For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the UFC will host a show in front of a full-capacity crowd. UFC 261 is stacked with three title fights, and the event is headlined by a rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for the UFC welterweight title. Usman and Masvidal fought last July at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, and Usman won an easy decision. However, the caveat is that Masvidal took the fight on very short notice, and he will have a full fight camp this time to prepare for Usman. In addition, Zhang Weili defends her strawweight title against Rose Namajunas, and Valentina Shevchenko defends her flyweight title against Jessica Andrade.
Notable DraftKings Sportsbook betting odds
- Favorite: Kamaru Usman (-435)
- Underdog: Jorge Masvidal (+320)
- Kamaru Usman by Decision (-134)
- Kamaru Usman by KO, TKO or DQ (+275)
- Jorge Masvidal by KO, TKO or DQ (+400)
- Jorge Masvidal by Decision (+1100)
- Kamaru Usman by Submission (+1400)
- Jorge Masvidal by Submission (+2200)
- Kamaru Usman: Yes (+250), No (-385)
- Jorge Masvidal: Yes (+375), No (-670)
Main Event: Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal
Usman enters as the heavy -435 favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook. Usman is the superior wrestler and grappler, and his best method to win is by grinding it out with pressure, clinch work and wrestling. This was generally Usman’s strategy in the first fight. Over the course of 25 minutes against Masvidal, Usman recorded about 17 minutes of control time and attempted 16 takedowns, finishing five of them. Masvidal had periods of success on the feet, especially in the first round, but Usman’s grappling edge gave him a substantial advantage as the fight progressed.
Usman likes to trap his opponents near the fence to limit space, where he can work the head and body from a close range and execute dirty boxing, similar to the way UFC legend Randy Couture used to take advantage of his high-level wrestling. Trapping opponents near the fence also makes it difficult for opponents to change levels and get their hips underneath Usman. By limiting the ability to change levels, Usman has an easier time getting underneath his opponents’ hips in order to secure takedowns. This sequence from their first fight paints a good picture of the way Usman pressures and attacks from a close range:
Masvidal has not fought since his decision loss to Usman last July. Masvidal has showcased the ability to be a hot starter, most notably with his five second flying knee destruction of Ben Askren, which was one of the most devastating knockouts in recent memory.
Masvidal’s last three wins have all been by TKO/KO, and he has recorded at least one knockdown in each of those fights. One of those knockdowns was an impressive head kick that had Nate Diaz in trouble in the first round of his most recent win. If Masvidal can catch Usman during a level change, that could be one of his best ways to win, although throwing kicks to the body and head makes him more susceptible to getting taken down due to being off-balance. This exact scenario happened very quickly in their first fight, with Usman catching a leg kick 20 seconds into the first round and recording a quick takedown.
Masvidal has been incredibly difficult to finish—he has not been finished in over a decade and has not been finished in any of his 19 UFC fights. While Usman is coming off an impressive TKO win over Gilbert Burns, he has not traditionally been a big finisher. Nine of Usman’s 13 UFC wins are by decision. This combination makes it likely that this fight goes the distance, which is reflected in the DraftKings Sportsbook betting odds. The most likely outcome of this fight on DraftKings Sportsbook is Kamaru Usman via decision (-134), and the fight is more likely to go the distance (-167) than not (+125).
Masvidal’s toughness and striking skill gives him a chance, but Usman’s blend of clinch work, close-distance strikes and elite wrestling is probably going to be too much for Masvidal to overcome, even with more time to prepare for the rematch. I don’t really see what Masvidal can do differently to turn this rematch in his favor. A longer fight camp will help him have a better gas tank in the later rounds, so the fight could be closer, but Usman is the much more skilled wrestler and can dictate where this fight goes.
Usman has more margin for error due to his ability to find success both striking and wrestling, while Masvidal’s potential success will likely only come through striking. If Usman finds himself getting worked over on the feet, he can quickly turn this into a wrestling match and stifle Masvidal’s offense with pressure and clinching.
Usman’s elite wrestling not only allows him to generate takedowns, but it helps his striking play up because he does not need to be gunshy about committing to a strike out of fear of being taken down. Usman has stopped a perfect 100% of opponent takedown attempts in the UFC and has not spent a single second on his back, posting the best bottom position time and bottom position rate in UFC history. It is likely that Masvidal’s only real chance in this fight is a KO/TKO, which gives him very little breathing room to find success.
Because Masvidal has been so difficult to finish and Usman hasn’t always been the biggest finisher, I’ll go with Usman via decision at -134 to get the moneyline down from a heavy -435.
DraftKings Fantasy MMA
Something to note for fantasy MMA contests is that the DraftKings scoring criteria has changed since these two last fought. In Usman’s first fight against Masvidal, Usman originally finished with 108 DKFP, but he has since seen a giant spike in fantasy production due to the scoring changes. Usman is now listed at 156 DKFP for his first fight with Masvidal.
The difference in fantasy scoring can be attributed to the huge discrepancy between Usman’s total striking volume and significant striking volume, along with a lot of control time. Only 36% of Usman’s strikes landed in the first fight were classified as significant strikes, but he landed 263 total strikes, 169 of which did not count under the old scoring. Usman also recorded a heavy control time of 16:38, resulting in another 30 DKFP, which far outweighs the fantasy points he originally received for advances.
DraftKings is hosting a big UFC 261 fantasy MMA tournament that pays out $750K in total prizes, including $200,000 to first place. The fantasy MMA contest locks at 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. Set your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups here: MMA $750K 261 Special [$200K to 1st].
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All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests.
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