What a night. What a card!
UFC 261 marked the promotion’s first show with a full set of fans in over a year and this event had everything. We had great fights, great finishes, even a mediocre fight with a dramatic ending, Jake Paul getting booed and confronting Daniel Cormier, nasty injuries, the whole shebang. Everything excepts fans wearing masks. (I kid... maybe)
The main event took everyone’s breath away not because the outcome of Kamaru Usman winning was a shock, but how he did it. Usman was a bit sloppy with his power punches in round one but in round two he uncorked a picture-perfect right hand that floored Masvidal and frankly knocked him out before he hit the ground. Herb Dean was not satisfied that Masvidal was wiped out and Usman needed hammerfists to put Jorge to sleep. Do you realize the last time Masvidal got knocked out? Rodrigo Damm back in 2008! And he didn’t get put out cold like that!
Usman is a marvel. We already know he’s a phenomenal wrestler and grappler but his knockout power has been slept on for far too long and he’s knocked out Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, and Jorge Masvidal in his title defenses. I am not interested in a debate between him and Georges St-Pierre and who is the welterweight GOAT. Kamaru is carving out his own legacy as an all-time great and he delivered one of the knockouts of the year and for my money one of the great KOs in UFC history. I’m sure it’s all the more sweet that he beat Masvidal at his own game and a mere seconds after Jorge smiled at him and stuck his tongue out when he landed a right hand.
We saw Usman and Valentina Shevchenko defend their titles successfully, while Rose Namajunas recaptured gold at 115 lbs. There’s plenty more to discuss! You know it was a great show when I’ve written over 1500 words for analysis.
- Rose Namajunas has a knack for that head kick. She used that to drop and eventually submit Michelle Waterson a few years back and it’s the same shot that knocked Zhang Weili down and pretty much out. The hammerfists were just for good measure and now ‘Thug Rose’ has the UFC strawweight belt around her waist once more. That was a sensational finish and even though she really put herself in a pickle with her convoluted politically-fueled comments leading up to this fight, no one denies she’s a superb fighter who’s just notched yet another remarkable knockout victory to win a title.
- Zhang protested the stoppage but she was gone and frankly there should have never been a post-fight interview with her. Same applies to Jorge Masvidal later on in the night. It’s unnecessary. And from her perspective it’s no doubt brutal to go from defending her title in an all-time classic last year in front of cheering fans to losing her belt and getting booed before and after the fight. She’ll be back, I’m sure of it, but that was a brutal KO.
- Well that wasn’t competitive. Valentina Shevchenko thrashed Jessica Andrade from start to finish. Seven takedowns attempted, seven completed, and the last one sunk Andrade for good. Shevchenko got to mounted crucifix and let the punishment rain down as she secured another W as the UFC women’s flyweight champ. She is so far ahead of the competition at 125 that as far as I’m concerned the only fight that interest me is a trilogy with Amanda Nunes. I am confident Nunes will beat Julianna Pena so if/when that happens, why would you not want Shevchenko-Nunes 3? Because the second fight was bad? Because it’s 2-0 Nunes even though the second fight was close? We might get Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis 2! Let’s see a trilogy.
- OH. MY. GOD. Chris Weidman broke his leg on a checked kick vs. Uriah Hall and it was eerily similar if not identical to how Anderson Silva broke his leg when he kicked Weidman in their rematch. This all happened inside of 20 seconds and the bone was practically protruding through the skin. It is one of the most horrific injuries you will ever see. Weidman was distraught (and in pain, of course) and it doesn’t get much more devastating than that. Hall was classy as ever in his post-fight interview and it is incredible to think that Uriah is a few months removed from ending Anderson’s UFC career. Wow wow wow. I cannot believe what happened. You feel for Weidman as he already has a deep injury history as is, but none more visibly horrifying if not career-threatening than that.
