8:00 PM ET
Ariel HelwaniESPN Staff Writer
A day after Gilbert Burns was forced out of the UFC 251 main event, there is renewed hope that next week’s welterweight title fight can be saved with an even bigger fight.
According to multiple sources, there are active negotiations to book Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal as the new main event of UFC 251 on July 11.
Sources said the talks aren’t close to being finalized yet, but they are ongoing and both sides believe there is a path to making this fight happen.
This is significant because the UFC and Masvidal were far apart on contract talks for this fight for the past two months. In the end, the UFC decided to walk away from negotiations about a month ago and gave the title fight to Burns, who recently beat former champion Tyron Woodley.
Afterward, Masvidal posted a series of tweets criticizing the UFC for its business practices, calling into question whether the relationship would be severed for some time.
But once Burns was forced off the card late Friday night, momentum started to build for the original plan, which is a grudge match that has been months in the making. Usman and Masvidal have been embroiled in a heated feud that saw the duo get into a shouting match at the Super Bowl in Miami earlier this year.
On Saturday afternoon, Usman tweeted, “Might be time for the pig to squeal,” while Masvidal’s co-manager posted a series of Instagram stories showing Masvidal on the phone, with the caption “negotiating.”
Of course, these days it’s not as simple as just agreeing to a fight amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, Masvidal took and passed a coronavirus antibody test. That test shows whether an individual has been exposed to COVID-19 in the past but doesn’t determine whether someone currently has the virus. If the fight ultimately gets signed, he will have to pass at least three coronavirus tests before fight night, as will all the fighters competing in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this month.
The UFC’s charter flight to Abu Dhabi left Friday night, so the promotion will also have to figure out how to get both Masvidal and Usman, who did not fly once Burns pulled out, to the UAE in time for the event and with the ability to pass the government’s coronavirus testing protocol in place.
Masvidal is considered one of the most popular fighters in the sport, with many believing he was the 2019 fighter of the year after picking up impressive wins over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nathan Diaz.
If the two sides can’t come to terms on a deal, UFC 251 would proceed with two title fights: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 2 for the featherweight title and Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo for the bantamweight title.