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UFC 261: A night to remember, what comes next?


If you weren’t in front of a TV on Saturday night, you may have missed the greatest sports spectacle of the year. It’s not February, so it wasn’t the Super Bowl. It wasn’t the NBA or NHL playoffs, as they’re still working toward their regular-season conclusion. If you weren’t on your living room couch or at a local sports bar on Saturday evening, you let UFC 261 pass you by, and wow did you miss out.
Saturday night’s UFC pay-per-view was a fight card loaded with talent and championship-caliber fighters that provided its viewers, both live and at home, with entertainment that will keep them talking for weeks. UFC 261 marked the first indoor, full capacity event in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and those in attendance were in for a treat.

On a night that featured 13 bouts, three of which were contests for UFC championship gold, fans interested in anything MMA got everything they could have asked for. From knockouts and submissions to close decisions and even gruesome injuries, there is plenty to dissect following what was one of the best fight cards in combat sports history. 

In eight preliminary fights that began the night, there was not a single bad matchup. There were fireworks from the opening seconds of the card-opening fight between Liang Na and Ariane Carnelossi, and the momentum of the night carried all the way through the preliminary matchups. 

If Crute’s leg injury wasn’t gruesome enough for you, Chris Weidman’s likely was.”

Eventually, the undercard came to a close with a first-round submission by Randy Brown over Alex Oliveira, and the main card of the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view event of the year had a lot to live up to. Remarkably, the five fights on the main card managed to cap off the night perfectly. UFC 261 was a card that kept even the most casual of fans engaged for nearly three hours. With all five fights ending in finishes, there was nothing for fans to complain about. 

The card opened with a bout between UFC light heavyweight up-and-comer Jimmy Crute taking on veteran and fan-favorite Anthony “Lionheart” Smith. In a solid first round of work that included a nasty jab and a devastating leg kick that ultimately ended the fight, Smith found his way back in the win column for the second straight time. The fight was stopped after the doctor on hand decided it was not medically safe for Crute to continue prior to the second round. Crute was hobbled by a calf kick late in the first round that caused some sort of structural damage in his knee and led the ringside physician to call the fight off.

If Crute’s leg injury wasn’t gruesome enough for you, Chris Weidman’s likely was. In his matchup versus Uriah Hall on Saturday, Weidman attempted the same calf kick that had ended Crute’s night in the fight before. The difference: Weidman’s kick ended his own night. In just the second strike of the match (both by Weidman) Weidman snapped the lower part of his leg in half, resulting in an immediate stoppage and cries of pain from the UFC veteran. The injury is eerily similar to the one that Anderson Silva sustained versus Weidman in their 2013 matchup when Silva attempted a low leg kick as well. 

The main event … somehow managed to not only meet expectations but exceed them.”

In the first of three title fights, one of the greatest female fighters of all time, second only to Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko dominated the dangerous Jessica Andrade. However, the fight did not go as most people believed it would. Shevchenko was the biggest favorite on the card when it came to the betting odds, but most people figured that the fight would come down to her striking.

That was not the case. The champion seemed to enter the octagon with a specific mission: Dominate Andrade in her own world. Andrade, a Brazilian jiujitsu black belt, is one of the most dangerous fighters on the ground in any of the women’s divisions. That, however, did not stop the champion from using her own brilliance when it came to taking down Andrade. Shevchenko secured seven takedowns on seven attempts and made it look easy. Shevchenko was stellar even when the fight was on the feet, landing 90 of her 97 strikes, landing at a rate near 93 percent. 

Of the three title fights on the card, only one of them produced a new champion, coming from the strawweight title fight between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili. This matchup presented the closest betting line of the three title fights with Namajunas set as the +175 underdog. Namajunas cashed in on the betting line and regained the UFC title she once held, becoming the first female fighter in UFC history to do so. One minute and 18 seconds into the first round, Namajunas landed a picture-perfect head kick that sent Weili to the canvas and sent the UFC strawweight championship belt to Namajunas, out of Westminster, Colorado. 

