Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski edged Waianae’s Max Holloway via split decision today to retain his title in the co-main event of UFC 251 on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Volkanovski (22-1) earned his 19th consecutive MMA victory since 2013 by a razor-thin margin, winning 48-47 on two of the three cards — Holloway won the other card 48-47 — when his leg kicks and takedowns earned the decision over Holloway’s overall striking game.
“It was a tough fight,” Volkanovski said. “He stood there and didn’t really take a backward step. I couldn’t use the kicks as much as I liked. I knew I had to win that last round. It’s tough. He’s a gamer. We’re both hard workers, but I got the job done.”
The Australian champion won his belt last December with a virtuoso technical performance against Holloway (21-6), who had reigned atop the division for the previous three years.
In the rematch, Holloway showed off another level of his superb striking skills while weathering dozens more leg kicks from the Australian champion, who relied largely on that strike to win the first bout. Holloway largely controlled the first two rounds, but Volkanovski increased his output starting in the third round and added a few takedowns to bolster his case with the judges.
UFC 251 began well before dawn Sunday morning to meet the time demands of the lucrative North American pay-per-view audience. The sun rose behind the temporary air-conditioned arena as the card progressed. Yas Island, a UAE tourist destination, was turned into a secure bubble by the UFC this month during the coronavirus pandemic.
Holloway was trying to regain the UFC featherweight belt he lost to Volkanovski by unanimous decision in December.
In the main event, welterweight champ Kamaru Usman defeated Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision. Usman won his 16th in a row by outstriking Masvidal 263-88.
“(Masvidal) is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now,” Usman said. “I had to switch gears and prepare for him on six days’ notice. I had to make a mental shift. I had a completely different game plan.”
Two judges scored it 50-45 for Usman, and a third had it 49-46.
In an early match involving another Hawaii fighter, Kailua’s Martin Day suffered a third-round knockout at the hands of Davey Grant. Day knocked down Grant in the first round with a right. But Grant caught Day flush with a left and Grant was out immediately. After the fight, Grant said Day broke his jaw in the first round.
In other fights, Petr Yan won the vacant UFC bantamweight championship with a fifth-round stoppage victory over José Aldo; former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas also avenged her loss to Jéssica Andrade with a split-decision victory over Andrade in their rematch
Brazilian flyweight Amanda Ribas kicked off the pay-per-view card with a first-round armbar submission victory over Paige VanZant.
Jiri Procházka wrapped up the non-PPV undercard with a spectacular knockout of former light heavyweight title contender Volkan Oezdemir in the second round.