New rumors suggest that Jorge Masvidal could step in as a late replacement for Gilbert Burns, who was scheduled to challenge Kamaru Usman for the welterweight championship at UFC 251 on July 11 before pulling out of the event earlier this week.
Citing "multiple sources," ESPN's Ariel Helwani wrote on Saturday night that there are "active negotiations" to book a new main event for UFC 251 at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, with Masvidal filling in for Burns. He added that the talks are still a long way from being finalized, though there are ongoing conversations at the moment, with both sides confident that there is a "path to making this fight happen."
As further noted, the rumors of Masvidal stepping in as a last-minute replacement for Burns are "significant," given how he and the UFC had spent the last two months "far apart" on contract negotiations for a fight at UFC 251. Last month, the promotion chose to abandon its discussions with Masvidal, instead opting for Burns — who had recently defeated former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley — as Usman's next opponent.
As reported on Friday by USA Today's MMA Junkie blog, Burns was forced to pull out of UFC 251 after he and two of his coaches had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time of that report, it was expected that the Brazilian fighter's bout against Usman would be rescheduled at a later date.
Although Masvidal was very critical of the UFC for its previous decision, it now appears that the company is going back to its original plan. According to Helwani, Masvidal and Usman have been in a fierce rivalry for quite some time, with both men getting into a heated altercation at Super Bowl LIV in Miami earlier this year. He also cautioned, however, that their potential fight is still far from guaranteed, due to the UFC's stringent policies on coronavirus testing in the lead-up to an event.
"If the fight ultimately gets signed, [Masvidal] 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," Helwani wrote.
The 35-year-old Masvidal last fought at UFC 244 in November 2019, defeating Nate Diaz by technical knockout in the third round, as shown on his Sherdog fighter page. Earlier that year, he had picked up a win over Darren Till at UFC Fight Night 147 and had also set a UFC record by knocking out Ben Askren in five seconds during their bout at UFC 239.