Adam Martin’s GPP Plays and Cash Game advice for UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
Fight fans, are you ready for UFC 261? The UFC touches down this Saturday night at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, and for the first time in over a year, fans will be in attendance for the fights. It should be an absolutely phenomenal card, one that features three title fights on it, plus 10 other exciting bouts. Let’s get into the card now from a DFS perspective, and I will also give out my bets.
UFC 261 Card
Kamaru Usman ($9400) vs. Jorge Masvidal ($6800)
The main event of UFC 261 is a welterweight title rematch between champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Jorge Masvidal. If this matchup seems familiar to you and you think you’re getting deja vu, that’s because we literally saw it last summer at UFC 251. The circumstances were different, of course, as Usman was supposed to fight Gilbert Burns that night and Masvidal stepped up on short notice. But we saw in that fight that Usman is just a tough matchup for Masvidal, and it’s hard to say things have changed not even a year after their first fight.
With Usman, it’s just hard to bet against him right now. With a perfect 13-0 record in the UFC, Usman is an absolute stud who is amazing in all areas of the game. He comes from a grappling background, and he generally uses his wrestling to win his fights, but he also has incredible striking skills as well, not to mention a great chin and amazing cardio to go 25 minutes without slowing down. There is so much to like about Usman, and it’s not a surprise to see him as a big favorite here once again, considering how one-sided the last fight between these two was.
As for Masvidal, he is an amazing fighter in his own right, and of course, he has a striker’s chance to win this fight. But overall, I just feel like his grappling won’t be up to par against someone like Usman. As much as I’m sure Masvidal has been training his takedown defense over the past year, I still don’t see it being enough for him to go in there and beat Usman. If Masvidal can stuff the takedowns, then he will have a chance, but that’s a very big if.
Usman has been a very good pick as fantasy MVP for a while now because he does everything well, and I have to go with him again as one of my top picks on this card. I just think Masvidal will really struggle once again with the grappling, and I see the fight playing out the same as it did last year, with Usman grinding out Masvidal and winning a decision. Even though Masvidal is a huge underdog here, I still think this is a situation where you have to play the big chalk.
Pick: Kamaru Usman
Weili Zhang ($9000) vs. Rose Namajunas ($7200)
The co-main event of UFC 261 sees women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang taking on Rose Namajunas. Zhang is currently riding a 20-fight win streak, and she is a perfect 5-0 in the Octagon so far as she’s become one of the top female fighters in the world. Zhang is a very powerful striker who has no problem standing and banging on the feet, and we know her ground game is dangerous, as well. She can go the full 25 minutes in her fights, and she continues to fight until the bitter end. Overall, Zhang is an exceptional fighter and a great champion.
At the same time, you can say the same about Namajunas, a former champion herself. Namajunas is one of the best women’s fighters in the UFC, and she has been for years. Just 28 years old, she is in the prime of her career and should come into this fight ready to go. She is an exceptional striker who is light on her feet, and she has an amazing ground game, too, which makes her extremely dangerous. In this particular matchup, Namajunas has a one-inch height advantage, a two-inch reach advantage, and she’s three years younger. All of those things matter in a close fight, especially if it stays standing, as her reach could really come into play.
With three title fights on the card, the odds of all three champs retaining their titles seems low to me. If anyone is going to get the upset, I believe it’s Namajunas. She is being overlooked here, and considering how cheap of a price you can get her at, I really like her in this spot as a live dog. Zhang is great, and she might win this fight, but I wouldn’t bank on it at this price tag. This is a dog-or-pass spot, and my money is on Namajunas to pull through with the upset.
Pick: Rose Namajunas
Valentina Shevchenko ($9500) vs. Jessica Andrade ($6700)
The other title fight sees UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko taking on Jessica Andrade. Shevchenko is an amazing talent, and ever since dropping down to 125lbs in 2018, she hasn’t lost once. She’s a perfect 6-0 at flyweight, and she has been just destroying everyone in her path with her striking and grappling. In this particular matchup, Shevchenko holds a four-inch reach advantage, and she’s four inches taller, not to mention she’s a southpaw.
Andrade deserves this title shot after knocking out Katlyn Chookagian in her last fight, but I don’t think this is a good matchup for her in general. She will be the smaller fighter in this fight, and I feel like that will really take a toll over the course of five rounds. Andrade certainly has the ability to knock Shevchenko out if she connects on the chin, but I just can’t see that happening. Other than landing a big punch, Andrade probably gets dominated in every area of the game here.
