UFC 261 Map: Match-by-Fight Breakdown of PPV Opening at Jacksonville Main Event
Fight fans have a lot to look forward to this Saturday night when UFC 261 descends from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Not only is the card titled with a trio of title fights, but it will be the first UFC event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to feature a full crowd.
Sitting atop the map is a welterweight championship rematch between champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Jorge Masvidal. The couple met in July 2020, but Masvidal was at a disadvantage, stepping in to save the main event of UFC 251 with late notice when Gilbert Burns tested positive for the coronavirus. Now, with the advantage of a full camp, Masvidal will look to avenge the loss of one-sided decision that took place less than a year ago.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the five main card fights with a bit of what to expect at the time of the Saturday night fight from Jacksonville.
Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute, light heavyweights
- Chances: Crute -195, Smith +165 | Last three results: Smith – W, L, L | Crute – W, W, L
- Black-smith: A finish or be finished fighter; just five decisions in 50 career fights
- Crute: A balanced finisher with five wins by KO and four by submission
Former light heavyweight title contender Smith (34-16) is looking to continue to return to the argument after claiming a decision victory over Devin Clark in November. The win broke a two-fight losing slippage for Smith and a 1-3 run that began when he failed in his title bid against Jon Jones. If he hadn’t been such a brave fighter, Smith might have walked away from the bout with Jones as the light heavyweight champion after Jones landed an obviously illegal knee in the fourth round of the bout. If Smith had decided he couldn’t continue, he would have won the championship by disqualification. Instead, Smith fought back, losing a wide decision despite Jones being tied two points for the foul. In Crute (12-1), Smith takes on a fighter with similar finishing abilities. Smith scored a finish in 31 of his 34 career wins, while Crute finished nine of his 12 wins. Crute suffered his first career loss in September 2019, getting caught in a Peruvian tie by Misha Cirkunov. He has since rebounded with back-to-back wins, subduing MichaÅ Oleksiejczuk and knocking out Modestas Bukauskas.
Uriah Hall vs. Chris Weidman, middleweight
- Chances: Room -110, Weidman -110 | Last three results: Hall – W, W, W | Weidman – W, L, L
- Room: A feared forward who scored one of the biggest knockouts in The Ultimate Fighter history
- Weidman: Former middleweight champion who was the first to defeat Anderson Silva in the UFC
Hall (16-9) comes off the most prestigious victory of his career, scoring a TKO in the fourth round of the legendary Anderson Silva. A stint on The Ultimate Fighter led to a huge amount of hype for Hall as he fought Kelvin Gastelum in the season finale, but a loss to Gastelum in the tournament final was the start of a high career career. down in the Octagon. Hall went 9-7 in the UFC, with losses breaking an impressive winning streak. A win over Weidman would give Hall his first four-game 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 has had a tough time. He’s 2-5 since his last successful title defense, suffering five knockout losses. After an unsuccessful start in light heavyweight, Weidman returned to middleweight for his last fight, securing a much-needed victory over Omari Akhmedov. A win 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
- Chances: Shevchenko -400, Andrade +310 | Last three results: Shevchenko – W, W, W | Andrade – W, L, L
- Shevchenko: One of the most accomplished mixed martial artists in UFC history
- Andrade: Former female strawweight champion looking to join shortlist of fighters to win two-weight titles
Shevchenko (20-3) is undefeated in flyweight, establishing himself as one of the most dominant fighters on the UFC roster. During her career in the Octagon, Shevchenko only failed in a pair of decision losses to Amanda Nunes, the greatest fighter in the history of female mixed martial arts. Both of those fights were at bantamweight, with the second sending Shevchenko back at flyweight where she would win the then vacant title in a battle with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She went on to successfully defend the belt four times. Andrade (21-8) made his flyweight debut in his last fight, scoring a first round TKO from Katlyn Chookagian. In May 2019, Andrade won the strawweight championship with a superb knockout from Rose Namajunas. She lost the title to Weili Zhang in her first defense, being knocked out 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 to win a championship in a second weight class.
Weili Zhang (c) against Rose Namajunas, women’s strawweight title
- Chances: Zhang -190, Namajunas +160 | Last three results: Zhang – W, W, W | Andrade – W, L, W
- Zhang: The first Chinese UFC champion, Zhang proved to be a willful and capable brawler in times of need
- Namajunas: Former women’s strawweight champion looking to regain belt in two fights after mind-blowing loss
After suffering a loss in her first career fight, Zhang (21-1) scored 21 straight wins, winning the women’s strawweight title in August 2019 with a 42-second knockout against Andrade. In his first defense, Zhang won an all-out war with Jedrzejczyk who won CBS Sports ‘2020 Fight of the Year award. In his 21 wins, Zhang has only been on the judges’ scoreboards four times. , scoring 10 knockouts and seven submissions. Former champion Namajunas (9-4) added a controversial twist to the fight, saying she was motivated by her own family’s struggles with communism in Lithuania and seeing Zhang as a product of the Chinese Communist government, going so far as ‘to repeat an anticommunist slogan of the cold war “better dead than red”. Namajunas fought for one season of The Ultimate Fighter to crown the UFC’s first-ever female strawweight champion, but failed against Carla Esparza. Six fights later, Namajunas ended Jedrzejczyk’s dominant run with a first round knockout to win the title. After winning the rematch, Namajunas came up against Andrade’s brutal slam. A rematch victory brought her back into the title image as she now seeks to become a two-time champion.
Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal, welterweight title
- Chances: Usman -420, Masvidal +330 | Last three results: Usman – W, W, W | Masvidal – L, W, W
- Usman: A dominant wrestler who had developed significant hitting skills during a 17-game winning streak
- Masvidal: Once a street fighter in the most literal sense of the word, Masvidal finally reached elite level in 2019
Usman (18-1) presents problems that no opponent has been able to solve in the Octagon. On his 17-game winning streak, including 12 in the UFC, where Usman went from a grappling-based scratch attack to a serious threat in the stand-up. Usman dominated Tyron Woodley in March 2019 to become welterweight champion. This victory was followed by a war with Colby Covington, where both men landed some serious punches before Usman finally finished him in the fifth round. Usman met Masvidal at UFC 251 in July 2020, with Masvidal coming less than a week after Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Usman attacked Masvidal throughout the fight, completely neutralizing the brawler’s attack while winning a clear decision. In his most recent fight, Usman once again showed his power, surviving being shaken 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 saw him go through a series of notable promotions before finally getting his run in the UFC. While still a dangerous opponent, Masvidal was a cut below the sport’s elite level until an incredible run in 2019 propelled him into the title race. In 2019, Masvidal scored a KO of Darren Till, then a five-second knockout of Ben Askren before winning the BMF novelty title with a TKO over Nate Diaz in his third dominant performance of the year. The loss to Usman shattered a three-game winning streak, but the last-minute nature of the fight left plenty of questions about what a clash between the pair with full training camps would look like. We will find the answer to this question on Saturday evening.