Masvidal versus Nick Diaz would be a huge draw for the fans with the return of one of the most electrifying names in MMA.”

At last, the main event arrived and somehow managed to not only meet expectations but exceed them. This card was built around two of the best welterweights in the world, Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, in their second matchup. Usman won the first bout decisively when Masvidal took the fight on just six days’ notice back in July.

Despite the dominant decision win versus Masvidal at UFC 251, Usman headed into the sequel against Masvidal with a new chip on his shoulder. He didn’t want to just beat his opponent, he wanted to knock him out and destroy him. Usman did just that with a one-punch knockout in the early part of the second round — a vicious right hand that sent Masvidal into another dimension, a dimension he had never been before in the UFC: unconsciousness.

Following a weekend of fights, it is always interesting to play matchmaker and look forward to what is next for each of these fighters. Sometimes it’s a clear-cut contender, and sometimes there is no clear path for what’s next.

Usman’s next contender has already been selected. UFC president Dana White has already confirmed that Usman’s next opponent will be long-time foe Colby Covington. This would be another sequel fight for Usman, but one that is happening at the right time. Usman is in a position where he has finished the top welterweight contenders and needs to start dispatching them as true contenders.

Covington is the clear number-one welterweight in the world following a dominant win versus former champion Tyron Woodley last fall and has arguably provided Usman with the biggest challenge in his UFC career. The first fight between Usman and Covington was Usman’s first title defense as welterweight champion and Covington’s first shot at undisputed UFC gold. It served as one of the greatest fights in UFC history. A rematch of the UFC 245 main event would be well-received by fight fans everywhere, and that seems to be the fight they are going to get.

(Shevchenko’s) problem is not really a lack of talent in the division, but she is just so much better than anyone else in her weight class.”

Masvidal will need some time to recover from one of the most vicious knockouts in combat sports history. The next fight for him may come in the late part of the year. Sitting around and waiting for the best fight has been Masvidal’s specialty since his meteoric rise in 2019, and it seems that it won’t be any different this time around. Potential opponents include Nick Diaz and Stephen Thompson.

Nick Diaz talked to White on Saturday following the event and talked about an eventual return to the octagon. Diaz has not competed since he fought Anderson Silva in 2015 (the fight was deemed a no-contest). Masvidal versus Nick Diaz would be a huge draw for the fans with the return of one of the most electrifying names in MMA. Not to mention that Masvidal defeated Nick Diaz’s brother, Nate Diaz, back at UFC 244 for the BMF title, which would add some fuel to the fire of a potential UFC main event. 

With Shevchenko’s dominant win over Andrade on Saturday, the next contender in line is not clear. The flyweight division is very competitive outside of the champion. Shevchenko has recently beaten three of the top five flyweights. Lauren Murphy, a top-rank women’s flyweight, has a winning streak that is strong enough for title contention, but she is only 6-4 in her UFC career.

The UFC … returns to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for two Fight Night cards on May 1 and May 8 before returning to pay-per-view on May 15.”

The champ’s problem is not really a lack of talent in the division, but she is just so much better than anyone else in her weight class. With White not sold on a trilogy fight with Nunes, it looks as though the second-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in women’s mixed martial arts will have to wait for a new contender to rise. 

The easiest matchup to make for the 115-pound women’s division is a rematch between Namajunas and Weili. It is also the matchup that makes the most sense. Second-ranked strawweight Joanna Jędrzejczyk had her chance at the title last March versus Weili and lost in what was the Fight of the Year award winner and arguably one of the greatest fights in the history of the promotion.

Namajunas has already defeated Jędrzejczyk twice in championship bouts, and there is no real reason why Jędrzejczyk deserves a shot at the title again. It’s also important to note that Weili walked into Saturday night on a 21-fight win streak. Saturday’s matchup was a highly anticipated fight that I think MMA fans all over wouldn’t mind seeing rebooked.

As for the promotion, the UFC turns the page and returns to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for two Fight Night cards on May 1 and May 8 before returning to pay-per-view on May 15 for the bout between Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler for the vacant lightweight belt at UFC 262 in Houston, Texas.