Around 15,000 fans will attend UFC 261 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, this Saturday (April 24) when three championships will be decided.
Kamaru Usman will meet Jorge Masvidal in a rematch for the welterweight crown as the main event, but the evening kicks off with the early prelim action from 5:45 p.m. ET.
Check out our UFC 261 fights picks and predictions for every bout, including odds provided courtesy of William Hill USA – get free bet $500, use code WHGAMBLERRF.
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UFC 261 Early Prelim Odds: Warm-Up Wagers and Best Bets to Back as Fans Return
Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad Prediction
Prediction: Natividad via decision (+275)
Kevin Natividad will target his maiden win as a UFC fighter when he faces Danaa Batgerel in Florida this Saturday, an opportunity for either combatant to make a statement at bantamweight.
For Natividad (9-2), this fight represents an opportunity for the +155 underdog to make up for a devastating knockout defeat to Miles Johns in his UFC debut last October.
That being said, “Quicksand” recently opened up to John Hyon Ko regarding the damage to his confidence in the wake of that loss and the resulting work he’s undergone with a sports psychologist to correct certain parts of his outlook:
There’s a growing importance being placed on how mental health affects performance along with the physical, especially in a sport as individualistic—lonely, even—as mixed martial arts.
Batgerel (8-2), on the other hand, earned his first UFC win against Argentina’s Guido Cannetti back in March 2020, having suffered his own debut defeat against Heili Alateng prior to that. The first Mongolian to sign with the promotion is a former featherweight champion in his native MGL-1 Fighting Championship, but former LFA stud Natividad will provide a much greater threat.
The matchup is a nervy one for the bantamweight pair, both of whom rely largely on their striking to get business done. The fact “Storm” has never been finished is a matter of concern for Natividad, but one he’s primed to overcome after being humbled in his most recent outing.
Rong Zhu vs. Rodrigo Vargas Prediction
Prediction: Zhu via decision (+275)
A lot is expected of Chinese prospect Rong Zhu ahead of his UFC debut on Saturday, taking on a lightweight veteran who’s 0-2 in his career with the promotion thus far, Rodrigo Vargas.
Vargas (11-4) comes into this clash as a +210 outside bet having delivered that almighty illegal knee to Brok Weaver when he last fought in February 2020. The 35-year-old lost to Alex da Silva via unanimous decision in his UFC debut back in August 2019, meaning it’s been almost three years since “Kazula” last tasted victory inside the Octagon.
That doesn’t mean the Mexican will be an easy obstacle for Zhu (17-3) to evade, particularly as that disqualification against Weaver somewhat taints Vargas’ record. However, the 21-year-old Zhu is nevertheless the pick to play if we have to take sides, due to the fact he enters the UFC on the back of 10 straight wins in WLF – W.A.R.S., finishing his opponent in all but one of those.
Vargas has seven KO/TKO finishes of his own and likes to unload a barrage of kicks early on his fights, with the strength to make an impression on the ground, too. Not only that, but Kazula has only been stopped once in his career and has never been knocked out, which is a daunting prospect for a young striker making his first appearance in the UFC.
Nevertheless, Zhu—14 years the junior of Vargas—gets our backing to follow up his favorite odds and win over three rounds, returning +275 odds to get just his second decision victory.
Aori Qileng vs. Jeffrey Molina Prediction
Prediction: Molina via submission (+500) in Rd 3 (+1200)
The closest matchup on the UFC 261 as far as the sportsbooks are concerned, Jeffrey Molina and Aori Qileng each come into their bout evenly match at -110 odds.
The two fighters will be making their first appearances as UFC fighters, but both will do so having earned their spots through the company channels. Molina (8-2) beat Jacob Silva in a three-round war that got plenty of attention on Dana White’s Contender Series, while Aori (18-6) is a graduate of the UFC’s Shanghai Performance Institute in China.
Without any experience at this level, it’s difficult to cast projections for how the fight will run. Molina and Aori are virtually identical from a physical standpoint, though “El Jefe” is the more active fighter when it comes to pursuing the finish.
More to that point, Molina will look at the three submission losses on Aori’s record as a point of extreme interest. The Glory MMA representative collected three choke victories prior to beating Silva on DWCS, and he’d be playing into Aori’s hands the longer their duel stays standing.
Ariane Carnelossi vs. Na Liang Prediction
Prediction: Liang via submission (+500) in Rd 2 (+900)
The very first fight of UFC 261 could be the one that shouts “upset alert” more so than any other as Shanghai Performance Institute graduate Na Liang makes her entry into the promotion.
A former standout in WLF – W.A.R.S., Liang (13-4) finds herself up against a tough task in -210 favorite Ariane Carnelossi, but one who hasn’t fought since making her own UFC bow all the way back in September 2019. It was then that “Sorriso” (12-2) suffered only the second loss of her career to date, stopped in the third round against Angela Hill due to a cut.
Liang, 24, has had three fights in that period and won each of them, all by finish (two submissions and one KO). The UFC newcomer boasts a six-inch reach advantage over Carnelossi, who has a tendency to look somewhat slow in her search for striking advantages. The Brazilian has a substantial taly of eight wins via KO/TKO, but she faces a wily prospect who isn’t short on pace.
One can only assume that the betting line is so wide due to the fact Liang has no UFC experience to speak of, but that shouldn’t take away from a potentially fine start in the promotion.
Carnelossi’s first-ever pro fight ended in a submission loss to Amanda Ribas—now her own big name in the UFC—and Liang is a similar threat in the ground game if the fight leads there.
The +500 odds available on “Dragon Girl” to take her eighth submission victory look massive considering Sorriso’s lengthy absence from the cage.