UFC 261 on April 24 will be the first time Zhang Weili enters the Octagon since a capacity crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas roared in appreciation of her first title defense on March 7, 2020. It will also mark the first time a packed house will be on hand for a UFC event since Weili’s thrilling win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk over a year ago.
VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida sold out within hours, and 15,000 fans are expected to be on hand for three title fights and numerous intrguing storylines:
Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman makes his fourth title defense, and his second against Jorge Masvidal, in the main event. Usman dominated Masvidal in a unanimous decision win last July, but Masvidal took the fight on six days notice, and he had to cut around 20 pounds and fly halfway around the world for the fight in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Usman said Masvidal only took the fight because he had a built-in excuse, and he wants to put an exclamation mark on his superiority of Masvidal, who believes the fact he lasted that long with the champ despite the circumstances bodes well for his chances in the rematch.
Weili makes her second defense when she faces former champion Rose Namajunas. Weili’s win over Jedrzejczyk was a violent classic, considered perhaps the greatest women’s title fight in UFC history, and she’ll need a strong encore to put away Namajunas.
Women’s flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko defends against Jessica Andrade, whose first-round stoppage of Katlyn Chookagian — which she accomplished primarily with body shots — in October raises the specter of an upset. Shevchenko also had moments of adversity, which for her was surprising, against Jennifer Maia in November, before earning a unanimous decision win
All three titleholders are favored to win, but 2021 already crowned one new champ when Francis Ngannou dethroned heavyweight king Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. Will Bruce Buffer get another chance to say “and new” on April 24?
Real or Not: Is this Jorge Masvidal’s last title chance?
Jorge Masvidal doesn’t view his UFC 261 main event as his last shot at UFC gold, but only because he won’t allow himself to accept the possibility he’ll lose to champion Kamaru Usman.
“I feel like every fight, I have to win,” Masvidal told ESPN. “But no, I don’t feel like [this is his last title opportunity] at all. I just feel like I’m going to win this fight, and I’m going to continue to do bigger and better things before I close the chapter on this MMA thing.”
But what if the oddsmakers are right? Masvidal is currently a +310 underdog, according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. If Masvidal, 36, loses, he’ll be 0-2 against Usman with several other elite contenders in the division ready to take shots of their own, or get their own rematches.
Masvidal easing into weight ahead of rematch
The biggest difference for Jorge Masvidal ahead of his rematch with Kamaru Usman is that he didn’t have to cut about 20 pounds after taking the fight on six days notice.
Masvidal has had a longer camp, less weight to cut, and he didn’t have to fly halfway around the world.
What will it mean?
Real or Not: Namajunas, Andrade will dethrone the champs
This will be Zhang Weili’s first fight since her epic split decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 7, 2020. She’ll face a fighter in Rose Namajunas with a complete arsenal of skills who will be looking to regain her title.
Meanwhile, Valentina Shevchenko was challenged more than expected by Jennifer Maia on Nov. 21, 2020, before pulling out the unanimous decision. Did Jessica Andrade learn something from that fight that could help her dethrone the champ?
What they’re saying
Leon Edwards doesn’t see what Jorge Masvidal could do differently against Kamaru Usman to change the outcome of their upcoming rematch.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) April 5, 2021
Kamaru Usman believes “there’s levels” when comparing himself to Jorge Masvidal.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) April 6, 2021
— Jorge Masvidal UFC (@GamebredFighter) March 26, 2021
— Teofimo Lopez (@TeofimoLopez) April 6, 2021
Jorge Masvidal reflects on his loss to Kamaru Usman as he gets ready for a rematch with him at UFC 261.
Dana White reveals that UFC 261 will have three title fights, including a Kamaru Usman-Jorge Masvidal rematch, in front of a full crowd in Jacksonville.