For the first time in more than a year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will hold an event in front of a capacity crowd.
UFC president Dana White announced Monday that UFC 261 will take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., on April 24. The 15,000-seat venue is where the UFC initially went to hold a trio of events in May 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down operations for approximately two months.
The card will be headlined by a welterweight championship rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal. Two previously reported title bouts will also be featured, as Valentina Shevchenko faces Jessica Andrade for the women’s flyweight crown, while Weili Zhang defends the strawweight strap against Rose Namajunas. The main card will air on pay-per-view via ESPN+.
“I have been waiting a year for this day to tell you: We are back,” White said in a video message on Twitter. “This is a stacked card in front of 15,000 UFC fans … I just want to say thank you Jacksonville. I love you guys and I will see you soon.”
UFC 261 will be the promotion’s first event with no audience restrictions since UFC 248 took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on March 7, 2020. The Las Vegas-based organization did allow limited seating for its trio of events in Abu Dhabi in January. It is currently unclear what safety protocol will be in place for fans who attend UFC 261, but states have gradually been relaxing restrictions as coronavirus vaccine distribution has increased. Athletes have undergone fairly rigid testing procedures during the pandemic, with multiple bouts falling through ahead of events due to positive results.
Usman and Masvidal initially squared off at UFC 251 last July, with “The Nigerian Nightmare” retaining his 170-pound title via convincing unanimous decision. Masvidal accepted the bout on short notice after original opponent Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19.
Masvidal has not competed since then, but Usman called for a rematch with “Gamebred” after defeating Burns by third-round technical knockout at UFC 258 on Feb. 13, claiming that the Miami native had been using the short-notice nature of their first meeting as an excuse for his loss.
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