Duke’s UFC 261 Breakdown and Predictions for your DFS Lineups!!!
UFC 261 BETS – OFFICIAL! also Update to the Main Event Below
Jorge Masvidal – 1 to win 3.6
Na Liang – 1 to win 1.8
Kevin Natividad – 1 to win 1.55
Dwight Grant – 2.07 to win 1
Weili Zhang – 1.98 to win 1
PROP: Crute/Rong ITD +294 1 to win 2.94
What an absolutely banger of a card we have in store for you come Saturday night at UFC 261!
Three title fights.
Two women’s fights that literally have me jumping out of my seat in anticipation!
But before we get to all that action, we have to talk about last week’s card, the last card in the Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Robert Whittaker is a wagon. Just like we predicted, he rolled over Kelvin Gastelum. It was Whittaker with the wrestling edge, as we predicted, and a 50-45 scorecard was returned on every single judge’s card at the end of 25 minutes. A fantastic performance from a fighter who deserves another title shot.
We did see some curious decisions from the judges’ scorecards. I thought Luis Pena lost the fight. I thought Espino won the fight. Many thought Jessica Penne lost the fight, and she was given the decision. Here is the point, finish the fight. If I’m a fighter, it’s been banged into my head day after day, but seeing curious decision after curious decision would make me want to finish the fight almost at any cost. I don’t want a judge to determine my success or failure in the sport because they’ve shown us routinely that they are not equipped to handle that job.
Overall, it was a successful night. I turned a slight profit on the bedding side and had a mediocre but still slightly profitable night on the DFS side. We have big tournaments on all sites for daily fantasy. DraftKings has two hundred thousand and one hundred thousand up top for their tournaments. Who is going to take it down?
UFC Jacksonville is also our first event with the return of fans. Adam and I mentioned it on last week’s live stream, but we could not be more excited to get the fans back in the building. They add so much to the atmosphere, so much to the hype, and really make the sport what it is. It also adds a little bit of pressure to these fighters. Some are making their debuts, while some crumble under the pressure of a crowd, especially one that’s against them. Something to consider in our breakdown, which, of course, I’ll do here in just a bit. It’s also the return of the 30-foot octagon. While not a throwaway stat or sentence, it’s an actual statistical item that also needs to be considered. It’s one that we can quantify.
Per Oddsshark, ‘there have been 323 fights over the 30 events at the UFC Apex Center, and in 21 events, we had equal or more finishes than decisions. To put that in perspective, only two other cards in all of 2020 had more knockouts and submissions than fights going to the judges’ scorecards in the larger cage. UFC Fight Night: Woodley vs. Burns, the first event at the Apex Center, had four submission finishes, tied for the third-most on a UFC card during the year behind UFC on Fight Island 2: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2 and UFC Fight Night: Waterson vs Hill, which both had five submission wins.’
Visually that looks like this:
I don’t really ever resort to trends, but in this case, the numbers back up what all of our eyes have seen. The smaller cage = more action. The bigger cage = less action. For our strikers on the card, it means more space to stick and move. For our wrestlers on the card, it’s more space to drag an opponent to a cage to clinch and rip. It’s certainly going to be fun to get back to normal, and God bless Dana White for always leading the charge towards normal. With that, Let’s Get It On!
UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2 Event Info
April 24, 2021
VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL
UPDATE: I went back and watched some training footage of Masvidal. Re-watched their last fight. I listened to all the press conferences and interviews again. I saw Masvidal get to the scale first and look great. The weight cut looked good. I’m doing it. This is such a chalky card and at some point you have to put your balls on the table. He’s a MASSIVE underdog…the second biggest on the slate, but I’m taking Masvidal to win this fight. I’m changing my pick and just placed a bet on him at 3.6 to 1 which you can find on Pinnacle.
Usman comes in as a massive betting favorite here against Jorge Masvidal, running back a fight they had just last July on Fight Island. It was a fight that Masvidal took on just two weeks’ notice as Gilbert Burns had to pull out due to COVID, so give credit where credit is due. Masvidal stepped up in a nearly can’t win situation and went five rounds with Usman without a camp. He also held his own early in the fight, which is something that we need to consider when breaking this one down.
