UFC 261 Preview

A trio of title fights are set to take centre stage this Saturday night the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Kamaru Usman (18-1) will rematch his rival when he defends his welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal (35-14) in the main event. Weili Zhang (21-1) will defend her strawweight title in a mouth watering contest with former champion Rose Namajunas (9-4). Strawweight queen Valentina Shevchenko (20-3) puts her title on the line once more. She faces former 115-pound champion Jéssica Andrade will be looking to dethrone the champion at 125-pounds.

Kamaru Usman is a very underrated as a fighter and I feel his lack of finishes in some of his fights have held him back in the fans opinion. I think he is currently of of the best fighter in the world right now and is improving each fight. Against Gilbert Burns he fought a friend and a former teammate and absolutely destroyed him. That shows excellent mental strength to me.

This rematch doesn’t excite me all too much. I mean, if Usman decides to stand and bang with Jorge for the duration of this fight, that will make for a brilliant fight. Likely scenario is that Usman will utilise the same game plan as he did in the first encounter. Masvidal has never fared well against stronger grapplers and Usman knows he is stronger in the clinch, and on the mat.

Usman may want to test himself out on the feet, but Masvidal does have explosive power and will be super dangerous early in this fight. I think the champ is looking to come here and make a statement and will be looking for a finish. I think that finish only comes if Kamaru grinds on Jorge early days, and you do that by making him wrestle and going for repeated takedowns. Toby Imada was the last fighter to finish “Gamebread” inside the cage. What a finish is was too. It’s not easy to finish Jorge Masvidal. If Usman was to to stop him, that would be impressive.

Weili Zhang faces another tough task in the co-main event. The first ever Chinese UFC champion will defend her title against Rose Namajunas . Zhang is coming off the 2020 fight of the year against Joanna Jędrzejczyk. That was a fight for the ages and Weili really impressed me in that fight. In preparation for that fight she had multiple camp changes and her preparations were not ideal in the slightest. Yet the Chinese champion put on a performance where she dug in a beat a very game Jędrzejczyk.

Namajunas will need to be at her absolute best to get the win here. She faded in her last victory against Jessica Andrade but looked sensational for the first two rounds of that fight. “Thug Rose” will want to do most of her work from the outside and she does have a slight height and reach advantage. It will be up to Zhang to close the distance, and that is something she does very well.

Weili has great confidence in her chin and she is such a powerful striker. Her gas tank held up well in her last fight and the champ may well be looking to take Rose into deep waters. If Namajunas’ cardio holds up and if she stays mentally strong while inside this cage this fight should be an absolute classic. I would not be surprised to see Weili Zhang get the finish in this fight and she will have her sights set on the 125-pound division. Really excited for this fight.

The feature bout on the main card is a flyweight title fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Jéssica Andrade. “The Bullet” is undefeated at 125-pounds and although Andrade is a high level fighter, I do not see her being on the same level as Valentina. Only Amanda Nunes would be ahead of Shevchenko in the women’s pound for pound status and both fighters are well of the way of being recognised as the best ever to step into the octagon. Nunes’ body of work would have her leading that race in my opinion.

That being said you can only beat what is in front of you and Shevchenko is donned with the task of taking out the former strawweight champ. I honestly can’t see too many paths to victory for Andrade. Her best chance is to take the fight down and try to grind out a decision but even doing that is very dangerous with the skills that Valentina has.

A win here for Shevchenko, along with another win for Zhang Weili in her fight will leave a strong possibility that we see a super fight down the road. The scheduling of both bouts on this card add to that fire. The prospect of that fight alone is super exciting for me. That being said neither fighter will want to look too far down the road when they have to deal with the task at hand this Saturday night.

A rematch which will be 11 years in the making will see former champion Chris Weidman (15-5) lock horns with Uriah Hall (16-9). The middleweights will battle it out and Hall will be searching for redemption after losing their first encounter all those years back.

Light heavyweight prospect Jimmy Crute (12-1) will come up against his biggest test to date when he steps in to take on former title challenger Anthony Smith (34-16) . There has been plenty of over and back between the two ahead of this fight so that should make for an exciting out. That fight gets the main card kicked off.

Welterweight prospect Randy Brown (12-4) will share the cage with UFC vet Alex Oliveira (22-9) in the prelims headliner. Also on the prelims section is another welterweight fight between Dwight Grant (10-3) and Stefan Sekulić (12-3).

Brendan Allen (15-4) and Karl Robinson (9-3) will battle it out in the 185-pound division. An amazing fight is hidden on the undercard, Canada’s Tristan Connelly (14-6) takes on the Caged Fury featherweight champion Pat Sabatini (13-3) who make his UFC debut.

Mongolian fighter Danaa Batgerel (8-2) takes on Kevin Natividad (9-2) in the bantamweight division. Zhou Rong (17-3) steps into the octagon for the first time, he matches up with Rodrigo Vargas (11-4). Jeff Molina (8-2) will compete against Qileng April (18-6) in the flyweight division. Kicking the card off is a women’s strawweight encounter between Ariadne Carnelossi (12-2) and Na Laing (15-4).

All the action can be seen on BT Sports in Ireland and the UK. The prelims will be streamed on ESPN+ and the main card is available on that platform via PPV.

Ian O'Neill is the host of the SevereMMA UFC Preview show and one of the co-hosts of The Auld Triangle - Irish MMA podcast. You can find more of Ian's work on the SevereMMA Patreon where he co-hosts The Chasing Pack and The Contender. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma

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