UFC 261 Fight Card: PPV Schedule, Odds, Predictions for Usman vs. Masvidal 2

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2021

UFC 261 Fight Card: PPV Schedule, Odds, Predictions for Usman vs. Masvidal 2

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Jorge Masvidal, Zhang Weili and Valentina Shevchenko highlight a title fight triple header to close out UFC 261 from Jacksonville, Florida. 

    Masvidal will get a second crack at Kamaru Usman in the main event. Gamebred took on the champion on extremely short notice at UFC 251 after Gilbert Burns was forced off the card days before the event. 

    Rose Namajunas will get a chance at the strawweight belt. She will be the second consecutive former champion who Zhang will look to keep away from the strap. She put on a Fight of the Decade contender against Joanna Jedrzejczyk last time out and could be in for another classic against Namajunas. 

    Shevchenko will look to continue her dominance against Jessica Andrade. She has defeated everyone she's fought outside of Amanda Nunes over the last decade. Andrade will bring some different things to the table than her recent opponents, though, so things could get interesting. 

    Here's how the whole card looks, as well as a look at the key questions that will determine the three title fights. 

Fight Card, Schedule and Odds—April 24

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    John Locher/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.

Does a Full Fight Camp Change the Dynamic of Masvidal vs. Usman?

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Much has been made of the timing of the first fight between Masvidal and Usman. Gamebred warned Usman back in February with a tweet that warned the champion he would be much more dangerous with a full camp to prepare. 

    Last time, Masvidal took the fight in a win-win situation for him. He was riding the wave of momentum that came with his 3-0 run in 2019 and rescued the fight card by stepping on the week of the fight to headline against Usman. 

    No one would have expected Masvidal to pull off the unthinkable and upset the champ, but the grandeur of the whole attempt masked a horrible matchup for the challenger. 

    Masvidal has struggled with wrestlers in the past. Ironically, his breakout performance came against a wrestler in Ben Askren, who never even got to test him there because he intercepted his first takedown attempt with a flying knee to the face. 

    It was a magical moment, but Usman is a different beast. The champion doesn't just bring a swarming pressure wrestling game but some of the striking chops to go with it. Usman is explosive enough to hang with Masvidal in the striking exchanges while powerful enough as a grappler to drag the challenger into deep waters again and control the fight. 

    Prediction: Usman via decision

Can Namajunas Keep Up with Zhang's Pace?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Zhang remains one of the most underappreciated champions in the sport. The Chinese fighter hasn't lost a bout since her professional MMA debut in 2013. 

    Since then, she's put together a winning streak of 21 fights, including a TKO win over Jessica Andrade to gain the belt followed by an absolute war against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in which she defended the belt via split decision. 

    The thing that stands out the most about Zhang's game is the pace she sets. At 6.88 significant strikes per minute, she's one of the busiest fighters in the division. 

    That pace comes at a price, though. Zhang's fight with Jedrzejczyk was an instant classic because it was close and violent. The former champion showed that Zhang is hittable if you are able to stand up to her pace. 

    Namajunas is one of the more powerful strikers in the division. She doesn't have a ton of wins by knockout but does lead the division in knockdowns

    She's also adept at finishing fights with a submission, meaning if she tags Zhang, it's not out of the realm of possibility for her to finish the fight by submission. 

    Prediction: Namajunas wins via second-round submission

Does Andrade Have Anything for Shevchenko?

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    At this point, a Shevchenko fight is a lot like an Amanda Nunes fight. You really have to start digging into hypotheticals to find a way for her to lose in some of these fights. 

    Shevchenko's only two losses over the last decade have come against Nunes. With her holding on to the 125-pound belt, she's safe from her unless she decides to go back up to 135. 

    For now, she has Jessica Andrade on tap and the challenger profiles as a different type of opponent than what she's seen recently. Andrade is one of the most aggressive fighters in the division and loves to be right in front of her opponent and throwing a steady diet of strikes. 

    Shevchenko holds a lot of wins over top competition, but she rarely sees a power wrestler and striker who can push a pace like her opponent will on Saturday night.

    Still, the champion's elusiveness and counter-striking should give her the tools to answer anything Andrade throws at her. 

    Prediction: Shevchenko via decision


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