Forget fight week, it’s fight month on Fight Island! At 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 11, UFC 251 takes place on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and it is an absolutely outstanding card featuring three title fights. The main event was supposed to be Kamaru Usman defending his welterweight title against Gilbert Burns, but with Burns testing positive for COVID-19, none other than Jorge Masvidal is taking his place on late notice. In the co-main event, Alex Volkanovski makes his first featherweight title defense against Max Holloway, whom Volkanovski dethroned just seven months ago. Kicking off the championship tripleheader is MMA legend Jose Aldo challenging for the vacant bantamweight belt against Russia’s Petr Yan.
You couldn’t ask for a much better card than this. The new main event is even more anticipated than the original, and there are so many great matchups from top to bottom that are worth your time. Before fight night begins, let’s take a look at some of the fighters on UFC 251 who could get your summer rolling with high scores for your DraftKings teams.
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Kamaru Usman ($8,900) vs. Jorge Masvidal ($7,300) - Welterweights
2019 was a dream year for “The Nigerian Nightmare.” He thoroughly dispatched Tyron Woodley to take his welterweight crown, then finished off the year with an extraordinary fifth-round TKO of rival Colby Covington in a thriller. Undefeated in the UFC, Usman has shown himself in recent bouts to be more than just a dominant wrestler with limitless cardio. Masvidal had a phenomenal 2019 filled with highlight-reel wins over well-known and highly respected opposition. “Gamebred” brutally knocked out Darren Till, wiped out Ben Askren with a flying knee in just five seconds, and then forced a cut stoppage TKO vs. Nate Diaz for the “BMF” belt. He may be taking this fight on short notice, but he has been training for Usman even when he didn’t get the title shot, and he is a dangerous opponent for anyone to face.
Masvidal tends to be either a slow starter or a quick starter with no in between, so the opening round will tell us a lot about how this fight will go. His grappling is underrated and his takedown defense is great. Usman may be an improved striker but Masvidal should have the edge there. Usman’s ability to pressure and hit takedowns against the fence is remarkable, and if he gets Masvidal down he’ll be able to neutralize Jorge’s offense. I believe we’ll see a competitive start, but eventually Usman’s strength and wrestling will be too much for Masvidal to handle.
Number of Note: 2. For someone who wrestles and grapples a lot, Usman has been on the bottom for only two seconds of his entire 11-fight UFC career. He’s never been taken down, never been knocked down, and if he takes you down, then good luck reversing him.
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Alex Volkanovski ($9,100) vs. Max Holloway ($7,100) - Men’s Featherweights
Volkanovski’s last three wins are nothing short of spectacular. He knocked Chad Mendes into retirement, shut down Jose Aldo in Brazil, and deservedly took Max Holloway’s crown with a unanimous decision victory. The former rugby player has torn through the 145 lb. ranks and enters the rematch as a sizable favorite. As for Hawaii’s Holloway, it’s crazy to think about it, but it is true that he was 1-2 in 2019. After losing to Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight title, Holloway returned to featherweight and successfully defended against Frankie Edgar, but found himself unable to recover from a slow start against Volkanovski. It was his first loss at 145 lbs since Conor McGregor back in 2013.
One thing that stood out in the first fight was how much success Volkanovski had with leg kicks, severely hampering Holloway’s movement and shutting down much of his fluid offense. The speed and power factor also favors the Australian, and that’s not something Holloway can magically fix. If Holloway commits to body attacks sooner and jabs more, I think that he can turn his fortunes around. Ultimately, I think Volkanovski’s ability to match Holloway’s volume, vary his strikes, and maintain great cardio will lead to him prevailing once again.
Number of Note: 75. Of Alex Volkanoski’s 157 landed significant strikes in his first fight vs. Holloway, 75 of them were leg kicks.
Petr Yan ($9,300) vs. Jose Aldo ($6,900) - Men’s Bantamweights
Yan was a highly touted signing when the UFC brought him on board in 2018. Needless to say, he’s exceeded expectations. He’s coming off a sensational knockout win over Urijah Faber, which was preceded by decision wins over veteran contenders John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera. Aldo is actually on a two-fight losing streak, having dropped a lackluster decision to Alex Volkanovski before having a very competitive decision loss to Marlon Moraes in his bantamweight debut. Some (including Dana White) believe that Aldo actually beat Moraes, hence he’s getting the title shot. As for his last win, the featherweight icon stopped Renato Moicano in February of 2019.
By no means is Aldo washed up, but he’s clearly not in his prime either. He still has the striking to trouble Yan — he was dropped by John Dodson — and his takedown defense is nearly impenetrable. That said, Aldo is more likely to fade (especially considering the hot temperatures in Abu Dhabi) and if he goes strike for strike with Yan, chances are his chin won’t hold up. As awesome as it would be to see Aldo win another title, it’s hard to go against Yan and his combination of power, precision, timing, and poise.
Number of Note: 7. Yan has recorded seven knockdowns in his six UFC appearances. Five of them have come in his last two fights vs. Urijah Faber (3) and Jimmie Rivera (2).
Makwan Amirkhani ($8,600) vs. Danny Henry ($7,600) - Men’s Featherweights
Win or lose, “Mr. Finland” is normally must-watch material. Amirkhani is looking to get back on track after suffering a TKO defeat to Shane Burgos at UFC 244. He is known as an aggressive grappler with good wrestling, and that was on full display in his win over Chris Fishgold in June of last year. Scotland’s Henry burst onto the UFC stage with a Fight of the Night victory over Daniel Teymur, followed by a shockingly quick submission of prospect Hakeem Dawodu. Henry came back down to earth with a similarly fast submission loss to rising contender Dan Ige in his last appearance.
Amirkhani’s gas tank is a serious concern here if this fight drags into the later rounds. He’s also quite hittable on the feet, which Henry can exploit. However, it’s likely that Amirkhani is able to get this fight to the ground, in which case it’s not going to end well for Henry. I think we’ll see Amirkhani prevail by early submission.
Number of Note: 9. Amirkhani has 10 career wins by submission, with nine of them coming in the opening round.
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