It will still take clearing some legitimate hurdles to reach the finish line, but according to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal have finished negotiations and agreed to terms for a last-minute bout to serve as the main event of Saturday’s UFC 251 card in Abu Dhabi.
With the new UFC 251 main event now essentially being cleared on paper, both fighters will undergo COVID-19 testing in Las Vegas and immediately enter quarantine while awaiting the results. Should Usman and Masvidal both test negative, then they will be en route to Abu Dhabi as soon as possible from there. With 48 career fights under his belt, Masvidal would serve as the fighter with the most MMA appearances before receiving his first title shot.
Shortly after the news of the agreement broke, UFC president Dana White posted a hype video to Twitter which seemingly confirmed that he was able to secure the new blockbuster main event.
The inaugural Fight Island card saw its original headliner fall apart Saturday when top contender Gilbert Burns pulled out of a shot at Usman’s title after testing positive for COVID-19. Masvidal, the ceremonial BMF champion, was the opponent UFC originally targeted for Usman before negotiations went sideways and Masvidal began a public protest over fighter pay.
Masvidal (35-13) spent his July 4th holiday undergoing the first of what would be multiple coronavirus tests while negotiating the fight, per photos released on social media by his manager, Malki Kawa. The 35-year-old brawler rose from journeyman status in 2019 with a trio of stoppage victories which earned him global fame and Fighter of the Year honors.
Among the major hurdles facing the proposed fight are the logistics of how the fighters would safely arrive in the United Arab Emirates amid quarantine protocols in such a last-minute scenario. Usman (16-1) did not board a chartered UFC flight which carried fighters, trainers, media and promotional personnel upon hearing the news of Burns (19-3) pulling out.
In the event the fight does not take place, the original co-main event of featherweight champion Alexaner Volkanovski taking on former titleholder Max Holloway in a rematch would take top billing. The card also includes a vacant bantamweight title bout between Petr Yan and former featherweight king Jose Aldo.
Usman-Masvidal was the fight that initially made the most sense for the division and the one fans most preferred. It also offers a potential dramatic contrast in styles with the explosive striking of Masvidal against the suffocating wrestling of Usman.
Masvidal originally claimed he was offered half of what he made last November in defeating Nate Diaz and turned the fight down. Reports surfaced that, following his social media outburst, he was then offered the Usman fight again at the full purse he made against Diaz and turned it down a second time.
The red-hot Burns was able to leap Leon Edwards in the rankings and accepted the opportunity thanks, in large part, to his six-fight win streak and recent victories over Demian Maia and former champion Tyron Woodley. Burns also received criticism publicly from Masvidal and Diaz, who accused him of only getting the fight because he was willing to take short money.