The Bloody Elbow team has made its predictions for UFC 261 and we are all in agreement that Kamaru Usman will maintain his welterweight title over Jorge Masvidal in the main event. It’s a different story in the co-main, with opinion split and only slightly in Zhang Weili’s favor to defend her strawweight belt vs. Rose Namajunas. David Castillo is going bold and picking Jessica Andrade to unseat Valentina Shevchenko as women’s flyweight champion.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
Anton Tabuena: I have a feeling that with all the injuries, Usman’s body could fail him soon, but he’s been so good, and so smart in the cage that any possible decline hasn’t even mattered or been that noticeable. Until I see it actually happen though, I think he should be favored to win any of these title defenses, especially one against Masvidal that he matches up really well against. The faster and more potent finisher in Burns probably would’ve still been the harder rematch, as I just expect Usman to outwork and outsmart Masvidal wherever this fight takes place. If Masvidal doesn’t catch him perfectly and finish him on the spot, it will be a long night for him, regardless of it being a full camp or not. Kamaru Usman by wide decision.
Mookie Alexander: Masvidal’s best path to victory is a KO. Frankly it’s his only path because he’s not going to do enough to consistently and convincingly win rounds against Usman. He’ll probably need the greatest defensive wrestling performance in MMA history to have a chance. I think his cardio won’t be an issue with the full camp but it’s not like this matchup is that much different. Usman is a phenomenal wrestler and indeed such an improved striker that he might be able to outstrike Jorge too. I really don’t have much interest in this rematch, which likely means I’ll be hilariously wrong about this fight, but the pick is Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision.
David Castillo: I really don’t know what the rush was for this fight. For all of Masvidal’s tough guy bravado, he seems to be picking up the mantle not left by the Diaz brothers, but the one left by Chael Sonnen. He’s getting big fights with very little effort. I’ve always liked the matchup as a stylistic throwback, but when the fight clearly favors one style, what are we learning from a rematch? Is Masvidal supposed to learn in one camp what Usman has learned, and nourished over a lifetime? There’s some merit to Usman physically falling marginally below his peak, but the way he was moving with his jab tells me he’s picking up new tricks without sacrificing anything to his game. Same stylistic nightmare. Same result. Kamaru Usman by Decision.
Zane Simon: Masvidal should have some opportunities here, especially if Usman is more determined to fight a rangy, technical boxing game than he has in the past (something that his work with Wittman may push him toward). But, even in that kind of style, Usman has always been a fighter with very good vision for incoming strikes, and a great chin. And if Masvidal can’t turn standup exchanges into a KO, then it seems very unlikely that he’ll avoid wrestling or clinching with Usman for extended periods of time. ‘Gamebred’ almost always seems to get caught up in whatever fight his opponent wants to have, either by acceding to pressure or working to implement his own wrestling and ground game. I just don’t see Masvidal playing the matador for multiple rounds. Kamaru Usman by decision.
Staff picking Usman: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Masvidal:
Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas
Anton Tabuena: Rose normally overcomes disadvantages in strength and physicality by having clear advantages elsewhere — whether it’s with her grappling, or being the harder and more accurate hitter (in Joanna’s case), or the much more fluid striker from range (in Andrade’s case). I don’t think she can bank on any of that against Weili, who can not only match her technical ability, but will also be the far better athlete, with speed, strength and power advantages to boot. I just think Namajunas will be completely outgunned here. Weili Zhang by TKO.
Mookie Alexander: This is the real main event to me. Namajunas really has vastly improved her striking to something so fluid and we know her grappling is always a danger. That Zhang was so hittable in the Joanna fight and getting by defensively through sheer toughness may not work out against Rose, but if she is just too tough to put away then I think in a striking-heavy matchup we may see Rose wilt a bit through Zhang’s volume, pace, and power. That third round against Andrade in the rematch was pretty discouraging to me because it looked like the body work was really wearing her down. I don’t know if Zhang will replicate that level of body attack but my read on this is that Namajunas gets the early rounds but Zhang pours it on late for the victory. I would not be surprised if Zhang risked taking this to the ground because she absolutely can take Namajunas down if she wants to, but Rose’s sub game makes that idea not super appealing. Zhang Weili by TKO, round 5.
