UFC 261: 5 names to look out for

UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
Harvey Leonard

The fans are back!

Another weekend is closing in, and another stacked UFC pay-per-view is almost upon us. This weekend's event will see the return of sold-out crowds and the ability to enjoy the bliss of live MMA action once again. The word 'excited' doesn't even come close to covering it.

The promotion will welcome back a full crowd of 15,000 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. The event will mark the first to be held in front of a full crowd in over a year.

The UFC have pulled out all the stops for the momentous event. Three blockbuster championship fights will be at the top of the card, along with intriguing matchups and debuting names from the very opening bout.

With exciting bouts throughout, this weekend’s event could bring us a host of memorable moments.

Ahead of Saturday’s card, here are five names to look out for at UFC 261.

#5 Jeff Molina - UFC flyweight

UFC flyweight Jeff Molina
UFC flyweight Jeff Molina

After months of waiting, Jeff Molina will finally make his first walk to the octagon this weekend. 'El Jefe' finished his opponents in seven out of his eight wins and hasn’t been the victim of a stoppage since his very first professional fight. At the age of just 23, prospects don't come much more promising than Molina.

This fight has been a long time coming for Molina. He earned a UFC contract through Dana White’s Contender Series last August. He was set to make his debut against Zarrukh Adashev in November and then again in January.

At UFC 261, Molina will finally enter the UFC cage and aims to make an immediate impact in the flyweight division.

#4 Na Liang - UFC women's strawweight

UFC Shanghai Combine
UFC Shanghai Combine

Looking to set the stage for China's Zhang Weili in the strawweight championship co-main event will be her compatriot Na Liang.

Ahead of her UFC debut this weekend, 'Dragon Girl' accumulated an impressive four-fight win streak under the promotional banner of WLF. The four wins, which have come across a two-year period, included two victories by way of armbars and one knockout.

The Chinese prospect will be facing Brazilian strawweight Ariane 'Sorriso' Carnelossi [12-2). The 28-year-old hasn't fought since her UFC debut in 2019, which ended in defeat to Angela Hill. Prior to that, she had ridden a 12-fight win streak into her promotional debut. She'll be looking to return in style in Jacksonville.

At just 24-years-old, Na Liang has high potential and will look to start her UFC career in the best way possible; a win on debut during a PPV the whole world will be watching...

#3 Aoriqileng - UFC flyweight

UFC Shanghai Combine
UFC Shanghai Combine

Unless your name is Michael Chandler, debutants rarely come as exciting as this man. Aoriqileng is set to make his UFC arrival on Saturday night.

There aren’t many monikers as scary as the 'Mongolian Murderer'. It has to be one of the best nicknames in the sport. There aren't enough free UFC tickets in the world that could make me go anywhere near a cage with someone called that. Luckily for me, Jeff Molina is the one set to stand face-to-face with him in what will be a battle between two prospects in one of the UFC's fastest-paced divisions.

Aoriqileng will be riding a six-fight winning streak heading into his UFC debut. A loss on the judges' scorecards in 2018 was the only fault in his last 11 appearances in an MMA cage.

The Chinese fighter is a product of the UFC academy at the Shanghai Performance Institute and wants to make a name for himself on what will undoubtedly be one of the most watched PPV's of the year.

With a main card filled with big names and champions, the matchup between Aoriqileng and Jeff Molina is going under the radar. It could end up stealing the show.

#2 Brendan Allen - UFC middleweight

UFC Fight Night Santos v Teixeira: Weigh-Ins
UFC Fight Night Santos v Teixeira: Weigh-Ins

Since debuting in 2019, Brendan Allen has made his name known. A Dana White’s Contender Series contract winner, “All In” is not far from securing a number next to his name. A win over Karl Roberson at UFC 261 will take him a step closer to the rankings.

The 25-year-old suffered his first loss in the UFC last November against Sean Strickland. The loss halted his UFC winning streak at three. The hat-trick of wins prior had already established his name in the 185-pound division.

After a first-round rear-naked choke paved the way for Allen in the promotion, he defeated one half of UFC Vegas 22 and 23's main event, Kevin Holland, in his debut; not a bad way to make an impression. Dominant performances against Tom Breese and Kyle Daukaus made it three wins in just nine months. It doesn’t need to be said how promising wins over those names are for a prospect.

Allen has found a finish in 13 of his 15 wins and he'll be looking to add to that tally at UFC 261. Needing a rebound win, it stands to reason Allen will push forward and make a real statement in his first PPV appearance.

Judging by his outfit during fight week, Allen is here to impress...

#1 Jimmy Crute - UFC light heavyweight

UFC Fight Night: Crute v Bukauskas
UFC Fight Night: Crute v Bukauskas

After dominant first-round victories over fellow prospects Michal Oleksiejczuk and Modestas Bukauskas, Jimmy Crute has earned a big name fight. At UFC 261, he gets the chance to establish himself as a contender against former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith.

The Australian is one of the most promising future stars on the UFC's roster. Aside from a submission loss by way of a Peruvian necktie to the experienced Misha Cirkunov, Crute's 12-1 record is otherwise perfect.

At the age of just 25, a win over Smith will ascend him into the 205-pound top-10 and make a statement to the UFC's top light heavyweights.

Crute's opponent, Anthony Smith, was riding high in the promotion following a valiant effort across five rounds against Jon Jones and a remarkable submission win over Alexander Gustafsson. What followed was difficult to watch.

A brutal defeat at the hands of Glover Teixeira and a decision loss to the rising Alexander Rakic left 'Lionheart' desperately needing a rebound win. In a main event against Devin Clark last November, Smith got exactly that.

With Smith looking to leap back into the pool of LHW contenders and Crute looking to make his future star status a reality, this could be a blockbuster matchup to open the main card.

Edited by Harvey Leonard

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