UFC 261 Updated Odds, Betting Predictions, Projections: Analysis for All 13 Fights

UFC 261 Updated Odds, Betting Predictions, Projections: Analysis for All 13 Fights article feature image
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Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal prepares to face Kamaru Usman.

  • UFC 261 rolls on Saturday night with three title fights in which the defending champs are big favorites to defend their crowns.
  • Those include Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal and Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade.
  • Sean Zerillo gives out his model projections and picks for each fight, and breaks down every fight with his analysis below.

The UFC returns to Florida on Saturday for the first time since May 2020 – when they hosted three cards over a seven-day span in Jacksonville.

UFC 261 features three title fights, including the men’s welterweight championship and both the women’s strawweight and women’s featherweight championships.

The most important thing to note for this card is the cage size. The Octagon at UFC APEX (25-foot diameter) in Las Vegas – which has seen a ton of action over the past year – is about 30% smaller in terms of square footage than a regular UFC Octagon (30-foot diameter), which they’ll deploy in Florida.

In the larger cage on Saturday, you can expect to see a finish rate closer to 40% (as opposed to 60% in the smaller cage) but based upon the listed odds for this card seven of the 13 fights (54%) are expected to end inside the distance. As a result, you might find value in betting distance and decision props in the larger Octagon.

If you are new to this piece, or this sport, note that in addition to moneylines and over/unders, there are numerous ways to bet on an MMA fight — including exact winning methods, winning round props, and whether or not the match will go to a decision or finish inside the distance.

As a result, after examining all of the betting options, your typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.

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UFC 261 Moneyline Projections

Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday’s 13 bouts. In the next section, you’ll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission.

Odds as of Saturday morning and via DraftKings.

UFC 261 Prop Projections 

In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission, enabling us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.

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UFC 261 Odds

Early Preliminary Card

  • ESPN2
  • 6 p.m. ET

Women’s Strawweight fight: Na Liang vs. Ariane Carnelossi

Odds
Na odds +140
Carnelossi odds -177
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -143 /+108

Crowdsourced Projections: Carnelossi (63%)

Carnelossi was competitive in her debut loss against Angela Hill, but she also closed as a -150 favorite in that spot, so I’m not sure how much credit you can actually give her in a losing effort.

Na is making her official UFC debut and is a bit of a one-trick pony. She barrels forward with every intention of taking her fights to the ground, where she starts to spam submission attempts.

Carnelossi barrels forward in a similar fashion with the intent to throw bombs at her opponents.

Old tape on Liang suggests that she isn’t the best wrestler, and is reliant on securing early finishes. However, in her early twenties, she might have made significant improvements over the past two years and owns significant advantages in both height (3-inch advantage) and reach (+6 inches).

Carnelossi might be the stronger fighter, but her takedown defense is a bit of a mystery. If Na takes her down early, this fight could be a wrap in a hurry. But if Carnelossi can keep the fight standing, she’s equally likely to secure a finish on the feet.

There is slight value both on Carnelossi by decision (projected +352, listed +375) and Liang by submission (projected +444, listed +450), but not quite enough value on either prop to force a play.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Flyweight fight: Aori Qileng vs. Jeff Molina

Odds
Qileng odds -110
Molina odds -110
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -250 / +180

Crowdsourced Projections: Molina (57%)

Molina is making his official debut after a win on contender series. Aori — who has an incredible nickname (“The Mongolian Murderer”) – is making his debut after racking up wins on the Chinese regional scene.

As the first fight on the card, there isn’t a lot of recent tape on Aori – but like Liang, he also appears to be one-dimensional, with a style befitting his nickname.

Unfortunately, while hunting for finishes with big power shots Aori leaves major openings on the defensive end, and Molina should be able to rack up the volume and counter his opponent into oblivion.

Molina likely also has a path to victory on the mat – even though keeping Flyweights on their back is a difficult task. He comes from Glory MMA and Fitness, which has been one of the hottest camps of 2021 – and coach James Krause will certainly have a well-rounded game plan ready to help lead his fighter to victory.

I projected Molina at 57% and I would bet his moneyline up to -120.

I also show some value on his decision prop (projected +150, listed +175) – but I’m cautious. We don’t know too much about Aori’s ground game, and Molina could be in dangerous positions to secure a submission.

Bets: 

  • Jeff Molina (-110, 0.5u)

Lightweight fight: Kazula Vargas vs. Rong Zhu

Odds
Vargas odds +195
Zhu odds -250
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -167 / +125

Crowdsourced Projections: Rong (63%)

Vargas was well on his way to his first UFC win in his last fight against Brok Weaver before getting disqualified with an illegal knee.

