- Date & Location: Saturday, April 24 @ VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida
- Odds: Weili Zhang (-185) vs. Rose Namajunas (+160) via BetOnline
- Prediction: Zhang by decision
The UFC leaves the confines of the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on April 24 and heads to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena for UFC 261. The ESPN+ streaming pay-per-view card will take place in front of a full crowd. UFC 261, which is already sold out according to UFC president Dana White, features three title fights at the top of the card. In the headlining bout, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman puts his belt up against Jorge Masvidal in a rematch. Before that, UFC women’s flyweight titleholder Valentina Shevchenko faces Jessica Andrade. Between those two title fights, in the co-main event, UFC strawweight champ Weili Zhang puts her belt on the line against the former 115-pound queen, Rose Namajunas.
Zhang, who is on a 20-fight winning streak, won the title in August 2019 with a first-round knockout win over Andrade. Zhang has defended the title once. She defeated ex-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk via a split decision in March 2020. Zhang has not fought since that title defense.
Namajunas took the title from Jedrzejczyk in November 2017 via a first-round knockout. In the April 2018 rematch between the two, Namajunas retained her title with a unanimous decision win. She lost the crown to Andrade in May 2019 via a slam knockout. Namajunas defeated Andrade via a split decision in a rematch in July 2020, after Andrade lost the belt to Zhang. Namajunas has not fought since her win over Andrade.
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|1st Fighter||2nd Fighter|
|Weili Zhang||-185||+160||Rose Namajunas|
ZHANG vs. NAMAJUNAS PREDICTION & PICK
Namajunas, who is one of the more popular fighters on the UFC roster, is going to be the sentimental favorite in this contest, but she won’t be the betting favorite. That honor will go to the reigning champion who has not lost a fight since she dropped her pro debut in 2013.
Zhang is more effective than her opponent in strikes landed per minute and striking accuracy. Those two factors are going to play a big role in this bout, especially since Zhang has a 100 percent takedown defense and because she also hits harder than Namajunas. The champion has scored 10 knockout victories in her career, while Namajunas has only one career knockout win. Zhang also has seven submission wins compared to Namajunas’ five.
I expect Zhang, who gives up some height and reach to Namajunas, will win the fight with her striking power, accuracy and aggression. I don’t see Zhang fearing the striking of Namajunas or taking many backward steps here.
This should be a highly entertaining matchup between two of the best women fighters in the UFC today, but I see Zhang keeping her title.
Prediction: Zhang -185 via Bovada.
BETTING VALUE WITH ZHANG
Zhang is the favorite by nearly 2-1 and so, there might not be a lot of value in betting in her to win. A bet of over/under on the rounds or a knockout will probably provide better value when it comes to the champion. If Namajunas gets tired or her defense slips, Zhang could score a knockout win, but I think that outcome will be a surprise. However, Namajunas’ knockout loss to Andrade was because she made a mistake and did not let go of her opponent’s arm when she should have and that error resulted in Namajunas being slammed on her head for the first and only knockout loss of her career.
As for the former champion, she is a tough and tenacious fighter and under the right (nearly perfect) circumstances, Namajunas could regain the title. If she pulls the upset, I feel a Namajunas win will come via decision.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Thanks to her aggression and power, Zhang has the edge in this matchup. The one thing that could sway the fight in Namajunas’ direction is difficult to travel. Zhang hails from China and she had a long and winding road to get to her most recent fight because of COVID-19 restrictions. However, I think Zhang, her team, and the UFC will handle her travel better in this instance.
FIGHT STATS: ZHANG vs. NAMAJUNAS
|Weili Zhang||Category||Rose Namajunas|
|6.38||Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute||4.13|
|4.43||Significant Strikes Absorbed Per Minute||3.98|
|1.26||Takedown Average Per 15 Minutes||1.91|
|0.50||Submission Average Per 15 Minutes||0.8|
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Zhang has plans to challenge for the 125-pound title at some point and if she can win this fight, that door could open for her to attempt to become a two-division champion. However, that only happens if she defeats Namajunas.
If Namajunas gets a win at UFC 261, she’ll be the first strawweight champion to regain the title. Jedrzejczyk had two chances to become a two-time 115-pound champ and she failed to do so in both attempts.
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