• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

UFC 261 betting preview: Best bets for Zhang vs. Namajunas, Usman vs. Masvidal

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Zhang Weili will face Rose Namajunas for the women’s strawweight title on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) in the co-main event of UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida, in the first UFC card with fans since the pandemic began.

It will also be Zhang’s first appearance since her epic battle with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 last year. That fight is one of the greatest, male or female, in the history of the sport.

[New ESPN+ members can bundle UFC 261 with one year of ESPN+ for $89.98]

It may also be a reason to bet on Namajunas.

Fighters pay a heavy toll in bouts like Zhang-Jedrzejczyk. Often, they come back too quickly after and the body hasn’t had a chance to heal, and they’re never the same.

But sometimes, the body says “no mas” after a bout like that and never responds the same way again no matter how long a fighter takes to recover.

At BetMGM, Zhang is a -190 favorite. Namajunas, a former strawweight champion, is at +160.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 07: Zhang Weili of China celebrates after her split-decision victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 07: Zhang Weili of China celebrates after her split-decision victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Namajunas has a pair of victories over Jedrzejczyk, including a first-round TKO at UFC 217 when she lifted the title from the Polish star and prompted UFC announcer Daniel Cormier to go ballistic exclaiming, “Thug Rose! Thug Rose! Thug Rose!”

Namajunas has a series of significant wins on her résumé in addition to the two over Jedrzejczyk. She’s beaten Jessica Andrade, who on Saturday will meet Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title.

She also holds wins over Michelle Waterson, Tecia Torres, Paige VanZant and Angela Hill.

Against Zhang, she’ll be facing a strong, powerful and well-rounded champion who has won 21 in a row after a loss in her pro debut. If Zhang were 100 percent, I would play her to win, particularly at the attractive price of less than 2-to-1.

But that fight was brutal and it’s hard to know the impact it had on her. So I’ll pass on playing a side and instead bet that the fight goes the distance.

BetMGM hasn’t released its props yet, so I don’t have a number for it, but it seems the most likely scenario. In the UFC, Zhang has three decision victories and two finishes. Namajunas hasn’t had a finish in three-plus years, since the TKO of Jedrzejczyk.

It seems highly unlikely either woman would get a finish early, so I think the smart play here is either for the fight to go the distance or over the total.

More MMA bets

  • I will lay the -400 and bet Kamaru Usman to win over Jorge Masvidal to retain his welterweight title.

  • I like Uriah Hall at -110 to defeat Chris Weidman. I also like the Weidman-Hall fight to go the distance.

  • I will bet that the Anthony Smith-Jimmy Crute fight goes the distance.

More from Yahoo Sports: