UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2 Fight Card, TV Info, Predictions and More

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2021

UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2 Fight Card, TV Info, Predictions and More

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    Kamaru Usman (left) fights Sean Strickland in 2017
    Kamaru Usman (left) fights Sean Strickland in 2017Associated Press

    The weigh-ins are done, the fights are official, and three titles will be on the line at UFC 261 in front of a full capacity audience in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal serve as the main event. The two welterweights will fight for the second time after Usman took the first fight by unanimous decision in July 2020. The Nigerian Nightmare has since defended his belt against Gilbert Burns, while Masvidal has not fought. 

    Two women's belts will also be up for grabs. Coming off an instant classic fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Zheng Weili will defend her strap against another former champion in Rose Namajunas. 

    The title tripleheader also features another title defense from Valentina Shevchenko. Bullet has proved to be unstoppable at 125 pounds, but Jessica Andrade will look to put that to the test. 

    It's a loaded card with a fair share of intriguing non-title fights as the organization returns to a full capacity crowd for the first time since holding events exclusively in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, or the APEX Facility in Las Vegas. 

    Here's a look at the complete card and schedule along with the predictions for the biggest fights on Saturday night.  

Fight Card, Schedule and Odds—April 24

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Main Card (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)

    • Kamaru Usman (c) (-455) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+350)—welterweight title fight
    • Zhang Weili (c) (-200) vs. Rose Namajunas (+165)—women's strawweight title fight
    • Valentina Shevchenko (c) (-455) vs. Jessica Andrade (+350)—women's flyweight title fight
    • Uriah Hall (+100) vs. Chris Weidman (-125)
    • Anthony Smith (+160) vs. Jim Crute (-200)

    Prelims (8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+)

    • Alex Oliveira (+125) vs. Randy Brown (-155)
    • Dwight Grant (-240) vs. Stefan Sekulic (+180)
    • Karl Roberson (+132) vs. Brendan Allen (-165)
    • Patrick Sabatini (-230) vs. Tristan Connelly (+180)

    Early Prelims (5:45 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass)

    • Danaa Batgerel (-182) vs. Kevin Natividad (+150)
    • Kazula Vargas (+195) vs. Rongzhu  (-250)
    • Aoriqileng  (-110) vs. Jeffrey Molina (-110)
    • Liang Na (+165) vs. Ariane Carnelossi (-210)

    Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.

Usman Runs It Back Against Masvidal

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The last time Usman and Masvidal met, Usman stifled Masvidal's aggression under a wave of clinch and groundwork. The Nigerian Nightmare's wrestling has always been elite, and he leaned on it heavily. 

    Masvidal's inability to overcome someone willing to lean on their grappling is nothing new. 

    Yes, Gamebred's win over Ben Askren launched him into stardom. But the quick win has seemingly covered for the fact that wrestlers have always been Masvidal's kryptonite. Askren's striking was abysmal, as evidenced by his recent knockout loss to a YouTube-star-turned-boxer. 

    Usman's striking is light-years ahead of Askren's. Usman has always had excellent wrestling, but his striking has continued to develop, even as champion. 

    Masvidal has cited the lack of prep time as a reason for his first loss to the champion. He did have to cut 20 pounds in under a week to make weight for the title bout. 

    But a better weight cut still won't make Usman any less effective. He's too strong, too athletic and too relentless for this fight to look much different than the first one. 

    Prediction: Usman via decision 

Namajunas Stuns Zhang in Thriller

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Zhang's run in the UFC has been brief but dominant. It took her just over a year and four fights to capture the women's strawweight championship. 

    The 31-year-old hasn't lost since her MMA debut all the way back in 2013. Her non-stop aggression and power have proved to be a winning combination. Even those who may stand up to her striking have found her grappling to be a strength as well. 

    But her instant classic against Joanna Jedrzejczyk chipped away at some of the facade of invincibility that she has built up. The former champion was able to find a home for 186 significant strikes to Zhang's 165. 

    Zhang has earned the right to be the favorite here, but her penchant for engaging in back-and-forth exchanges is cause for concern for her backers. 

    Namajunas has enough power to change the fight in at least one of those exchanges. Her ability to lock in submissions is also another threat that Joanna Violence didn't have. This could be a spot for an upset. 

    Prediction: Namajunas via third-round submission 

Shevchenko Outclasses Andrade to Defend Title

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Valentina Shevchenko's position in the women's MMA hierarchy is established at this point. She should be favored against any opponent not named Amana Nunes. 

    Shevchenko has lost to The Lioness twice but has no other losses in the last decade.

    In Andrade, Shevchenko will see a style of opponent she doesn't encounter often. The Brazilian is unabashedly aggressive. Whether she's striking or looking to take the fight to the mat, she is always in her opponent's face. 

    It's something that Shevchenko is excited to see. 

    "I like that type of opponent when they are running into you like 'I am here!'" Shevchenko told Damon Martin of MMA Fighting. "I really like this style of challengers. It gets me very excited. Because I have a more clear target. I don't have to look for a clean spot, it's just running towards me."

    It's a proposition that puts Bullet in a more precarious situation than usual, but it's also one that plays into her strengths as a counter-puncher. 

    Andrade may have some moments that make Shevchenko look more vulnerable than usual, but her footwork and striking should be the difference. 

    Prediction: Shevchenko via decision


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