UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman has the chance to continue what has been a dominant title run when fighting Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 261 on Saturday. The fight is hardly the end of notable storylines coming from the event, as UFC’s Strawweight and Flyweight Champions are also set to happen on the card.
UFC 261 will even make headlines outside of the cage, as the event is making the polarizing move to hold an indoor event at full capacity amid the pandemic. The expected sell-out event comes with potential dangers, as expressed in the waver forms that come with tickets which make buyers acknowledge the risk of “death” or “permanent damage” due to COVID-19.
The card at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, is busy, and certainly one of the stronger lineups that have been seen this year. Here’s a full preview of the card.
Early Prelims (5:45PM EDT) (UFC Fight Pass)
Bout 1: Ariane Carnelossi (12-2) vs. Liang Na (15-4) (Strawweight)
The early prelims card on Saturday sees the UFC debut of numerous fighters. The first of many is Liang Na, who faces Ariane Carnelossi in a strawweight fight.
Liang enters the UFC after putting together four consecutive wins in Chinese MMA promotion WLF. Among the victories is three in the first round via armbar, per Tapology.
Carnelossi is making her return to action after a year outside of the cage. Her last fight was in 2019, where she lost her UFC debut to promotional vet Angela Hill.
Bout 2: Jeff Molina (8-2) vs. Aoriqileng (18-6) (Flyweight)
In a double debut, Jeff Molina will fight Aoriqileng in the flyweight division.
Molina earned his UFC contract last summer, defeating Jacob Silva on “Dana White’s Contender Series” for his seventh consecutive victory.
Aoriqileng has a strong win streak of his own, having earned six victories in WLF since 2018.
Bout 3: Rongzhu (17-3) vs. Kazula Vargas (11-4) (Lightweight)
Looking for his first UFC win, Kazula Vargas will fight Rongzhu. Vargas has appeared in the UFC twice before, losing his prior appearances. His last fight, a bout against Brok Weaver, ended via disqualification in the first round due to an illegal knee.
Rongzhu has been undefeated in his past 10 fights, stopping nine of the fights in WLF.
Bout 4: Danaa Batgerel (8-2) vs. Kevin Natividad (9-2) (Bantamweight)
Bantamweights Danaa Batgerel and Kevin Natividad will conclude UFC’s prelims.
Batgerel earned his first UFC win in his last showing, stopping Guido Cannetti within a round last year.
Natividad lost his UFC debut in October, getting stopped in the third round of a fight against Miles Johns due to strikes. He entered the promotion after a strong run in regional promotion LFA, scoring three wins from 2018 to 2020.
Preliminary Card (8:00PM EDT) (ESPN / TSN 5)
Bout 5: Tristan Connelly (14-6) vs. Pat Sabatini (13-3) (Featherweight)
Making the move down to featherweight, Tristan Connelly will face UFC newcomer Pat Sabatini. Connelly’s UFC debut was quite a while back when he stepped in on short notice to fight Michel Pereira. The upset victory for Connelly earned him a “Fight of the Night” award and kicked off his UFC run. After fighting at welterweight in his UFC debut, Connelly will drop down two weight classes to face Sabatini.
Sabatini is making his UFC debut after regaining the CFFC Featherweight Championship last year in a fight against Jesse Stirn. The CFFC veteran was first set to make his UFC debut in February against Rafael Alves, although their fight was cancelled after Alves missed weight by a dramatic 11.5 pounds.
Bout 6: Brendan Allen (15-4) vs. Karl Roberson (9-3) (Middleweight)
Both looking to bounce back from a loss, Brendan Allen and Karl Roberson will fight on the prelims.
Allen was handed his first UFC loss in November, losing to veteran Sean Strickland, who stopped him in the second round. Allen previously earned three wins since joining the UFC roster in 2019.
Roberson also had a two-fight UFC win streak stopped in his last showing, as Marvin Vettori submitted him within a round with a rear naked choke in June.
Bout 7: Dwight Grant (10-3) vs. Stefan Sekulic (12-3) (Welterweight)
Stefan Sekulic will make his return when fighting Dwight Grant on Saturday. Sekluic has been out of action since 2018, as he was sidelined by a two-year suspension from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He took a loss in his last fight, fighting to scorecards against Ramazan Emeev.
Grant was finished within a round in his last fight, getting stopped by Daniel Rodriguez last year.