Rong is supposed to be one of the more highly-regarded Chinese prospects, with good athleticism, and striking technique beyond his years.

However, Rong also succumbs to pressure against the cage and might have holes in his takedown defense, which could be exposed against a more experienced fighter. His striking defense is also lacking, compared to his offensive prowess.

Vargas isn’t a very good wrestler, but he knew enough to get Weaver to the ground, and considering that he’s on the chopping block with a third consecutive loss, I expect him to try to find the path of least resistance.

Vargas is also very durable, which seemingly limits the finishing upside for Rong. As a result, Vargas might offer more paths to victory as the underdog. I don’t think that Rong should be a big favorite to win minutes and Vargas throws power shots with reckless abandon – so the finishing upside against a relatively inexperienced kid is apparent.

I projected Vargas at 36% in this fight, and I would bet his moneyline at +200 or better. Vargas’s knockout prop (projected +512, listed +550) also offers value, but I’ll stick with a small moneyline play against a young debutant.

Bets: 

  • Rodrigo “Kazula” Vargas (+215, 0.5u)

Bantamweight fight: Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad

Odds
Batgerel odds -155
Natividad odds +125
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -167 / +125

Crowdsourced Projections: Batgerel (68%)

Natividad lost a short-notice UFC debut as a +116 underdog against Miles Johns last October. He should give a better account of himself on Saturday after a full training camp, but this is a pretty solid matchup for Batgerel.

The former kickboxer figures to be a much more technical striker from distance, and he can push a pretty hectic pace (5.66 strikes landed per minute) when he wants to. Batgerel also has the ability to deny takedowns in the early rounds, when he still has a full tank of gas.

And while both of these fighters are happy to oblige in a brawl, Batgerel should have the durability edge in a slugfest too.

If Natividad cannot consistently secure takedowns and/or ride out control time, I don’t see much of a path to victory for him in this fight.

I projected Batgerel at 68%, and show value on his moneyline to -187, but I still don’t want too much exposure to a low-level, high-variance type of fight. You don’t want to be sweating a big bet when two guys are swinging wildly in the middle of the cage.

I don’t see much value on this fight in the prop market, but I would consider using Batgerel as a small parlay piece, up to -200.

Bets: 

  • Parlay: Danaa Batgerel / Kamaru Usman (-112, 0.5u)

Preliminary Card

  • ESPN
  • 8 p.m. ET

Featherweight fight: Patrick Sabatini vs. Tristan Connelly

Odds
Sabatini odds -230
Connelly odds +180
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -210 / +155

Crowdsourced Projections: Sabatini (68%)

Connelly upset the enigmatic Michel Pereira as a +315 underdog in his 2019 debut, but hasn’t competed in more than 19 months. He could be dealing with both cage rust and cardio issues after cutting down from welterweight to featherweight.

For a fighter who typically weaponizes his cardio more so than any other skill, that’s a potential career-altering decision.

Sabatini still has the 2-inch reach advantage and is likely both the better athlete and superior technician in every facet of MMA. Connelly should have a size and strength advantage in theory, which plays into his own grinding style.

Technically speaking, Sabatini is also making his UFC debut against an octagon veteran, and fighters in this spot win about 43% of the time. That’s not a concern in a vacuum, but it speaks more to the difficulty of handicapping a fight between two people with such different competitive backgrounds.

I don’t show value on either side or any of the props for this fight.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Middleweight fight: Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen

Odds
Roberson odds +108
Allen odds -134
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -148 / +110

Crowdsourced Projections: Allen (53%)

Personally, my read on this fight flipped a couple of times — which makes sense considering that I successfully faded both men in their last appearance — and both of them are extremely mistake-prone.

Roberson doesn’t defend takedowns (50%), and constantly has his back taken, so Allen (1.17 takedowns per 15 minutes, 37% accuracy) could likely drag him to the mat and submit him.

But Allen doesn’t have the best cardio (hence, the low number of takedown attempts), never seems to secure takedowns with ease, and doesn’t seem to have a chance against Roberson, a former Kickboxer, on the feet.

Allen isn’t positionally sound, either — constantly hunting for submissions rather than securing top control — so I’m not fully confident that he’ll keep Roberson down if he does secure a takedown.

In short, I’m certain that Roberson is the better striker, but I’m not sure that the same chasm exists with regards to their grappling. Roberson has lost to top guys (Marvin Vettori, Glover Teixeira), but Allen is nowhere near that level — this is a serious step down in class.

