UFC 261: Preview & Predictions Usman vs Masvidal
By Cathal Geeney
Kamaru Usman will rematch Jorge Masvidal in the final title fight tonight’s UFC 261 title-tripleheader PPV.
For some, Masvidal is undeserving of this immediate rematch given that he was comprehensively defeated across all judges’ scorecards when they last met (50-45, 50-45, 50-46). Yet Gamebred has been keen to remind armchair critics that the short notice nature of their last meeting (Jorge took the fight on 6 days’ notice) was worthy of an immediate rematch.
I predicted that Usman would rely on his wrestling credentials to dominate their last meeting, and ultimately this was the case. Usman landed five out of sixteen takedown attempts and managed to control the fight.
The strength of Usman in the clinch was also a decisive factor. This pressure was too much, and Jorge was constantly on the backfoot. Despite controlling the terms of engagement, Usman did not inflict a great deal of damage from this position, often relying on foot stomps to maintain activity.
The current UFC welterweight champion has been working on his striking in recent years and has shown marked improvement in this area. He has worked on perfecting those long, straight punches and had plenty of success here when he finished Gilbert Burns back in February. The Nigerian Nightmare is not the most exciting striker, but he is becoming increasingly effective.
Immediately after their last meeting, Masvidal blamed the short notice of their fight and requested to run it back. In fairness to Masvidal, the late call up and subsequent travel to the Middle East did seem to impact his cardio as the fight progressed. There will be no such excuses afforded to him this time around and the challenger will need to enter the octagon ready to push the pace.
If Masvidal is to be victorious in Jacksonville, he will almost certainly need to do so standing. The BMF titleholder is light on his feet, has fast hands and can switch stances fluidly. Masvidal does not hesitate to get involved in a brawl or fire off kicks to the head and body. However, the threat of an Usman takedown may make Masvidal think twice before getting too reckless.
In terms of grappling defence, Masvidal had some joy last time around. He has a good sprawl and showed an urgency to get back to his feet when he was taken down. Another key factor here is that Gamebred has shared the octagon for twenty-five minutes with Usman and his team will now be very much aware of where he needs to improve.
I confidently picked Usman when these two met last, and I can’t look past him again. Some have suggested that Usman may become overconfident in his striking due to his recent success, with two knockout victories in his last three outings. But I think Usman and his team are too clever to get sucked into a striking battle and will rely on his grappling to get another victory.
With that being said, Masvidal did surprise me with certain aspects of his last performance and if he can improve further, this could be competitive. He also possesses knockout power which could turn the fight on its head at any moment. But if the American Top Team fighter does not come with a solution to the clinch of the champion, this will likely be another long night for Jorge Masvidal.