I love Shevchenko in this spot. She’s better in every area of the game, and it’s hard to see Andrade winning this fight on anything besides a puncher’s chance. Shevchenko should have the better overall striking, and if she is getting hurt on the feet, she can use her grappling to bail her out. I view Shevchenko as a strong cash game play this weekend as I believe she will dominate this fight. I even think there is a good chance that she gets another finish here.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko
Uriah Hall ($8300) vs. Chris Weidman ($7900)
At middleweight, we have Uriah Hall taking on Chris Weidman. This is actually a rematch as these two previously met a decade ago in Ring of Combat, with Weidman getting the knockout. 10 years later and this is a much different fight. Hall has looked to be in great form as of late, as he’s coming off of a knockout win over Anderson Silva in his last fight. In fact, he has won his last three fights overall. He has really improved his grappling and we already knew he had great striking, so it makes Hall a tough matchup for most of his opponents at 185lbs.
As for Weidman, he is coming off of a nice win over Omari Akhmedov which showed that he can still compete with top-15 fighters, but in general it’s hard to know what you are getting with Weidman when he steps into the cage these days. He obviously has the wrestling pedigree and he’s been a champion in the UFC in the past, but given his issues with durability and the fact that his chin can be checked, it makes it very difficult to feel confident in backing him now.
I have to go with Hall here just because I don’t trust Weidman and his chin anymore. If Hall connects he will be able to put Weidman out and his wrestling has improved to the point where I am comfortable enough to think he can keep this fight on the feet and win the striking exchanges. I like Hall in this fight, though again it’s one you could consider both sides of from a GPP because if Weidman wins, it will likely be a grappling-heavy affair that racks up the points.
Pick: Uriah Hall
Jimmy Crute ($8900) vs. Anthony Smith ($7300)
At light heavyweight, we have Jimmy Crute taking on Anthony Smith in what should be a fun fight. Crute has really turned heads since joining the UFC a couple years back as he’s shown both knockout power on the feet and slick submissions on the ground. He is very tough and he is eight years younger than Smith in this particular fight. He will likely be looking to take this fight to the ground and get the submission win, but he could also stand and bang with Smith, as well.
As for Smith, he has really struggled in recent years but he is coming off of a submission win over Devin Clark that shows he still has some gas left in the tank. We know Smith is extremely tough, has good cardio, and can finish his opponents on the feet and the ground. He also possesses a two-inch height and two-inch reach advantage in this fight which should help him. Overall, Smith is a well-rounded fighter and he should give some problems to Crute in this spot.
This is a tough fight to call. I do lean towards Crute for a pure pick just because he’s the younger, fresher fighter, but Smith as a cheap dog is certainly intriguing as he could very well win this fight. I would consider playing both sides of this fight in GPPs but I don’t have a ton of interest in Crute from cash, though I would consider Smith as a cheap dog to fill out lineups.
Pick: Jimmy Crute
Randy Brown ($8700) vs. Alex Oliveira ($7500)
At welterweight, we have Randy Brown against Alex Oliveira in what should be a fantastic fight that likely doesn’t go the distance. Both Brown and Oliveira are high-action fighters who like to go in there and mix it up with their opponents. Starting with Brown, he has strong striking skills on the feet to go along with a dangerous ground game. In this fight, Brown has a four-inch height advantage, two-inch reach advantage, and he’s two years younger. Those are all very good things about him, though I still question his chin given he’s been knocked out before.
As for Oliveira, he is the tougher of the two fighters in this spot, as he’s incredibly tough to put away. Overall Oliveira has had a good career in the UFC but I still feel like he’s on a bit of a decline at this point of his career. He does have good striking and submission skills but I feel like Brown should be able to match him in those areas, and given that Brown has several physical advantages in this spot, that’s the way that I am leaning as far as picking the winner here goes.
I do think there will be a finish in this fight, and if I had to guess, it would be Brown getting the stoppage over Oliveira. So, Brown would be the guy I favor here for GPPs. Not sure if I trust him enough for cash, but he’s an option. As for Oliveira, he’s another guy you can consider for GPPs, but I do favor Brown here, and that’s the side I would have more of my action on come Saturday night.
Pick: Randy Brown
Dwight Grant ($9200) vs. Stefan Sekulic ($7000)
In the welterweight division, we have Dwight Grant taking on Stefan Sekulic. Grant is 36 years old but he is still fighting at a high level. He has looked very strong in the UFC so far in my opinion as he’s shown great striking skills, huge knockout power, and good takedown defense. I do worry that he is getting a bit long in the tooth but stylistically this is a good matchup for him.
