Excitement is simply off the charts for UFC 261. A full building will be on hand in Jacksonville, Florida for the pay-per-view card that features a main event between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for the UFC Welterweight Championship.
It won’t be the only title fight on the card, as two women’s straps are available, too. Zhang Weili will attempt to defend the Strawweight Championship against Rose Namajunas and Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade battle for the Flyweight title.
We’ll look at the main three fights and then also scan the card for some additional betting opportunities with odds from BetMGM Sportsbook.
The Rematch: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal will square off in the main event of UFC 261 and Usman is a massive favorite in the fight. BetMGM puts the price at -400 for the champ, who has only lost one in his professional career. Usman did not knock out Masvidal, like he did Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington in the fights before and after the Masvidal bout.
Since beating Tyron Woodley for the belt at UFC 251, Usman has three title defenses and all of them have been impressive. In the first Masvidal fight back on July 11 of last year, the fight went the full 25 minutes, but it was very lopsided. Usman nearly tripled Masvidal in strikes and won all five rounds in the eyes of two judges.
Masvidal is an accomplished pro fighter with 35 wins to his name, but this is only his second UFC title shot and third overall in his career. He also lost to Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce all the way back in 2011.
The issue here is finding a way to bet the fight. Masvidal has been knocked out once and submitted twice. Can Usman win by stoppage or will we see another 25-minute beating where Masvidal simply hangs on because that’s what he’s done in most of his losses?
The Usman by KO/TKO/DQ is +270 at BetMGM. Usman by decision is -125. It seems like the play is to gamble on a finish. The +1400 price on a submission win for the champ is attractive, but Usman only has one of those types of finishes to his name.
He also only has eight knockout wins, but he’s had two in his last three fights against championship contenders, so maybe he’s just in a better position with his striking.
Pick: Usman by KO (+270)
Will The Thug Throw It Back to the Past?
Rose “Thug” Namajunas has not looked the part in her last three fights. She did beat Jessica Andrade by split-decision last year to avenge her UFC 237 loss, but it wasn’t the type of performance that made her a champion in the past. She’ll have to figure it out in a big underdog role against current champion Zhang Weili.
Zhang is -200 to retain the title that she won from Andrade and then defended in March against Joanna Jedrzejczyk right before everything shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the most likely matchup and it is good to see Namajunas get another shot. It will also be good to see what Zhang does with a high-caliber opponent.
This one may be more of a toss-up than the -200 price point. Namajunas seems to have had some mental hardships over the last couple of years with the title loss, some frustrations professionally and some tough moments personally. Zhang beat Andrade with a first-round KO within the first 45 seconds of the fight and was tested by Joanna, who is no longer at the top of her game.
I think an upset is very possible here. The +170 price on Namajunas isn’t a bad look at all. She’s more accomplished as a fighter, at least in UFC, and the jury is still out on Zhang, who has been great, but has not fought the best slate of opponents.
Pick: Rose Namajunas (+170)
Is Andrade The Challenge Shevchenko Needs?
Speaking of Jessica Andrade, she made the move from strawweight to flyweight to take a crack at Valentina Shevchenko and she will get it now. By Shevchenko’s standards, this is actually a pretty low favorite role for her at -500 per BetMGM.
Andrade beat Katlyn Chookagian in her first crack at the flyweight belt. Andrade has already been a champion at strawweight and actually just became the first women’s fighter to win a match in all three weight classes. Her resume is certainly impressive and about as good as anybody that Shevchenko has beaten in the past.
Shevchenko has just been on another level, though. She’s been a huge favorite more often than not and has lived up to those expectations in virtually every fight since the split-decision loss to Amanda Nunes. A rematch between Shevchenko and Nunes at catchweight could be the next step if she wins this one. It certainly should be.
Admittedly, while laying Shevchenko’s prices has made the most sense for the last little while, it is tougher to do here. Her length advantage should be more than enough to control and dictate the fight. As far as women fighters go, Andrade is not into decisions as much as others, so there is a chance that Shevchenko does score another stoppage win. On the other hand, it seems a lot easier to bet on a decision win.
The price for a decision win cuts into the -500 at +140, so that may be the way to go.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko by Decision (+140)
Other Fights and Picks
The rest of the main card and the undercard matchups are really solid as well.
Here are a few fights to consider and some possible bets:
Randy Brown and Alex Oliveira make for an interesting matchup. Oliveira is more of a decision fighter, while Brown’s fights tend to end in stoppages. Brown does have losses to Vicente Luque and Niko Price over his last four fights, so he has had some difficulties against top-end fighters. Is Oliveira still considered one of those?
I would say no. The -155 price would say the same thing, especially with how the market has been viewing this fight. Brown is going to force the issue and make Oliveira uncomfortable. That’s worth a bet to me.
We’ve seen this story before from UFC with what we’ve got between Anthony Smith and Jimmy Crute. Smith is a guy that still has some name value because of the guys that he has fought in the past, but he hasn’t had much success in those big fights. Jimmy Crute is a guy that UFC wants to put on that kind of level.
Some might be surprised to see the -200 price on Crute, but I think that says it all about this fight. This is a fight set up to be a showcase for Crute against an opponent with some name value and pedigree, even though his best days are behind him.
UFC 261 will be on ESPN+ and ESPN+ pay-per-view on Saturday April 24.