UFC 261 takes place tomorrow night with no less than three title fights on-board, and we’ve got our predictions for all the bouts below.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
While I’ve always enjoyed watching Masvidal compete, it’s hard to really justify why he’s getting another shot at Usman’s title after being dominated the first time they met last year.
Of course the big selling point is that Masvidal accepted the previous bout on extremely short notice. That’s true and certainly wasn’t ideal preparation, but there’s a bit of smoke and mirrors involved there as the reality is ‘Gamebred’ had been preparing specifically to fight Usman for some time, including, according to his teammate Dustin Poirier at the time, flying in “the best wrestlers in the world,” to train with him, in addition to being ‘The Diamond’s main training partner every day for five weeks.
So, given that even with that kind of preparation, Usman was still able to completely shut him down on the mat, it does cast a lot of doubt on whether Masvidal will really have been able to massively level up his takedown defense and wrestling ability in order to alter the outcome this time around.
Admittedly, if he has been able to do that then things become very interesting as Masvidal is an excellent striker, who in the past was a clinical sniper on the counter, but in more recent times reinvented himself as a more aggressive and offensively-minded fight-finisher, which helped propel him to stardom.
That means that as long as the fight is standing, Masvidal has a real chance, but the problem is that Usman remains undefeated not just because he’s an excellent wrestler, but also because he’s just so well-rounded, with very good volume-orientated striking, first-class cardio and a good chin leaving him with no obvious holes in his game.
With that in mind it just makes it even harder for Masvidal to find a way to win here, and while I think he’ll try to throw more caution to the wind this time when he does get a chance to engage, I think it’s going to largely end up being a very similar fight to their last encounter with Usman dominating him on the mat for the best part of 25 minutes.
Pick: Kamaru Usman wins by decision.
Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas
After a ‘Fight Of The Year’ thriller with Joanna Jedrezjczyk last year, strawweight champion Weili now faces another mouth-watering match-up against former champ Namajunas.
Namajunas received a confidence-booster last time out when she avenged a tough loss against Jessica Andrade, and as good as Weili looked in her last outing, ‘Thug’ Rose willl also take comfort in the fact that she already holds two victories over Jedrzejczyk herself.
Nevertheless, Weili remains a formidable foe. She’s an excellent pressure fighter and will look to put Namajunas on the back foot with high-volume offense, solid power and an unbreakable will.
Namajunas has the tools to compete well though as she’s a talented boxer who can work well on the outside, she cuts angles well and is sharp and clinical with her shot selection.
On the other hand though, Weili is also the physically stronger fighter and has good wrestling, which adds another powerful string to her bow, though she would have to be very wary on the mat of her opponent’s extremely crafty submission ability.
Namajunas showed she can deal with a pressure fighter in Andrade last time out, but Weili is technically better than the Brazilian and has better fight IQ and I think that she’s going to be able to gradually overpower her with that constant pressure and will secure a decision victory to retain her title, with a late stoppage also being a possibility.
Pick: Zhang Weili wins by decision.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
The third title fight on the card finds Shevchenko in full swing as she rules the flyweight division with an iron fist, but former 115lb champ Andrade figures to be one of her toughest tests to date in the weight class.
Andrade was short and stocky in her previous division at just 5ft 1″ tall, and it’s even more noticeable at flyweight, so she’ll be be at a 3.5″ height and 4.5″ reach disadvantage on Saturday night.
That being said, Andrade’s always been very strong and carries even more power than before in her new weight class, as evidenced by TKO’ing the significantly larger former title contender Katlyn Chookagian with a body shot in her divisional debut last time out.
With that in mind, Andrade will maraud forward, relying on her proven toughness to close the distance under fire and unleash her own high-volume striking together, while also looking to use her brute strength to force the fight to the mat.
It’ll be interesting to see how Shevchenko copes with that, but I do feel she has the weapons to defuse Andrade’s bombs as she’s the superior technical striker and has the ability to pick her apart with more accurate, measured offense.
Meanwhile, Shevchenko is also physically strong in her own right and has good wrestling, so I don’t think Andrade is going to be able to bully her the way she has others in the past.
Andrade is a tough nut to crack though, but I think Shevchenko will leave no doubt about who the winner is by the time this one heads to the scorecards.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko wins by decision.
Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall
Weidman picked up a workmanlike win over Omar Akhmedov last time out, but the memory of the former champion’s prior dismal run of five KO and TKO losses in four years still looms large.
That’s especially concerning given that Weidman now faces one of the division’s most dynamic strikers in Hall, who is on a three-fight winning streak.
Hall has an excellent striking arsenal at his disposal and is able to unleash fight-ending kicks in the blink of an eye, together with the knockout power in his punches, so Weidman is going to have to be extremely careful at all times on the feet.
These days Weidman is starting to lean heavier on his wrestling base, and that’s a smart stategy as he’s very good on the mat and should have a significant advantage there against Hall.
Hall has solid takedown defense though and has shown some ability to get back to his feet when taken down, which increases his chances of opportunities to make his mark in the striking department.
The threat of the takedown could make Hall more wary to unleash his strikes though, and that’s a concern as one of his biggest failings has been failing to embrace the ‘killer instinct’ and being overly gun-shy at times.
He’s coming into this one with confidence though after his prior victories and given the major concerns over Weidman’s durability at this stage in his career I think Hall’s dynamic offense will eventually catch him out, leading to a second round KO finish.
Pick: Uriah Hall wins by KO in Rd2.
Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute
As a former middleweight, Smith did really well to rise up the ranks to fight for the title at light-heavyweight, but it’s not been plain sailing since then and so will have been thankful for his submission win over Devin Clark last time out after having previously suffered back-to-back losses.
On the other hand Crute is on a roll, having delivered a 4-1 record in the Octagon to date, including racking up three finishes inside the opening round.
Despite that I’d still say that Smith is the more dangerous striker on the feet, as he’s proven to be a fight-finisher with punches, kicks, knees and elbows in two different weight classes now.
Crute is a tough customer though and can largely hold his own on the feet, but will be at his most effective applying pressure and then seeking to make use of his effective wrestling game.
That’ll be helped by the fact that Smith’s takedown defense isn’t the best, and though ‘Lionheart’s’ submission ability will be a constant threat, I still like Crute’s chances of mauling him on the mat for large portions of the fight to ensure he emerges with a decision win.
Pick: Jimmy Crute wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Alex Oliveira vs. Randy Brown
Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic
Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen
Patrick Sabatini vs. Tristan Connelly
Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad
Kazula Vargas vs. Rong Zhu
Qileng Aori vs. Jeffrey Molina
Na Liang vs. Ariane Carnelossi
Jamey Simmons vs. Johnny Munoz