Betting Guide for UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2

After a string of underwhelming cards from a name value standpoint, we've got a big one coming up this weekend in the UFC.

UFC 261 doesn't need me to hype it up too much because we have three title fights headlining the card.

Are those the best bets to focus on, or are fights on the undercard better? Let's dig in.

All odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook, and all stats are from UFCStats unless otherwise noted.

Kamaru Usman (-390) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+310)

This welterweight title fight is tied for the most lopsided of the evening with Valentina Shevchenko also a -390 favorite over Jéssica Andrade for the women's flyweight title bout.

Kamaru Usman (18-1-0) defeated Jorge Masvidal (35-14-0) by unanimous decision at UFC 251 in July -- with no media scorers giving Masvidal anything more than one round of the five.

In that bout, Usman landed 62% of his significant strikes (94 of 151), compared to 52% for Masvidal (66 of 125).

Usman also secured 5 takedowns on 16 attempts and had control for 16:38. That's something Usman could do again: his 3.22 takedowns per 15 minutes ranks third highest on this card. That's pretty key here.

Of the 14 losses Masvidal has obtained in his career, 11 were by decision -- with just 1 by knockout and 2 by submission. Usman has 9 decision victories and 8 knockout victories (1 submission) in his 18 wins. That's a big reason why 75% of more than 2200 fight predictions is on Usman to win by points, via Tapology.

Usman is 78.5% likely to win this fight, per my model, which is right in line with the -390 odds, so instead, we can get some relief with Usman by points at -120 if we're inclined to do so.

Zhang Weili (-210) vs. Rose Namajunas (+176)

Behind only Usman and Shevchenko sits Zhang Weili in my win model's projected odds. The model projects her to be 69.2% likely to defend the title for a second consecutive fight, which gives her a smidgeon of positive value at the -210 moneyline odds on FanDuel Sportsbook.

Zhang lost her first professional fight but has since gone 21-0-0, including a 5-0-0 record in the UFC with 3 decisions and 2 first-round stoppages. Rose Namajunas is 7-2-0 in the Octagon.

What's interesting is that they've had common opponents in recent fights.

Namajunas beat Joanna Jędrzejczyk twice since November 2017 (once by a first-round stoppage to win the UFC women's strawweight title and once by unanimous decision to defend the title).

Zhang's most recent fight was last march against Jędrzejczyk, a split-decision win at UFC 248.

Zhang, though, stopped Jéssica Andrade after 42 seconds in August of 2019; Andrade beat Namajunas at UFC 237 in May 2019, and then Namajunas avenged that loss with a split-decision win at UFC 251 in July 2020 (though the media scored it in Namajunas' favor).

As for the on-paper matchup, the striking advantage belongs to Zhang, who averages 6.38 significant strikes per minute compared to Namajunas' 4.13, and she lands at a higher clip as well (45% to 40%).

Namajunas' edge is in the takedown game (1.91 takedowns per 15 minutes compared to 1.26 for Zhang). Zhang has stuffed every takedown attempt against her at the UFC level, but that is just three in total.

Zhang is a steady favorite at -210, and as mentioned already, there's value on her betting odds if the model is correct at 69.2%.

With Zhang's 10 knockouts in 21 wins, we could seek a bigger payout by taking Zhang by KO/TKO at +260.

Rong Zhu (-270) vs. Kazula Vargas (+220)

I'm bumping down to the early prelims for this one just because I'm looking for the best value spots rather than chasing all main card fights.

Rong Zhu (17-3-0) is another big favorite over Rodrigo "Kazula" Vargas (11-4-0). I typically shy away from fighters without UFC history, which applies to Rong here, but his knockout potential is pretty grand. He has 11 knockout victories in 20 career fights as well as 4 submission victories -- leaving just a single decision win. His three losses all came from submissions.

Vargas does have three submission wins and seven knockouts, as well, with just a single decision.

This one just may not get that far is what I'm getting at.

Now, Vargas' first UFC fight did go the distance (a unanimous decision loss to Alex Da Silva in which Da Silva landed 3 of 4 takedowns to total 12:01 of control -- out of 15:00). That won't likely come into play against Rong, given the knockout potential.

Plus, Vargas, in the first round, landed an illegal knee against Brok Weaver in his next UFC fight, so his UFC history isn't that much more expansive than Rong's.

Either way, liking this fight to end early by KO/TKO is pretty enticing, and that is available at +110. Straight up, my model does prefer Rong pretty heavily (considering him 67.1% likely to win outright).

So looking for Rong to win by KO/TKO is also in play at +170. In total, Rong is getting 88% of the win predictions, via Tapology, and of those, 72% are to win by KO/TKO.