UFC 261 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IApril 22, 2021

UFC 261 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    UFC 261, the Las Vegas-based MMA promotion's first pay-per-view of the month, is just around the corner, and it's a big one. 

    The card will be topped by a trio of blockbuster title fights. In the main event, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will attempt to defend his title against Jorge Masvidal, who he defeated in a short-notice fight by decision in the summer of 2020.

    In the co-main event, strawweight champion Weili Zhang will look to thwart the plans of the division's former champion, Rose Namajunas. And before either of those fights get under way, reigning flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will look to stave off former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade. 

    As if that trio of title fights wasn't enough to get fans drooling, the main card also features a middleweight rematch between former champ Chris Weidman and The Ultimate Fighter star Uriah Hall, and a light heavyweight clash between ranked contenders Anthony Smith and Jimmy Crute. 

    As always, there's no way to know how these scraps will shake out until fight night, but the B/R combat sports team has you covered with pre-fight predictions.

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2

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    Tom Taylor: The first time Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal met, Usman walked away with a clear-cut unanimous-decision win. Since then, he has elevated his stock with a TKO win over Gilbert Burns, while Masvidal has done nothing but sit on the sidelines.

    Based on the outcome of their first fight and what we've seen from both men since, I see no reason to pick Masvidal. Usman was the better man the first time around, and he seems to gotten even better in the short time since then. 

    Usman via unanimous decision


    Scott Harris: Yeah, I'm with Tom on this one. Why would anyone go with Masvidal here? I think Usman might see the flying knee coming. In all seriousness, Usman is the larger fighter with wrestling in his DNA.

    It's just not a good matchup for Masvidal. He does a great job selling tickets and is a very good fighter, but this one is more sizzle than steak. Get ready for five rounds of bland but emphatic domination. 

    Usman via unanimous decision


    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Can't argue with anything my two learned colleagues have said. Masvidal can stir things up and sell pay-per-views with his aura alone, but when it comes to his skill set against Usman's, this isn't a showstopper by any measure. I'd love to see a little drama and for the champ to have to battle past adversity, but it seems unlikely. 

    Usman via unanimous decision

Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas

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    Tom Taylor: This is one of the best title fights in the history of the strawweight division, and it's the kind of fight that's hard to confidently make a prediction for.

    That said, I believe Weili Zhang's aggression and power will wow the judges a little more than Namajunas' volume and versatility. The champion retains her title the same way she did in her 2020 war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk: by landing the harder, more damaging shots over five, fun rounds. 

    Zhang by unanimous decision


    Scott Harris: What a fun fight this could be. Both women will want to come forward, but I don't think Namajunas will have much chance to use that aggressive jiu-jitsu that makes up so much of her arsenal.

    In my humble opinion, Zhang is prepared to become the best female fighter in the world, non-Amanda Nunes division. This will be her springboard to that position, and she'll do it in style with a stoppage win over one of the gamest ladies in the sport. 

    Zhang via TKO, Rd. 1


    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Zhang is phenomenal. She's aggressive and tough and should provide all the fireworks needed to make this one memorable. Namajunas is formidable in her own right, but I'm having a hard time imagining her getting in range and staying unscathed there long enough to do her own damage. 

    Zhang via TKO, Rd. 3

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade

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    Tom Taylor: Flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko looked somewhat human in her late-2020 unanimous-decision win over Jennifer Maia. I believe Jessica Andrade has the skills and physical attributes to emulate and even amplify the things Maia did to give Shevchenko trouble, but it still won't be enough.

    Andrade starts strong—maybe even winning a round or two—but Shevchenko turns it on in the last three to defend her title with another obvious decision win. 

    Shevchenko via unanimous decision


    Scott Harris: Part of me wonders whether Andrade will lay back on the gas pedal in anticipation of a five-round fight; another part of me wonders why I would wonder that.

    Andrade is who she is: a hard-hitting volume striker looking to get her opponent out of there. Shevchenko will indulge the challenger in the name of excitement (think Georges St-Pierre vs Nick Diaz) but will spend most of the time in her defense, counter-fighting shell. And still. 

    Shevchenko via unanimous decision 


    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Indeed, Shevchenko looked human last time around. I'm not so sure she will this time, though. Andrade provides a high-profile opportunity to again stake a claim as the best female not named Amanda Nunes. It takes a good opponent to make a real statement, and that's what it'll be.  

    Shevchenko via TKO, Rd. 2

Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall 2

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    Tom Taylor: Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall first met under the Ring of Combat banner in 2010, with the former winning by first-round TKO. Things will go differently in the rematch.

    There's no denying Weidman is a husk of the fighter who ruled over the middleweight division from 2013-2015. The 2021 version of the former champion is slower and, more worryingly, fragile. Hall, on the other hand, remains fast, powerful and reasonably sturdy. 

    At UFC 261, he'll even the score, adding to his jam-packed highlight reel in the process.

    Uriah Hall by KO, Rd. 2


    Scott Harris: This is a tough one to figure. It may well be Weidman's last best chance at main card relevance, given his injuries and shopworn 36 years. Here's guessing he pulls it out. Hall is a great striker but isn't known for his wrestling, with a good-not-great 69 percent takedown defense rate, per official UFC stats. He'll keep it nice and boring and come away with a controlling decision.

    Weidman via unanimous decision


    Lyle Fitzsimmons: It's been a while since Weidman was really on the level that he's best recalled for. Years, in fact. It's not that Hall is the best the middleweight ranks have to offer, but the shell of the former champ isn't the sort of obstacle he'll need a superhuman effort to overcome. 

    Hall via unanimous decision

Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute

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    Tom Taylor: Jimmy Crute is a finishing machine with a very bright future at light heavyweight, but I don't think he's ready for Anthony Smith.

    For all the damage Smith has taken in his last few fights, he remains one of the division's best fighters. For the moment, he still has the skills and experience required to beat up-and-comers of Crute's ilk. He might take a few licks in the process, but he'll get it done. 

    Smith via unanimous decision 


    Scott Harris: What you'll want to do for this one is batten down the hatches, because there's a slugfest a-brewin'. Smith has been in so many wars recently, but he's still a formidable veteran. Crute is a well-rounded 25-year-old who can finish anywhere, as evidenced by the five knockouts and four submissions among his 12 pro victories. Consider this a passing of the torch in a scrap with Fight of the Night potential. 

    Crute via unanimous decision


    Lyle Fitzsimmons: Changing of the guard. Passing of the torch. Pick the transition cliche of your choice and apply it here. I, too, have respect for Smith's toughness and quality, but the beatings he took last year don't go away. Particularly when you're in with a guy also capable of laying a hurting on you.

    Crute via unanimous decision