“Insight the Octagon” lost another best bet on last week’s UFC slate as Drakkar Klose was forced out of his bout with Jeremy Stephens because of an injury he suffered when Stephens shoved him during their weigh-in faceoff. Stephens was a fan/betting favorite going into that fight.
I regarded the shove then as I do now as a tell for the pressure/desperation on Stephens was heavy. He knew full well his sole path to victory was to lure Klose into a toe-to-toe and knock him out early or face getting dominated should Klose show up and fight the patient, intelligent fight.
Word is this bout will be rescheduled quickly.
So we march forward into this week’s UFC 261 production featuring three five-round title bouts. Three title bouts are impressive until a handicap of the one-sided main event mandates that the two other championship fights are added to supplement the mismatch.
KAMARU USMAN -385 VS. JORGE MASVIDAL + 315
Welterweight (170 pounds) Championship
These two first fought each other in July of 2020. All we heard about — and are still hearing about — is how little training time Masvidal had.
What bothers me about that line of thought is this: Usman was scheduled for and had prepared for months to battle former teammate Gilbert Burns when Masvidal was announced as the replacement six or seven days before the bout.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's a short-notice fight for both parties!
Sure, Usman was in camp for weeks preparing for another fighter, but make no mistake about the fact that of any fighter on the UFC roster, Masvidal is the prototypical lifelong professional fighter…. whether a fight takes place in the street, octagon, ring or parking lot, the guy never turns down the opportunity to battle, never.
Further, Masvidal since grade school has been training daily in MMA and is always in shape to fight. I wrote after this bout was announced that Masvidal had been preparing for his own fight against Usman until the UFC would not give him the dollars he demanded.
Masvidal, currently ranked fourth in the division, continued to go to the gym and train with teammates even after Burns was announced as Usman’s opponent. So the position that Masvidal will benefit from more training time for this bout is a ruse for Masvidal to be paid, pure and simple.
Fight-wise, these cats spent 25 minutes together and they’re aware of what the other brings. Usman holds physical advantages in height, youth and both arm/leg reach besides being the much larger, stronger man.
Usman is a world-class wrestler just as the other all-time great welterweight G.O.A.T. Georges St-Pierre was. Both sit atop the pinnacle of welterweight greatness in the UFC, and it’s because of the foundational wrestling base coupled with the other diverse weaponry each man possesses/possessed.
Usman’s striking improves by the day, and his affiliation with Trevor Wittman and the professionals at Elevation Fight Team have only enhanced Usman’s ability to compete as a completely equipped mixed martial artist who is dangerous anywhere the fight goes.
Masvidal is a world-class fighter and has been his whole life. However, after gaining recent riches, he has begun to sip champagne, wear Gucci robes and travel first class, which are tells of longevity for some professions but surely not for anyone involved in championship-level mixed martial arts.
Masvidal is about the brand/money now, not the fighting. He has used the years sweating and grinding to propel himself financially, and that’s a great story.
The fact remains, however, that Masvidal is undersized for this weight class even though he has “smoke-and-mirrored” his way into this second payday. His sole path to victory Saturday is to surprise Usman with something unusual or to catch Usman with some gimmick strike.
This fight will look exactly like the first bout with the sole difference being that Masvidal, with his mouth and manner, has now pissed off Usman, thus providing him more focus.
The result of Masvidal conning the MMA community and grabbing those Benjamins will provide him some more champagne money, but it will also cost him a thorough beating. He knows it, Usman knows it and now readers are aware.
Usman’s purpose is to completely dominate Masvidal, and that’s exactly what I believe we’ll witness.
After this bout, Masvidal will have to chase other unranked and washed-up fighters in the organization (Nate Diaz, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley) for paydays, but he’ll have that brand substantiated and South Florida believing in his ruse.
Saturday Masvidal will be thoroughly paid, but he’ll also be thoroughly exposed in front of all his peeps in that Florida venue.
Total for this bout: 4.5 rounds Over -180
ZHANG WEILI -190 VS. ROSE NAMAJUNAS + 165
Women’s Strawweight (115 pounds) Championship
Angelo Dundee would always say that “styles make fights,” and this bout is heavy on varying styles.
Both of these athletes are world-class competitors.
Namajunas is deserving of her No. 1 ranking in the division and in this bout, she’ll hold advantages in youth, height and arm/leg reach over the champion. In stand-up battles, these metrics provide a substantial advantage.
Besides many physical advantages, Namajunas’ experience will manifest itself with her athleticism in deft footwork, which will be the basis for how she applies those physical advantages against her opponent.
