Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and sports came to a standstill across the globe, the UFC did everything in their power to keep business moving. After a brief hiatus, the world’s premier MMA organization adjusted on the fly and began hosting events without fans, in the UFC APEX or on Fight Island. All that comes to an end this weekend. On Saturday, the UFC gets back to business as usual with UFC 261, the first event to allow fans in attendance in over a year.
To celebrate, the UFC is pulling out all the stops, loading up its return to normalcy with two of the best female title fights you’ll ever see, with women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang defending her belt against former champion Rose Namajunas and women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defending her belt against former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade. That’s four of the five top pound-for-pound women in the world competing against one another, and the card doesn’t stop there.
In the main event, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has a rematch with BMF champion Jorge Masvidal in an attempt to silence the brash upstart once and for all and cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats. It’s a marque weekend for UFC betting, so let’s make some marquee bets.
Usman vs. Masvidal UFC 261 Betting Analysis and Prediction
Rematches are a gamblers best friend in the fight game, particularly ones that happen such a short time apart. Often in these circumstances, the first fight can pretty clearly instruct us as to the outcome of the second. Even in circumstances where that isn’t true, the fact that we’ve seen the two combatants fight before at least sets a good framework around which to view the rematch.
For instance, in the first bout, we saw Masvidal start strong and then fade under the pressure and conditioning of Usman. Conversely, Usman overcame a subpar first round to take over the fight with his jab, body work and clinch fighting. In the 10 months since that first battle, what has changed that will upset this dynamic? Well, the biggest thing is that the two have fought before.
Since his loss to Usman, Masvidal has made much noise about the short notice nature of their fight and his lack of adequate preparation. However, as much as that is a clean excuse, it doesn’t explain away the loss. Masvidal didn’t tire because he didn’t have time to prepare properly, he tired because he came out and threw everything he had and it wasn’t enough to stop Usman.
Masvidal has never pushed a pace like that in his fights because no one can and keep it up. Essentially, he gambled on a quick KO and lost. But now that he’s made that mistake and lost, he knows that’s not a winning bet and you can expect him to make a new wager this time out.
— UFC (@ufc) April 21, 2021
Masvidal remains the better striker of the two, and though Usman was able to get him down a number of times in their first fight, Masvidal’s takedown defense proved mostly fit to the task at hand. It was his footwork and Usman’s ability to create clinches where he sucked time away that really did Masvidal in, and that will not be nearly as easy for the champion this time.
Another thing has changed since their first fight: Usman has gotten a year older. At 33, he is by no means old, but the champion has well-known knee issues and has spoken openly about possibly retiring soon. Add in that Usman was nearly knocked out in February by Gilbert Burns, and there is a genuine reason to believe that the durability and pressure that saw Usman through the first fight with Masvidal may not be as high as it previously was.
In a game of inches, that may be all it takes for the title to change hands.
UFC 261 Best Bet: Usman vs Masvidal Odds To Back
Usman being the favorite makes sense given their first fight, but the line here has gotten far out of whack for a fighter who didn’t exactly dominate the first encounter and nearly lost his belt just two months ago. Masvidal by KO/TKO at +460 at FanDuel is substantially undervalued and well worth a wager. That’s where our money is going.
Other UFC 261 Odds We’re Watching
Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas: Strawweight champion Zhang is among the most imposing physical forces in women’s MMA today. This is a woman who met Jessica Andrade (more about her in a second) head-on and blew the bricks off of her in 42 seconds. Namajunas is a talented striker, with a penchant for angles and technical sophistication, but she has struggled mightily when faced with overwhelming physical force and athleticism, and that’s what’s staring her down right now. Zhang is -200 at FOX Bet.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade: In a world without Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko might well have been the UFC’s first three-division champion. Even with Nunes still holding court at both weight classes above 125, Shevchenko still has a shot. She’s the best fighter on the planet if you’re looking solely at superiority over her peers and as great as Andrade is, she struggled against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who is not nearly the technician Shevchenko is. This is overwhelmingly likely to be a decision win for Shevchenko. That is priced at +135 at FanDuel, and may be the tastiest bet on the card.
UFC 261 Date, Time & TV Info
When is UFC 261?
UFC 261 is on April 24 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
What Time is UFC 261?
The main card is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET; prelims set to begin at 7:30 p.m.
Where Can I Watch UFC 261?
The UFC 261 main card is on ESPN+ PPV; prelims are on ESPN, ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass.