On Saturday evening, the UFC leaves its Las Vegas home for the first time since January when it takes the show on the road to sunny Jacksonville, Florida for UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2. The event is solid, if a bit top heavy, considering its three title bouts. The rest of the card has a pretty sharp drop in name value after the featured prelim, but that’s not to imply the other fights aren’t going to deliver on action—quite the opposite—there are some diamonds shining through, particularly the middleweight pairing of Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen. The winner of that one should see a significant step from high level prospect to contender status.
The three title fights begin when Jessica Andrade meets reigning flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko. Of all the women not named Amanda Nunes, only Andrade has a serious chance of beating Valentina, who is, in my humble opinion, still very much in her prime. And while she did end up having a game opponent in Jennifer Maia, there was no doubt the champ dominated the fight after making adjustments, only allowing Maia a single round on the judges’ score cards.
The second title bout, also the co-main event, features Rose Namajunas taking on Weili Zhang, who is making her second defense of the strawweight belt. Zhang last defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk via split-decision in a thriller that ended up taking Fight of the Year for 2020. Namajunas avenged her loss to Jessica Andrade last July in a close split-decision, sending the Brazilian up to flyweight to try her luck there, where she promptly knocked out Katlyn Chookagian with a devastating barrage of elbows and punches that left Chookagian’s fate in the hands of the referee, who mercifully stopped the fight after many unanswered shots.
And finally, the main event will see a rematch between Jorge Masvidal and welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. “Gamebred” went on a three-fight hot streak, all knockouts, earning himself a shot at Usman, who had beaten Tyron Woodley to win the belt, and scored a fifth-round knockout of Colby Covington in his first title defense. Masvidal would lose a lopsided decision in one of the most boring fights ever. He hasn’t fought since, but “The Nigerian Nightmare” took on Gilbert Burns this past February, ending the fight with a third-round knockout.
By virtue of those fights alone, this show is bound to deliver some thrilling moments. And I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute or Chris Weidman’s rematch with Uriah Hall. What’s that? You didn’t know they’d fought before? Well, they have, back in 2010 in Ring of Combat, with Weidman taking the victory via first-round knockout. And now, you finally realize what I meant by “top-heavy.”
We’ve put together a handy guide of facts and figures to help you when selecting your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Each category will feature the standout fighter for his/her achievements in said category. Let’s get started!
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Zhang Weili, $9,000
Zhang Weili is a powerful switch fighter who uses pressure and volume to overwhelm her opponents where she either knocks them out or submits them, or, on rare occasion, wins thrilling decisions. But the key element throughout those fights is volume. Weili lands 6.38 strikes per minute, and even though she absorbs 4.43 shots in that same time frame, she’s extremely well-conditioned, capable of keeping this pace comfortably. In her fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she threw 408 significant strikes, landing 165 of them. Namajunas fights from the orthodox stance and manages to keep a respectable average of shots landed herself, with 4.13 strikes landed per minute, but she takes nearly as much punishment as she doles out at 3.98 strikes absorbed. “Thug Rose” has a single knockout in 13 fights, so while it’s safe to assume she has some power, it clearly needs to be a perfect storm to happen. Weili should carry both the volume and power advantages, and possibly the grappling advantage, where she holds seven submission victories.
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Jorge Masvidal, $6,800
Jorge Masvidal has reached near legendary status over the course of his career, reaching back to its humble HooknShoot beginnings or on the backyard brawling circuit Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000 made famous in Florida. One thing he’s done well for a long time, and continues to do so, is knock people out. He’s done it 16 times, and five of them have come in his last eight fights. His last three wins are all knockouts. He can knock you out with hands or with his knees, he can turn you into a meme—hello, Ben Askren. Once upon a time, he had some issues cutting off the cage and allowed himself to be backed up, which ultimately cost him decisions that in some cases, he probably should’ve won. These days, he comes out hot, and starts launching that hard jab early. He did fairly well in the first round against Usman, but quickly found himself picked apart and controlled. The fight was on short notice, and Masvidal has staunchly refused other fight opportunities to have this chance at redemption. We’ll see if 10 months of fine tuning along with a full fight camp can change what many think will be a similar outcome to their first meeting.
Anthony Smith, $7,300
It’s hard to believe that Anthony Smith is only 32, because he’s been fighting for 13 years and has 50 bouts on his resume, 13 of them via submission. Strong wrestlers can get by him, as Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira both demonstrated in demoralizing fashion, but against athletic talents with lesser grappling chops like Volkan Oezdemir, Alexander Gustafsson and more recently, Devin Clark, he shined on the ground, earning submission victories against all three men. He’s also got power, evidenced by 18 knockouts. Anthony hasn’t had a decision victory in five years, and with the way he fights, willing to take chances both on the feet and the ground, it’s unlikely he does so here. He’s an aggressive submission hunter and his opponent, Jimmy Crute, is a comfortable grappler with five submission victories of his own. And Crute’s takedown game is outstanding, so you can pretty much count on this contest hitting the canvas one way or the other.
Chris Weidman, $7,900
Chris Weidman might have won his last fight against noted wrestler Omari Akhmedov, but he was clearly winded at the start of round three, and pretty much grinded that decision out in an ugly way. A win is a win, but he’ll be facing Uriah Hall, a former foe he defeated more than 11 years ago, but one who seems to have turned a corner in his career, finally taking better care of himself defensively, as well as earning fight IQ points along the way under the tutelage of Fortis MMA, where he’s been for the last few years. He’s on a three-fight win streak, with two of those wins coming by way of knockout. Chris not only has stamina issues, he has been dropped or brutally knocked out in six of his last seven fights (he lost five via knockout and was dropped in the Gastelum fight). Considering that Hall is still slinging violent heat, I can’t comfortably rely on Weidman’s cardio to weather the storm that Hall is sure to bring.
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