UFC 261: Gambler's Guide to Usman vs. Masvidal 2 and More

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2021

UFC 261: Gambler's Guide to Usman vs. Masvidal 2 and More

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    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

    What: UFC 261

    Where: Jacksonville, Florida

    When: April 24

    How to Watch: ESPN+

    What's At Stake: Nothing like a little spring break time in Florida.

    The UFC heads a few thousand miles from its home base at Apex in Las Vegas for its first crowd-friendly show on domestic soil since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down last year.

    And wow, what a card to welcome back fans and bettors.

    No fewer than three title fights crowd the bill for UFC 261 at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, including a second defense by welterweight king Kamaru Usman against one of the highest-profile fighters on the roster, Miami-based lightning rod Jorge Masvidal.

    The two met last summer on Fight Island when Masvidal arrived on short notice to fill in for Gilbert Burns. Usman earned a unanimous-decision win that most considered a shutout, though Gamebred immediately contended the outcome would have been different had he had full preparation.

    He gets it this time yet still arrives as a significant underdog, according to the number-crunchers at DraftKings, where the champ is a -435 favorite (bet $435 to win $100) to retain his belt. Masvidal, meanwhile, would return $320 for a $100 investment should he spring the upset.

    Elsewhere on the card, it's two of the promotion's premier women in defense of their statuses.

    Strawweight champ Zhang Weili risks her title against No. 1 contender and former belt-holder Rose Namajunas, while flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko—ranked second on the women's pound-for-pound list to Amanda Nunes—puts her strap on the line against another ex-champ, Jessica Andrade.

    The tasty menu prompted us to assess where the smartest money ought to be spent and the spots where prudent speculation could yield high-end accumulation. Click through to get a look at our thoughts, and feel free to let us know if the cash is flowing in the B/R Betting community section.

Will Usman-Masvidal 2 Go the Distance?

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Hammer Lock: Kamaru Usman by decision (-134)

    Usman is called the Nigerian Nightmare for a reason.

    He's an accomplished wrestler and a dangerous striker with a world-class gas tank, which makes anyone's venture into the cage against him a dangerous proposition.

    But he's often not a finisher. Half of his 18 career victories have gone to the scorecards, including five of seven fights since 2018. That plus Masvidal's own track record of zero losses inside the distance since 2009 makes wagering on the champ by decision the safest play. 


    Dart Throw: Jorge Masvidal - Round 2 (+1600)

    But hey, we didn't come all this way for safe, right?

    In addition to documented durability over the past decade, Masvidal also has a resume full of highlight-reel KOs via punches, elbows, kicks and, as Ben Askren can certainly attest, flying knees.

    He's arguably the most dynamic striking machine Usman has ever faced, and even though the champion has never been stopped by strikes, it's more of a possibility this weekend than it's ever been. Masvidal's 16 career KOs have come across 25 total rounds, an average of 1.56 per, so we'll risk it here.


    Squad Ride Pick: Kamaru Usman - Round 5 (+1800)

    Safety is one thing. And silliness is another.

    But we're here to split the difference and make some money, and the best possible way to do that is to take Usman's propensity for long fights and find a place where it could generate a worthwhile return.

    A quick scan of the betting options makes it clear that means backing Usman in the fifth. That was the round in which he finally stopped similarly mouthy opponent Colby Covington after a back-and-forth battle in which the challenger led on one scorecard and was even on another.

    If this fight is likely to mirror any of Usman's recent defenses, that's the one.

How Will the Co-Main Event Finish?

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Hammer Lock: Kamaru Usman - Round 5 Decision (-150)

    If you've read this far, you already get the idea.

    Usman by either decision or late stoppage seems to be the most likely outcome. Problem is, "most likely" is a gambling synonym for "least profitable." If you're looking for as close to a guarantee as a UFC title match can provide, this is the place to get it.


    Sprinkles: Kamaru Usman - Rounds 3-4 (+700), Jorge Masvidal - Round 5 Decision (+1000)

    And that's why we call them sprinkles.

    Are we expecting an Usman blowout or a Masvidal marathon? No. But given that the champ did erase Gilbert Burns in three rounds just two months ago, and the challenger has been competitive—if not successful—in three previous trips across the main-event distance, there's at least some wager-warranting precedent.


    Squad Ride Pick: Rounds 1-2 (+275)

    To the best extent possible, we're looking to merge as many possibilities as we can.

    Though we're thinking an early Masvidal explosion is more likely than one in the Nigerian's favor, it's a convenient blend at a decent price that gets us a payoff in either direction if things end quickly. If you're looking for the biggest bang for the most sensible buck when it comes to timing the finish, here it is.

Who Will Win Usman vs. Masvidal 2?

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Masvidal is bratty, charismatic and has legit street cred as a fighter.

    In other words, all the ingredients proven to put butts in seats.

    But when it comes to this weekend, the smartest money suggests that's about all he has.

    The first time these two met, Usman won by an undisputedly unanimous decision. In the nine months since, the champion looked even more impressive in KO'ing a challenger who'd won six straight fights, while Masvidal has sat on the sidelines and puffed up his persona.

    There's a reason he's favored. He's bigger and better. So unless lightning strikes in a way Gamebred has never made it strike before—remember, this isn't Ben Askren—expect a workmanlike rout.

UFC 261 Other Bets

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    How to Bet the 3 Big Fights

    Each of the champions is a significant moneyline favorite, which means the smartest money stays away.

    But that doesn't mean there aren't options.

    As we've said several times already about the co-main event, we think the champ is a winner and most likely in the late going, so we'll go with Usman by KO, TKO or DQ at +275 rather than -134 by decision.

    When it comes to Shevchenko and Andrade, it's a good bet that the champion will be revved up to impress after a desultory—for her—performance against Jennifer Maia last November.

    Given her six career KOs and the three times in Andrade's career that she's been KO'ed, drop the cash on Shevchenko by KO, TKO or DQ at +195.

    Last but not least, the Weili-Namajunas bout is almost guaranteed to provide fireworks, but not the kind that last too long. Thus, it's a Zhang KO/TKO/DQ for us, along with the +250 win that comes with it.


    Prudent Plays

    It's a remarkably well-matched undercard.

    That is great for the UFC talent scouts who booked the fights, but not so good for bettors considering that precisely zero of the fighters outside of the three title fights provide anything more than a +195 return.

    So with a huge windfall not possible on a single wager, it'll take a series of prudent plays to make a buck.

    For starters, allow us to suggest slight underdog Uriah Hall (+100) as a worthwhile selection in his middleweight match with ex-champ Chris Weidman that's in the No. 2 slot on the pay-per-view show.

    Hall is no one's idea of Anderson Silva, but he's closer to peak than Weidman, who's looked every bit of his now 36 years while losing five of his last seven fights in two weight divisions. 

    Jumping to a second option, this time we'll go with the older guy.

    Light heavyweight Anthony Smith (+160) is just 25 months removed from giving Jon Jones all he wanted across 25 minutes, and though he's split four fights since, he should have enough left to take 20-something Australian export Jimmy Crute to school over three rounds in the PPV opener at 205 pounds.

    As for No. 3, we'll go a little lower profile.

    Alex Oliveira (+125) is a 33-year-old veteran of 19 UFC fights since 2015 and is usually ready for a good scrap, having earned three performance bonuses and two more Fight of the Nights along the way.

    He's matched with "Rude Boy" Randy Brown, who's been stopped in two of his last four fights but still comes in as the favorite, leaving Oliveira as a worthwhile risk in the prelim finale. Hit all three bets, and it'll pay out at +1070 to make for a good night's work. 


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