Thanks to Adam Martin (@MMAdamMartin) for his expert opinion in this article.
UFC 261: Usman vs Masvidal 2 tops three-title card
The UFC returns with a bang this weekend at UFC 261. The promotion heads to Jacksonville, Florida, with a full crowd of fans for the first time in over a year, and the card is stacked. Not only does UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman put his belt on the line in a rematch against rival Jorge Masvidal in the main event, but there are two other title fights on the card.
In the co-main event, women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang takes on Rose Namajunas, while in the third title fight on the card, UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko takes on Jessica Andrade. It is an unbelievable card from top to bottom and should be a lot of fun to watch.
The fact that fans will be in attendance makes this a welcome return to some sort of normality.
So let’s take a deeper look at the three title fights on the card.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal - welterweight title (170lbs)
Kamaru Usman to win - 1.24/-417 : Kamaru Usman is the UFC welterweight champion. The 33-year-old Nigerian has been absolutely incredible since joining the UFC in 2015, going a perfect 13-0 in the Octagon and beating most of the division’s top fighters. Usman has wins over the likes of Gilbert Burns, Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, Tyron Woodley, Rafael dos Anjos and, of course, Masvidal himself. The two rivals met last summer at UFC 251 on Fight Islan, Usman winning in dominant fashion with a unanimous decision. He did so by utilizing his grappling advantage, but he has striking skills too, making him an incredibly dangerous opponent.
Expect Usman to have the same wrestling-heavy gameplan that he had the first time around, pushing Masvidal against the fence and occasionally landing takedowns. He has already shown that he can beat Masvidal, and now has the opportunity to do it again. Masvidal is unlikely to be able to handle the onslaught.
Jorge Masvidal to win - 4.44/+349: Jorge Masvidal is one of the top contenders in the UFC welterweight division. The 36-year-old American has been in the UFC since 2013 and has racked up a 12-7 record in the Octagon. He has defeated some of the biggest names, including Nate Diaz, Darren Till and Ben Askren. Masvidal is a striker and has made a living out of knocking his opponents out. Of his 35 career wins, 16 have come by way of knockout. His best hope to win the belt from Usman is going to be to land a huge shot that puts him out. In their first fight, he did have some success when the fight was contested on their feet, but more often than not, it was Usman pressing him against the fence and taking him down to the mat. Masvidal is a great fighter, but Usman might just be a bad match-up for him.
Total rounds: The total rounds for this bout has been set at 4.5 rounds, and we’d back the over. Their fight back in July went the full 25 minutes and there doesn’t seem to be a reason to suggest this will be any different. Bet the over in this one, with the expectation that Usman wins by unanimous decision.
Betting tips: Kamaru Usman to win/Over 4.5 rounds.
Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas - strawweight title (115lbs)
Weili Zhang to win - 1.52/-194: Weili Zhang is the UFC women’s strawweight champion. The 31-year-old China native has never lost since making her MMA debut in 2013, notching 21 consecutive wins. Since joining the UFC in 2018, she is a perfect 5-0. Coming off of an incredible win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her last fight, and KOing Jessica Andrade before that, Zhang is an incredible fighter at the prime of her career.
She rides into this fight off a one-year layoff, so it will be interesting to see how she performs in her return to the Octagon. The oddsmakers have made her the favorite, though Namajuans is getting lots of respect.
Rose Namajunas to win - 2.67/+171: Rose Namajunas is a former women’s strawweight champion. The 28-year-old American made her UFC debut in 2014 and has an impressive 7-3 record. She has defeated some of the top fighters in the division, including Joanna Jedrzejczyk twice, Jessica Andrade and Michelle Waterson. Thug Namajunas has all the tools to give Zhang a tough fight.
She is the taller, longer, younger fighter, with the striking and submission skills to legitimately challenge here. Although she’s the underdog, don’t write her off just yet. She has won as an underdog before and has the skills to do it again.
Total rounds: The total rounds for this bout has also been set at 4.5 rounds. Like the main event, this could well go over. Both women are very durable and both have proven during their UFC careers that they can go the distance. Expect both women staying on their feet and throwing strikes at each other for the full five rounds. This is a close fight on paper, so perhaps the over is the way to go here, as it feels destined to go the full 25 either way.
Betting tips: Rose Namajunas to win/Over 4.5 rounds.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade - flyweight title (125lbs)
Valentina Shevchenko to win - 1.25/-421: Valentina Shevchenko is the UFC women’s flyweight champion. Since making the move down to 125lbs in 2018, the 33-year-old Kyrgyzstan native is a perfect 6-0. She has destroyed everyone in her path, including Jessica Eye, Jennifer Maia and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. What makes Shevchenko such a special fighter is that she is so incredibly well-rounded. We know she has an incredible striking attack, but she also has an unbelievable ground game which makes her nearly impossible to beat. She rules at 125lbs and it is hard to see her losing her title any time soon. Once again, she’s the clear favorite to defend her belt, a position she more often than not finds herself in.
Jessica Andrade to win - 4.25/+339: Jessica Andrade is the former UFC women’s strawweight champion. In her last fight, the 29-year-old Brazilian moved up to flyweight for the first time and finished top contender Katlyn Chookagian with a body shot to earn this title shot against Shevchenko. Andrade has been in the UFC since 2013, with a 12-6 record, including notable wins over Rose Namajunas, Claudia Gadelha and Joanne Calderwood. She’s extremely powerful on the feet and always throwing punches - making her a difficult match for many fighters in the division. It will be interesting to see how she goes against Shevchenko and if she will be able to land a big punch to put the champ’s lights out.
Total rounds: Yet again, the total rounds has been set at 4.5 rounds. Unlike the other two title fights, however, we see ending inside the distance. Since moving down to 125lbs, Shevchenko has had six title fights, three ending under 4.5 rounds. As for Andrade, four of her last five fights have ended under 4.5 rounds. The way they match up, expect someone getting finished. Considering it’s essentially a coin flip on whether or not this fight ends with a finish, my odds are on this fight going under the total.
Betting tips: Valentina Shevchenko to win/Under 4.5 rounds.
The whole card
Of course, Cloudbet brings you odds on the whole card, which can be found here. While odds are correct at the time of writing, please make sure to check the live site for latest numbers.