UFC 261: 3 Title Fights
Updated: Jan 14, 2022
This card is exciting! This Saturday we get three title fights in what will be the UFC’s first full capacity event since UFC 248 on March 7, 2020. The Jacksonville, Florida venue sold out in under an hour.
This week, we want to look at each of the title fights in slightly more depth than we covered the main card last time. Early betting odds let you parlay all three defending champions at plus money (+123), meaning that the books believe someone loses their belt. Let’s see if we can find a potential new champion:
Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal
We saw this fight 9 months ago. Back in July, Masvidal agreed to fight Usman on short notice after Gilbert Burns was pulled out due to a positive covid test. In under a week, Masvidal dropped 20 pounds to reach the welterweight limit, making him eligible to win the belt. Masvidal lost the fight by unanimous decision, spending most of the fight gassed and against the cage. The story from Masvidal is that he will look better with a full camp and proper weight cut. There is no doubt that will be true, but will better really be good enough?
Masvidal is 5-5 in his last ten UFC fights, dating back to 2016. Now 36 years old, it is hard to see Masvidal improving too much. We know what he is. He likes to fight on his feet and he throws heavy shots, just like he did in his street fighting days, but he is not a grappler and even goes out of his way to speak lowly of such skills. Masvidal speaks a lot. He sells tickets. He carries a make-believe belt around and he draws an audience.
Usman has won his last seventeen fights, including a perfect fourteen wins in the UFC. His only loss came eight years ago when he tapped to a rear naked choke in his second professional fight. Usman’s ground game has improved since then and it is where he excels. Usman ever been taken down by a single UFC opponent and averages over one takedown per round.
Masvidal is not a takedown threat whatsoever, nor does he threaten Usman with submissions. In the first fight, Usman’s superior grappling technique proved dominant. Sure, a few more months to prepare could make this fight more competitive, but it shouldn’t change the outcome.
Weili Zhang vs Rose Namajunas
Weili’s likeability and rise to UFC stardom did not take long. Those who did not know her yet, learned her name when she took the belt off of Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds or after, in a 5 round classic vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It was a little over a year ago when we saw the best 5 round fight in the UFC’s history. The fight was almost unanimously voted Fight of the Year in 2020. The long layoff definitely helped Weili heal from the damage sustained in that fight. Joanna has not fought since and is asking Dana for the winner of this one. She is a combined 0-3 vs this weekend’s competitors.
Weili won a split decision in that fight, but she showed us her durability and cardio like never before. This is a legitimate UFC champion. Her opponent “Thug” Rose, is a legitimate title contender. Rose, a former champ herself, lost the belt to Andrade earlier in 2019. She has since avenged that loss. Although Rose brings high-level striking and elite cardio into the octagon, her best attribute might be her ability to make technical progress from fight to fight. For Rose to win this fight, she would need to out strike Weili in terms of volume.
It is certainly possible for Rose to find a win here. I wouldn’t want to be the person to write her off. Either way, both her and Weili have shown tremendous durability in their young careers. We should be in for an exciting fight, a potential fight of the night, and even a potential fight of the year candidate.
Valentina Shevchenko vs Jessica Andrade.
We’ve already mentioned Andrade, the former UFC champion, and her losses to both fighters in this Saturday’s co-main event. Andrade is a physical fighter who definitely brings more power than technique when she fights. In her last fight, her only fight at this new weight class, she knocked out a highly respected Katlyn Chookagian in the first round with a body shot. We’ve seen Andrade have success wrestling plenty of her UFC opponents, including Rose, but it’s her big, unexpected shots that warrant the most recognition.
Shevchenko has already left her stamp on the women’s flyweight division, looking dominant in four consecutive title defenses. Shevchenko finds her strength not in her power but in how she controls fights. Shevchenko is a masterful grappler with tremendous ability at avoiding damage and fighting into the late rounds. She averages almost twenty minutes per fight since entering the UFC. Shevchenko is truly a complete mixed martial artist.
This weekend, we will see a great stylistic clash with the powerful Andrade in what will very likely be the first of fifteen rounds with a UFC title on the line. Again, I won’t be doubting a champ in this fight and maybe one doesn’t have to lose.
*Please do not confuse our opinions expressed here as our picks for the card. We will post all picks for this event and all UFC events in the Game Picks section of the website.
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