For the first time since March of last year, the UFC will have a full house in attendance for an event. On Saturday, April 24 in Jacksonville, UFC 261 goes down with a triple-header of championship bouts. The main event is a welterweight title rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, the co-main event is women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili battling former champ Rose Namajunas, and the first title bout is a women’s flyweight title defense for Valentina Shevchenko against another former strawweight champ in Jessica Andrade.
It’s a strong card with a lot of intrigue across every title fight, as well as the two non-title main card bouts. Before fight night arrives, let’s look at some of the fighters on UFC 261 who are poised to wrap up the April slate by posting high scores for your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups.
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Kamaru Usman ($9,400) vs. Jorge Masvidal ($6,800) - Welterweights
Usman had his way with Masvidal when they fought at UFC 251. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ took Masvidal down several times and avoided Jorge’s knockout power on his way to a shutout decision. He was supposed to face Gilbert Burns before Burns contracted COVID-19, but they did eventually meet at UFC 258, with Usman overcoming an early flash knockdown to eventually stop Burns with his very underrated striking. Masvidal has not fought since that Usman defeat, but the run by ‘Gamebred’ to the title certainly left a major mark on fans. He knocked out Darren Till in England, recorded an epic five-second flying knee KO of Ben Askren, and dominated Nate Diaz to win the BMF belt.
There’s always the danger of Masvidal landing that fight-changing shot, but even on a full camp it’s hard to see the paths to victory for him. Not only has Usman demonstrated incredible strength and outstanding wrestling throughout his career, but his striking — much of it based off of a great jab — has improved to the point where he could beat Jorge on the feet too. Historically speaking, Masvidal has also been far too willing to fight off the backfoot against pressuring takedown threats, of which Usman fits that description. Expect another dominant performance and a fourth successful title defense by Kamaru.
Number of Note: 5. Usman took Masvidal down five times on 16 attempts in their first fight. The bigger factor? Kamaru had a whopping 17:38 of control time, making Masvidal’s efforts to pull off the upset virtually impossible.
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Zhang Weili ($9,000) vs. Rose Namajunas ($7,200) - Women’s Strawweights
Last time we saw China’s Zhang Weili in the Octagon, she and Joanna Jedrzejczyk engaged in a five-round classic that will go down as one of the greatest fights in MMA history and as of now the best women’s MMA fight ever. Zhang prevailed by split decision for her first defense of the title she emphatically took from Jessica Andrade back in August 2019. Namajunas lost her belt to Andrade by slam KO just months before Zhang became champion, but Rose avenged her loss in a grueling three-round split decision. Namajunas is best known for her knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk to become champion, followed by a decision win in the immediate rematch.
This should be an absorbing contest to watch. Namajunas’ boxing has become among the best in the division, which is saying something since her biggest strength was her submission grappling skills. What’s undoubtedly impressive about Zhang is her sheer physicality, which has blended beautifully with her high-output striking. If this goes to the ground you have to account for Zhang’s submissions in addition to what Namajunas can do. I believe that Zhang’s speed and volume will eventually overwhelm Namajunas and lead to a late-round TKO in what will be the best fight of the night.
Number of Note: 6.38. Zhang Weili averages 6.38 significant strikes landed per minute, good for 4th among women’s strawweights. She landed a whopping 165 significant strikes against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Randy Brown ($8,700) vs. Alex Oliveira ($7,500) - Welterweights
Brown suffered a brutal KO loss to contender Vicente Luque in his last outing, halting his momentum after consecutive impressive wins over Bryan Barberena and Warlley Alves. “Rude Boy” has struggled to really get sustained UFC success, but he’s shown flashes of talent that made him a Ring of Combat champion. Oliveira had a three-fight losing streak entering 2020, putting his UFC career at risk. ‘Cowboy’ rattled off consecutive victories over Max Griffin and Peter Sobotta, but he missed weight and suffered a shock first-round guillotine choke loss to Shavkat Rakhmonov last October.
Perhaps a few years ago I would’ve picked Oliveira with fairly strong confidence. But recent fights suggest that the wars may be catching up to him. Brown has a very good jab, solid kicks, and a considerable height advantage over Oliveira. Where Brown may be vulnerable is his defensive wrestling, which has been a problem for him in the past. I expect an entertaining battle and we may see both men hurt at some point, but I’m backing Brown to get the W.
Number of Note: 27. Brown and Oliveira have a combined 27 stoppages in their 34 wins. They also have a combined nine losses via stoppage in their 12 defeats, so this is not likely to go the distance.
Brendan Allen ($8,400) vs. Karl Roberson ($7,800) - Middleweights
Allen is a former Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight champion who was signed to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series. He made an immediate splash by submitting Kevin Holland, followed by a TKO of Tom Breese. After a grueling decision over Kyle Daukaus, Allen experienced his first UFC loss when he was stopped by the striking of Sean Strickland. Roberson is looking to bounce back from a first-round rear-naked choke loss to rising contender Marvin Vettori. The former kickboxer and fellow Dana White’s Contender Series alum has competed at both middleweight and light heavyweight, and while he KO’d light heavyweight Ryan Spann to earn his UFC contract, all four of his subsequent wins have come at 185 lbs.
This is a bit of a tricky one to predict. Allen showed serious flaws in his boxing defense against Strickland, and Roberson can certainly exploit those weaknesses. However, Roberson is somewhat of a willing grappler and he was the one who initiated the exchange that cost him the Vettori fight. If Roberson keeps this standing he’ll most likely win, but I don’t trust him to do that and Allen has the grappling chops to pick up the victory.
Number of Note: 3. All of Roberson’s losses have come via submission — twice by arm-triangle choke to Glover Teixeira and Cezar Ferreira, and the aforementioned rear-naked choke vs. Vettori. Allen has seven rear-naked choke finishes out of eight submission wins.
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