What worries me about Masvidal is his inactivity. Credit to him, he struck while the iron was hot. After the flash knockout of Till, he almost immediately jumps back in the cage to take on Ben Askren. Much like Chael Sonnen, Askren was not a likable figure. His fighting style turned people off. Masvidal was the perfect foil and dropped ass in 5 seconds with the viral knee heard around the world.
The UFC recognized this and created the Baddest Mother Fucker Belt and had him fight Nate Diaz. Again, credit to Masvidal. He beat the shit out of Diaz…as much as anyone can. The fight was stopped for a cut over the eye that Diaz shook off several times and wanted to continue. Masvidal was hurting Diaz. He was hurting him like Conor McGregor couldn’t. He was launching kicks and punches to the body. Looking very fresh, he headed into round 5, considering the output and power of shots he’d thrown to that point.
But, do you see how basically a top 10 fighter somehow ends up fighting for titles? He’s exciting and tough as nails with a skilled striking game. He’s also been working diligently to stop the takedowns, which were such a weapon for Kamaru in his career. People forget, but Masvidal used to train with Colby Covington back in the day before their bad blood spiked. He’s been around wrestlers his whole professional career, and yet, he still hasn’t quite reached the level where the takedowns are in the rearview mirror. Of course, that is concerning, and that is exactly why Usman is such a massive favorite here.
Kamaru is a man on a mission. He won the belt and hasn’t slowed down. I said, credit to Masvidal for taking the fight, but about the guy holding the belt taking that fight on short notice? It wasn’t because he needed a paycheck. The guy just loves to fight and impose his dominance on his opponent. He really stepped up his striking game against Gilbert Burns. I’ll be honest. He surprised me a bit with how great he looked on the feet. He out-landed Gilbert 2 to 1 and looked so sharp in doing so.
Everyone expected Kamaru to punch – punch – clinch, but there was not nearly as much of that as expected. It was pure domination from start to finish. Burns obviously was coming off COVID but had a full camp and was supposedly in tip-top shape. If that’s the case, I’m not sure there is a man on the planet that can stop this guy.
The kicks are such a weapon for Masvidal, but it was also his downfall against Usman. Kamaru grabbed the leg and shed him to the ground. That is not where Jorge wants to be. What I didn’t love from the first fight was how easily Usman could grab a single leg once Masvidal got a little winded. As great as Masvidal looked on the field in short bursts, he had no answer for the clinch and ground game of Usman.
If you like the Usman side, don’t pay the price pre-fight. There is a very real possibility that Masvidal tags him in the first and stuffs the takedowns as he did early in the fight the last time they fought. At that point, you could get Usman at a far better price or even plus money. That’s one angle to take. I’m going to grab Masvidal at these ridiculous odds. He has the cleaner striking. He was stuffing the takedowns early and wobbled Kamaru on six days’ notice. I like Usman to win a 5 round war, but I’ll take +330 on a soldier like Masvidal.
FIGHT WINNER: JORGE MASVIDAL
There are so many great fights on this card, but this is my early favorite for Fight of the Night. It has a 25-minute war written all over it. One of my favorite fighters on planet earth (Zhang Weili) vs. probably the best nickname in the game with “Thug” Rose Namajunas. People forget that Rose used to have hair and was being paraded around the promotion as the pretty girl.
She was being thrown in with the likes of Paige VanZant and others. Uh, no sir. She had enough of that. She shaved her head and submitted PVZ in the 5th round of a super fun fight. She’s never looked back. It’s been an interesting ride for Rose. She’s had major highs and some bizarre lows.
Rose was on the bus attacked by Conor McGregor when he threw the dolly through the window. As she explained it, it wasn’t clear who was attacking the bus. For all she knew, it was a terrorist attack. It had a major impact on her mental state, and she’s been open about discussing her recovery. She didn’t let that distract her, and she went out to beat Joanna. The back-to-back wins against Joanna were really when I started to take Thug seriously. For one, Joanna was THE CHICK until that point. She was undefeated at 14-0 and showed a level of striking we had never seen in the division before. Thug MURDERED her with a left hook. Dropped her on the spot and followed it up with ground and pound, but the fight was over in an instant. It was also the second time she dropped in the first fight.