Namajunas’ movement is more fluid than Zhang's and in this bout, she’ll absolutely have to command the octagon and keep the Chinese champion from earning inside position, where Zhang’s power can change any fight.
Zhang, who has won her last 20 professional fights, has pulverized refined strikers like Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and she’s dominated strong, aggressive grapplers like Jessica Andrade, so the belief is that she’s well-rounded, even though the division’s elite have not seen her compete from the floor much.
In this fight Zhang faces Namajunas, though, and she’s a more refined striker than Jedrzejczyk! She’s also quite formidable on the mat, as was Andrade. Namajunas’ complete skill set makes for a very challenging affair for Zhang.
As this fight unfolds, I’ll be interested to see how Namajunas’ conditioning, movement and all-around fighting skill will affect the less refined, more powerful Zhang.
I’m also vexed over how Zhang’s unrelenting forward pressure power striking will affect Namajunas mentally once this bout gets into double-digit minutes. If I have reservations choosing Namajunas in this fight it’s because when this bout gets dirty, grimy and bloody, I know Zhang will continue to forge forward, while I have doubts about Namajunas’ mental durability in the absolute heat of a fight with Zhang.
How does Namajunas handle this pressure and how will Zhang deal with the IQ, movement, experience and diverse fight arsenal of Namajunas?
Zhang -190 (leg 1 best bet)
Total for this bout: 4.5 rounds Over -140
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO -420 VS. JESSICA ANDRADE + 340
Women’s Flyweight (125 pounds) Championship
While Amanda Nunes gets all the call for being one of the greatest female UFC athletes in the UFC, I believe she has very little over Shevchenko when each fighter’s total body of work is scrutinized.
Shevchenko is simply a Russian fighting machine. Born and bred to battle, she has all the tools, focus and drive to be as gifted a fighter in the UFC as there is. She is dominant at every level of mixed martial arts and at 33, she shows little sign of being defeated by anyone in the 125-pound weight class.
Andrade, the No.1-ranked challenger, is the younger combatant, but she’s giving up height and reach to the southpaw champion.
Andrade must work to gain inside position on Shevchenko in order to soften her up with power shots, which will both slow the champion and allow Andrade to more easily engage with her. Andrade surely wants to manage Shevchenko down to the mat where she believes she has the advantage and then rain elbows and fists upon the champion.
Shevchenko has every skill on the mat that Andrade has, so if this fight goes to the floor, Shevchenko will be aggressive and willing.
Ideally, however, Shevchenko must use her size, length and reach to maintain distance from the charging Andrade, employing footwork to effectively counterstrike the Brazilian as she bulls her way inside to engage. Shevchenko’s knees/legs become important tools as she attempts to use angles in order to put her shin on Andrade’s chin.
This is a fight in which Shevchenko could well finish Andrade.
Total for this bout 4.5 rounds Over -110
CHRIS WEIDMAN -120 VS. URIAH HALL + ???
Middleweight (185 pounds)
These two battled in 2010 when each fighter was as green as a cucumber. Weidman, a known wrestler, knocked out Hall, a lethal striker, in the first round. Hall has been upset about the defeat since.
Weidman knocking out Hall then is ironic because Weidman’s striking is only average now. Then, it was undeveloped and unrefined, making the result more surprising. Then and now Weidman’s wrestling is top of the food chain, not to mention top of the division, so it will be his single point of focus to eliminate Hall’s distance and take this fight to the floor.
Hall’s a dangerous power striker who has struggled with consistency in his fights. As I handicap it, Hall’s past difficulties lied with a lack of mental toughness and grit going into certain bouts.
Since training at Fortis MMA in Texas, however, Hall has found focus, flash, explosion and, most importantly, real inner confidence. He’ll look to keep this fight standing to try to wallop Weidman with arm and leg strikes in order to gain revenge on the former champion.
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -110
BRENDAN ALLEN -140 VS. KARL ROBERSON + 120
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Unranked middleweights get it on in a bout that will be decided by where it takes place.
Should the striker Roberson be able to keep this upright, he’ll hold the advantage over a deft grappler in Allen, who is a moderately successful striker with less-than-effective strike defense in that he blocks strikes with his face.
However, should Allen be able to press inside, force Roberson against the fence, then onto the floor, the advantage immediately transfers to Allen, who will be aggressive in his attempt to choke Roberson unresponsive.
Best Bet: Zhang -190/Allen -140 parlay pays: + 1.62 units
Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -130
I’ll have more as the week wears on, fight fans.