I projected Roberson at 47%, and I like his moneyline at +125 or better.

Roberson by decision (projected +449, listed +500) also has some appeal, but I’m expecting him to find a finish on the feet.

Bets: 

  • Karl Roberson (+130, 0.5u)

Welterweight fight: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic

Odds
Grant odds -245
Sekulic odds +190
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -167 / +125

Crowdsourced Projections: Grant (64%)

Grant is completely untrustworthy as this big of a favorite. He’s 37 years old, doesn’t throw a ton of volume, and Sekulic should be the fresher man in the later rounds.

But it’s a difficult matchup to handicap since Sekulic is coming back from a 2.5-year layoff following a PED suspension.

Grant throws with a ton of power, but often ends up in close, ugly decisions when he doesn’t score a finish. He simply doesn’t have the cardio to maintain his output for 15 minutes.

There is slight value on this fight to end inside the distance (listed -160, projected -180), but not quite enough for me to fire — particularly in the larger cage at Vystar Arena.

Otherwise, I don’t project actionable value on any either side or any winning method props for this fight.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Welterweight fight: Alex Oliveira vs. Randy Brown

Odds
Oliveira odds +125
Brown odds -155
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -125 / -106

Crowdsourced Projections: Brown (61%)

This is a difficult fight to handicap because you never quite know which version of “Cowboy Oliveira” is going to show up.

Brown has been making lots of improvements from one fight to the next – and has the tools and athleticism (4-inch height advantage and 2-inch reach advantage) to neutralize Oliveira. If he tries to wrestle early and sap the Brazilian’s cardio, which typically lasts for five to seven minutes, Brown will likely become a -800 favorite after Round 1.

In terms of pure striking metrics, Brown should have the edge in terms of volume (+0.8 strikes landed per minute), but Oliveira will be dangerous in the early minutes — it just seems like his win condition is limited to finishes against younger, more athletic fighters.

Brown should take over down the stretch, to the point where a second or a third-round finish is certainly possible. Still, I projected Brown’s odds to win by decision at +165 — and you can bet that down to +205 at a five percent edge.

Bets: 

  • Randy Brown wins by Decision (+225, 0.5u)


Check out our free UFC odds page, which automatically surfaces the best moneyline and round total odds for every fight.


Main Card

  • ESPN
  • 10 p.m. ET

Light Heavyweight fight: Anthony Smith vs. Jimmy Crute

Odds
Smith odds +155
Crute odds -200
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -190 / +140

Crowdsourced Projections: Crute (69%)

To a degree, Crute is still an unknown quantity within the light heavyweight division.

He appears to be the goods — with dominant pressure wrestling (4.33 takedowns per 15 minutes, 75% accuracy) and powerful striking (4.36 strikes landed per minute, +2.05 margin) — but a number of quick finishes have led to questions about his gas tank in a high-level matchup.

Smith haters can point to some relatively appalling metrics (51% takedown defense, -1.44 significant strike differential), but “Lionheart” has been fighting the best in the world for years and Crute is still on his way up.

In a five-round battle, I might give more credence to the Smith side. He’s a crafty veteran who has, “found ways to win” when he’s needed to.

Despite the discrepancy in the striking metrics, Smith is the more technical man on the feet. Crute needs to employ his ground game early, and Smith hasn’t shown the requisite resistance to stop that pressure.

If Smith stuffs the takedowns from the jump, or if Crute starts to tire in round 2 after a hot start, Smith will come alive in a hurry.

But if Crute is methodical with his approach, and avoids emptying the gas tank, he should win from top position or coast to a decision.

I projected the Aussie at 69% in this matchup, and I would bet Crute’s moneyline at -195 or better.

However, since the price has moved past that point, I prefer Crute as a parlay piece at -210 or better.

Bets: 

  • Parlay: Jimmy Crute / Kamaru Usman (-117, 0.5u)

Middleweight fight: Uriah Hall vs. Chris Weidman

Odds
Hall odds -115
Weidman odds -108
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -115 / -115

Crowdsourced Projections: Weidman (51%)

It’s fitting that I have this fight lined at 51% — in essence, the question here is, “Does Weidman’s chin crack?”

He has all of the tools to control this fight. Hall is another low-volume fighter on this card who rarely tries to win minutes. But Weidman is arguably the best pure wrestler (3.93 takedowns per 15 minutes, 47% accuracy) that Hall (69% takedown defense) has ever faced.

If Weidman can close the distance and put Hall on his back foot, the Jamaican becomes considerably less dangerous. And if he can put Hall on his back, Weidman is completely out of danger.

