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5 Things To Watch Out For From UFC 261

Will a full training camp be enough for Jorge Masvidal to stop the relentless wrestling of Kamaru Usman?

A return to normalcy?

For the first time in over twelve months, it appears the UFC will finally return in front of a capacity crowd in the United States.

After all, when Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman first met last summer, it was on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, an arrangement that proved to be hugely successful in terms of safety by enacting strict guidelines for fighters, and the occasional spectators, to abide by.

Of course, it is unlikely that this event will feature a return of such stringent restrictions, so it will be interesting to see if there will be any repercussions from holding a sporting event in front of a capacity crowd during a pandemic.

However, if the event proves to be a success in terms of health and safety, it may mark a permanent end to the crowd-less era of mixed martial arts that has just started to feel like normal.

Can Jorge Masvidal make the necessary adjustments to win UFC gold?

Jorge Masvidal enjoyed one of the greatest career renaissances in the history of the sport when he finished Darren Till, Ben Askren, and Nate Diaz in the space of fewer than twelve months to propel himself into legitimate superstardom back in 2019.

It almost appeared that Masvidal could go right to the top of the division with his momentum. That is until he faced defending champion Kamaru Usman on Fight Island back in July. Usman employed an undeniably effective, if perhaps slightly conservative, strategy of using his wrestling to tie up Masvidal and remove the challenger’s opportunity to land his devastating strikes.

To make the odds that Masvidal will exact his revenge even slimmer, it appears that training with famed striking coach Trevor Whittman has allowed him to become significantly more effective on the feet. One only has to look at how Usman completely neutralised Gilbert Burns on the feet in his previous outing to realise just how well-rounded the champion is becoming.

However, if anyone has the requisite experience through a lifetime of combat sports to make the adjustments and avoid the wrestling sequences this time around, it is Masvidal. 

The Venum Deal

One of the most distinctive visuals surrounding this event will be the new fight kits supplied by combat sports brand Venom. UFC 261 will mark the first time that the sportswear company’s burgeoning partnership with the UFC will be featured on a pay-per-view event.

And they couldn’t have picked a better event to get started with…

After all, when Reebok became the UFC’s first-ever official sportswear provider back in 2015, it is fair to say that the general reaction from both those inside and outside the sport was less-than-positive. However, there’s nothing like an incredible card to get fans back on side, and the UFC’s first event with Reebook, UFC 189, helped make the transition that little bit easier for fight fans. 

Unlike Reebok, Venom doesn’t have the air of mainstream legitimacy attached to its brand at large. However, given the company’s understanding of the combat sports market, we can only hope that the brand’s new fight kits can mark the start of a new era with regards to how the sport is presented.

Three title fights!

While much of the pre-event excitement understandably surrounds the rematch between Masvidal and Usman that is set to headline the event, it is worth taking some time to focus on the other title fights that the UFC have stacked the card with.

Weili Zhang versus Rose Namajunas looks set to be a fascinating fight for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship in the co-main event.

Zhang is coming off one of the most incredible fights of all time when she narrowly defeated former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk by way of a split decision in an all-out war back at UFC 248. Fellow former UFC title holder Namajunas meanwhile earned her way back into the title picture with an impressive win in a rematch with fellow UFC 261 competitor Jessica Andrade on Fight Island last summer.

UFC 261 will also see dominant UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko defend her belt against the aforementioned Andrade. Many have lamented the lack of real challengers for Shevchenko at 125lbs, but they would be foolish to count out the former UFC Strawweight Champion Andrade.

Could we see another night like UFC 217 where all three title fights result in new champions being crowned? Only time will tell…

Will Chris Weidman or Uriah Hall take the initiative, and cement themselves as real threats at 185lbs?

Due to the colossal main event, and two extra title fights, it appears that Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall’s clash on the main card of UFC 261 is falling under the radar somewhat.

This is a real shame, as each man is the perfect test for the other at this point in their careers. Hall is looking to push on after his impressive win over Anderson Silva last year, while Weidman is attempting to prove that he still has a place among the elite at 185lbs after snapping a two-fight skid with a win over Omari Akhmedov back in August.

To make things even more interesting, the two have actually competed against one another before. More than a decade ago, a young Weidman and Hall faced off in New Jersey-based promotion Ring of Combat with Weidman getting the win via first-round KO.

However, a lot can change in 11 years and it will be interesting to see if the two fighters’ intersecting histories have any effect on the rematch at UFC 261.

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