Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman retained his title with a unanimous decision victory over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi.
The emirate’s Yas Island had been transformed into ‘UFC Fight Island’, a closed-off region where four UFC events are set to be held during July.
The first main event of the four-event run saw Nigerian Usman, 33, successfully defend his belt with a gritty display to earn scores of 50-45, 50-45, 49-46 from the three judges after five gruelling rounds.
Masvidal, who was drafted in to face Usman at just six days’ notice after the Brazilian Gilbert Burns tested positive for Covid-19, ultimately couldn’t find an answer to Usman’s powerful wrestling game.
The 35-year-old American found a home for his strikes early on as he started the faster of the pair. He had a clear speed and accuracy advantage in the striking department and he stung the champion with multiple shots during the opening exchanges, while nullifying Usman’s early takedown attempts.
But Usman exerted constant pressure on the challenger as he denied Masvidal the time and space to throw his strikes. Usman looked to use his clinch work to wear on Masvidal, with much of the second round spent against the cage in a lengthy and gruelling exchange. The legacy of the round was a nasty cut above Masvidal’s right eye, courtesy of an accidental clash of heads.
A huge slam takedown from Usman was the biggest moment of the third round as the champion continued to smother Masvidal’s striking.
That pattern repeated through the final two rounds as Usman shut down Masvidal, who had earned his shot at the title with a trio of stoppage victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz in 2019.
Usman’s victory improved his record to 17-1 and extended his winning streak to 16 fights in the UFC.
“Jorge is a tough guy and I give him credit for that,” said Usman.
“They call him ‘Gamebred’ for a reason – he’s always game to fight. I’m just a level better. I have more tools in the toolbox.”