4 Ways Jorge Masvidal Can Upset Kamaru Usman at UFC 261

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2021

4 Ways Jorge Masvidal Can Upset Kamaru Usman at UFC 261

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    It depends on whose input you value more.

    Some will suggest the UFC 261 main event between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal is little more than a runback of their match from July, which Usman won by a unanimous five-round decision.

    Others will suggest that Masvidal's abbreviated preparation for that title shot—he took the fight on six days' notice and dropped 20 pounds to make weight—compromised any chance he had at winning.

    We'll all know for sure come early Sunday morning in northeast Florida.

    Usman and Masvidal will get together for a second time at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, where the UFC will welcome 15,000 fans to its first crowd-friendly show in the U.S. since last spring.

    And while not all B-side propositions pan out in their main-event opportunities, hope springs eternal for the underdogs on the Bleacher Report combat sports team. So, with the memories of the Oliveira-Ferguson and Poirier-McGregor surprises still fresh in our minds, we put together a list of ways in which "Gamebred" might actually get it done and add a world welterweight title to his incumbent BMF championship status.

    Click through to see what we came up with, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Stay off the Mat

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    This just in: Usman can wrestle a bit.

    The muscular Nigerian was a three-time medalist at the NCAA Division II wrestling championships—including gold in 2010—and briefly worked toward a berth on the 2012 U.S. Olympic freestyle team before abandoning the pursuit and turning to a career in mixed martial arts.

    He's used the grappling skill set frequently in 13 UFC bouts, landing 28 of 99 takedown attempts overall and five of 16 tries in the initial meeting with Masvidal, including four over the final three rounds that yielded better than 10 minutes of ground control time. 

    This just in: It can't happen again.

    Not if the challenger plans on winning, that is.

    Masvidal has defended takedowns at a 77 percent clip during a 19-bout UFC career, and the presumption is that a more robust training camp will yield enough stamina to better his 69 percent rate from last July.

    If it does, it will provide more opportunities in other areas.

    If it doesn't, don't wait up for the victory party.

Stay off the Script

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    It's among the things that makes Masvidal, well...Masvidal.

    At no point during a fight can you be absolutely sure what the guy is about to do.

    Oh, sure, he's got all the tools in the standup-striker starter kit that's provided with an introductory UFC contract, but he mixes in a tantalizing menu of spinning kicks and flying knees, too.

    And the unpredictability isn't solely limited to his means of striking.

    Masvidal bamboozled Nate Diaz in their BMF bout with his tendency to get in close to grind for position along the fence only to rip off a combination punctuated by an elbow or a kick. 

    It occurred enough to gain the notice of Dominick Cruz, who suggested on the broadcast that, "Masvidal lulls you to sleep with one pace and then all of a sudden changes gears and he's all over you."

    It left Diaz unable to establish a comfortable rhythm, and it's just as pertinent to Usman, who was behind on two scorecards after allowing Colby Covington to dictate tempo through 10 minutes of their 2019 encounter.

    The frenetic challenger landed 80 strikes in those opening two rounds, which presents the possibility that a properly prepared Masvidal—who has a career striking accuracy 10 percentage points better than Covington's—can find similar success by deftly working the gas pedal.

Stay Violent

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    So you know he needs to stay vertical. And you know he needs to stay unpredictable.

    That's not all, though.

    In order to kickstart ticket sales for a trilogy, here's yet another Masvidal mandate: He's got to strike.

    But not just strike. He's got to strike first, strike last and maybe strike a few in the middle, as well.

    Though suggesting he was ever close to victory is a reach, it's not hyperbole to say Masvidal was at least competitive with Usman in the first 15 minutes. He outlanded the champion by nine strikes in the opening round and was nearly dead-even in significant strikes—59 to 56—through the end of three.

    That's with only six days of official lead-in time and a particularly brutal weight cut.

    Given that the rematch was formally announced in March, it's a fair guess that Masvidal will arrive this time with better stamina and enhanced potential for mayhem. And that could break a tie in his direction down the stretch.

    "No excuses. He won the first one. Cool beans," Masvidal told ESPN's Ariel Helwani. "But we'll see how much of a different fight this is the second time around. From the start to the end of it, everyone will say, 'Yep, this was worth it. From the first one to the second one, thank you, Masvidal.'"

Stay Your Irritating Self

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    It's Masvidal's defining characteristic.

    He's brash, cocky and completely willing to play the villain while irritating foes to the point of madness.

    He sank verbal teeth into Usman in early 2020 as a fight between them was first discussed, then he picked up upon subbing in for Gilbert Burns last summer—filling up notebooks during a virtual media day session in which he said, among other things, that he'd happily land "more than the super necessary punches" before a referee intervention on fight night.

    Other highlights included a suggestion his once-beaten rival is "nowhere near as good as advertised" alongside a promise that he'd take "full advantage of this individual and his weak-ass ways."

    It didn't turn the tide on Fight Island. But he'll presumably arrive with his chat game on point in Florida.

    While incendiary jabs often produce zero in-cage fireworks, it's no less true that getting a foe off their game with words can occasionally yield tactical possibilities in a fight.

    A Triple-A talker like Covington had Usman riled at the end of each round, and let's not forget, the chatty underdog was ahead on one scorecard and even on another heading to the final five minutes.

    Masvidal remains on a trash-talk level reserved for the likes of Conor McGregor. So if he's able to use it anywhere near peak efficiency, he'll get the last laugh.


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