Trevor Whittman has really developed her striking game. We know she has a sick submission game on the ground, but her hands have become so slick. Everything is thrown with purpose. She uses her length extremely well, and outside of a random slam from Andrade, she has been basically untouchable. Speaking on Andrade, we’ll talk about her in a minute here with her fight against Valentina, but Jessica was so much slower than Rose. She couldn’t get to her early and was really second to everything. Rose is so controlled with everything that she does. It’s as if the fight is in slow motion.
You want to talk about a dismantling? Zhang Weili taught Jessica Andrade a lesson. It took just 42 seconds and about 10 knees to the chin to strip Andrade of that belt and give the Strawweight division a new champion. Granted, there may have been a few elbows to the back of the head, but they were never going to let that get in the way of a Chinese woman winning a championship in China.
Furthermore, Zhang is very strong for the division and has a great mix of standup and ground games. She comes in with 17 finishes in her 22 fight pro career. She’s finished 2 of her 5 fights in the UFC. She’s had issues in a few fights, as well. Tecia Torres was able to take her down several times. Zhang reversed position almost immediately, but the takedowns were there. Joanna stood toe to toe with her and landed a ton of damage.
To me, the mentality of Rose is the big question mark. She’s broken down in the past, and I’m not sure she battles through all the damage that Joanna took in their Zhang fight. Zhang isn’t as technical a striker as Rose. That big left hook could be the difference-maker, but we have never seen Zhang in big trouble. Her chin has always checked out. Outside of Rose getting slammed on her head against Andrade, her chin has checked out.
This is a fight from a DraftKings perspective where I have interest in both women. I think the fighter more likely to get the finish is Rose. The fighter most likely to win a 5 round war is Zhang. However, if Rose can snag a trip or takedown, perhaps she can grind out some points that way, as well. Zhang is just so damn strong that I can’t see Rose keeping her down.
In the end, I have to pick a winner, and I’m going with the Champ. Rose has looked so damn good in every fight since the Kowalkiewicz fight. She’s so technically sound. She’s so long. She can mix in the kicks and grappling, but Zhang Weili took a beating and dished out an even bigger one to Jedrzejczyk. Maybe Rose does knock her out, but I see this as another legendary championship fight that goes 5 rounds with these women putting on fantastic performances. Especially for SuperDraft, but perhaps DraftKings as well, we can roster both of these fighters with that in mind.
FIGHT WINNER: ZHANG WEILI
Outside of Amanda Nunes, who has been a more dominant champion in women’s MMA than Valentina? Bullet has stopped every woman that’s stepped in front of her and given Amanda Nunes the two toughest fights of her MMA career. Assuming Nunes is the GOAT, which is by no means controversial at this point, is Shevchenko second? She’s the Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods. Maybe even better because she’s a decorated champion who can’t be touched at 125. I’ll say this, the 125-pound division is a bit of a black hole for super talented fighters. Andrade is the rightful challenger, having just come UP a division from 115. What does that tell you about 125?
Valentina is a savage on the feet. She has super sharp hands and lethal kicks. Before this new evolution in her game, she was, and still is, one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA. Now, she’s just ragdolling her opponents. I don’t know if she got tired of getting hit in the face or just simply evolved her game to now take everyone down and work the ground game. It’s a lot of trips and countering what her opponents give her. It helps her DK scoring, and frankly, she cuts these women up on the ground. It’s not a bad thing…just….different.
Jessica Andrade throws wild power punches. She loves the slam. She looked great at 125 against Chookagian, but this is a completely different animal. The length of Chookagian was an issue for Andrade. She was eating punches. Those are punches that do real damage from Valentina, not Chookagian.
If Jessica barges in with these left and right hooks with her chin in the air, she’s going to be put to sleep. This was the fight the UFC had to make because there wasn’t anyone else. Of the three title fights, this one feels like the most obvious selection. There is a small chance that all three champions retain their belts, but I’m grabbing another Champ in this spot. I love Valentina, perhaps inside the distance.
