Despite not containing any ranked fighters, the UFC 261 prelims feature a bevy of electrifying matchups. Fans both in attendance and at home are in for a fun leadup into the title fight tripleheader.
Notable storylines within the UFC 261 undercard include: Debuts from a trio of talented prospects out of China, Tristan Connelly’s return from injury, as well as the need for bounce back victories from well-regarded competitors Brendan Allen, Dwight Grant, and Randy Brown.
The set of early prelims are set to begin airing on ESPN 2 at 6:00 PM (ET). Then, the UFC 261 prelims can be viewed on ESPN, beginning at 8:00 PM (ET).
Breakdowns and Predictions
Alex Oliveira (22-9-1/2 NC, 11-7 UFC) vs Randy Brown (12-4, 6-4 UFC)
Alex Oliveira brings it every time he steps into the octagon, but things have gone off track since 2018. “Cowboy” has won just two of his last six bouts, with both victories being fairly close decisions by the judges. The 33-year-old is still a very tough and well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Randy “Rude Boy” Brown has had a solid five-year tenure in the UFC, though he’s still searching for consistency. He’s very athletic and he possesses a lot of skills. The 30-year-old has also faced a tough schedule through his first 10 fights, and that will continue on the UFC 261 prelims.
Both welterweights have quality grappling backgrounds and they each can mix it up on the feet as well. As usual, Brown will have a sizable height advantage as he stands at 6’3″. However, the Brazilian has displayed the better chin of the two, having only ever been finished by strikes once in his career. Oliveira has also demonstrated willingness to throw himself into a firefight, which may actually aid him against Brown. If this fight is fought at distance, Brown likely wins, but if it gets grimy in close it favors “Cowboy”.
Prediction: Alex Oliveira via TKO
Dwight Grant (10-3, 2-2 UFC) vs Stefan Sekulic (12-3, 0-1 UFC)
Dwight Grant broke into the UFC at age 33 after securing a contract on the Contender Series in 2018. Since then, he’s been up and down including four-fight cancellations. The New York native hits hard and aims to end the fight with nearly every strike!
Stefan Sekulic came up short in his debut, but that was over two years ago, due to a suspension for using banned substances. The Serbian is only 29 and already in big need of a strong showing on the UFC 261 prelims.
This is an orthodox versus southpaw matchup containing two certified finishers. “The Body Snatcher” is looking to end the fight with his hands, but he’s often victim to loading up on his shots. Meanwhile, Sekulic has a patented guillotine choke which he’s used to earn stoppages on four separate occasions. Grant’s tendency to open up too much will leave him vulnerable to takedowns, which is exactly what his opponent will be looking to do. If Grant cannot land the devastating blow, he will be in for a long evening!
Prediction: Stefan Sekulic via Submission
Karl Roberson (9-3, 4-3 UFC) vs Brendan Allen (15-4, 3-1 UFC)
Karl Roberson burst onto the scene in 2017 when he finished Ryan Spann in the first round on DWCS. Since debuting, “Baby K” has been dealt a brutal schedule that includes Glover Teixeira, Marvin Vettori, and Jack Marshman. The 30 year old is definitely talented, but he falls shy when facing the elites.
Brendan Allen is also a DWCS contract earner, and “All In” already owns a submission win over Kevin Holland. His last fight against Sean Strickland didn’t go his way, but he’s a promising middleweight prospect nonetheless.
This is another orthodox versus southpaw bout with two men who rarely go the distance. Allen is a BJJ black belt and Roberson has shown weakness when defending submissions against elite grapplers. Expect Allen to clinch and try to string together takedowns. You could say Roberson has to find a finish with his hands in order to be victorious, but his opponent on the UFC 261 prelims is tough to put out. Allen can dictate where this fights plays out with his grappling advantage.
Prediction: Brendan Allen via Decision
Pat Sabatini (13-3, 0-0 UFC) vs Tristan Connelly (14-6, 1-0 UFC)
Pat Sabatini makes his UFC debut after a long, successful stint for CFFC. He climbed to the top of the featherweight mountain there and he hopes to do the same in the UFC. His opponent Tristan Connelly returns 19 months removed from his hard-fought debut win over Michel Pereira.
Sabatini makes his first appearance on the biggest stage at the age of 30. He was originally supposed to fight Rafael Alves back in February, but Alves missed weight and the bout was scrapped. Sabatini will match Connelly’s foot on the pedal style when they meet at the UFC 261 prelims. This will likely be a grappling heavy affair, in which both men will have their moments. A close, grueling fight that’s left for the judges to decide.
Prediction: Pat Sabatini via Decision
Danaa Batgerel (8-2, 1-1 UFC) vs Kevin Natividad (9-2, 0-1 UFC)
Danaa Batgeral is a native of Mongolia who currently trains at Jackson Wink MMA in New Mexico. The bantamweight hasn’t competed in over a year so it will interesting to see how long (if at all) it takes for him to get comfortable.
These guys both like to fight at high paces, but an extended layoff may cause Batgeral to come out a little slow while he adjusts to “real fight” speed. That might be enough time for Natvidad to jump out in front and either finish “Storm” or put him on his heels. “Quicksand” has a sneaky right head kick that could be a decisive weapon for him on the UFC 261 prelims.
Prediction: Kevin Natvidad via TKO
UFC 261 Prelims Quick Hits
Rodrigo Vargas (11-4, 0-2 UFC) vs Zhu Rhong (17-3, 0-0 UFC): Vargas is in desperate need of a win after dropping his first two attempts. Meanwhile, Rhong is a 21-year-old top prospect from China who has a very high ceiling. 14 year age discrepancy, but we’ll be going with the young blood.
Qileng Aori (18-6, 0-0 UFC) vs Jeff Molina (8-2, 0-0 UFC): Aori is another prospect from the Chinese promotion Wu Lin Feng. He welcomes fellow newcomer and DWCS alum Molina, who trains at Glory MMA and Fitness under James Krause. Difficult fight to project, but Aori’s hand speed may be the decisive factor.
Na Liang (15-4, 0-0 UFC) vs Ariane Carnelossi (12-2, 0-1 UFC): The lone female bout on the UFC 261 prelims features essentially two debutants. Carnelossi fought Angela Hill in her debut, but that was nearly two years ago and Liang is a 24-year-old talent. Another tough fight to project because of lack of footage, but Liang will look to be the first of two strawweights from China to win at UFC 261.
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