This weekend, fans will be welcomed back to UFC events, with UFC 261 being the first event the company will hold with significant amounts of fans in attendance.
With such a pivotal moment for the UFC around the corner, the company puts on an incredible pay-per-view card for us to enjoy. The main card of this weekend’s event contains eight current or former UFC title holders or challengers.
To say this card is stacked is an understatement. The focus of this article will be the three title fights and what to expect from each of them.
Let’s jump right into it.
(C) Valentina Shevchenko vs Jessica Andrade
The feature title fight this weekend will be for the Women’s Flyweight Championship when former UFC Strawweight Champion Jessica Andrade attempts to capture her second UFC title, this time at Flyweight, from Valentina Shevchenko. In terms of how these two fighters match up, the two both love to strike on the feet, with Shevchenko having a slight edge on the ground.
Despite both fighters fairing well in stand-up battles, the two will look to strike in very different ways.
Shevchenko holds a considerable size advantage over Andrade and will use her size and speed to strike at range, whereas Andrade will need to get inside the pocket to strike with the champion. The problem with stepping inside of the pocket against Shevchenko is her ability to garner takedowns. It will be interesting to see whether Shevchenko chooses to take the fight to the ground here. In her last fight, the champion was tested heavily against Jennifer Maia on the ground. Though she was never in danger of being finished, it proved that maybe “The Bullet” isn’t as bulletproof as once thought.
If Andrade can control the striking and close the range, she can make Shevchenko uncomfortable enough to win the fight. Shevchenko is and should be the heavy favorite here, however. Shevchenko is immensely superior to most female fighters in the world, so defeating her is no small task. Andrade being a former champion, definitely has the capability to dethrone the champion, but similar to the analysis of the recent Amanda Nunes-Megan Anderson fight, we will have to wait and see what challenger steps up to dethrone this dominant champion.
(C) Zhang Weili vs Rose Namajunas
This will most likely be the “closest” fight on the entire card and definitely of the three title fights. To understand the handicap of this fight, we’ll need to revisit the path of the Strawweight Championship as it pertains to these two. Thug Rose captured the Strawweight Championship after defeating the Strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She then defended the belt against Joanna once again before losing it to the aforementioned Jessica Andrade via a slam KO. Andrade then lost the title to Zhang Weili in her first attempted defense of the belt. Zhang and Joanna then proceeded to compete in arguably the greatest women’s fight in MMA history, which Zhang controversially won, retaining her belt.
While that fight was fresh in our minds, Rose avenged her loss to Andrade with yet another controversial decision. These two, now having defeated the same two women in their last two wins, face-off for the title.
This is a tough one to dissect as both fighters are incredible strikers as well, but both have a solid ground game to back it up. Much like our first title fight, both are very different strikers. Rose is trained under the incredible striking coach Trevor Wittman who preaches sophistication and patience in striking. Wittman has also worked with Kamaru Usman recently, which we will discuss later. Rose utilizes this patient striking, whereas Zhang will be looking for an opening and jumping on the attack, throwing heavy, damaging strikes. Zhang could seriously damage Rose with a few well-placed shots, whereas Rose will be much more inclined to take her time.
It would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground, but if it does, both fighters are on equal ground, it would seem. There is seemingly no way to make a confident prediction for this fight, but it just may steal the show.
(C) Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal
This main event fight will be a rematch of a battle these two had last summer in which Kamaru Usman defeated Jorge Masvidal handily. In a bout that was booked on incredibly short notice, Masvidal somehow made weight only to have any offense stuffed by Usman’s incredible wrestling. When many fans heard that this fight would be rebooked, there was a collective sigh due to the lack of excitement the two had in their previous fight. However, due to Masvidal’s fan-friendly style of throwing bombs at his opponent and looking for the finish and Usman’s last performance, the fans should be excited.
In the last fight, Masvidal could get nothing going because Usman gave him no room to breathe. But because of Usman’s incredible striking, he showcased against Gilbert Burns due to the previously mentioned training with Trevor Wittman; we may be in store for three title fights that are stand-up battles.
For this fight, Masvidal’s strategy will be simple: constant movement, keeping space and distance, and not going to the cage or the ground. Masvidal will want to maintain distance and avoid the pocket of Usman. If Usman can close the distance, Masvidal cannot implement his offense. Jorge will want to utilize the space to strike from range and use unusual entries against Usman to reverse the momentum and have himself push the pace of the fight. That may be very clear to the fans what Masvidal’s strategy would be. What may be more interesting is what Usman’s strategy will be.
We knew what we were getting from an Usman bout for the longest time: strong wrestling, great grappling, adequate boxing. The Colby Covington fight would be the only exception to this due to his own ability to mirror Usman’s style for the most part. However, in his last fight against Gilbert Burns, Usman showed how much his striking has come along, choosing only grapple if need be and utilize his strong jab to sit down Burns anytime he tried to attack Usman.
Will Usman strike with the striker? Or will he choose to use the same strategy that won him their first encounter? That is something we won’t know until the cage door closes.
Either way, this will be an incredible fight and an overall incredible card.
Featured Image: UFC