As for Sekulic, he is a grappler, and in this fight, he will be eight years younger, which should help him out. He hasn’t fought in nearly three years due to a steroid suspension, which does bother me. However, he could have gotten better during that time off from the sport. Still, based on what we’ve seen from him in the UFC and Europe, this looks like a tough matchup for him.
I have to go with Grant here. He’s the far superior striker and as long as he can keep this fight on the feet he will have a very good chance to pull off getting a knockout win. Grant is a great option for GPPs and he would be someone I would consider for cash, as well.
Pick: Dwight Grant
Brendan Allen ($8400) vs. Karl Roberson ($7800)
In the middleweight division, we have Brendan Allen taking on Karl Roberson. This should be a phenomenal fight between Allen, who is primarily a grappler, and Roberson, who prefers to stand and trade. Starting with Allen, he has very good wrestling and looks to use it in his fights to get the fight to the ground and submit his opponents there. On the feet, he isn’t as strong though he does have strong knees from the clinch. Overall, though he is a grappler. In this fight, he is five years younger, and he has a one-inch height and reach advantage on Roberson.
As for Roberson, he is a very strong striker and he also has some takedowns, which makes him pretty well-rounded. The problem with Roberson is that he has really poor takedown defense, and he can be taken down and controlled from top position, which is what I see Allen doing to him in this fight. If Roberson can keep it standing he will have a chance, but the second that he’s planted on his back I think he’s going to be in serious trouble and might get submitted.
Give me Allen in this one. I really like his wrestling and believe he should be able to get Roberson down and probably get a submission. Allen is certainly in consideration for cash, but at the very least, he would be a GPP play. I don’t have a ton of interest in Roberson in this spot.
Pick: Brendan Allen
Pat Sabatini ($8800) vs. Tristan Connelly ($7400)
At featherweight, we have Pat Sabatini taking on Tristan Connelly. Both men are primarily grapplers so it should be interesting to see what happens when the fight hits the floor. Starting with Sabatini, this is his UFC debut after a fight with Rafael Alves fell through earlier this year. Sabatini has really good grappling skills and if he gets this fight to the ground and gets into top position, he can control Connelly. I still don’t know much about the other parts of Sabatini’s game, however, and considering the high price tag on him here, I would stay away.
As for Connelly, I have a lot of interest in him as a dog here. Remember, he won his UFC debut over Michel Pereira as a massive underdog when everyone was counting him out. In this fight, he is coming off of a long injury layoff and is actually dropping down two weight classes, but that’s part of the reason I like him here. He should be able to have some size on Sabatini in this spot and as long as he doesn’t get planted on his back, I think Connelly has a chance to win.
This is a dog-or-pass spot due to the price, and I lean towards Connelly in this spot. He should be able to match Sabatini in the grappling and I feel a bit better about his overall game. Considering the cheap price, Connelly is someone I have a lot of interest in for cash and GPP.
Pick: Tristan Connelly
Danaa Batgerel ($8500) vs. Kevin Natividad ($7700)
In the bantamweight division, we have Danna Batgerel against Kevin Natividad. Starting with Batgerel, he’s a lot of fun to watch. He is primarily a striker and he has shown a ton of power throughout his career, including in the UFC when he knocked out Guido Cannetti. He has been training at Jackson – Wink in preparation for this fight and that’s a move that I like that he made. I did see some flaws in his game as far as his takedown defense goes, but as far as his striking skills are concerned, this is a fighter who is a serious threat anytime he’s on the feet.
As for Natividad, I had high hopes with him heading into his UFC debut but he suffered a brutal knockout loss to Miles Johns and he wasn’t very competitive in that fight. Overall he is a pretty well-rounded fighter who can take the fight to the mat when he wants to, but his striking isn’t great and I have noticed that his chin is weak as well. He has been knocked out a couple of times with shots that didn’t seem super hard so I am worried here if Batgerel lands a big shot on his chin. Natividad can win this fight if he mixes it up, but one shot can end it all.
Give me Batgerel in this fight. His striking skills are far superior, and given that Natividad can be chin-checked, that’s what I’m thinking happens here. I feel pretty good about Batgerel that I would consider him for cash, but for GPPs he is definitely a guy you want on your time. I don’t have a ton of interest in Natividad in this particular spot.
