Kamaru Usman is ready for another closeup. The welterweight champion is set to attempt a fourth title defense of his welterweight crown on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 261. The card will be the first in front of a live audience in over a year since the onset of the global pandemic.
The main event is a rematch nearly a year in the making. Masvidal stepped on up short notice at UFC 251 after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 just a week before the fight was to take place. Masvidal was not in training camp, but still took on the task of flying across the globe to Abu Dhabi and cutting over 20 pounds to make the main event happen. Usman would grind out his opponent to score a wide decision win as he neutralized the heavy hands of Masvidal. Now, "Gamebred" with a full camp and time for preparation gets his chance at redemption and to finally hoist UFC gold.
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While Usman vs. Masvidal is getting all the attention, the co-main event may actually be the better matchup. Zhang and Namajunas pair as a terrific style matchup and could produce the type of fireworks Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk did in their 2020 thriller. Namajunas is looking to recapture the 115-pound title after losing it in dramatic fashion when she suffered a slam TKO loss to Andrade in 2019. She avenged that loss in 2020 with a split decision over the Brazilian.
All three title fights have a compelling angle to them. Of note, the three champions will enter their matchups on a combined 44-fight win streak. And this doesn't even mention the rest of the main card or the preliminary bouts. Clearly, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of a big UFC PPV. So we're here to help give you a concise outlook of what to expect and what to know for every main card fight. Let's take a closer look at what to expect on Saturday starting with the PPV opener.
Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute, light heavyweights
- Odds: Crute -195, Smith +165 | Last three results: Smith - W,L,L | Crute - W,W,L
- Smith: A finish or be finished fighter; only five decisions in 50 career fights
- Crute: A balanced finisher with five wins by knockout and four by submission
The former light heavyweight title contender Smith (34-16) looks to continue moving back toward contention after picking up a decision win over Devin Clark in November. That win snapped a two-fight losing skid for Smith and a 1-3 run that began when he came up short in his title bid against Jon Jones. Were he not such a gutsy fighter, Smith could have walked away from the fight with Jones as light heavyweight champion after Jones landed a blatantly illegal knee in the fourth round of the fight. Had Smith decided he couldn't continue, he'd have been awarded the championship by disqualification. Instead, Smith fought on, losing a wide decision despite Jones being docked two points for the foul. In Crute (12-1), Smith faces a fighter with similar finishing abilities. Smith has scored a finish in 31 of his 34 career victories, while Crute has finished nine of his 12 wins. Crute suffered his first career loss in September 2019, getting caught in a Peruvian necktie by Misha Cirkunov. He has since rebounded with back-to-back wins, submitting Michał Oleksiejczuk and knocking out Modestas Bukauskas.
Uriah Hall vs. Chris Weidman, middleweights
- Odds: Hall -110, Weidman -110 | Last three results: Hall - W,W,W | Weidman - W,L,L
- Hall: A feared striker who scored one of the greatest knockouts in the history of The Ultimate Fighter
- Weidman: Former middleweight champion who was the first to defeat Anderson Silva in UFC
Hall (16-9) is coming off the most high-profile win of his career, scoring a fourth-round TKO of the legendary Anderson Silva. A stint on The Ultimate Fighter led to a tremendous amount of hype for Hall as he fought Kelvin Gastelum in the season finale, but a loss to Gastelum in the tournament finals was the start of an up and down career inside the Octagon. Hall has gone 9-7 in the UFC, with losses breaking up impressive runs of victories. A win over Weidman would give Hall his first four-fight winning streak in the promotion. In just his 10th professional fight, Weidman (15-5) knocked out Silva to win the middleweight title. After three successful title defenses, Weidman hit an extended rough patch. He is 2-5 since his last successful title defense, suffering five losses by knockout. After an unsuccessful light heavyweight debut, Weidman returned to the middleweight for his last fight, picking up a much needed win over Omari Akhmedov. A victory over Hall would give Weidman back-to-back wins for the first time since 2015.
Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Jessica Andrade, women's flyweight title
- Odds: Shevchenko -400, Andrade +310 | Last three results: Shevchenko - W,W,W | Andrade - W,L,L
- Shevchenko: One of the most accomplished female mixed martial artists in UFC history
- Andrade: A former women's strawweight champion looking to join the short list of fighters to win titles at two weights
Shevchenko (20-3) is undefeated at flyweight, establishing herself as one of the most dominant fighters on the UFC roster. In her Octagon career, Shevchenko has only come up short in a pair of decision losses to Amanda Nunes, the greatest fighter in the history of women's mixed martial arts. Both of those fights came at bantamweight, with the second sending Shevchenko back to flyweight where she would win the then-vacant title in a battle with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She has gone on to successfully defend the belt four times. Andrade (21-8) made her debut at flyweight in her most recent fight, scoring a first-round TKO of Katlyn Chookagian. In May 2019, Andrade won the strawweight championship with a stunning slam knockout of Rose Namajunas. She lost the title to Weili Zhang in her first defense, suffering a knockout in just 42 seconds. A split decision loss to Namajunas in the rematch sent Andrade to 125 pounds where she found new life -- and a chance at a championship in a second weight class.
Weili Zhang (c) vs. Rose Namajunas, women's strawweight title
- Odds: Zhang -190, Namajunas +160 | Last three results: Zhang - W,W,W | Andrade - W,L,W
- Zhang: The UFC's first Chinese champion, Zhang has proven to be a willing and capable brawler when needed
- Namajunas: A former women's strawweight champion looking to regain the belt two fights after a stunning loss
After suffering a loss in her first career fight, Zhang (21-1) has won 21 straight, capturing the women's strawweight title in August 2019 with a 42 second knockout of Andrade. In her first defense, Zhang won an all-out war with Jedrzejczyk that won CBS Sports' award for 2020's Fight of the Year. In her 21 wins, Zhang has only been to the judges' scorecards four times, scoring 10 knockouts and seven submissions. Former champ Namajunas (9-4) has added a controversial twist to the fight, declaring that she is motivated by her own family's struggles with communism in Lithuania and viewing Zhang as a product of the communist Chinese government, going so far as to repeat a Cold War anti-Communism slogan of "better dead than red." Namajunas battled through a season of The Ultimate Fighter to crown the first ever UFC women's strawweight champion, but came up short against Carla Esparza. Six fights later, Namajunas ended the dominant run of Jedrzejczyk with a first-round knockout to win the title. After winning the rematch, Namajunas ran into the brutal slam of Andrade. A win in the rematch got her right back in the title picture as she now looks to become a two-time champ.
Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal, welterweight title
- Odds: Usman -420, Masvidal +330 | Last three results: Usman - W,W,W | Masvidal - L,W,W
- Usman: A dominant wrestler who had developed significant striking skills during a 17-fight winning streak
- Masvidal: Once a street fighter in the most literal sense, Masvidal finally broke through to the elite level in 2019
Usman (18-1) presents problems no opponent has been able to solve in the Octagon. Of his current 17-fight winning streak, 12 of which have come in the UFC, where Usman has developed from a grinding, grappling-based attack into a serious threat in the stand-up. Usman dominated Tyron Woodley in March 2019 to become welterweight champion. That win was followed up with a war with Colby Covington, where both men landing serious punches before Usman finally finished him in the fifth round. Usman met Masvidal at UFC 251 in July 2020, with Masvidal stepping in on less than one week's notice after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Usman grappled Masvidal through the bout, completely neutralizing the brawler's offense while winning a clear decision. In his most recent fight, Usman again showed off his power, surviving being rocked early before knocking out Burns early in the third round.
Masvidal (35-14) went from street fights alongside Kimbo Slice to a professional career that has seen him pass through a series of notable promotions before finally getting his UFC run. While always a dangerous opponent, Masvidal was a step below the elite level of the sport until an incredible 2019 run propelled him into title contention. In 2019, Masvidal scored a knockout of Darren Till, then a five-second knockout of Ben Askren before winning the novelty BMF title with a TKO over Nate Diaz in his third dominant showing of the year. The loss to Usman broke a three-fight winning streak, but the last minute nature of the fight left questions for many as to what a clash between the pair with full training camps would look like. We'll find out the answer to that question on Saturday night.
Who will win Usman vs. Masvidal, and which fighter is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks for UFC 261, all from the ultimate insider who's up almost $9,500 on MMA picks in the past year.