By News Team
22nd April 2021
In truth when Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw from his welterweight title challenge against the reigning Kamaru Usman on Fight Island, Abu Dhabi back in July, it felt like a bit of an upgrade when he was replaced with Jorge Masvidal – even on six day’s-notice.
‘Gamebred’ had become of the biggest names in the sport following a stellar 2019 and adding the welterweight belt on short notice would have propelled him into the stratosphere, but the Champion would wear him down slowly and take a unanimous decision.
Now with a full training camp behind him, can Masvidal break the code that is the 18-1 champion, who is looking to win a 14th consecutive bout at Welterweight? We’ll find out in one way or the other in the last of three title fights at UFC 261 – and we preview the best of the action below.
Kamaru Usman (C) v Jorge Masvidal – UFC Welterweight title
Perennially disrespected, Kamaru Usman has continued his unrelenting pursuit of welterweight and UFC G.O.A.T status, the rearranged bout with former teammate Gilbert Burns earlier this year was his third consecutive title defence. He has some way to go to match George St-Pierre’s nine successful defences, but is just two wins away from matching the great Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive UFC wins.
While he didn’t really put a foot wrong in their first meeting and will therefore see little need to change his approach too drastically. However, his work with Trevor Wittman on his striking saw him piece up Burns with a terrifying jab in his most recent outing, so he may look to establish range this way again on Saturday. Undoubtedly, he will look to dominate the clinch, as he did in July, and Masvidal will need to have an answer to this if he is to have any chance to flip the result.
Masvidal won many plaudits for managing to go the distance with the champion on less than a week’s notice, and this should give him confidence going into the rematch. He’s seen much of what the champion has to offer, and with the fitness of a longer training camp behind him, he may be able to avoid some of the fatigue he showed in the later rounds. His greatest weapon is of course his striking, and it’s unlikely that Usman will spend much time standing and banging with ‘Gamebred’ in this one. In that lies his best chance in this one. If he can prevent Usman from forcing his back up against the cage and try and keep the fight to the middle of the octagon, he certainly has the power to cause the champion problems.
Weili Zhang (C) v Rose Namajunas – UFC Women’s Strawweight title
The UFC’s only Chinese champion Weili Zhang returns after a well-deserved rest following her fight of the year contender with Joanna Jedrzejczyk in March 2020. Seriously, if you (somehow) haven’t watched this fight already, go and do so immediately. Her opponent, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas is looking to win her second strawweight crown after making a winning return herself back in July against Jessica Andrade.
Whilst UFC fans were already acutely aware of the ability possessed by Zhang, having seen her pick up big wins on the feet such as her first round knock-out of Andrade in August 2019 as well as on the ground such as her arm bar submission win over Jessica Aguilar in November 2018. The meeting with Jedrzejczyk proved thought that without a doubt that she is as tough as they come and has the heart of the lion. Frankly, it’s hard to look at her game and come up with an immediate weakness, on top of all of the above her conditioning and cardio is off the charts too. She has the potential to become a massive global star for the UFC, though that will be far from straightforward.
Namajunas avenged losing the title to Andrade by reversing the result in the rematch last year and in doing so cemented her position as the next in line at 115lbs. She too has been putting in the work with Trevor Wittman and is probably the more natural striker of the two. In Rose’s own words, her plan for this one is to punch her to the ground and then choke her out. She may want to avoid the clinch as much as possible, as it looks as though the champion will be the physically stronger of the two in that regard.
Valentina Shevchenko (C) v Jessica Andrade – UFC Women’s Flyweight title
In any other era (that didn’t contain Amanda Nunes), Valentina Shevchenko would be well on her way to being included in the G.O.A.T conversation as she prepares for a fifth flyweight title defence against Jessica Andrade. Shevchenko operates with Khabib-like dominance, to the point that the fact she even lost a round against Jennifer Maia in November was a huge surprise.
With wins against the likes of Holly Holm, Julianna Peña, Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Eye and Katlyn Chookagian, Shevchenko has worked her way through pretty much all contenders at 125lbs. A win against Andrade would be her fifth title defence, just one behind the women’s record currently held by Ronda Rousey. She’s capable of physically dominating her opponents and winning in any way she feels; as dangerous on the ground as on the feet. As more of a natural flyweight than Andrade, she may also have a size and strength advantage on the night that will play in her favour.
Andrade moved up from 115lbs after emerging on the wrong side of a decision in her rematch with Namajunas and impressed immediately by beating long-time contender Katlyn Chookagian with a first round stoppage. Should she manage to beat Shevchenko on Saturday, the former Strawweight queen will become just the second female fighter to have held UFC gold in multiple weight classes. On paper, it’s a great match up, and one that fans were hoping for when Andrade made the move to 125lbs. Their contrasting styles should match up nicely and we could be on for another potential women’s classic with this one.