A long-time rival, Masvidal stepped into the Fight Island opener only on Monday following Gilbert Burns’ withdrawal. The Brazilian tested positive last week for Covid-19 before flying to the UAE.
The UFC quickly arranged for Masvidal to take the fight, which headlines first event in the four-fight series on Yas Island. The American, whose record in mixed martial arts sits at 35-13 (12-6 UFC), is viewed by many as the greatest threat to Usman’s long unbeaten streak.
The Nigeria-born champion has won all 11 bouts in the UFC, with a solitary loss from 16 MMA outings. However, Masvidal comes into the clash on the back of a standout 2019, where he chalked up three victories and entered the record books by recording the fastest knockout in UFC history - five seconds.
Stars in Abu Dhabi for UFC 251
Usman is in no doubt what he’s going up against come Sunday.
“At the end of the day, Masvidal is the biggest, baddest opponent that I have ever faced up to this date,” he said during the virtual media day early on Friday.
“They’re supposed to make a big deal out of that because he’s no slouch. I know that he’s tough. I know that he presents a different challenge, but that’s my job. That’s why I’m a champion. That’s why I’m on top.
“We’ve seen, my previous opponent said that he was going to leave me out on a stretcher just like Masvidal. He said that they will leave me in a pool of my own blood and that they would carry me out on a stretcher.
“My opponent before that, Tyron Woodley, said if it came to wrestling, he’d kick my ***. If it came to jiu-jitsu, he’d break my arm. If it came to striking, he’d knock me out. And we saw how all that turned out. So you know, that’s the story they say just to try to build themselves up and hype themselves up. But very quickly, when they step in there, their dreams of being champion turn into nightmares quickly.”
Usman makes the second defence of the title he captured from Woodley in March last year. He last fought in December, when he stopped Colby Covington in the final minute of their action-packed championship bout in Las Vegas.
Masvidal, one of the most popular fighters in the sport, is a more than dangerous threat to that supremacy, though. Therefore, Usman says he won’t underestimate him when the buzzer goes at Flash Forum on Sunday.
“He’s the best out of each and every one of [my past opponents],” he said. “He’s the best. He’s the next guy in front of me. He’s the toughest guy in front of me, so I don’t take him lightly.
“I’m going out there with all my thoughts, the thought that he’s the best opponent that I have faced today, and I have to go out there and treat him accordingly.”
About whether Masvidal’s 11th-hour addition makes UFC 251 an even bigger event, Usman said: “Can you sell [expletive] to the fans? The fans know if you have someone that’s worthy as a challenger.
“The fact that Jorge had such an amazing year in 2019 puts him into that category to where he’s the next biggest challenge for me. I’m excited. I can’t wait. I think this is the fight that people wanted, and it’s the fight that people are getting.”
Usman said he’s ready for the full five rounds against Masvidal, and that he actually prepares fights to be drawn out, rather than a quick knockout.
“When you beat them from start to finish, the whole time and outclass them completely, it breaks them internally,” he said. “It takes something away from them that they can never gain back. That’s a fight they don't want to fight.”