KAMARU USMAN v JORGE MASVIDAL (welterweight title bout): Well, what a turn of events. Gilbert Burns withdrew from the headline bout on Saturday having tested positive for Covid-19, leaving the UFC scrambling for a last-minute replacement to take on the champion. And boy did they come up with one. Burns might be ranked the No 1 challenger in the division, but for many the principal match-up in this class was always Usman-Masvidal. There’s real enmity between the two – in contrast, Usman and Burns are teammates – while Masvidal is viewed as the greatest threat to his foe’s reign at the summit. With three wins in 2019, including the five-second victory against Ben Askren (fastest knockout in UFC history), Masvidal was rightly named Fighter of the Year. Although this marks his first official title bout, the supreme striker is one of the sport’s most popular athletes and boasts a 35-13 record. (CONTINUE ON NEXT SLIDE) ... Getty Images/AFP
... Usman, on the other hand, is enjoying one of the longest current winning streaks in UFC, with 11, meaning he’s won 15 professional bouts on the bounce. He took the belt last year from Tyron Woodley, and then displayed all of his resilience and mental fortitude in the last-minute stoppage in the blockbuster against Cody Covington at UFC 245 in December. Masvidal, meanwhile, hasn’t fought since defeating Nate Diaz in November, but is said to have been training hard despite his contract dispute with the UFC. How that impacts this fight is so intriguing, with Usman expected to utilise his superior wrestling. Expect the headline confrontation to live up to its billing. AFP
ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI v MAX HOLLOWAY (featherweight title bout): If the rematch lives up to the first clash, then this should be another gripping contest. Volkanovski put on a masterclass of a performance in December, using his superb cardio and punishing leg kicks to largely control Holloway and prevail on points to become featherweight champion. It carried the Australian’s win streak to 18, yet more proof that the former rugby league player is a force to be reckoned with. Dispatching Holloway is no mean feat. The Hawaiian entered the bout having triumphed in 14 of his previous 15 competitive appearances, the lone loss coming when he moved up to face Dustin Poirier at lightweight. (CONTINUE ON NEXT SLIDE) ... Getty Images/AFP
... Even still, many consider Holloway the best featherweight of all time. Now, though, he has to prove himself all over again. An opportunity to recapture lost prizes doesn’t always present itself, and no doubt Holloway will need to be at his best again. Up until his first meet with Volkanovski, he seemed set to stay at the summit of the division for some time. The current champ, in contrast, says his long reign is only just beginning. Holding the belt, it’s his turn to handle the pressure of defending. Hurt by lingering doubts - from some quarters - about his star credentials, Volkanovski has vowed this time to knockout Holloway. Getty Images/AFP
PETR YAN v JOSE ALDO (bantamweight title bout): The strange situation brought about for the UFC by the coronavirus felt all the more bizarre recently, with a number of top athletes either announcing, or threatening, retirement. Henry Cejudo was one to leave the game - at the time of writing, anyway - the two-division champion breaking the shock news directly following his win at UFC 249 in May. Now, the chief benefactors at bantamweight will battle it out in Abu Dhabi for the vacant crown. Aldo is hoping he’s the one to emerge champion. The acclaimed Brazilian, a guarantee for the UFC Hall of Fame, was actually supposed to take on Cejudo this summer, but visa issues derailed the match-up. However, despite his reputation, many have questioned his choice to face Yan, coming so soon after Aldo's bantamweight debut in December ended in defeat. (CONTINUE ON NEXT SLIDE) ... Getty Images/AFP
... Yan, on the other hand, has fast proved an elite at that class, blitzing to six consecutive victories since his promotional bow two years ago. The explosive Russian only emphasised his prowess in his most recent appearance, making light work of the previously durable Urijah Faber. Yan has his first shot at a title, while Aldo is a former champ at two weights.
Stylistically, this promises fireworks. Yan possesses genuine knockout power. At 33, Aldo has time left, but he arrives in the capital on the back of two losses. A third would represent uncharted, and unwanted, territory. Getty Images/AFP
JESSICA ANDRADE v ROSE NAMAJUNAS: The second rematch on the card, this could be equally as enthralling as the other. The two met in a memorable strawweight championship tussle at UFC 237 in May last year, when Andrade turned the contest on its head – quite literally. Then champion, Namajunas had dominated through the opening exchanges before Andrade lifted and slammed her onto the canvas in a second-round stoppage that made for difficult viewing. The intervening period has been a complicated one. Namajunas hasn’t fought since that defeat, her comeback stalled because earlier this year when two of her relatives died because of Covid-19. The American had been slated to go up against Andrade in April. (CONTINUE ON NEXT SLIDE) ... AFP
... Meanwhile, her Brazilian counterpart has spent only 42 seconds more in the octagon, losing her first title defence, last August. That said, it was to Chinese superstar Zhang Weili.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how a clash between former champions plays out. Both have something to prove, with most observers of the sport probably more invested in Namajunas, given what she has gone through recently. There’s much at stake, too, since the winner is likely to stake their claim for a shot at reigning titleholder Weili. Namajunas is a natural striker with expert footwork; Andrade retains dangerous power and is does her best work on the inside. AFP
AMANDA RIBAS v PAIGE VANZANT: The opening slot on the main card carries with it its own compelling storyline, chiefly for VanZant. The American has for some time had her detractors, given her rising celebrity outside the octagon. The match-up against Ribas marks the final fight of her UFC contract, with a move into Bellator, where she would join her husband Austin Vanderford, seemingly the obvious next turn on her career path.
With that, VanZant will realise she’d be in a pretty enviable position should she land a victory in Abu Dhabi. Record a particularly spectacular win - a second successive triumph following her last outing in January last year - and perhaps the promotion will stump up another deal. (CONTINUE ON NEXT SLIDE) ... Zuffa LLC
... At the least, VanZant would have even greater bargaining power in the transition to Bellator. Lose, however, and Bellator holds the cards. How VanZant fares as she returns from a third fracture of the same arm remains to be seen. Ribas stands in her way. The accomplished Brazilian has suffered a solitary loss in 10 professional bouts, winning her past four. Unlike VanZant, Ribas has been active, competing three times since last summer, including a decision victory against Randa Markos in Brasilia in March. She ranks 15th at strawweight. Getty Images