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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman will once again lock horns for the welterweight title in front of a live audience in Jacksonville, Florida, at UFC 261.
The event marks the UFC’s first card with full in-person attendance in the United States since restrictions were put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The organization didn’t hold back in putting together a card worthy of a capacity crowd, either.
The welterweight strap isn’t the only title on the line.
Zhang Weili will see Rose Namajunas in the cage to defend her women’s strawweight belt, while Valentina Shevchenko will look to add to her resume with a win over Jessica Andrade in 125-pound title fight action.
All the action is set to go down on Saturday, April 24. As we head into fight weekend, here’s a look at the complete card, the latest odds and the latest hype before the fighters hit the scales on Friday.
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John Locher/Associated Press
Main Card (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
- Kamaru Usman (c) (-435) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+320)—welterweight title fight
- Zhang Weili (c) (-200) vs. Rose Namajunas (+165)—women’s strawweight title fight
- Valentina Shevchenko (c) (-455) vs. Jessica Andrade (+340)—women’s flyweight title fight
- Uriah Hall (+100) vs. Chris Weidman (-125)
- Anthony Smith (+160) vs. Jim Crute (-200)
Prelims (8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+)
- Alex Oliveira (+125) vs. Randy Brown (-155)
- Dwight Grant (-240) vs. Stefan Sekulic (+180)
- Karl Roberson (+125) vs. Brendan Allen (-155)
- Patrick Sabatini (-230) vs. Tristan Connelly (+180)
Early Prelims (5:45 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass)
- Danaa Batgerel (-182) vs. Kevin Natividad (+150)
- Kazula Vargas (+195) vs. Zhu Rong (-250)
- Qileng Aori (-110) vs. Jeffrey Molina (-110)
- Na Liang (+165) vs. Ariane Carnelossi (-210)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
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Gregory Payan/Associated Press
The first time Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman fought, it wasn’t particularly close. The champion took down the former street fighter five times, gaining 16 minutes and 38 seconds of control en route to a unanimous decision in which he only lost one round on one scorecard.
Usman was able to grind Masvidal to the ground and neutralize the power and striking that earned Masvidal the title shot in the first place.
Gamebred acknowledges he wasn’t at his best that night but noted the circumstances surrounding the fight. Taking the bout on short notice, Masvidal was forced to cut 20 pounds in six days.
“If Kamaru takes a fight against me on six days’ notice with 20 pounds to cut, I finish him in the first or second round,” Masvidal told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports.
That might be a fair assumption. Those conditions would be difficult for anyone.
But those aren’t the conditions that Usman will be fighting Masvidal. This time both fighters will have a full camp to prepare, and it doesn’t change the grappling advantage that the Nigerian Nightmare will still hold over the challenger.
This one will look a lot like the first bout even if Masvidal can create a few more moments for himself.
Prediction: Usman via unanimous decision
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown” has resonated with Rose Namajunas before. The title challenger has been open in saying she felt immense pressure and was relieved to have lost her belt the first time around.
Some time away from being a champion has seemingly changed that attitude, though.
“I think the belt before was just kind of a destination and sort of like a checkmark on my list,” Namajunas told Jimmy Smith on SiriusXM. “Now I have a clear vision of what I want to do when I get there.”
“Thug” Rose has always shown the athleticism and skills to be a champion, but she’s lacked consistency. A win over Jessica Andrade in a “Fight of the Night” performance once again has her in position to take a crack at the championship.
Standing across from her will be one of the highest-placed fighters in the game in champion Zhang Weili. The UFC’s only Chinese champion put on an instant classic with Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her last bout.
While Zhang has had an aura of invincibility in her 5-0 run in the UFC, the Jedrzejczyk fight proved she is hittable and prone to being drawn into a firefight. If Namajunas can answer Zhang’s intense pressure, she has the power in her hands to pull off the upset.
This one should be fun.
Prediction: Namajunas via third-round TKO
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
You won’t find much trash talk in the first of the three title fights scheduled. Jessica Andrade hasn’t been shy about the respect she has for Valentina Shevchenko’s game.
The Brazilian was effusive in her praise of the flyweight champion, even going so far as saying that she believes that she is better than Amanda Nunes, who holds both the bantamweight and featherweight belts.
“Valentina is the best in the UFC,” Andrade said, per Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting. “I’ve always wanted to fight her because I always want to fight the best. I’ve fought a lot of good girls and I think Valentina is one level above any other. Actually, her fight with Amanda [Nunes], I’m one of those that think [judges] could have given it to Valentina because she was better.”
Andrade isn’t far off with her comments, but saying Shevchenko is better than Nunes might be a stretch. The Lioness has fought Shevchenko twice and is 2-0. But she’s proved that she is going to be favored over any woman not named Nunes.
The 33-year-old might not have multiple belts, but she has defended the 125-pound strap four times and they’ve each been convincing.
Andrade has a chance because of her strength and wrestling. But there’s a reason the champ is a big favorite. She is strong everywhere and a much better striker from range. Expect her to kickbox her way to a decision.
Prediction: Shevchenko via decision
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