UFC 261 Main Card Predictions

Last weekend saw an exciting Fight Night event with no shortage of slugfests at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas.

After nearly three months at the Apex, the UFC will make its transition back to live events. This Saturday, the Octagon will be traveling to Jacksonville, Florida with a crowd of five thousand in attendance for this stacked Pay-Per-View event.

We have a championship triple header lined up for this historic event. In the main event, Kamaru Usman will defend his title against Jorge Masvidal in a rematch. The co-main event will have the Strawweight belt on the line as Weili Zhang looks to make her second title defense opposite Rose Namajunas, while Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade will go at it ten pounds north for the Flyweight belt.

We have five fights lined up on the main card, so let’s get right into it!

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2 (WW)

UFC 258: Kamaru Usman's record ahead of Gilbert Burns clash, including  wins, losses, knockouts and fights against Jorge Masvidal and Colby  Covington

A knockout victory over Gilbert Burns in February saw Kamaru Usman (18-1, 13-0 UFC) secure his third title defense. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is coming off fifteen straight victories and had been nothing but dominant up until his war for the ages with Colby Covington, where Usman proved he has the finishing skills when it counts. Usman is a wrestler by trade and seeks to establish dominant position and rack up control time through top position and in clinch all while delivering ferocious ground and pound. He is by no means lost on the feet, however, as he proved against Burns.. His high defense and stalking jab, as well as front kick, help him establish range with his 6’0″ frame so as not to absorb power strikes from the pocket, as he seeks to establish his oppressive wrestling.

Image result for jorge masvidal knee

Jorge Masvidal (35-14, 12-7 UFC) quickly became one of the superstars of the sport due to his 2019 campaign, earning three knockout wins, along with securing the record for fastest knockout ever in the UFC. “Gamebred” has looked revitalized in recent fights, surging forward from opening bell until the fight ends. He obviously has real KO power, as well as an underrated jiu-jitsu game not often acknowledged because of only two submissions on his record. Still, his key strength lies within his boxing and striking volume, suffering when able to be controlled. Masvidal, otherwise known as “Street Jesus” has acknowledged that his weakest area is when fights go to decision so he has been doing everything in his power not to let fights go there. He has not competed since his defeat to Usman last July.

It’s hard to imagine much being different in this bout than in their last meeting, less than a year ago. Their first bout saw Usman mop the floor with Gamebred, dominating in the clinch and with top position on the mat. On top of that, Usman showed incredible improvement within his striking in his last bout with Burns, a dangerous striker in his own right. Meanwhile, Masvidal has made no appearances in the Octagon since and though he currently appears to be in better shape, the stylistic clash does not bode well. Expect Usman to rinse and repeat his controlling effort for another dominant decision.

My Pick: Kamaru Usman via Decision

Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas (SW)

UFC Fight Night 157 Results: Weili Zhang Destroys Jessica Andrade In 42  Seconds To Win Title And $50K Bonus (VIDEO)

A sub-minute knockout over Jessica Andrade scored Weili Zhang (21-1, 5-0 UFC) the Strawweight title, which she defended against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in an instant classic. “Magnum” has not lost a single match of her pro MMA career since her debut, knocking out ten opponents and submitting another seven. Zhang has a high work rate on the feet with technical Muay Thai, but is no stranger to a slugfest in the pocket with her power hooks. On the mat, she holds an array of defensive submissions and is yet to be taken down in the Octagon. Zhang is an incredibly fun fighter who comes in with a warring mentality and a surefire chin, along with strong takedowns and a sizable frame for the Strawweight division.

Rose Namajunas | UFC

Rose Namajunas (9-4, 7-3 UFC) lost her title in a horrific slam to Jessica Andrade after a strong start, but got the win by split decision in their rematch. “Thug” Rose built her base as a grappler with terrific submissions, but what has set her apart in recent years has been her striking, which she used to both knock out and outpoint former champ and divisional GOAT Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win and defend the Strawweight title. Rose has a crisp, clean jab that she uses to mitigate range and set her own terms for the pace, best when in a technical battle. On the mat, she can be seen utilizing her stellar jiu jitsu skills and submission potential off her back to keep the fight precisely where she wants it. She has six pro finishes with five by submission, though her power is significantly more threatening than the lone knockout victory on her record would suggest.

