The UFC is heading back to Florida with a trio of title fights – and what Dana White says will be a full-capacity crowd.
UFC 261 takes place April 24 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., the UFC president announced Monday. And he said the event will be open to a full capacity of “15,000 UFC fans” with tickets on sale soon.
In the main event, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (18-1 MMA, 13-0 UFC)meets Jorge Masvidal (35-14 MMA, 14-8 UFC) in a rematch. In the co-feature, women’s flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko (20-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) takes on challenger Jessica Andrade (21-8 MMA, 12-6 UFC). And in the third title fight, women’s strawweight titleholder Zhang Weili (21-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) takes on former champ Rose Namajunas (9-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC).
In its first fights back after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC put on several shows at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville – but without fans in attendance. The location was chosen because at the time, Florida was one of few states that had guidelines that would allow the UFC to put on shows.
The return to that venue is largely because the state of Florida has relaxed many of its COVID-19 restrictions – including to the point the White says a full capacity of fans will be allowed into the arena.
“I have been waiting a year for this day to tell you we are back,” White said in a Twitter video. “UFC 261 on April 24 will be in Jacksonville, Fla., with a full house of fans – full capacity at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. And you know I’m bringing an incredible card. … This is a stacked card in front of 15,000 UFC fans.”
— danawhite (@danawhite) March 16, 2021
Usman opened as a 3-to-1 favorite in the rematch, making him a slightly larger favorite than he closed at when the two fought at UFC 251 in July 2020. In that fight, Usman beat Masvidal with a unanimous decision. Masvidal took the fight on six days’ notice after fellow welterweight contender Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from the card. Usman since has defended his title successfully with a third-round TKO win over Burns at UFC 258. Masvidal has not fought since the loss.
Shevchenko won the vacant UFC women’s flyweight title at UFC 231 in December 2018 when she beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision. After becoming champion, Shevchenko has successfully defended her title against Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche, Katlyn Chookagian and, most recently, Jennifer Maia at UFC 255 with a unanimous decision. Andrade moved up to flyweight and made her divisional debut in October against Chookagian and picked up a first-round TKO. The result punched Andrade’s ticket back in the win column following back-to-back losses to Namajunas and Weili.
Weili hasn’t fought since her first title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 in March 2020. The bout won MMA Junkie’s “Fight of the Year,” but the Chinese titleholder, who is riding a 20-fight winning streak, has been out of action since then. Namajunas will have a chance to win back the UFC belt she lost at UFC 237 in May 2019. After ending Jedrzejczyk’s long reign atop the weight class, Namajunas dropped the title in a stunning slam knockout loss to Andrade. Namajunas beat Andrade by unanimous decision in a rematch at UFC 251.
The UFC 261 lineup includes:
Champ Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal – for welterweight title
Champ Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas – for women’s strawweight title
Champ Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade – for women’s flyweight title
Uriah Hall vs. Chris Weidman
Jimmy Crute vs. Anthony Smith
Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad
Brendan Allen vs. Karl Roberson
Qileng Aori vs. Jeffrey Molina
Johnny Munoz vs. Mark Striegl