MMA fans rejoice, “Street Jesus” appears to have saved UFC 251.
The blockbuster pay-per-view fight card, set to take place in Abu Dhabi on July 11, was already stacked from top to bottom, but it may have just gotten even better.
UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was originally slated to take on top-ranked contender Gilbert Burns in the main event at UFC 251.
That all changed in an instant, as Burns and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19 late Friday afternoon, thus removing Burns from the card and sending the MMA world into a whirlwind.
When the news about Burns first broke, it seemed like a longshot that anyone would be able to replace him on such short notice, causing most fans and journalists to assume that the bout would be scratched and moved to a later date.
Enter: Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal.
As the hours passed on Friday, rumors swirled that Masvidal and fellow welterweight contender Colby Covington were both ready to fight Usman and would sign the agreement on short notice.
Given the bitter history between Usman and Masvidal, and the fact that Covington recently challenged and lost to Usman in December 2019, Masvidal was the obvious choice to step in as a replacement. Still, it seemed like a Hail Mary.
Then, early Saturday afternoon, one of Masvidal’s teammates posted a picture of Masvidal getting tested for COVID-19 antibodies on his Instagram story, with the caption “Fight Island here we come.”
That picture set UFC Twitter on fire, with speculation that fans might finally get to witness the fight they’d been waiting so long to see.
According to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Masvidal’s team and the UFC started and finished negotiations for the title bout in the span of about seven hours on Saturday. Pending additional COVID-19 tests, the fight is on.
This comes as a surprise to everyone, considering the two parties had been in an extensive contract dispute for the past four months.
UFC President Dana White explained that the promotion originally offered the title shot to Masvidal back in April when the UFC 251 card was still being constructed.
However, due to disagreements on the dollar amount Masvidal would receive, the negotiations reached a stalemate, forcing the UFC to retract its offer and give the fight to Burns.
While the hype surrounding the Usman-Burns fight was substantial, the public still yearned to see Masvidal get his title shot, so the falling-out left White and the UFC in the bad graces of many fans.
Now, fans and fighters alike will finally get to see what they have long been asking for, and even though Masvidal is taking the fight on just six days notice, he claims to have been training to fight Usman for months.
Masvidal even went so far as to recruit Olympic freestyle wrestler and 3-time NCAA national champion Bo Nickal to help him train for the wrestling-savvy Usman.
It comes as no surprise that Masvidal has been preparing for an eventual meeting with Usman considering the bitter history between them.
The rivalry escalated back in February at Super Bowl 54 when the two fighters confronted each other in a screaming match on media row.
Since then, both men have exchanged words and social media banter, ultimately heightening fans’ desire for the two to meet in the Octagon.
Assuming everything goes according to plan and both fighters arrive in Abu Dhabi safely, it seems as if this epic saga will finally be hashed out in the cage at UFC 251 next weekend.