Pick: Danna Batgerel
Rong Zhu ($9100) vs. Kazula Vargas ($7100)
One of three Chinese prospects making their debuts on the card is Rong Zhu. Just 21 years old, Zhu already has over 20 MMA fights as he has been fighting since he was 16 years old, and I liked everything that I saw from him on the tape. He is physically strong, he is a good grappler, he has some striking, and he has good cardio. In this fight, he also has a one-inch height and reach advantage. Overall, I liked everything that I saw from Zhu in the tape. He is still untested against UFC-level competition, but he looks like someone that will have success in the Octagon.
The UFC is giving Zhu a bit of a lay-up fight here in his debut against Kazula Vargas, who is just 0-2 in the UFC with losses to Alex da Silva and Brok Weaver. Watching his fights back from Mexico, Vargas does have some striking skills and he has knockout power, but he has a major problem with his takedown defense and Zhu should be able to exploit that. Look for Zhu to be able to get Vargas to the ground and dominate him there.
Zhu is a pretty big favorite, but I feel like it’s justified. He should have a big night as far as fantasy goes due to the stylistic matchup. I would be looking to play Zhu in GPPs, though I’m not sure if I feel good enough about him as a newcomer for cash. As for Vargas, avoid him.
Pick: Rong Zhu
Aori Qileng ($8200) vs. Jeff Molina ($8000)
At flyweight, Aori Qileng and Jeff Molina make their UFC debuts. Starting with Qileng, he has a ton of experience for a young fighter and he also has some power. He is definitely what I would consider a true wild card as this is his first fight at flyweight and his first fight in the UFC in general. There is a lot to like about this prospect but I would need to see more of him before feeling comfortable picking him to win fights at the UFC level since he is still so unproven.
As for Molina, this is also his UFC debut although he did win his fight on Dana White’s Contender Series. I really liked what I saw watching Molina fight. He’s a big, tall flyweight with a well-rounded game. I thought he was more of a striker based on his Contender Series fight, but looking back at his footage, he prefers to grapple. He is also training with James Krause at Glory MMA and Fitness which should help him a lot. Overall, I really like Molina as a prospect.
This is the closest-lined fight on the card, but given that Molina trains with Krause and how often that team gets their hand raised, Molina is my lean here. I think he gets top control and rides out the decision, and considering the cheap price, I think Molina is a good pick for cash and GPPs.
Pick: Jeff Molina
Ariane Carnelossi ($8600) vs. Na Liang ($7600)
At women’s strawweight, we have Ariane Carnelossi against Na Liang. For Carnelossi, it’s her second UFC fight after losing via TKO (cut) to Angela Hill in her UFC debut. Although Carnelossi wasn’t too impressive in that fight, looking at her tape from Brazil, there was a lot to like about her. She’s an aggressive fighter who is always walking forward, she has some striking skills, and she has some solid wrestling to back it up. Overall she looks to be a well-rounded fighter, though it’s worth noting that she is coming into this fight off of a 20-month layoff.
As for Liang, this is her UFC debut so many fans are probably not too familiar with her. Watching her fight footage, she is primarily a grappler who is content with pulling guard and being on her back. If she can get the takedown she certainly has the potential to get the submission or ground-and-pound finish, but the fact that she likes to pull guard is a huge red flag. Although Liang has several physical advantages in this fight including being three inches taller, having four more inches in reach, and being four years younger, those things won’t matter if she’s planted on her back and can’t get up.
I have to go with Carnelossi here as my lean as she looks to be the better fighter, but the price tag of $8600 seems high. I wouldn’t play her in cash but would look for her in GPPs to have a unique lineup. And even though I am picking Liang to lose the fight, you would likely want to play her in GPPs as well as if she did win this fight it would almost certainly be by a stoppage.
Pick: Ariane Carnelossi
MVPs: Valentina Shevchenko ($9500), Kamaru Usman ($9400), Dwight Grant ($9200)
Live Dogs: Tristan Connelly ($7400), Anthony Smith ($7300) Rose Namajunas ($7200)
Avoid: Pat Sabatini ($8800), Ariane Carnelossi ($8600), Kazula Vargas ($7100)
Rose Namajunas 1 to win 1.75
Tristan Connelly 1 to win 2.27
Uriah Hall 1 to win 1.17
Brendan Allen 1.55 to win 1
Parlay: Dwight Grant/Zhu Rong 1 to win 1.11
For more on UFC 261, check out Duke’s MMA Breakdown!