FIGHT WINNER: VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO
Just a couple of dudes around my age still hanging around the UFC, huh? Let’s give these legends their due. Uriah Hall owns one of the best knockouts in MMA history. Chris Weidman did the impossible and beat the #1 pound-for-pound fighter. Both have had their moments, but my goodness, do they seem like ages ago.
Uriah Hall is such a tricky tape study for me. He’s lost to the higher-end fighters in the division and has never quite been able to bust through. He is such a low-volume striker that he’s extremely hard to roster in DK. He’s also not very likely to win a decision with his fighting style. Are we just hunting KOs at this point? The last decision he won was against Antonion Carlos Junior. It was a split decision victory where he landed 34 significant strikes. 34! He was taken down 3 times, and in my opinion, lost the fight. Are we giving him credit for ending 46-year-old Anderson Silva’s UFC career? It is kind of wild to see Silva fought Daniel Cormier just a few years ago and then fights Uriah Hall. Wild stuff from the former champ.
Weidman actually had the wrestling advantage against Akhmedov. He will definitely have a wrestling/grappling advantage against Uriah Hall. Will he grind this out? He’s finished 66% of his wins inside the distance, and he’s seen against strikers how, if he doesn’t get this done early, his chin is an issue. The jump to 205 was an act of desperation, and he paid the price with a first-round KO at the hands of Reyes. He’s duct-taped together at this point. He has aspirations of one last championship run before retiring, but that is just wishful thinking.
I’m worried about the gas tank of Weidman, but I have him wrestling his way to a victory. The KO is a big worry for Weidman backers, but from a DK perspective, it’s so hard to grab Hall here. Short of a KO victory inside the distance, he’s still only putting up like 60-70 points in a win.
FIGHT WINNER: CHRIS WEIDMAN
I like this new Anthony Smith. How do you evolve past the age of 30? Do the unexpected. I don’t think anyone said pre-fight that Smith would out grapple Devin Clark. Sure enough, he gets his takedown and submits Clark while only eating 1 significant strike. Big win for Smith to keep him relevant in the division but also huge to get another fight and win under his belt without going through a war. Lionheart can be his own worst enemy in some of these fights. He can take an ungodly amount of damage and it’s shown of late.
On the other hand, Jimmy Crute is a young stud with massive power. He hasn’t had a fight get to the second round in 2 years and shown a nice combination of striking and ground game. We just saw Sam Alvey get subbed out by Marquez, but his chin has not been an issue. Crute KO’d him in the first. Paul Craig is a wizard on the mat…Crust submitted him. It’s as if Crute is taking what you are good at and beating you with it.
Smith is a crafty vet and did surprise me against Clark, but this feels like a gatekeeper spot. Is Anthony Smith the new Cowboy? If Smith survives an early onslaught and Crute gasses out late, then perhaps Smith could have a shot here, but I’m taking Crute.
FIGHT WINNER: JIMMY CRUTE
I love Randy Brown here. What am I missing? I know Oliveira is durable and super experienced, but Brown is the younger, bigger, strong fighter. He’s a bit of a late bloomer and does make improvements, but seemingly every fight, Vegas gets it wrong. Look at this:
I do think there is value in this line. Granted, he’s lost every time he was a favorite on that shortlist, but we talked about Vegas getting it wrong routinely with Brown. I liked him against Barberena. I liked him against Alves. However, I did not against Luque. I tend to be on the right side of Randy Brown fights, and I’m banking on that happening here again.
Oliveira keeps coming back because he has a lot of mouths to feed. The former bull rider can strike and has a bit of a chin. He does tend to start fast, so perhaps he can catch Brown early. I just don’t see it. I have Brown closer to -200.
FIGHT WINNER: RANDY BROWN
Stats are a funny thing.
Dwight Grant lands a little over 3.3 significant strikes per minute, which isn’t great but is nearly three times the output of Sekulic. However, dig into those numbers a bit. He’s only had two fights go the distance in his UFC career, and two of the five were finished inside the first round. One of the two was a loss in which he beat his significant strike output from a 3 round loss to Ottow. Did you follow all of that? He’s a fast starter with big power. His loss to Daniel Rodriguez was a bit unfortunate. It was a classic Chris Tognoni special where Grant really hurt Rodriguez and spent a lot of energy trying to finish the fight. Tognoni asked Rodriguez to fight back on five different occasions and never stopped the fight. He gassed out. Shit happens. That’s the risk with Grant. Big power, small gas tank.
