By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE ULTIMATE Fighting Championship returns with another offering amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as it holds “UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal” on Sunday (Manila time) at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

UFC 251 at the “UFC Fight Island” will be headlined by the welterweight title clash between reigning champion Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman and challenger Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal.

It also has the UFC staying resilient after getting back into action following a forced break early this year because of COVID-19.

Since coming back in the swing of things in May, the UFC has staged eight successful events both in Jacksonville, Florida, and in its APEX facility in Las Vegas, something it will try to extend in Abu Dhabi for its next four live events, beginning with UFC 251.

For local combat sports analyst Nissi Icasiano, while UFC events since its resumption have not all been “home runs” still what it is trying to achieve is something to be commended.

“Everyone in the sports industry is on survival mode, and many have been exploring options in an effort to stay afloat. Fortunately for the UFC, they found a way. They capitalized on the lax restrictions on competitive sports in Florida, they worked closely with the Nevada State Athletic Commission for their events last month, and now they found a spot in the Middle East to help accommodate international fighters who were unable to enter the United States due to travel restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic,” said Mr. Icasiano in an online interview with BusinessWorld.

“I can’t say that I am fully satisfied [with all of its events], to be honest. But like what I said in the past, with their main source of income severely truncated, they now face a different battle as they adapt to a new norm. I can’t think of an MMA company with the best resources, the right people, and a more conducive platform to champion the sport during these times other than the UFC. The good thing about it is that it could be a blueprint, so other promotions can finally resume their operations. Of course, the UFC is threading on thin ice with what they are doing. Everyone made a valid point, considering the potential hazards the virus can inflict. But then again, new measures are never perfect in its first try,” added the analyst, who is also a co-host on Tiebreaker Vods’ The Hit List podcast.

For UFC 251, Mr. Masvidal (35-13) is stepping in as a replacement opponent for original challenger Gilbert Burns, who was ruled a no-go after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

Despite such being the case, Mr. Icasiano said Gamebred’s fight with Mr. Usman (16-1) is hardly a short change for MMA fans.

“It’s the fight that everybody wanted. These two have been going at it on social media and on television for a long time. And even before Gilbert Burns got the title shot, Jorge Masvidal’s name was already at the top of the list. Of course, I pray for Gilbert’s full recovery. But on the flip side, it made a way for Usman and Masvidal to finally settle their score,” said Mr. Icasiano of the headlining fight.

Also part of UFC 251 is the featherweight title clash between champion Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway, bantamweight Petr Yan against Jose Aldo, women’s strawweight Jessica Andrade versus Rose Namajunas, and women’s flyweight Amanda Ribas versus Paige VanZant.

UFC 251 will be broadcast on FOX Sports.