But can Weidman last for more than 10 minutes anymore? Will Hall knock him out late in the third round, when Weidman has nothing left in the tank?

As a native Long Islander and a fan of our champions, I see it in my nightmares: Weidman is up 2-0 on rounds, then gets dropped in the third. It’s within the range of outcomes, anyway.

There’s some value on Weidman by decision (projected +183, listed +200) and Hall by KO/TKO (projected +138, listed +205) — and if I were betting your money, I’d bet the Hall KO prop.

But I’m a homer for Weidman, and I have to take a (small) shot if I see a projected edge. He could certainly finish Hall with top pressure, too, but I don’t see any value on the moneyline.

Bets: 

  • Chris Weidman wins by Decision (+200, 0.25u)

Women’s Flyweight fight: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Jessica Andrade

Odds
Shevchenko odds -400
Andrade odds +300
Over/Under 4.5 rounds -110 / -121

Crowdsourced Projections: Shevchenko (74%)

For more analysis and full statistics for this fight, go check out my full fight preview.

In short, I project Andrade to win this fight 26% of the time (implied odds of +288), and I would play Andrade’s moneyline down to +333: At roughly a 3% edge compared to my projection.

The only winning method prop close to showing value is Andrade by KO/TKO (projected +608, listed +600). Still, I prefer the value on her moneyline.

Bets: 

  • Jessica Andrade (+350, 0.5u)

Women’s Strawweight fight: Zhang Weili (c) vs. Rose Namajunas

Odds
Weili odds -195
Namajunas odds +155
Over/Under 4.5 rounds -148 / +110

Crowdsourced Projections: Zhang (67%)

For more analysis and full statistics for this fight, go check out my full fight preview.

In short, I wouldn’t bet Zhang’s moneyline unless it dropped below -180, but I would consider using Zhang as a small parlay piece (at -200 or better) with Kamaru Usman.

The best way to play this fight is to bet Zhang live after Round 1 and/or after Round 2. Namajunas’ output typically falls off after the first five minutes, and I expect Zhang’s pressure and power to win a war of attrition.

If Zhang drops below -150 in the live market, I’d be happy to fire off a bet.

Bets: 

  • Parlay: Weili Zhang / Kamaru Usman (-111, 0.5u)
  • Live Bet Weili Zhang after Round 1 and/or Round 2

Welterweight fight: Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal

Odds
Usman odds -400
Masvidal odds +300
Over/Under 4.5 rounds -190 / +140

Crowdsourced Projections: Usman (84%)

For more analysis and full statistics for this fight, go check out my full fight preview. 

In short, there’s actionable value on Usman’s moneyline up to -420, straight up, and I like him as a parlay piece up to -450. There are a few other favorites in the -200 range on the card (Batgerel, Crute, Zhang) that form a solid pairing with the welterweight champion, and I’m keying him in multiple wagers.

Usman is No. 1 in my personal Pound-for-Pound rankings, and I think he’s as close as you can find to a “lock” in a championship cage fight.

I projected Usman around 65% for the first fight and set his decision prop around 52%, or -108. I bet one unit on that decision prop at +150.

I projected Usman’s moneyline at 84% for the rematch and set his decision prop around 63%. I like Usman’s decision prop again for the rematch, but I wouldn’t play that line past -138 (implied 58%), at a 5% edge compared to my projection, and I would limit the stake to win half a unit.

Bets: 

  • Kamaru Usman (-350, 0.5u)
  • Kamaru Usman wins by Decision (-125, 0.5u)

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Zerillo’s UFC 261 Bets

Distance or Decision Props and Overs

  • Randy Brown wins by Decision (+225, 0.5u)
  • Chris Weidman wins by Decision (+200, 0.25u)
  • Kamaru Usman wins by Decision (-125, 0.5u)

Inside the Distance Props and Unders

  • N/A

Moneylines

  • Jeff Molina (-110, 0.5u)
  • Rodrigo “Kazula” Vargas (+215, 0.5u)
  • Karl Roberson (+130, 0.5u)
  • Jessica Andrade (+350, 0.5u)
  • Kamaru Usman (-350, 0.5u)

Parlays

  • Parlay: Danaa Batgerel / Kamaru Usman (-112, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Jimmy Crute / Kamaru Usman (-117, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Weili Zhang / Kamaru Usman (-111, 0.5u)

Live Betting Notes

  • Live Bet Weili Zhang after Round 1 and/or Round 2

Don’t forget to follow my picks in the Action Network App.

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