Grant gets another southpaw in Stefan Sekulic, who hasn’t fought since a 2018 bout against Ramazan Emeev. Emeev is a grinder and certainly won the fight, but Sekulic didn’t really have an opportunity to show much with Emeev’s smothering style. He has a sharp left hand and likes to gauge distance early. Sekulic looks comfortable in the clinch. David Zawada stopped him with punches back in 2015, and I could see this fight ending in similar fashion.
Furthermore, it will be an interesting stylistic matchup with how each fighter starts. I find it hard to justify the $9200 price tag on Grant, but he is my pick to win the fight.
FIGHT WINNER: DWIGHT GRANT
Roberson is susceptible to submissions, and his last two losses have come by submission. Those losses were to Vettori and Glover Teixeira. Fairly high level of competition for Roberson. Roberson is battle-tested for a guy with 12 pro fights. He’s 30 years old and has big power with his stand up game, and when given the chance, can slip a submission on you with quickness. In his fifth pro fight, he knocks out Ryan Spann. In his sixth pro fight, he submitted Darren Stewart in the first round. Roberson reversed a takedown with a throw and took Stewart’s back immediately. The rear-naked choke was deep, and the rest is history.
Brendan Allen has far more pro fights under his belt at just 25 years old but is someone I simply cannot trust yet. Perhaps I’ll get this fight wrong, but the kickboxing style of Roberson will be too much for Allen, who does tend to gas out. This is a kid I was really high on against Kyle Daukaus. I was even fairly high on his chances against Sean Strickland, but he showed such little ring IQ in that fight that I can’t back him here. Perhaps he’s young enough to chalk it up to a learning process, but when your clear path to victory is to take a fighter down, and you continue to stand and trade, you get dinged in my book.
If Allen stands and trades with the kickboxer, it will be bad news for him.
FIGHT WINNER: KARL ROBERSON
Here we go…now we get into the funky part of the card!
25 pounds is a lot of weight to cut! I’m kidding, but you do see that his last fight against Michel Pereira was at 170 pounds. He weighed in at 169.5 pounds, but considering he usually fights at 155, this weight cut won’t be as extreme as some are making it out to be. Of course, let’s wait to see how he looks on the scale come Friday. He was a last-second fill-in, and now Connelly comes down to Featherweight. He’s all energy and all gas tank. He will not stop.
Furthermore, assuming his weight cut goes well, I would expect that to continue at this weight class. He’ll be the naturally bigger man and will look to impose his will. As a BJJ black belt, you can guess where he’ll look to get this fight. He’s coming in off the back of a long layoff and a neck surgery. I love pressure fighters, but this is a tough spot.
Sabatini has the striking advantage here and is a wrestler himself. This is Sabatini’s UFC debut, and he is the brighter prospect. Sabatini uses feints and level changes well and has a heavy top game. Sabatini is alarmingly calm during his fights. He’s always working for submissions while still keeping control. I like this kid’s game and will give him the slight edge.
Had Connelly not had the neck issue, I’d likely be leaning towards him. I have the right to change my mind depending on how things look Friday on the scale, but I’m going with Sabatini.
FIGHT WINNER: PATRICK SABATINI
Physically, this is a very even fight. Both men are around 5’6” or 5’7”. Both have a 70” reach. Batgerel is certainly an exciting fighter. He has 1 fight of the night performance and 1 KO. Granted, Cannetti was coming off a long layoff and recovering from a knee injury at 40 years old. His movement is very odd and almost cobra-like. It’s a lot of left to right while constantly and throwing with big power. His right hand is the big weapon, but he does leave himself there to be hit. The left hook is what put Guido on the floor. It almost looked like a set-up punch to launch that right hand, but the second wasn’t needed because it was over.
