The UFC is back in action, as they play host to a full crowd in Jacksonville, Florida. Headlining the card is a Welterweight title fight, as Champion Kamaru Usman looks to close the chapter on Jorge Masivdal. The first fight was all Usman, as the Nigerian controlled Masvidal against the cage and with his wresting over five rounds. With a training camp under Masvidal’s belt, expect ‘Gamebred’ to provide a much more competitive fight this time around. Two other title fights are on this card, as the Flyweight Queen Valentina Shevchenko puts her belt and dominance of the division on the line against former Strawweight Champion Jessica Andrade. Lastly, Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang looks to continue to put her stamp in UFC lure, as she defends her belt against former Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas. I suggest, not blinking during any of these fights! Enjoy!
UFC 261 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2 – The rematch! While many aren’t giving Jorge Masvidal a shot, I am picking him to win. Which is a crazy thought. For one, I’ve said for the longest time, perhaps even after Usman’s first UFC win, that this man was a future world champion. His wrestling and ever improving striking is just a nightmare for any opponent. The one problem I see for Usman, is someone who can fend off takedowns, has better cardio and is a better striker. I truly believe that Masvidal is all three of those. In the first fight, it was glaring that on the feet and in the exchanges, Masvidal was the better man. However, Usman’s strength and wrestling proved to be too much. That and Masvidal clearly not being in shape for five rounds, which given the short notice of the fight is completely understandable. Could I be putting too much stock into that, perhaps, but you can’t deny Masvidal’s cardio wasn’t the same as we’ve seen in the past. You can’t deny Masvidal got the better of Usman on the feet. And you can’t deny that Masvidal as winded as he was, stopped eleven of Usman’s sixteen takedown attempts. So with that, I say And New….Jorge Masvidal wins via decision.
125 lbs.: UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade – As much as I want to say that Jessica Andrade presents the hardest challenge for Valentina Shevchenko to date, her style falls right into Shevchenko’s strength’s. The pressure and aggressiveness that Andrade puts forth on the feet plays right into Shevchenko’s counter striking. In fact, so much that I envision Andrade walking or running into a cross or a head kick finish. I also believe that Shevchenko holds the strength and grappling advantage too, which rare to say when facing a brute like Andrade. However, you have to remember Andrade is coming up from Strawweight (I know she fought at Bantamweight) and Shevchenko came down from Bantamweight. Not that those dynamics are always right, but not many can match Shevchenko’s strength. In the end, like I said, Shevchenko wins via knockout.
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas – This is going to be such a fun fight, it’s not even funny. Both women are excellent strikers and while Rose Namajunas is the more technical of the two, Weili Zhang has the power to disrupt. The one glaring factor that keeps staring me in the face in this fight though, is that Namajunas is such a force in the first two rounds, and then wanes off. I’m not sure if it’s a cardio conscious thing or what, but I’ve noticed this in her career. For example, if that second Jessica Andrade fight was a five round fight, I don’t thing Namajunas was going to win nor make it the full five.
Against a powerful and durable fighter like Zhang, who is going to keep a hard pace, I just don’t see Namajunas lasting a full five. ‘Thug’ Rose really needs to hurt Zhang and or finish the Champion early. Otherwise, as the fight wanes, the volume and pace that Zhang will put on Namajunas is going to break the former Champion. In the end, Zhang hand is raised, winning via TKO.
185 lbs.: Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall – This is Chris Weidman’s last stand. His recent string of fights have been relatively unimpressive and have shown that his durability and chin no longer are advantages. Throw in the fact that Weidman’s once cardio edge on opponents may be a weakness and it’s concerning. However, I’m still going to back the man. Uriah Hall, for whatever reason isn’t active on the feet as he should be. With his background and power, a little volume would turn him into a powerhouse on the feet. His hesitancy though has held him back. It’s also what will give Weidman time to recover and the cardio needed to continue to take down Hall for a three round decision victory.
185 lbs.: Jimmy Crute vs. Anthony Smith – I feel like we all know how this fight is going to play out. Either the slow starter that Anthony Smith is, get’s finished in the first round or he weathers the storm and comes back against a gassed Jimmy Crute. The latter is possible, but unlikely in my opinion. Crute has heavy hands and is a fast starter. He should realistically control and tee off on Smith early, ultimately finishing the former title contender via TKO.
UFC 261 Late “Prelims” Under Card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Randy Brown vs. Alex Oliveira – ‘Cowboy’ will always be a fun fighter, but his recent regression and cardio issues have me off him for the time being. That and the fact that Randy Brown has improved each and every fight, showing off well rounded abilities. In my opinion, this is Brown’s coming out party. I expect a fun fight early, but as it wanes, Brown is going to drop Oliveira and submit him.
170 lbs.: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic – This is a fight that Dwight Grant should realistically win and win early. Stefan Sekulic has not fought since 2018, he had surgery on his jaw and was suspended for two years by USADA. Seems like a lot to come back to against someone whom has legit knockout power. Now, I will say that Grant’s overall lack of activity on the feet gives me concern. However, it only takes one shot to land for this fight to turn on it’s heels. So with that, give me Grant to win via knockout.
185 lbs.: Brendan Allen vs. Karl Roberson – On the basis of Brendan Allen getting back to the basics, I envision him taking Karl Roberson down and attacking his lack thereof grappling and submission defense. Should Allen fail to get Roberson down, then this fight leans the other way. However, given Roberson has not shown the ability to fend off takedowns and submissions, I’ll hold my reservations for thinking he can stop a takedown. So with that, give me Allen to win via submission.
145 lbs.: Tristan Connelly vs. Pat Sabatini – From what I’ve seen, Pat Sabatini is solid grappler and could be something special at Featherweight. However, I like this move by Tristan Connelly down to Featherweight. He was having solid success at Lightweight, and the victory at Welterweight on short notice against Michel Pereira was impressive in that he fought in basically a Pride Open Weight fight and won. With wins in nine of his last ten fights, I feel that this version of Connelly at Featherweight could be his best. If he can ward off Sabatini from taking him down, on the feet, he should hold a sizable striking advantage. The further this fight goes too, the cardio of Connelly should begin to edge out Sabbatini. In the end, Connelly gets his hand raised, winning via decision.
UFC 261 Early “Prelims” Under Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad – I’ve been back-and-forth with this fight, but ultimately I’m backing Danaa Batgerel to get the decision victory. I believe his cardio, power, takedown defense and activity on the feet will ever so slightly edge out rounds over Kevin Natividad.
155 lbs.: Kazula Vargas vs. Rong Zhu – From the little I’ve seen of both men, I’ve been more impressed with Rong Zhu. While his takedown defense can use some work, his striking abilities seem pretty solid for someone who’s 21 years old. While Kazula Vargas has never been stopped via strikes, I could see him facing adversity in this fight. Alas, give me Zhu to win via decision.
125 lbs.: Qileng Aori vs. Jeffrey Molina – Coin Flip says… Jeffrey Molina to win via decision. I just see a man who’s fought better competition heading into this fight and being trained by James Krause is always a boost.
155 lbs.: Ariane Carnelossi vs. Na Liang – This is a bit of a toss-up with a side of unknown. Na Liang has fought a lot on the regional scene, much in which there is no video of. However, I’ve noticed a trend with her career thus far. She is a first round fighter, with fourteen of her wins coming in the opening round. Only once has she won a fight past round one. Also, every time she gets a step up in competition, she falters. So with that, give me Ariane Carnelossi to drag Liang into the later rounds and win via TKO.