David Castillo: I want to pick Zhang. I really do. She has the potential to win big as well. Even though Rose has encountered similar matchups, she’s never faced off against someone with an equal balance of speed and power in the pocket. Nonetheless, I just see her movement as too fluid for Zhang to simply pick her legs apart from distance, and settle into violent exchanges in close. Rose uses too much north/south, east/west movement to get caught in the kind of blitz Zhang will need to catch Rose. That fluidity and grace is something Zhang has yet to deal with. Rose Namajunas by Decision.
Zane Simon: This fight is likely going to be a hell of a scrap, with both women having big opportunities to pull off the win. Between the two, Zhang feels like the much more predictable fighter, mostly in that whatever is going on in the bout, you know she’s going to be throwing a LOT of volume, most of it directed at the head and the legs. She steps into the pocket with pretty simple 1-2s looking to clinch behind them, and almost always counters with a 2 or 3 punch combo and a low kick off of her opponent’s offense. Rose being the slicker, more creative tactician should be able to find opportunities, especially early, to land big shots. But, the problem lies in dissuading Zhang. Because if Rose can’t stop her from throwing, she will absolutely fill the fight with offense. Given that Zhang seems to have a lot more pop in her hands than Joanna Jedrzejczyk, I just get the feeling that if this becomes an output war, Zhang will be more likely to dissuade Rose from trading than Rose will be to dissuade Zhang. Could result in a late TKO. Or a narrow decision turning on a close 3rd round with Rose winning the first two and Zhang the last two. I’ll take Weili Zhang via TKO, round 4.
Staff picking Zhang: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Namajunas: Phil, David, Dayne
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
Anton Tabuena: After seeing what Namajunas could do against Andrade, you can’t convince me that Shevchenko wouldn’t put on an absolute clinic here. I’m just glad Andrade isn’t the type that can make a fight boring, so this will be fun to watch however long it lasts. Valentina Shevchenko by wide decision.
Mookie Alexander: I would not be surprised if Andrade made this by far the most competitive fight of Shevchenko’s flyweight career. Jessica would be wise to invest in the body and hope that can slow Shevchenko down. She’s always willing to pressure and we may see her go for takedowns against the champ. On the flip side, Andrade still remains not difficult to hit and even though Shevchenko’s fights can range from spectacular to dull at any given moment, she is such a sharp counterfighter that I can see Andrade having considerable success before getting whacked with a high kick and badly hurt. Should be a fun one and for once it’s a Shevchenko title defense with intrigue. Valentina Shevchenko by unanimous decision.
David Castillo: It’d be easy to write off Andrade given her general approach to striking against the surgical method of Shevchenko. But I think the rematch against Rose was a great display of Andrade recognizing her strengths, but also respecting the limits of those strengths. Sure, Shevchenko has more strengths than Rose, but I also think Namajunas’ style is better setup to keep a typical Andrade attack at bay. Shevchenko may be able to sit back, but if she’s counterstriking, and mixing those strikes with takedowns, it may actually benefit Andrade in keeping Shevchenko at range in its own weird, paradoxical way. Plus, the MMA gods seem sick of dominant champions. The scalpel may be better than the broadsword in certain cases, but this is the head’s up matchup. I like the broadsword. Jessica Andrade by Decision.
Zane Simon: I can see the path to victory for Andrade, one that comes through constant volume standing, and maybe a couple big, surprise takedowns that lock up an extra round or two for her. But, I’m just not that convinced that she has the defense to pull off a style that will largely revolve around pressing Shevchenko to generate her own offense or lose. Andrade has always been a very willing pursuing fighter, even to her own detriment. And while she’ll claim that she doesn’t feel the strikes she gets hit with, it’s not like we haven’t seen those strikes hurt her badly before. At some point, I just think she’s going to walk onto a huge counter shot that gets her badly rocked. Valentina Shevchenko via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Shevchenko: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Andrade: David
Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall
Anton Tabuena: Hall still hits hard. Uriah Hall by KO.