Natividad has some power for sure but tends to eat some punches to give them. That’s not a smart strategy against someone with as much power as his opponent. I picked Miles Johns in their fight but honestly expected more volume from each of them. Natividad was stuffing takedowns left and right but couldn’t get off the mark with his striking. Miles Johns folded our boy in half in the third round with an uppercut.
How his ankles survived this, I’ll never know. He did take the fight on short notice and does have big power. So, this isn’t a pick I’m salivating over, and in fact, I prefer the value on the dog from the betting perspective, but I’m going Danaa.
FIGHT WINNER: DANAA BATGEREL
Zhu Rong is another of these fighters out of the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai. He’s just 21 years old with 20 fights under his belt and 15 finishes to boot. Impressive career for such a young cat, but what can we say about the level of competition? He’s not fighting other kids, first of all. These are grown-ass men who look the part. I watched several of his fights, and what I can say is that he is certainly improving fight to fight, but mostly, his body is maturing. Also, Asian commentary is awesome. Just oohs and awes every two seconds. He doesn’t throw a ton of volume and likes to counter punch. With Vargas’ style, that could work in his favor.
Rodrigo Vargas showed me a little something in his fight with Brock Weaver. He came in as a massive underdog off a loss, and Vargas bit down on his mouthpiece and pushed the pace. It was all very awkward, and Vargas reached for everything but was landing with success and beating Weaver to the punch. He got the takedown of Weaver. He was patient with his top game, but it seems more out of a lack of ideas than planning his next attack. Weaver attacked the neck several times. The fight ultimately ended with Vargas kneeing Weaver, who was downed, but there were positives to take away from the fight. Vargas was winning up until that point, for one, and was a massive dog.
Zhu Rong is my guy here.
FIGHT WINNER: ZHU RONG
Jeffrey Molina is a young American prospect who’s really slick on the ground and a winner on Dana White’s Contender Series. As always, I’m going to bump a James Krause fighter. He lost 2 of his first 3 fights as a pro but is currently on a 7 fight win streak with 6 finishes in the first or second round. In the fight he won in the contender series, he said he broke his foot early and still took the win. This kid wants it, and according to Krause, gets better every single day. I’ll trust Krause on this one.
Aori Qileng does push forward and throws bombs. He has a lot of finishes on his record and looks like he’s 35, not 27. He has some absolutely dynamic knockouts on tape. One, in particular, against Davlatov in 2016 ended with a flying knee up the middle that basically broke Davlatov’s face. He couldn’t continue, and the fight was over. The knee was necessary because Davlatov did have success with his ground game and landed a takedown early in the fight.
I agree with the oddsmakers here and have this fight very even. It’s not a bet for me, but again, I’m taking the James Krause fighter who has been under the bright lights before.
FIGHT WINNER: JEFFREY MOLINA
I’m not saying Carnelossi is juicing, but I think she goes to the same dietician as Cyborg. She has 8 wins by KO and is still just 28 years old. She has had nearly 2 years out of the cage. Usually, you would reverse these fights when coming into the UFC. Taking on Angela Hill in your debut is TOUGH. We know Hill is a dog in there. This appears to be a much better matchup for Carnelossi, and she is rightly the favorite here.
Liang Na has some tough fights on her record. The first name that caught my eye was Liliya Shakirova. She recently fought Lauren Murphy and gave a decent account of herself before Murphy choked her out in the second round. The second name was Juliana Velasquez. She’s currently the Bellator champ at 125 with an 11-0 record. The last name was Agapova, who I remembered from the Shana Dobson fight back in August. Well, she lost to all 3. She is coming in off 4 first-round finishes. She tends to wrestle but doesn’t necessarily have the strength to keep her opponent down if she does get it there.
The total is odd for a strawweight fight. We have an o/u of 2.5 with juice on the….UNDER! There is a significant size difference between these two. We mention Carnelossi is ripped up, but it’s because she’s 5’2”. However, Na comes in at 5’9”, and those long limbs could wrap up something even if she’s off her back. This feels more like a wild shot in the dark than any deep analysis, but I’ll take the Chinese prospect here. This one could be over early with either woman getting a finish.
FIGHT WINNER: LIANG NA
UFC Fight Night Cheat Sheet will be posted on Friday… DON’T MISS IT!