Bout 8: Randy Brown (12-4) vs. Alex Oliveira (22-9-1) (Welterweight)
Experienced welterweights Randy Brown and Alex Oliveira are expected to finish UFC’s preliminary card on Friday.
Brown had a two-fight win streak broken when he appeared in August, as Vicente Luque stopped him in the second round of their fight.
Oliveira was submitted within a round by UFC newcomer Shavkat Rakhmonov in October, breaking a streak of two wins that he built up earlier in the year.
Main Card (10:00PM EDT) (PPV)
Bout 9: Anthony Smith (34-16) vs. Jimmy Crute (12-1) (Light Heavyweight)
Former title challenger Anthony Smith will attempt to stop the momentum of 25-year-old Jimmy Crute in the opening bout of the main card.
Crute had a strong 2020, scoring two victories. Coming back from his first pro loss, Crute was able to finish both of his opponents within a round last year.
Smith’s bout on Saturday will be the first time he doesn’t fight in a main event in eight fights. He snapped a two-fight skid in November, submitting Devin Clark in the first round of their main event bout.
Bout 10: Chris Weidman (15-5) vs. Uriah Hall (16-9) (Middleweight)
A rematch over a decade in the making between Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall is set to happen on Saturday. The two middleweights first met in 2010 when both just starting their MMA careers. Weidman won the encounter, stopping Hall in the first round with strikes to score his third pro win. The bout was also Hall’s first pro loss.
Fast forward to 2021, many things have happened. Weidman defeated Anderson Silva and became the UFC Middleweight Champion, Hall fought on “The Ultimate Fighter” and headlined two UFC cards. Both fighters have also competed in the UFC over 10 times each now.
Weidman snapped a two-fight skid in his most recent appearance, defeating Omari Akhmedov on scorecards in August.
Hall is on somewhat of a win streak currently, having prevailed over his last three opponents. He defeated former UFC champion Anderson Silva in October, catching him with punches in the fourth round of a main event fight. On Saturday, Hall could add another former champ to his resume.
Bout 11: Valentina Shevchenko (20-3) vs. Jessica Andrade (21-8) (UFC Flyweight Championship)
UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko has nearly cleared out her division. Her last bouts have seen her dominate against opponents that were listed as heavy underdogs. She will be presented with a unique challenge while looking for her fifth title defense on Saturday, fighting former 115-pound champ Jessica Andrade.
Andrade was part of a mixup with the UFC Strawweight Championship which saw it change hands a couple of times in 2019. She first earned the belt by stopping former champ Rose Namajunas with a slam, finishing her in the second round.
Andrade lost the title three months later, as current champ Zhang Weili stopped her in only 42 seconds with strikes. In what would be her final fight in the division, Andrade lost a split decision to Rose Namajunas last year.
Andrade made the move to flyweight in October, defeating former title challenger Katlyn Chookagian within a round with strikes. Now after just one fight in the division, Andrade is getting a big challenge in Shevchenko.
Bout 12: Zhang Weili (21-1) vs. Rose Namajunas (9-4) (UFC Strawweight Championship)
UFC Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili has the chance to add a big win to her title reign when fighting former champion Rose Namajunas in the co-main event of the card. Zhang, who is undefeated in her five-fight UFC run, has had two big fights in the title picture.
Showing her explosive strikes, Zhang overwhelmed and stopped Jessica Andrade within a minute to earn the belt in 2019. In her second fight, Zhang fought in a back-and-forth battle against Joanna Jedrzejczyk that many considered the “Fight of the Year” for 2020. The competitive bout gave Zhang her first title defense, as she won via split decision.
She now faces Namajunas, who is on her second quest towards a title. Namajunas first lost her belt in 2019 to Jessica Andrade, but she has since returned and avenged that loss in a split decision performance.
Bout 13: Kamaru Usman (18-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-14) (UFC Welterweight Champion)
Competing just two months after he defended his UFC Welterweight Championship for the third time, Kamaru Usman will rematch Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 261.
Usman first fought Masvidal in July last year, controlling him for five rounds to score a decision victory at UFC 251. Usman has defended his belt yet again in February, stopping Gilbert Burns in the third round of their fight.
There’s one thing about Saturday’s fight that makes it different from the first meeting against Masvidal – the context. When Masvidal first met Usman, it was an 11th-hour move done after his original opponent, Gilbert Burns, had to withdraw from UFC 251 due to a positive COVID-19 test. On Saturday, Masvidal has the chance to show how the fight might have been different with a full fight camp.