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MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC 261.
UFC 261 takes place Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
Kamaru Usman (18-1 MMA, 13-0 UFC)
Height: 6'0" Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 76"
Last fight: TKO win over Gilbert Burns (Feb. 12, 2021)
Camp: ONX Labs (Denver, Co.)
Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing
Risk management: Excellent
Supplemental info: + UFC welterweight champion + “The Ultimate Fighter 21” alum + NCAA Division-II national champ + 3x NCAA All-American + 8 KO victories + 1 submission win + 3 first-round finishes + Consistent pace and pressure + Good feints and footwork + Improved overall striking ^ Jabs, bodywork, etc. + Strong inside the clinch + Excellent takedown ability ^ In the open or against the fence + Superb top game and control ^ Rides and transitions intelligently
Jorge Masvidal (35-14 MMA, 12-7 UFC)
Height: 5'11" Age: 36 Weight: 170 lbs. Reach: 74"
Last fight: Decision loss to Kamaru Usman (July 11, 2020)
Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
Risk management: Good
Supplemental info: + “BMF” belt holder + AFC welterweight title + Undefeated in the streets + 16 KO victories + 2 submission wins + 8 first-round finishes + KO power + Slick boxing technique ^ Accurate shot selection + Improved kicking game + Solid balance and footwork + Active transition and clinch game ^ Strikes well off of the breaks + Excellent wrestling ability ^ Defensively and offensively + Underrated submission acumen
Point of interest: Striking the second time around
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
The main event in Florida features a rematch for the welterweight title between two of the local talents. In the first meeting between [autotag]Kamaru Usman[/autotag] and [autotag]Jorge Masvidal[/autotag], we saw the Cuban challenger have moments of success early on, as both men seemed to do well when going to the body before the champ was able to pull away down the stretch. But between Masvidal taking the fight on six days' notice and the fact that it was Usman's first camp with Trevor Wittman, I find it hard to be too critical of either party for the performances put forth last summer. Although this will be Usman's third training camp over at the ONX Labs with coach Wittman, Usman’s striking initially started under the care of Henri Hooft, a Dutch-style striking coach who emphasizes pressure, power and fundamentals. In said time, Hooft was able to help Usman’s power and presence blossom on the feet, throwing shots much smoother in transition and off of breaks. In addition, the Nigeria-born fighter also appeared to be a natural when it comes to his footwork – something I suspect that his current coach can help him further cultivate. Whether he is feinting forward or shifting his stance in combination, Usman will persistently corral his opposition toward the cage, attacking them with impunity whenever they step near it. The 33-year-old champion is also smart about shifting away from his opponent’s power side when advancing, all while throwing corralling hooks that help him close space. Usman did appear to be a bit more content to work or reset on the backfoot in his last outing, though that could largely be due to the stylistic threat that a fighter like Gilbert Burns presented. Usman has traditionally started a bit slow on the feet (as that's where he's most hittable), but his increased emphasis on what appears to be a sharper jab should help check a lot of the unwanted offense coming his way. Nevertheless, as efficient as this approach has been for Usman, he will still need to be careful when it comes to predictability and feinting if he wants to avoid having the tables turned on him. https://twitter.com/SweetPmemories/status/1384943538593480711?s=20 Initially stepping into MMA from the backyard brawling scene, Masvidal has turned into one of the savvier strikers among his contemporaries, operating with the comfort of a longtime veteran. Feinting forward and initiating with his jab, Masvidal has always had a knack for pulling and returning punches with his opponents. At lightweight, the Cuban’s style and available output had him arguably too comfortable at times, costing him crucial rounds in close fights – fights that many thought he won. That said, we have seen a different iteration of Masvidal since his ascension up the welterweight division. Now pursuing much more aggressively, Masvidal will mix in his improved kicks off of Thai-style marches. Working well off of his patented left hand, the 18-year vet asserts himself down the center line with authority, varying between straight shots to the head or hooks to the body. https://twitter.com/ASAP_Pipa/status/1280856035373338624?s=20 Masvidal, who seldom extends himself too far out of position, can be hard to hit cleanly more often than not. However, his comfort in exchanges has shown to cost him both blitzes and counters at times, as no one should be surprised if Usman has his moments on the feet.
