And even more incredibly, White has confirmed that the event will have at least 15,000 fans in attendance, marking the first time that this has happened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago.
So could UFC 261 turn out to be the biggest event of 2021? Quite possibly – and here are five reasons why it could.
#1 The return of fans to live UFC events is huge
The last time fans were in attendance for a UFC event was at UFC 248 on March 7th, 2020. And while that event took place just over a year ago, in reality, it feels like a lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially wreaked havoc across the world in all sports. While the UFC was one of the few sporting organizations to be able to continue running pretty quickly, things just haven’t been the same without fans in attendance.
The UFC’s behind-closed-doors events have been cool for other reasons – you can hear the fighters, referees, and coaches much more easily, for example.
But imagine if fans had witnessed something like Joaquin Buckley’s viral KO of Impa Kasanganay? Or Khabib Nurmagomedov’s stunning retirement? Those moments would’ve been far more resonant than they were.
The UFC did allow some fans to attend January’s UFC 257 on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island, but those were invites only, and just 2,600 attended.
UFC 261 is all set to have almost six times that amount of fans in attendance. And while that number is a far cry from the UFC’s record attendance of 57,127 (UFC 243), it’ll still feel amazing to see and hear.
#2 The Usman vs. Masvidal fight should draw big on pay-per-view
The rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for the UFC Welterweight title probably isn’t warranted from a sporting standpoint.
After all, the two men only did battle last July at UFC 251, and Usman won pretty handily.
In the months that have followed, Masvidal has not returned to the UFC to get back on the winning track. So, by the time UFC 261 rolls around, it’ll be well over a year since his last victory in the Octagon – his stoppage of Nate Diaz at UFC 244.
But this will still be a huge fight for several reasons.
Firstly, Usman and Masvidal have never stopped sniping at one another on social media. Masvidal claims he would’ve beaten Usman had he not taken the fight at UFC 251 on short notice. Usman naturally believes he would’ve finished Gamebred had he had more notice for fighting him.
And secondly, UFC 251 was probably the biggest pay-per-view of 2020.
It drew an incredible 1.3m pay-per-view buys. And while Usman’s latest pay-per-view – UFC 258 – drew less than half of that number, alongside a star like Masvidal that should change, making UFC 261 another potentially huge seller.
In fact, rematches have 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 instance, were all featured on some of the UFC's biggest-selling pay-per-views.
With that in mind, the UFC won’t put together many bigger fights than Usman vs. Masvidal II in 2021, making UFC 261 a huge show by default.
#3 UFC 261 has three title fights booked
Major UFC fights like Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal often feature at the top of a less-than-stacked show. Thankfully, that isn’t the case when it comes to UFC 261.
In fact, if things all go to plan, UFC 261 should end up as one of the most stacked shows in promotional history.
UFC 261 currently has three title fights on its main card.
The UFC Welterweight title clash between Usman and Masvidal is the main event. But underneath it, Valentina Shevchenko defends her UFC Flyweight title against Jessica Andrade, and Weili Zhang puts her UFC Strawweight title on the line against Rose Namajunas.
UFC shows featuring three title fights remain few and far between. In fact, UFC president Dana White once swore off them for good when UFC 33 ended in disaster, with the pay-per-view feed being cut off during the main event.
But recently, they’ve been making a comeback, with UFC 245, UFC 251, and UFC 259 all featuring 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 puts it amongst the biggest UFC shows of all time.
And given that it’s unlikely we’ll see another UFC show that’s this loaded in 2021, it stands to reason that UFC 261 might end up being the year’s standout card.
#4 There’s plenty of room to fill the undercard with huge fights
Where UFC 261 is lacking right now is the undercard.
UFC 261 has three title fights on offer, but underneath them, the next best fight is a Middleweight clash between Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall. It’s a solid fight, but nothing mind-blowing.
Thankfully though, the UFC has only confirmed a further five fights alongside those four. That means that there’s room for probably five more fights to be added to UFC 261’s undercard.
And given that the UFC loves to throw in a high-level fight in the same division as its main event – as an insurance policy in case of injuries or withdrawals – it’s very likely we’ll see a major Welterweight bout take place here too.
Could the UFC book something like a rematch between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad here? Or might we see the controversial Colby Covington featuring against another high-end contender?
It’s definitely likely that UFC president Dana White will want to stack this card as much as possible. So with that in mind, we can definitely expect the undercard to improve in the weeks before the event.
#5 Weili Zhang’s return should be huge
We haven’t seen current UFC Strawweight champion Weili Zhang in the Octagon since March 2020’s UFC 248.
However, no UFC fan can forget the last time she did appear. She was, of course, involved in arguably the greatest women’s fight in UFC history when she went to war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk for five rounds. Zhang out-pointed the former champion to hold onto her title.
Zhang was already beginning to catch on as a potential star before that fight, largely due to her presence as the UFC’s first Chinese champion.
But following it, her star power has increased dramatically.
Things have naturally slowed down since due to her lack of action. But UFC 261 sees her face another former UFC Strawweight queen – the ever-popular Rose Namajunas.
And make no mistake about it, this fight should be huge.
Thug Rose is a star in her own right and has headlined UFC shows on numerous occasions in the past. Zhang, meanwhile, feels on the cusp of something very special indeed. And if she wins here, she should shoot into the stratosphere.
With that in mind, this fight acting as the co-main event for UFC 261 only makes an already huge event even bigger.