And even more amazingly, White confirmed that the event will be attended by at least 15,000 fans, the first time this has happened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago.
So could UFC 261 prove to be the biggest event of 2021? Quite possible – and here are five reasons why you could.
# 1 The return of fans to UFC live events is huge
The last time fans attended a UFC event at UFC 248 was on March 7, 2020. And while that event took place just over a year ago, in reality it seems like a lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has basically wreaked havoc around the world in all sports. While the UFC was one of the few sports organizations that could keep running pretty fast, things just didn’t go unnoticed by the fans present.
The UFC’s behind-the-scenes events were cool for other reasons – for example, it’s much easier to hear fighters, referees and coaches.
But imagine that fans witnessed something like viral KO Joaquin Buckley’s Impe Kasanganay? Or Khabib Nurmagomedov’s astonishing pension? Those moments would be far more resonant than they were.
The UFC allowed some fans to attend January’s UFC 257 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, but those were just invitations, and only 2,600 attended.
UFC 261 should have almost six times the number of fans. And while that number is far from the UFC’s record attendance of 57,127 (UFC 243), it will still feel amazing to see and hear.
# 2 Usman’s fight against Masvidal should bring in big profits per show
The rematch between Kamara Usman and Jorge Masvidal for the UFC light heavyweight title is probably not justified from a sports standpoint.
Finally, the two only fought last July at UFC 251, and Usman won pretty easily.
In the months that followed, Masvidal did not return to the UFC to return to the winning track. So by the time UFC 261 launches, it will be more than a year since his last victory in the Octagon – his stoppage Nate Diaz at UFC 244.
But this will still be a big fight for several reasons.
First, Usman and Masvidal never stopped sniffing on social media. Masvidal claims he would have defeated Usman had he not fought briefly at UFC 251. Usman naturally believes he would have finished Gamebred had he had more announcements to fight him.
And second, UFC 251 is probably the highest salary in the 2020 review.
He pulled out an incredible 1.3 million payments per review. And while Usman’s latest pay-per-view – UFC 258 – pulled out less than half of that number, with a star like Masvidal that should change, making UFC 261 another potentially big seller.
In fact, rematch has always been a big draw for the UFC, regardless of the outcome of the first fight.
Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz, for example, were all featured on some of the UFC’s best-selling paychecks by review.
With that in mind, the UFC won’t put together much bigger fights than Usman against Masvidal II in 2021, which will give UFC 261 a huge show.
# 3 UFC 261 has three reserved title fights
Major UFC fights like Kamaru Usman against Jorge Masvidal are often at the top of the show with less than a bunch. Fortunately, that’s not the case when it comes to UFC 261.
In fact, if all goes according to plan, UFC 261 should end up as one of the best put together shows in the history of promotions.
UFC 261 currently has three title fights on its main card.
The main conflict is the UFC’s welterweight title fight between Usman and Masvidal. But below that, Valentina Shevchenko defends his UFC light heavyweight title Jessica Andrade, i Weili Zhang puts his UFC straw in the title against Rose Namajunas.
UFC shows featuring three title fights are still rare. In fact, UFC President Dana White swore them once and for all when UFC 33 ended in disaster and the feed-per-view was cut off during the main event.
But they’ve been coming back lately, with UFC 245, UFC 251 and UFC 259, all of which have a trio of title fights at the top of the card.
UFC 261 will be the latest event to join that list, and that alone ranks it among the greatest UFC shows of all time.
And given that we’re unlikely to see another UFC show that this loaded in 2021, it’s understandable that UFC 261 could eventually be a prominent year.
# 4 There is enough space to fill the bottom card with big fights
Where UFC 261 is missing is currently an undercard.
UFC 261 offers three title fights, but below them, the next best fight is the middleweight bout Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall. It’s a solid fight, but nothing stunning.
Fortunately, the UFC only confirmed an additional five fights in addition to those four. That means there’s room for probably five more fights to be added to the UFC 261 bottom card.
And given that the UFC loves high-level combat in the same division as its main event – as an insurance policy in case of injury or withdrawal – it is very likely that we will get a big fight in the light heavyweight category here as well.
Can the UFC book something like a rematch between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad here? Or we might see it controversial Colby Covington performing against another top candidate?
It’s definitely likely that UFC President Dana White will want to fold this map as much as possible. With that in mind, we can definitely expect the undercard to improve in the weeks before the event.
# 5 The return of Weili Zhang should be huge
We haven’t seen current UFC weakweight champion Weili Zhang in the Octagon since March 2020, UFC 248.
However, no UFC fan can forget when she last appeared. She was, of course, involved in arguably the biggest women’s fight in UFC history when she fought five rounds with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Zhang pointed out the former champion to keep the title.
Zhang had already started catching up as a potential star before that fight, largely thanks to her presence as the first UFC champion in China.
But after that, her star power increased dramatically.
Things naturally slowed down due to her lack of action. But UFC 261 sees her with another former UFC queen in the weak category – the ever-popular Rose Namajunas.
And make no mistake, this fight should be huge.
Thug Rose is a star in her own right, and has hosted shows about the UFC on several occasions in the past. Meanwhile, Zhang feels at the height of something very special. And if she wins here, she should shoot into the stratosphere.
With that in mind, this fight that acts as a major event for UFC 261 only makes the already huge event even bigger.