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When it comes to team sports, fans don’t have any influence in determining the matchups. For logistical reasons, league offices set a pre-determined schedule before the start of the season. Dana White and the UFC have no such restrictions with fighters.

And that’s what makes White so good at what he does. He always strives to give the fans what they want by presenting the best matchups. More often than not, he delivers. With Gilbert Burns out of the UFC 251 main event on Fight Island after testing positive with COVID-19, White and his staff went to work securing a replacement. Enter No. 3 UFC welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal. White described how it all went down.

Dana White reveals how Masvidal was selected as replacement

On July 4, the UFC announced that Gilbert Burns had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to fight in the main event at UFC 251 against Kamaru Usman scheduled for July 11. Burns described it as “devastating news.” 

While it wasn’t good news for Burns, it opened the door for another fighter to replace Burns on short notice. Dana White specializes in this kind of problem-solving and when Burns tested positive, he and his staff met. 

“If you look at the 20-year history, this kind of stuff happens. When you get in the negotiations for fights, these things happen. Gibert Burns has been on a tear. Was consistently fighting and wanted to continue to fight,” White said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “He was the No. 1 contender so Gilbert Burns made sense. Masvidal has become a massive star over the last year and a half and that’s the fight that people want to see. When Burns fell out, we got in a room, and figured Masvidal out.”

Masvidal became a star in 2019 after three victories and two Performance of the Night awards, including one record-setting knockout.

Masvidal records fastest knockout in UFC history

In March 2019, Jorge Masvidal returned to the octagon after a 16-month layoff. Masvidal defeated Darren Till in a second-round knockout to win Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonus awards. Four months later, Masvidal returned to action.

In July 2019, Masvidal had what many thought would be a tough matchup against Ben Askren at UFC 239. Askren entered the fight undefeated with a 19-0 record including a defeat of former UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler. 

The Masvidal-Askren fight didn’t turn out to be a fight at all. Instead, it was one perfectly targeted flying knee from Masvidal to the neck of Askren, who was bending down, and the fight was over in five seconds. 

It was the fastest knockout in UFC history, breaking the record set by Duane Ludwig by a second. It earned Masvidal the Performance of the Night award, and multiple 2019 Knockout of the Year honors from a variety of MMA media outlets. Masvidal signed a new, eight-fight contract with the UFC soon after.

Dana White describes Fight Island updates

In addition to revealing how the UFC team settled on Jorge Masvidal as a replacement for Burns at UFC 251, Dana White also offered new details on Fight Island. He said the top priority right now is making sure everyone is healthy before they leave for Fight Island.

“Everyone has to test negative for coronavirus. Then we get on the plane, fly to Abu Dhabi, and they have to test negative up to the fight,” White said. Fighters will be reportedly tested up to three times before the event. 

White said Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, which has been under construction for months, includes an octagon on the beach as well as the arena where the fights will be held. There’s also a specific area designated for the fighters and all UFC staff. 

“We have a ten-square mile radius, which we call the safety zone where everybody will be and consists of hotels, restaurants, and training facilities and everything that the fighters will need. This is going to be a very cool, unique experience for me and my staff, and obviously the fighters. And hopefully fun for the fans.”

It’s too early to tell about UFC 251 and the Fight Island setup in Abu Dhabi, but based on the UFC’s recent track record and its moves including a restart of fights before any other sports, and then the quick replacement of Burns with Masvidal following a positive diagnosis, fans should expect another exciting night of action in the octagon.