What an honor it was to be able to watch UFC 261, a fight card that will go down in history. Not for being the first UFC card with a full stadium of fans in over a year, but also the events we saw pan out as the card progressed, including introducing a new pound-for-pound king.
We first saw two unfortunate events happen to Jimmy Crute and Chris Weidman, who both suffered leg injuries that made their respective fights get cut short. Starting with Jimmy Crute, he likely suffered a nerve injury that made him lose control of his foot. He was constantly twisting his ankle and eventually had his fight called against Anthony Smith. I still think Jimmy Crute is one of the best prospects in all of MMA, and this would have been a huge win for him against the number six contender. But the stoppage was right and with some time to recover, Crute will be back to taking heads and ascending to the top of the light heavyweight division.
I got all the feels after what happened to Chris Weidman. As a sports fan, I’ve seen plenty of compound fractures. Paul George, Anderson Silva, Kevin Ware, the list could easily continue. Chris Weidman was no different. Not to mention the position he is in as a fighter. Weidman is 36 years old and has lost six of his last eight fights since losing the belt. It would be awful for Weidman to end his career like this but it wasn’t hard to imagine that this was his last chase for gold. I hope Chris has a speedy recovery and can make a return to the Octagon at some point.
Breaking down the title fights, starting with Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade. I don’t think anyone will be beating Valentina at 125 any time soon. Her performance against Andrade was dominant from the start. Her new tools in wrestling were all she needed to get the job done. She is on a completely different level compared to the rest of the division. Not to mention that it’s already hard to tell who her next opponent will be considering she’s already cleaned out the division. Katlyn Chookagian is scheduled to fight Viviane Araujo on May 15th, which could determine Valentina’s next opponent. But Andrade already defeated Chookagian with a first-round knockout not too long ago, so the interest might not be there even if Chookagian wins. A stretch would be a trilogy with Amanda Nunes, which would be extremely exciting. But that won’t come until the fall with Nunes being scheduled in September to fight Julianna Pena.
Rose Namajunas’s performance was quick but fantastic. Weili Zheng is as tough as they come, her win streak before this loss says it all, 21 straight. The head kick was a work of art and it was all that Thug Rose needed. Not to mention that Rose now becomes the first fighter to lose, then, win the belt again in the same weight class. The emotion that Rose showed was heartwarming as well, all props to her. A rematch could be on the horizon for Rose and Zheng. But the winner between Yan Xiaonon and Carla Esparza on May 22nd could also become the number one contender, depending on what the UFC would like to do. Joanna Jedrzejczyk also fits into the mix of the strawweight title picture as well.
Finally, the main event, where I think because of this fight, this sport and promotion now enter a new level with the rest of the athletic atmosphere. The setup for this event was perfect. Jacksonville Florida, the home state of Jorge Masvidal, with a stadium filled to the capacity of 15,000 fans, something the promotion hasn’t been able to do in over a year, featuring one of the biggest fights that they could put together at the moment. The rematch between Jorge Masvidal vs. Kamaru Usman was something that needed to happen and Dana White was able to make the stars align and have it premiere on the biggest stage possible. The build-up only continued when both were chirping at each other at the press conference and weigh-ins. The result of the fight could not have been more dramatic. Usman smashing the face of Masvidal to make his head turn almost 180 degrees and spit fly everywhere as his head turns, unbelievable. Usman achieved what no one else has been able to in 50 pro fights and hundreds of street fights, knockout Masvidal.
I think this fight now makes Usman the number one pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Jon Jones continues to try to pull strings with the UFC in order to get paid before he fights Francis Ngannou. He also barely escaped his last win over Dominick Reyes back in February of 2020, which was the last time Jones fought. Bones might have the accolades to put himself over Usman, but Usman has been by far the more active fighter and doesn’t back down to any opponent who thinks they can challenge him. I think there is little to say that Usman shouldn’t be the king as of today.
I also think this sport is evolving to become on the same level as other top leagues in the United States and the world. This card was revolutionary and I think things will only go up from here for the UFC. Dana White has refused to let COVID-19 hold him back and I think this window where UFC is the only sport to have full stadiums makes this sport grow at an exponential rate. I think if you aren’t a serious fan of UFC and MMA, I think now is a perfect time. We as fans are in for a very exciting future. The next champion at lightweight between Charles Oliveria and Michael Chandler, and the return of Nate Diaz in May, Israel Adesanya returning to 185 in June, the trilogy between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier in July, and so much. It’s an extremely exciting time for the sport and I cannot wait to see how the future pans out.