Three titles are on the line this weekend (Sat., April 24, 2021) when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to pay-per-view (PPV) for UFC 261, live from the jam-packed VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
UFC 261’s main event sees Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman look to make it perfect (2-0) against Jorge Masvidal, who fell to “Nigerian Nightmare” on super short notice at UFC 251 in July 2020. Earlier in the evening, women’s Strawweight queenpin, Zhang Weili, looks for another standout performance against former champ Rose Namajunas and Valentina Shevchenko defends her spot atop the female Flyweight division against Jessica Andrade.
Four “Prelims” undercard bouts will set the stage on ESPN before all that (check out the first batch here), which we have dissected below for your perusal:
170 lbs.: Alex Oliveira vs. Randy Brown
Alex Oliveira (22-9-1) clawed his way out of a three-fight skid with consecutive victories over Max Griffin and Peter Sobotta, claiming his only decision victories since 2016 in the process. “Cowboy” failed to make it three straight, however, tapping to a Shavkat Rakhmonov guillotine in Oct. 2020.
He’s ended 17 pro fights inside the distance, 12 of them by form of knockout.
Randy Brown (12-4) rebounded from a destructive loss to Niko Price with impressive finishes of Bryan Barberena and Warrley Alves, the latter of which earned him a “Performance of the Night” bonus. This led to a clash with all-action slugger Vicente Luque, who handed Brown the second (technical) knockout loss of his career.
“Rude Boy” will have four inches of height and 1.5 inches of reach on Oliveira.
“Cowboy” definitely seems to be hitting the point of diminishing returns. He fades late with clockwork regularity and has struggled to find the early finish in recent years, instead relying on static top control when forced past the first round. That’s not going to cut it against Brown, who’s adept enough on the feet to survive the early blitz and has the motor to take over down the stretch.
Oliveira could always catch Brown cold, but it’s increasingly difficult to put faith in the Brazilian after his recent defeats. On the contrary, Brown potshots his way to a progressively more one-sided decision.
Prediction: Brown via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic
Dwight Grant (10-3) followed up his successful appearance on “Contender Series” with wins in two of his first three Octagon bouts, the lone loss a controversial one to Zak Ottow. “The Body Snatcher” started strong against Daniel Rodriguez in his most recent effort, but ultimately succumbed to “D-Rod’s” power halfway through the first round.
He’s knocked out seven opponents as a professional.
After putting together an 8-1 stretch on the European circuit, Stefan Sekulic (12-3) stepped up on short notice to face Ramazan Emeev in the Octagon. Despite his best efforts, he struggled with Emeev’s wrestling en route to a unanimous decision loss.
This will be his first fight in 2.5 years.
The gap between Grant’s power and his willingness to actually use it continues to amaze and flummox me. The man can clearly crack, but his complete lack of urgency allows opponents free rein to put together their own offense. Worse, the way he punched himself out against Rodriguez suggests that he lacks the gas tank to actually throw a reasonable amount of volume.
Though Sekulic is coming off a big layoff and wasn’t particularly eye-catching against Emeev, Grant’s own inconsistency and low output have me smelling an upset. This is more gut than anything, but I like Sekulic to grind his way to a narrow victory.
Prediction: Sekulic via split decision
185 lbs.: Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen
Karl Roberson (9-3) bounced back from a 1-2 skid with consecutive wins over Wellington Turman and Roman Kopylov, handing the latter the first loss of his pro career in the process. Then came a series of attempts to pit him against Marvin Vettori, who ultimately choked Roberson out in their June 2020 clash.
“Baby K” gives up one inch of height and reach to “All In.”
After claiming and defending the LFA Middleweight title, Brendan Allen (15-4) punched his ticket to UFC by choking out Aaron Jeffery on “Contender Series.” He rattled off three straight wins to start his Octagon career, including a second-round finish of Kevin Holland, before falling short against the resurgent Sean Strickland.
Thirteen of his professional wins have come inside the distance, eight of them by form of submission.
While Roberson’s offensive wrestling remains a legitimate threat, the Vettori fight was the latest to demonstrate that his takedown defense isn’t up to snuff. That’s bad news against Allen, who boasts a lethal submission game and enough skill on the feet to hold his own until the opportunity to grapple arises. To make matters worse, Roberson seemingly lacks one-shot power despite his kickboxing pedigree, so he’s unlikely to hurt Allen enough to dissuade him from a takedown-heavy gameplan.
Like Cezar “Mutante,” Glover Teixeira, Wellington Turman and Vettori before him, Allen has the tools to put Roberson on his back early and often. From there, it’s just a matter of time before he forces the tap.
Prediction: Allen via first round submission
145 lbs.: Pat Sabatini vs. Tristan Connelly
Pat Sabatini (13-3) claimed and defended the CFFC Featherweight title before losing it via arm injury just 46 seconds into his second defense. After bouncing back with a knockout of Jordan Titoni, he reclaimed his title by tapping Jesse Stirn in Dec. 2020.
His 10 professional submission wins include seven by rear-naked choke.
Less than two months after claiming the Rise FC Lightweight title, Tristan Connelly (14-6) moved up 15 pounds on short notice to face Michel Pereira. Despite the size disadvantage and a strong start from “Demolidor”, Connelly took over down the stretch with his wrestling to score a shocking upset.
Saturday’s bout ends a 19-month hiatus for “Boondock.”
Connelly really isn’t getting any favors here, going up against a similarly potent wrestler and submission artist with some decent standup skills to boot. To make matters worse, he’s coming off a lengthy layoff and is making his first cut to 145 pounds in more than a half-decade; Sabatini would be rough for him even at the best of times, and the unfavorable circumstances turn this from a tall task into a borderline insurmountable one.
Sabatini is younger, at least Connelly’s match in most areas of the game, and has far less baggage weighing him down. In the end, his quality chain-wrestling carries him to Connelly’s back and a first-round tapout.
Prediction: Sabatini via first round submission
Don’t think I need to sell you all on a card that includes three violent title fights. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 261 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 261: “Usman vs. Masvidal 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.