes from critic to savior for the UFC and still gets compensated in future marquee bouts. If he defeats Usman, his burst becomes even brighter.

There’s no implication Masvidal won’t give everything he has. I believe he’ll use every ruse he is aware of and will utilize every advantage he can muster to try to defeat Usman. But I believe Masvidal might be effective for only a short time before Usman’s physicality takes over.

The total is 4.5 rounds, with -110 odds on either side.

Betting recommendation: Lean to the Over

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