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Nisar Khan


Nisar is the founder, lead writer and CEO of SportingMatrix. He covers all sports from football to UFC and the Olympics. Nisar first started writing on his personal blog back in 2012 and has continued to cover sports ever since. Nisar also hosts CATCHWEIGHT, a weekly podcast on the world of combat sports. You can find all of his posts below.




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UFC 261: Preview, Predictions

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Usman vs Masvidal 2 will headline a packed card in a sold-out arena in Florida

CBS Sports
Over a year removed from the last full house before COVID-19 ravaged the globe, the UFC will again lead the charge by welcoming backing a sold out arena of fans for a mouth-watering trio of title fights at UFC 261.

Headlining the event at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville will be a rematch between dominant welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, and accredited "BMF" Jorge Masvidal, after the former overwhelmed "Gamebred" for five rounds at the Fight Island in Abu Dhabi last summer.

Serving as chief support will be a strawweight title fight that has the makings of a classic. The last time we saw Zhang Weilli in the Octagon, she was one half of the greatest women's fight ever seen when herself and Joanna Jedrzejczyk went to war for five rounds, on a night that would ultimately be the UFC's last in front of fans for a long time - until UFC 261, when she will look to make a second defence of her crown against another former champion in Rose Namajunas.

Before that, the untouchable phenom that is Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko will attempt to see off the flyweight divisions newest challenger in Jessica Andrade, who may have just found a sweet spot in between 115 and 135 pounds. 

Also on tap will be a long anticipated showdown between two middleweights with plenty of history on the line, in addition to a big test for the up and coming Jimmy Crute as "Lionheart" Anthony Smith looks to play spoiler. 

Full camp "BMF" gets another shot at Usman

Less than one week before the UFC's Fight Island curtain raiser, disaster would strike as number one contender Gilbert Burns contracted COVID-19, ruling him out of a marquee title fight with former teammate Kamaru Usman. Living up to his "BMF" delegation, Jorge Masvidal would fly over to Abu Dhabi on 6 days notice and go the distance with the champion.

In a largely uninspiring contest, Masvidal tried to pack heat in his combinations but soon wilted under the relentless pace of the champion, who controlled most of the fight against the fence including an infamous scattering of foot stomps throughout the bout. The owner of the quickest knockout in UFC history certainly had fuel to build on however, having stuffed 11 of the Nigerian's 16 total takedown attempts.

The manner in which Masvidal was comprehensively beaten offered little logical sense for an immediate rematch in a division that has names like Colby Covington and Leon Edwards jockeying for a title shot. With that being said, Masvidal was able to bail the UFC out of disaster by stepping in on short notice and will now be repaid as the company give him another shot, this time with a full camp.

The lack of preparation for "Gamebred" in Abu Dhabi was well-documented, but the matchup itself for him should have been no surprise. By that point it was already becoming clear that the winner of Usman vs Burns would be in line for a showdown with the Miami native, and while Masvidal was able to deny some takedown attempts, he remained controlled and dictated by Usman for the most part - a lack of conditioning can only excuse so much.

It's one thing being primed for a five round prize fight, but another conversation entirely to do so for five rounds with "The Nigerian Nightmare", Kamaru Usman. Whether or not Masvidal can keep the pace with the champion will be a definitive factor, as will be the decision-making of his opponent who has exhibited some of the toughest mental fortitude in the UFC.

Under coach Trevor Wittman, Usman has evolved further and his striking has grown by leaps and bounds, as was the case in his last outing when he dropped Gilbert Burns with a jab to defend the welterweight crown. That was however a fight in which he got dropped early in the first round, and despite the incredible rally after that, he isn't immortal. Factor that in with the quick turnaround and Masvidal may get his chance.

With some of the best striking in the UFC, Masvidal will still take an advantage on the feet into the cage and it depends on Usman, who has all the power and abilities to control where the fight goes, to determine just how much we see of it. Building up to the fight Usman has made it clear he wants to finish, not just defeat, Masvidal. If he falls in love with the striking - an element of the game in which is not his strongest - he may fall into a trap that so many “invincible” champions before him have. You can't discredit the crowd either - if Usman plays it safe, over 15,000 fans will be letting him know exactly what they think. This won't be as straightforward as it seems for the champion to vanquish a recent foe.

It's been a wild year so far in the UFC, so that sways my prediction with all the factors to a shock upset of a Masvidal TKO. I have played it safe with my predictions many times before, but not for UFC 261's main event. I can see Usman getting too comfortable in the striking range before Masvidal reminds him that he has the advantage in that department and puts the lights out. Prediction: Jorge Masvidal via third-round TKO.

Zhang aims to dispatch another former champion in stylistic barnburner 

It's been more than a year since we saw women's strawweight champion Zhang Weilli in the Octagon, and what a night that was. She went to war with former long-time champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the 2020 Fight of the Year, and now has another stern test in front of her.

Rose Namajunas has been champion before, and she now has a chance to taste gold again in a fight that stylistically has the makings of a classic, with a bit of political fuel added into the mix.

Namajunas, of Lithuanian descent, raised eyebrows with her "better dead than red" comments towards the Chinese-born champion, taking an apparent knock at the Communist country and saying she is using it as added motivation for the win.

Thankfully, nothing untoward has unfolded since then, and both fighters appear to have plenty of respect for one another. That will be until the cage door closes on Saturday night and we see what they are made of.

Namajunas' striking at range is one of her best assets and had it not been for being dumped on her head by Jessica Andrade at UFC 237, she probably would be defending the belt against Zhang instead. Her ability to float in and out with a two-inch reach advantage will surely present the champion some problems, but with plenty of power, fast combinations and underrated mat skills, it won't be a simple bull vs matador type affair. 

There should be fireworks on the feet but expect either woman to also test themselves when it goes to the ground, which could be equally, if not more, compelling. This is truly a superb matchup.

In my pick for fight of the night, I can see Zhang having success on the feet but Namajunas' grappling may play a factor. That's why in the late rounds I am leaning towards a Namajunas submission. Prediction: Rose Namajunas def. Zhang Weilli via fourth-round submission.

"Bullet" Shevchenko sets sights on new contender

In the first of three title fights on the night, the flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko will welcome perhaps her toughest challenge to date not named Amanda Nunes. Jessica Andrade made a huge splash in her divisional debut last year, and now presents an extremely intriguing challenge for the Kyrgyzstan sensation.

Barring a couple of fights with women's pound-for-pound GOAT Amanda Nunes, the latter in which many believe she won, Shevchenko has been untouchable. With decades of muay-thai experience and an evolving grappling game she has developed into one of the most ferocious champions on the roster. In terms of technical skill, she may be the very best in the women's game.

Jessica Andrade, meanwhile, has done it all. Initially campaigning at bantamweight before the inception of the strawweight division, Andrade realised UFC gold when she dumped Rose Namajunas on her head in front of a home crowd in Brazil. It would be short lived when she was blown away in China by Zhang Weilli, and after Namajunas got her revenge on Fight Island, the Brazilian moved to pastures new: 125 pounds. The middle ground between her two former workplaces, Andrade made quick work of recent title challenger Katlyn Chookagian, landing a debilitating body shot in the final seconds of the first round to force a finish. A statement like that against the number one contender can only mean one thing: the champion is next. 

That wish is granted at UFC 261 where Andrade will definitely look to test the wrestling of Shevchenko. Andrade may struggle to close the range against such lethal striking from her opponent, so will need to take this to the mat to improve her chances. In my opinion, she won't have enough time to do that, and Shevchenko will piece her up as they go the distance. Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko via unanimous decision.

Rest of the card

Elsewhere on the main card, Uriah Hall and Chris Weidman will finally run it back after more than a decade of waiting. The former middleweight champion stopped "Primetime" in a one round when they met in New Jersey, but what a journey it has been since then.

Chris Weidman ascended to the mountaintop, defeating the legendary Anderson Silva twice, before seeing off Brazilian legends Belfort and Machida in thrilling fights. His world came crashing down at the hands of Luke Rockhold, and he hasn't been the same since. With devastating stoppage defeats to Romero, Mousasi, Jacare and Reyes, Weidman has struggled to reach the upper echelon since, with wins only against Kelvin Gastelum and more recently a three round win over Omari Akhmedov. Preventing Uriah Hall from putting together the longest win streak of his UFC career will go ways in amending that, but it appears that the TUF finalist is the one in the driver's seat. Weidman has a lot of years on the clock and unfortunately this might just be it. Hall is beginning to find his groove, and while it may not be enough to take him to the title, it should be enough to get past the former champion. Prediction: Uriah Hall via second-round TKO.

Opening the PPV will be the Australian prospect Jimmy Crute, looking to make a name for himself over former title challenger and still extremely talented Anthony Smith. Mentality issues have been a thorn in the backside for "Lionheart" who showed he is still a force to be reckoned with seeing off Devin Clark with a first round submission late last year. If Crute isn't up to his level, Smith will show it, and that's exactly what I think he will do. Prediction: Anthony Smith via unaninmous decision.



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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport: UFC 261: Preview, Predictions
UFC 261: Preview, Predictions
UFC 261: Usman vs Masvidal 2 preview and predictions
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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport
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