Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is returning to the pay-per-view (PPV) business later tonight (Sat., April 24, 2021), and it’s going to be a big one. UFC 261 will feature a highly-anticipated rematch between current Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and “BMF” title holder, Jorge Masvidal. In the co-main event, Zhang Weili puts her Strawweight strap on the line against Rose Namajunas, while Valentina Shevchenko will defend her women’s Flyweight title against Jessica Andrade. To top it off, it will be the first event to allow a full house of fans to attend since the COVID-19 pandemic started to run rampant on the world in March 2020.
After Usman dominated Masvidal for five rounds at UFC 251 in July 2020, “Gamebred” called for an immediate rematch to prove that a second time around would go different once he gets a full training camp under his belt. You see, Masvidal stepped in to face the 170-pound champion on less than a week’s notice after Gilbert Burns bowed out after testing positive for COVID-19. That meant Masvidal had to fly halfway across the world, make weight and prepare for one of the most dominant champions in the game in five days. And he did just that, going the distance with “The Nigerian Nightmare,” though he ultimately came up short in his goal to dethrone the champ. Now, the “BMF” champ has the chance to back up his words in the rematch since he had plenty of time to gameplan for the championship reboot. And he will have a full house of hometown fans rooting him on.
Since taking out “Gamebred,” Usman went on to defend his belt against the aforementioned Gilbert Burns, knocking him out at UFC 258 in Feb. 2021 (see it again here). It was his seventeenth straight win, thirteenth inside the Octagon and his third consecutive title defense. In short, the man is firing on all cylinders and Masvidal — full camp or not — will have a tough time trying to become the first man to defeat Usman inside the Octagon. “Gamebred’ is riding the momentum of three straight wins over Darren Till, Nate Diaz and Ben Askren, an impressive run to say the least. But Usman is just a different beast and I don’t see what Masvidal can do in the rematch to provide a different outcome. I expect another 25-minute war with Usman using his outstanding wrestling to neutralize Masvidal’s best tools. That said, we should be in for an entertaining scrap, though we will not be hearing, “And new!”
There is absolutely nothing to complain about this card. It’s a championship triple header and the main card is complemented by two more great match ups in Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall and Jimmy Crute vs. Anthony Smith. Just don’t expect any of the titles to be changing hands tonight.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Johnny Walker was in line to face Jimmy Crute, but was ultimately forced out with an injury. Stepping in to fill the void is former 205-pound title challenger, Anthony Smith. “Lionheart” picked up a much-needed win in his last fight, defeating Devin Clark via first round submission. Prior to that, Smith had dropped back-to-back defeats to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. He will be in for another tough challenge in Crute, who is coming into the bout on a two-fight win streak. Mark Striegl pulled out of his scheduled Bantamweight bout against Johnny Munoz for undisclosed reasons and was replaced by Jamey Simmons, who eventually pulled out himself and forced UFC officials to take Munoz off the card.
Other than Walker’s aforementioned setback, there were no other injuries reported for this event.
Patrick Sabatini will bring his two-fight win streak with him into the Octagon when he competes for the first time under UFC’s bright lights against Tristan Connelly. Sabatini is the former Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) Featherweight champion and is 5-1 over his last six fights with four stoppage victories. Though on a five-fight win streak, this will be Connelly’s first action in 19 months since defeating Michel Pereira in Sept. 2019.
Chinese-born Lightweight contender Zhu Rong will finally get to show off his stuff inside the Octagon when he faces off against Rodrigo Vargas in Lightweight action. Rong is currently riding a 10-fight win streak, winning 13 of his last 14 bouts. Only one of his fights during that span went the distance, so Rong knows a thing or three about stoppage wins. He looks to hand Vargas his third straight loss inside the Octagon, which could lead to his one-way ticket out of the promotion.
“Contender Series” alum Jeff Molina will put his seven-fight win streak on the line against Qilen Aori, another UFC newcomer. Molina, 23, comes in with an 8-2 record as a professional and has only been competing in MMA for five years. As for Aori, he has won six straight and 10 of his last 11 fights, spending the entirety of his career competing in his homeland China.