Point of interest: Wrestleweight
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Considering the proven path to keeping the welterweight crown, it's not hard to imagine the champion wanting to repeat history this Saturday night. Thankfully for Usman, getting Masvidal to his preferred place of attack along the fence wasn't the most difficult thing to do, as Masvidal traditionally has been a bit too content with hanging around the inner-black octagon lines for my liking. However, I’d still argue that out-wrestling the Cuban is an ask that’s harder than meets the eye. For those who have not been following Masvidal’s career for the past decade or so, you may be surprised to find out that the first thing the former street fighter started to sharpen in MMA was his wrestling chops. A longtime member of American Top Team, Masvidal has all the appropriate guidance and training partners, as his techniques have quietly translated to the cage for some time. Not only has Masvidal maintained consistent standings in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions for takedown defense ratings, but he also applies the fine detail in small spaces that often go unnoticed. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1384946507976216578?s=20 From the savviness of Masvidal’s hips to his intuition of when and how to circle out, you can see why he receives unanimous praise from those in the know. Even when taken down, Masvidal has a persistent pop to his get-up game, cleverly using the cage or defensively circling to avoid getting his back compromised. More importantly, Masvidal has shown an ingrained, near-effortless technical savvy in the way in which he flows from defending submissions to countering wrestling positions, smoothly attacking single-legs and striking off of separations without a second thought. Masvidal is also underrated from the front-headlock position, but I fear that Usman’s takedown entries and suffocating style will shut down a lot of those threats. As we saw in their first fight, Usman prefers to get a lot of his wrestling done off the fence by corralling and clinching efforts. Once establishing his office in this space, the champ wastes little time in going to work with everything from foot stomps to crafty over-hooks that interweave into wrist controls (a la Jon Jones). Wrestling at a Division II level for three years (where he was also a two-time national finalist), Usman has always shown the freakish ability to both finish and defend shots from sometimes surprising positions. Coupled with his work ethic and determination, Usman was able to over-perform in a multitude of ways, especially considering that he didn’t even start wrestling until mid-way through high school. After helping high-level fighters with their own wrestling, Usman ended up making the jump into mixed martial arts, where he has steadily built onto his imposing wrestling game and presence. Whether he is hitting takedowns in the open or chaining his attempts along the fence, Usman has, for the most part, been able to do what he wants to wrestling-wise inside of the octagon. Freakish takedown ability aside, Usman also bears an impressive intelligence in transition that could help him in his matchup. Demonstrating excellent positional awareness, Usman always seems to make high-percentage choices whether he is passing or punching. Using suffocating wrestling rides that stymie everything from posts to submission attempts, Usman will seamlessly hit his transitions while steaming his opposition underneath him. However, considering that Masvidal has had a full camp to prepare, I suspect that cooking his counterpart won't be a given for Usman – as he'll need to stay sticky throughout the contest.
Point of interest: Odds and opinions
The oddsmakers and public are firmly siding with the sitting champion, listing Usman -420 and Masvidal +335 as of this writing. Considering the dominance that Usman has shown both in their initial match and in his career as a whole, it's not really a surprise to see such a wide spread. Still, I find myself questioning both the betting lines and the confidence in my official pick. Despite being the older fighter with a lot more miles on him, Masvidal still appears to be the speedier party, which means he'll be extra potent early. And if Masvidal is able to draw out Usman's newfound striking tools with feints, then do not be surprised to see the challenger return with more than the predicted leg and bodywork of previous pages and breakdowns. That said, we need to also remember that Masvidal won't be the only one with a full camp to prepare this time around. And considering that Usman is under the direct care of a coach like Wittman, I suspect that we'll see the sharpest version of this pairing yet, being that this will be their third official camp together. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1384310438649745408?s=20 Not only has Usman further emphasized the addition of his jab to his stance-switching sensibilities, but Wittman (as seen in the clip above) is seemingly programming the durable and dominant Usman into an even more efficient, pace-fighting machine. For that reason, I'll pick the proven party with a higher ceiling to stay on target while surviving the storms.
Prediction: Usman by decision