This will be the first bout for Zhang in over 14 months, and her return to the cage has been anxiously awaited. Rose is a perfect opponent for her, as her well-rounded style will surely challenge Weili wherever the bout goes. Namajunas will be looking to fight behind her jab and succeed with range and lateral movement, goading Zhang into her strikes. On the other hand, Zhang will be seeking to bully Rose in the pocket and with her constant volume and pressure. Both fighters have power in their hands, but I see Zhang as more likely to secure a knockout with her hard-nosed aggression and success at close range. This fight should be a stand-up battle for the most part, as Rose’s mediocre wrestling is unlikely to breach the rock solid takedown defense of Zhang. This leave Weili free to piece her up on the feet with forward movement and superior output to a decision or late finish.

My Pick: Weili Zhang via Knockout

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade (FLW)

Image result for valentina shevchenko ufc

Since capturing the Flyweight title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Valentina Shevchenko (20-3, 9-2 UFC) has been nothing short of dominant, defending her title four times and scoring two stoppages. “Bullet” is truly an incredible striker with punishing Muay Thai and battering kicks and punches. She manages range well and mixes her attack up to the body and head, with a high pace to go along with it. On top of that, she has wrestling, which I imagine will be the difference maker here. In fact, she has more wins by submission than anything else, but has avenues to finish wherever the fight goes. Shevchenko is truly an elite and losing two incredibly close matches to Amanda Nunes is nothing to scoff at.

Image result for jessica andrade slam

Jessica Andrade (21-8, 11-6 UFC) made a successful Flyweight debut in her last showing, knocking out Katlyn Chookagian with a ferocious body shot. Although standing at a mere 5’1, she was a feared contender even at Bantamweight, but since her move to Strawweight she has torn through almost everyone, going 5-3 with her only losses to former champions. The 27-year-old Brazilian has one punch KO power, uncommon for the lighter weight classes and a talented BJJ background which she built her striking off of. Her greatest struggle has been volume strikers who can piece her up from distance, as we saw with both Joanna and Thug Rose in the match Andrade finished with a killer slam, pictured right. She is primarily a threat when able to close range with her hooks and takedown attempts.

Looking at the betting odds, this is the most threatening opponent to Shevchenko since the start of her title reign. As such, the powerful striking and submission threat of Andrade will be sure to challenge the near dominance of Shevchenko in the Flyweight division. With that said, Andrade does have defensive holes in her game, most notably her ability to be pieced up at range when unable to force a pocket brawl. On the feet is Shevchenko’s best path to victory, using her high level footwork and technique to piece up Andrade. However, the pure volume and knockout potential of Andrade will be sure to take over if Shevchenko cannot dictate the pacing. On the mat, this is immensely close with both fighters having near identical submission/wrestling stats. I see the power takedowns of Andrade having some success, but I believe this fight will primarily be played out on the feet. Though this is an immensely close fight, I like the favorite in Shevchenko to defend her title again, using the technical Muay Thai that Joanna and Rose used to great success on the feet for a competitive decision.

My Pick: Valentina Shevchenko via Decision

Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall 2 (MW)

A 1-4 record in five bouts sent Chris Weidman (15-5, 11-5 UFC) up twenty pounds to Light Heavyweight, where he was promptly knocked out by Dominick Reyes. He scored his first win since 2017 when he returned to Middleweight, taking home a decision over Omari Akhmedov. Weidman comes in with a terrific All-American wrestling background that has seen him score at least one takedown in every one of his UFC bouts. That by no means makes him a one-dimensional fighter, as his kickboxing is technical and powerful, earning him six knockouts in his pro career. Weidman’s Achilles heel has been his striking defense and chin, remaining a little too tentative when striking and allowing his opponent to catch him when he is backing up. However, when Chris takes it to his opponent, he is a freight train of power on the feet and the mat.

