Gilbert Burns was pulled from the UFC 251 main event opposite welterweight champion Kamaru Usman after testing positive for COVID-19. Fellow contenders Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington are each prepared to step in and fight.
Burns had been expected to challenge Usman following a blistering six-fight victory run that includes two bouts already this year, despite the pandemic. But now that pandemic has caught up to Burns and stalled his momentum.
He tested positive prior to boarding a plane in Las Vegas headed to UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
It is now unclear what happens with Usman, but Masvidal and Covington both appear prepared to step in.
Masvidal has been in the midst of a contract dispute with the UFC, so it remains to be seen if the promotion is willing to move on its position now that its monstrous UFC 251 fight card has been disrupted. There are two other championship bouts slated for UFC 251, but the tripleheader was expected to be the quite the cherry on top of a stacked fight card.
Masvidal's manager, Abraham Kawa, told ESPN's Ariel Helwani that his fighter was "absolutely willing" to step in and fight Usman. That, of course, doesn't address the contract dispute. But given the UFC's position of having a challenger drop out, it certainly gives Masvidal a bit more leverage.
If the UFC opts to keep Usman on the UFC 251 fight card, there is another option though. Also talking to Helwani, Covington said that he has remained ready for just such an opportunity, in fact expecting it to happen.
"My offer stands. Ball is in the UFC’s court," he said. "I’m here to save the day against Marty (Usman) or Judas (Masvidal). Feed me either one. I’m ready. Knew to be ready for this seven months ago."
What the UFC opts to do remains to be seen, but it appears they could keep the UFC 251 main event intact if they can come to terms with Usman and either Masvidal or Covington. Masvidal would appear to be the more logical match-up, as Usman is less than a year removed from a TKO stoppage of Covington at UFC 245.
UFC 251 takes place on July 11. It kickstarts a 15-day span that will see the UFC promote four events on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
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