- Anthony Smith got an injury TKO win over Jimmy Crute in a banger of a one-round fight. Crute was rocked by jabs a couple of times but it was a well-placed leg kick that messed up Crute’s leg and led to a knockdown. Incredibly, Crute scored two takedowns after that but when the round was over you knew he could put no weight on his left leg. Despite the protestations, the responsible thing was done and the doctor stopped Crute before round two could begin. Not the ending anyone wanted after such a fun opening round but it’s a vital win for Smith to stay afloat as a LHW contender. Little did we know it wasn’t the worst injury of the night.
- Jake Paul was at this card. The crowd disliked him.
- Welterweight Randy Brown was hurt by Alex Oliveira’s leg kicks early, but he changed the fight dramatically with a flush right hand that put Brazilian ‘Cowboy’ on the mat. ‘Rude Boy’ would eventually set up a one-armed rear-naked choke and Oliveira had no choice but to tap. Impressive stuff from Brown and we may have just seen the end of Oliveira’s UFC career after yet another stoppage loss.
- Dwight Grant and Stefan Sekulic really failed to impress for most of their fight. Grant barely threw and when he did it was winging power shots, while Sekulic also barely threw but mixed in takedowns without any top control damage or extended control time. Essentially Grant had the edge in the stand-up through two rounds. However, with under a minute left Sekulic rocked Grant with a big left hand and nearly choked him out. Unfortunately for Sekulic, who had been out for a couple of years due to injuries and a USADA suspension, the judges gave Grant the split decision. He needed a finish and didn’t quite get it.
- Brendan Allen showed an improved takedown game and reminded everyone he’s a dangerous submission specialist when he tapped Karl Roberson with an ankle lock (!) towards the end of round one. I am not sure why Roberson thought he could get Allen in a leg lock, but Allen countered with one of his own and you can figure out what happened from there. Great bounce back performance for Allen and as for Roberson, the dude just gets into too many grappling exchanges where he’s second-best.
- Pat Sabatini had the obvious strength and grappling advantage against Tristan Connelly, who dropped from 170 lbs to 145 lbs between this fight and his last one against Michel Pereira. He dominated the first two rounds before easing off a bit in the third for the unanimous decision. The fans voiced their displeasure over the lack of entertainment but Connelly is Canadian so they whipped out the first USA! USA! chant in over a year.
- Danaa Batgerel’s countering is fearsome. Kevin Natividad just waded his way forward barely 40 seconds into the fight and a counter left hook floored him. Follow-up shots led to the TKO in just 50 seconds, giving him consecutive first-round knockouts inside the Octagon.
- Kazula Vargas outstruck the 21-year-old Rongzhou in round one, nearly choked him out in round two, and survived a late charge from the UFC newcomer (along with some meaningless showboating and goading efforts) to take a unanimous decision. The 10-8 round for Vargas (presumably for round two) was... questionable, but the 35-year-old Mexican was no doubt the more composed and effective fighter.
- Aoriqileng and Jeff Molina had an absolute war to... wait a minute I’m using the same line! Well I’m not wrong to, am I? Molina was clearly losing much of the first part of this fight but two knockdowns in round two, the latter of which nearly turned into a KO, turned things around in his favor. Molina was piecing up ‘The Mongolian Murderer’ in the final round and then slugged it out in the closing seconds and found himself rocked, but not enough for a knockout or to lose the round. That was crazier than the opening bout!
- Ariane Carnelossi and Na Liang had an absolute war to kick off the card and the fans were loving every second it. Liang scored a flash knockdown within seconds and all hell broke loose from there, but she had one hell of a costly adrenaline dump. By the end of the round she was exhausted and arguably should’ve been TKO’d given how long it took her to get back to her corner, and then Carnelossi did record the stoppage in round two. What a fight that was! A great scrap really can be enhanced with appreciative fans and while I’m absolutely not for full capacity indoor shows in the USA, I won’t lie... I missed hearing tremendous atmospheres like that.