Featured image: Max Holloway will look to regain his world featherweight title in a rematch with Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 251. Photo by: jcs.mil (flickr).
In the world of team sports, nothing fuels the fire of intense competition like the buildup of a rivalry.
Rivalries define eras. They ignite the fire of passion among both competitors and spectators alike.
In combat sports, rematches are what get those in the battle and others who just can’t wait to see the next edition unfold frothing at the mouth with wild excitement. Nearly 50 years later, the Thrilla In Manila, the third heavyweight boxing bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, is still spoken of in revered tones.
The history of the UFC is one built on intense rivalries and stirring rematches. Whether it be old-school grudge matches like Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell, or more recent showdowns that featured Daniel Cormier against Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey meeting Miesha Tate, it’s rematches that make the octagon go round, in a manner of speaking.
When the UFC 251 card gets underway on July 11th, it is going to serve up some tasty rematches that will have MMA fans on the edge of their seats.
The first will provide the added spice of a UFC world title belt being on the line when UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski enters the octagon to defend his title against Max Holloway. Volkanovski defeated Holloway via unanimous decision to capture the title at UFC 245.
The other rematch isn’t a title fight but it does feature two former world champs as combatants. Ex-UFC women’s strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas will clash for a second time. This tandem tangled previously at UFC 237, when Andrade scored a second-round TKO to wrest the title belt from Andrade.
This will be the first fight for Namajunas since that loss. Andrade is stepping back into the octagon for her first bout since she lost the title to Zhang Weili in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 15 on Aug. 31, 2019.
UFC 251 was originally slated for June 6th in Perth, Australia. However, that fight card was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, UFC CEO Dana White has secured a private locale to contest UFC cards. He’s dubbed it Fight Island but it is in fact Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC 251 program will be the first of four successive fight cards to take place on the island during the month of July, and all of them will follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Approximately 2,500 people will be housed on the island during the UFC events there.
Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, all fighters, corner people, judges, officials and organizers are undergoing quarantine. Everyone will be tested for COVID-19. If the test comes back positive, they won’t be permitted on the island.
No one is permitted to leave the island once being cleared as COVID-free and arriving on site. All of the bouts will be held without spectators in attendance. Other than the two fighters in battle, all social distancing rules will be in effect.
Tough talk is all a part of rivalries, and Volkanovski is not letting anyone down in that aspect of the fighting game. He’s vowing to deliver a knockout blow and finish off Holloway early in their rematch.
Volkanovski insists that it was a broken hand suffered during the fight that prevented him from knocking out Holloway in their first bout. He says there is no issue with his hand this time around, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced down time.
“I feel like I’ve got something to prove,” Volkanovski told newshub.co.nz. “I’ve already beaten him (in) five rounds, but that’s not enough for me.
“Winning is just not enough. I’m going to put him out.”
Volkanovski is 21-1 and is currently listed by online sportsbooks as the odds-on -230 favorite to defeat Holloway for a second time. Holloway (21-5) has lost two of his last three bouts. He’s only been stopped once in his MMA career, though.
After the loss to Volkanovski, Holloway sought to sell a bill of goods that he was jobbed by the judges in their first fight. Creating such speculation, whether it is founded in reality or imagination, is only serving to throw more gasoline on the fire that’s fueling this rematch.
Namajunas looked to be holding the upper hand in her first bout. She was controlling the fight with Andrade on enemy turf in Andrade’s home country of Brazil when the latter unleashed a powerful finishing move. Andrade lifted Namajunas up off her feet and slammed her headfirst into the canvas, rendering the champion unconscious and taking her title.
Andrade is the No. 1 contender in the strawweight division and Namajunas is ranked No. 2, so the winner of this bout is likely to be offered a title shot against Weili.
This fight was originally scheduled for UFC 249 but was canceled when Namajunas pulled out after two members of her family died from COVID-19.
Was Andrade the benefactor of what is known in combat sport circles as a lucky shot? Namajunas is listed as the -190 chalk to win the rematch.