Mookie Alexander: Weidman may look really good for a round or maybe even two but he really looked exhausted against Omari Akhmedov and his chin is forever shot to pieces. I would not have given this fight second thought five years ago but now… Uriah Hall by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Was really just going to pick Weidman because he walloped Hall once and a functional Weidman is basically a style nightmare for Hall... but thinking about it, is Weidman really that much better than Shoeface nowadays? Shockingly I might have to go with the consensus here. Uriah Hall by TKO, round 1
David Castillo: Weidman is still fighting?! Even now, I think this is a stylistic nightmare for Hall. I could even see this fight signaling an Arlovski-esque rise from the ashes for Weidman. Unfortunately, unlike Arlovski, Weidman wasn’t prompted or inspired by being in a cool movie like Universal Soldier. Plus, he’s a cracked shell of his former self. Even his movements look interrupted by the wars he’s been in. Uriah Hall by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: I’m not too sold on Hall getting the immediate KO, since most opponents that want to take him down tend to get him to the mat. Assuming Weidman starts with a determined wrestling game, he’ll probably have good success to start. But, whether it’s cardio issues, or anxiety over potential durability issues or some other problem, Weidman just doesn’t seem to be able to maintain his offense without getting very tired these days. And Hall, to his credit, has seemed a much more determined and resilient version of the very dangerous fighter he’s always been. If Hall can survive the early onslaught, he’ll likely create some real chaos later on. Uriah Hall via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Weidman:
Staff picking Hall: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute
Mookie Alexander: Crute can crack and he’s got the skills to submit Smith. I suspect Smith has a round to win this or else he’s going to succumb to Crute’s aggression and wear him down until he taps him out. Jimmy Crute by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Tricky call. Crute hasn’t exactly been invulnerable to just getting crushed by pure finishing potential in the first round, but Smith has just not been looking good lately. I think his win over Oezdemir is honestly a high point for him taking out a relatively prime, skilled light heavyweight, and it’s probably downhill from here. Crute isn’t marvellous anywhere (sorry Herr Wagner) but he’s consistently tough, aggressive, and physical. Jimmy Crute by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I really want to push Anthony Smith for the win here. He’s got the power standing and the technique on the mat to take out just about anyone given the right conflagration of circumstances. But Crute couldn’t be better nicknamed. He’s just a physical force. Hard to control, hard to stop. Misha circunov had to pull a proverbial rabbit out of his hat to do it. And fellow quality grappler Paul Craig had a lot of trouble controlling him on the floor. Crute’s wrestling isn’t great, so if Smith does shoot in on him, he’ll very likely get him down. But, I just don’t see Crute getting caught in a bad position the way Clark did. And if that doesn’t happen, he seems tireless and fearless in a way that will only punish Smith more and more if he doesn’t turn his opportunities into a finish. Jim Crute via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Smith: Anton
Staff picking Crute: Mookie, Stephie, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Alex Oliveira vs. Randy Brown
Mookie Alexander: Too many wars for Brazilian Cowboy, methinks. Oliveira has some brutal kicks and may have the edge in takedowns and grappling but I can easily see him getting tired quickly or getting picked off at range by Brown’s jab. Randy Brown by TKO, round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: I do like Randy Brown, but too many times people have been able to solve him with either low kicks or takedowns, and while Oliveira isn’t a great technical wrestler he’s a powerful and willing one. On the other hand, Randy hits hard and Oliveira seems to need a significant violence edge to be successful. Another tough one but I think I’ll pick Cowboy for the wrestling. Cowboy Oliveira by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: This is likely going to be a very strange fight. Oliveira tends to bank on having a big range power striking advantage over opponents to really be comfortable in his fights. Something he absolutely won’t have against Randy Brown. That said, Brown’s grappling and wrestling games are all about whether he has the initiative in terms of their functionality. If he’s able to control takedowns, he can be a solid wrestler. If he’s not, then he can get lit up on the mat, even while he still has a dangerous guard. All that said, I’m just not sold on Oliveira’s ability to beat a big, dangerous fighter, if Brown can show the resilience to push him for multiple rounds. I especially think Brown’s underrated clinch striking game could play big for him here if he can find some offense there as Oliveira works to turn the clinch into takedowns. Randy Brown by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Oliveira: Anton, Phil, David
Staff picking Brown: Mookie, Stephie, Dayne, Zane
Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic
Mookie Alexander: Grant’s borderline obsession with winging big shots will never yield consistent results out of him, but I think it’ll be enough to beat Sekulic, who hasn’t fought in almost three years. Dwight Grant by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Two fighters who have somewhat incomplete MMA games, both who seemingly got by on the regionals with their size and physicality. Only, in the UFC, Grant still has the feeling of a great physical talent, and Sekulic seems much more like he’s going to be forced to be more technical or struggle hard to find much in the way of victories at this level. There are a couple ways that Grant could take himself out of the fight, either by brawling wildly or staying way out on the back foot and making the bout a slog, but even in those, I just think he has too much power for Sekulic’s questionable defensive reactions. Dwight Grant via TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Grant: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Sekulic:
Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen
Mookie Alexander: Allen is not a great offensive wrestler and his striking defense got torn apart by Sean Strickland. Roberson has the edge on the feet but he’s also been too much of a willing grappler for me to not believe this hits the mat at some point and he ends up tapping. Brendan Allen by submission, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I find it really hard to believe in Brendan Allen for some reason, he’s a grappler without much of a (Kevin Holland aside) takedown game. Roberson can’t stop grappling with people, but I think he also has enough of an edge on the feet that he should be able to at least dictate the starts of the ground exchanges enough to get a decision. Karl Roberson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: One of those fights where the recipe for victory should be firmly in both men’s hands, but the actual tendency to stay on that path is much more difficult. If Roberson just maintains range on Allen, he should be able to crack him with power shots over and over again. But, when pressured (or just when he feels like changing it up) Roberson really likes to hit takedowns and put opponents on the mat. For Allen, he’s an active and willing striker who seems like he could easily just choose to trade with Roberson standing, but his ace up his sleeve is a fantastic aggressive ground game. Getting there can be a challenge, though, since Allen isn’t the most technical wrestler out there. Still, I think Allen’s aggression will bait Roberson into shooting on him. And from there, Roberson could find himself in danger fast. Brendan Allen via submission, round 1.
Staff picking Roberson: Phil
Staff picking Allen: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, David, Dayne, Zane
Pat Sabatini vs. Tristan Connelly
Zane Simon: Even if it weren’t for the neck injury, I feel like I’m going to be hedging against Connelly for every fight of his UFC run. Dude just does not have the look or style of a high level athlete. Could he pull out more wins via raw wildman energy and crazy determination? Sure, but I’m not going to bank on that against an opponent who just seems faster, more powerful, and more technical everywhere. And that’s going to be a lot of the guys he faces at this level. Pat Sabatini via decision.
Staff picking Sabatini: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, David, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Connelly:
Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad
Zane Simon: Danaa loves to draw opponents onto hard counter punches and Natividad loves to sit in the pocket and create extended exchanges. Seems like a great setup for Danaa and a bad stylistic matchup for Natividad. Danaa Batgerel via TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Batgerel: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Staff picking Natividad:
Kazula Vargas vs. Rong Zhu
Zane Simon: Vargas can make this a terribly close fight if he leans on his wrestling and keeps his pressure up. Rong is a slicker puncher, but seems like he loses track of his defense when backing up pretty consistently and isn’t the best takedown defender. That said, it feels like Vargas just has a very predictable approach. And while it’s not against all the world’s best competition, I trust that Rong getting lots and lots of cage time at a very young age is going to continue building meaningful technical improvements on his way to his UFC career. Probably should be a 50/50 fight, but Rong Zhu by decision.
Staff picking Vargas:
Staff picking Zhu: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
Qileng Aori vs. Jeffrey Molina
Zane Simon: Not at all convinced that Molina as the athleticism or the controlling style to really hang in the UFC’s flyweight division. Aoriqileng may be a bit of a wild brawler, but I feel like that’ll serve him better against an opponent who will probably let him spend a lot of time striking. Aoriqileng via decision.
Staff picking Aori: Mookie, Anton, Zane
Staff picking Molina: Stephie, Phil, David, Dayne
Ni Liang vs. Ariane Carnelossi
Zane Simon: Ni seems way too willing to pull guard and work off her back. Feels like a bad idea against a physical powerhouse like Carnelossi. Ariane Carnelossi via decision.
Staff picking Liang: Anton
Staff packing Carnelossi: Mookie, Stephie, Phil, David, Dayne, Zane
How many champions at UFC 261 will retain their titles?
This poll is closed
All of them
Two (Usman, Zhang)
Two (Usman, Shevchenko)
Two (Zhang, Shevchenko)