Uriah Hall (17-9, 10-7 UFC) came into UFC fans’ eyes with a lot of hype, stemming from his spinning hook kick KO on The Ultimate Fighter. He has since failed to replicate consistency inside the cage, but always brings thunderous knockout power and fight-changing ability. He has the type of one punch power that has resulted in fourteen knockout wins, but he can be outdone with volume and technique. “Primetime” does have a very linear path to victory, but it’s a dangerous line for his opponents to tread. As such, his last bout against Anderson Silva saw him struggle with his own output, though he did find the kill switch in the fourth round. 

The first meeting of these two athletes came all the way back 2010 in the Ring of Combat promotion, with Weidman earning his third pro win there. Much has changed since then, with Weidman surging towards the title and Hall’s middling success at the edge of the rankings. However, recent efforts show that Weidman will not have the same ease of victory as in their first meeting. His chin and striking defense holes present a serious disadvantage against the one shot power and striking variety of Hall, who can deliver show-stopping blows at range or in the pocket. Weidman has a path to victory through his high-level wrestling if he can establish top position and hold it consistently. However, that is a tall task against Hall’s 70% takedown defense rate, especially with Weidman’s recent struggles at closing the distance. Though it saddens me as Weidman is one of my personal favorite fighters, I expect a strong start from him before being flattened by a Hall power punch.

My Pick: Uriah Hall via Knockout

Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute (LHW)

Anthony Smith (34-16, 9-6 UFC) got back on the winning track in his last outing, submitting Devin Clark in the first round in a late notice opportunity in his 50th pro fight. Prior to that, he was on a two fight skid, losing to Aleksander Rakic and Glover Texeira. “Lionheart” is no stranger to the knockout, with seventeen wins in that fashion on his record. Two of his LHW wins came through knockouts within the first two minutes of the match. On top of dangerous striking, Smith has great submission potential, although not always carrying the wrestling threat to get it there. Smith has shown issues with his pacing and striking defense, but always presents a dangerous offensive threat, particularly in the first two rounds. He lives and dies by the sword, with just five of his fifty bouts going to the scorecards.

Jimmy Crute (12-1, 4-1 UFC) came in hot off the Contender Series and racked up two finishes before succumbing to a submission of the year contender to Misha Cirkunov. The 25-year-old has since racked up two first round finishes over Michal Oleksiejczuk and Modestas Bukauskas. Crute is an excellent kickboxer who utilizes his incredibly quick kicks and punches to fire off shots, relying more on accuracy than all out strength. “The Brute” has some nice grappling and sneaky scrambling skills, and has shown no hindrance towards pursuing grappling when his opponent has a weakness there. The key hole in his game is in his pacing. He brings both power and speed into his striking as well as grappling, and is a true threat wherever the fight goes. Crute does take issue when forced into a brawl, but is near flawless when able to dictate the range. 

This is sure to be an all-out slugfest between two well-rounded finishing threats who are capable wherever the fight goes. Crute has been a specimen through his UFC career, boasting a 57% striking accuracy and over four takedowns averaged per fifteen minutes in the Octagon. With that said, Smith will be the toughest test of his career to date. Even though Smith has weaknesses in his striking defense and wrestling, he has been fighting the top of the division for years… don’t forget he has a submission win over Alexander Gustaffson! I think that the speed and wrestling threat of Crute will be the chief concerns for Smith, who will need to worry about getting caught by a powerful counter. Even if Smith is able to find success in the standup, Crute has the defensive pedigree to avoid too much damage and wrangle his opponent to the floor. I see a competitive bout on the feet before Crute takes Smith down and finishes him in the latter half of the fight.

My Pick: Jimmy Crute via Knockout

The main card gets going at 10 PM EST, with the main event fighters making their walk around 1 AM.

There are eight prelim bouts before that at time of writing, so be sure to tune into Joao Coelho’s breakdown of those fights!

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