After it appeared that Hawaii’s Max Holloway would see his attempt to regain the featherweight championship against Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 251 moved into the main event, the event’s originally scheduled headliner has a new opponent.
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will face Jorge Masvidal on Saturday at ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi the UFC officially announced on Sunday.
Masvidal, a fan favorite steps in to replace Gilbert Burns who was pulled from the card on Friday after testing positive for COVID-19.
When the Usman/Burns bout was scratched, it appeared the co-main event of Holloway and Volkanovski would slide up but with the Usman/Masvidal bout being finalized the featherweight title bout will remain with co-main event status.
In a conversation with KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello, ESPN MMA reporter Ariel Helwani says the rematch is an intriguing bout on the star-studded card.
“I’m so curious to see how Max Holloway looks in this fight, I’m so curious to see how Volkanovski looks in this fight in his first title defense. Sometimes when you’re the hunted as opposed to the hunter, things change,” Helwani said. “It’s been a while since Max was the hunter and of course, this is the first time that Volkanovki has been the hunted.”
Helwani also noted that for the first time, Holloway held a camp in which he did not spar or have a training partner due to social distancing measures. The communication with his coaches was held entirely on a virtual basis.
Although Holloway has said that he’s heading into UFC 251 as fresh as he’s ever felt, there’s no true way of knowing if that has benefitted him until Saturday’s fight is over.
With an MMA record of 21-5, Holloway already has a career’s worth of accomplishments at 28 years old. He won the UFC featherweight interim title on Dec. 10, 2016 with a win over Anthony Pettis and unified it with a win over Aldo on June 3, 2017. The belt was held on for two and a half years until Volkanovski (21-1) won it in a unanimous decision victory.
In between three official featherweight title defenses, Holloway had a chance to earn ‘champ champ’ status but lost the interim lightweight championship to Dustin Poirier on April 13, 2019, snapping a 13-fight winning streak that lasted for six years.
“That is supremely impressive and there’s a case to be made that maybe if you start your career a little too young, you take on a lot of damage and you’ll kind of burn out sooner than some other fighters that start a little later,” Helwani said. “I’m not subscribing to the notion that Max Holloway is over the hill or burnt out or anything like that. … There’s still a lot of fighting left in Max Holloway in my opinion and I don’t think this is a case of like, ‘Oh, if he loses the fight, he’s done forever’ or anything like that. Far from it.”