Na Liang joins Aori and Rong as UFC’s newest acquisitions from the China-based WLF W.A.R.S promotion. The Strawweight prospect has won four in a row and faces off against Ariane Carnelossi, who came up short in her previous fight against Angela Hill, snapping her 12-fight win streak and spoiling her UFC debut in the process.
To get a more detailed look at all of the “New Blood” click here.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
Headlining the undercard is a Welterweight scrap between Alex Oliveira and Randy Brown. Oliveira is looking to turn it around after getting submitted by Shavkat Rakhmonov in the very first round at UFC 252 in Oct. 2020. As for Brown, he is also in search of a win after Vicente Luque knocked him out in Aug. 2020. Dwight Grant looks to put on a better performance than his last fight all while trying to erase the memory of the knockout loss to Daniel Rodriguez. His opponent, Stefan Sekulic, is also coming off a loss to Ramazan Emeev.
Sticking with the theme of fighters trying to get back in the win column, Karl Roberson is hoping to bounce back after suffering a first round submission loss to Marvin Vettori when he faces off against Brendan Allen, who — you guessed it — is coming off a loss to Sean Strickland. That defeat snapped Allen’s impressive seven-fight win streak, which included a victory over Kevin Holland.
Kevin Natividad and Danaa Batgerel will collide in Bantamweight action, while all of the “New Blood” we discussed in the section prior fill out the rest of the “Prelims” action on ESPN+.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
While he may not be in danger of getting cut, Chris Weidman needs to get a win against Uriah Hall to pick up his first back-to-back victories since 2014-2015. In his last fight, “All American” defeated Omari Ahkmedov, but it wasn’t exactly a dominant performance that had people in awe or saying that the old Weidman was back.
The former Middleweight champion is just 2-5 in his last seven fights inside the Octagon, and another loss won’t be good for his future with the promotion. While he was a former champion, UFC has shown that it isn’t too sentimental and is willing to part ways with big stars and former champions who are struggling to win. Just look at Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos. As Dana White so eloquently puts it, “it’s just part of the business.” He will have a tough task ahead of him against Hall, who is on a three fight win streak and hungry for revenge after losing to “All American” early on in his career via technical knockout more than a decade ago.
Interest Level: 8.5/10
The card is very well-balanced, featuring three championship bouts, one being a highly-anticipated rematch. In the co-main event, Zhang Weili is shooting for consecutive win No. 22 against Namajunas. “Magnum” is an absolute tank and has been on a tear her entire career, bringing that momentum with her to the UFC cage. During her time with the promotion, she has drawn the praise of Dana White thanks to her dominant ways, which includes a 42-second knockout win over Jessica Andrade and a five-round grueling war against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She will have a lot on her plate against Namajunas, the former champion who is focused on getting her title back. And to spice things up a bit, “Thug Rose” recently got political with Zhang, adding some perhaps unwarranted and out of left field animosity toward her foe coming into the bout. Nevertheless, it should be an all-out war in a card that should be full of them.
In the third title fight, Valentina Shevchenko will look to add to her ever-growing and impressive resume when she defends her Flyweight title against former Strawweight queen, Jessica Andrade. Shevchenko has proven to be levels above all her competition at 125 pounds, winning six straight fights, capturing the division strap by dominating ex-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and then defending it four times with ease. In Andrade, she will be facing another former champion, though she did compete in a weight class below and only held the strap for three months before getting knocked out by Zhang Weili. Still, Andrade is a tough striker and is determined to make the most of her second chance at becoming UFC champion against one of the most dominate female champions in the game. I just don’t see her having the technique and patience to knockout or out-class “Bullet.”
Enjoy the fights!
UFC 261 Full Fight Card:
UFC 261 PPV Main Event:
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
UFC 261 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
125 lbs.: UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas
185 lbs.: Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall
185 lbs.: Jimmy Crute vs. Anthony Smith
UFC 261 Late “Prelims” Under Card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Randy Brown vs. Alex Oliveira
170 lbs.: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic
185 lbs.: Brendan Allen vs. Karl Roberson
155 lbs.: Tristan Connelly vs. Pat Sabatini
UFC 261 Early “Prelims” Under Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad
155 lbs.: Kazula Vargas vs. Rong Zhu
125 lbs.: Qileng Aori vs. Jeffrey Molina
155 lbs.: Ariane Carnelossi vs. Na Liang
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*
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.