Sold-out crowd witnesses to UFC 261’s magic
Updated: May 22, 2021
UFC magic on display in front of a sold-out crowd
Fans were welcomed back on a full scale for the first time since the pandemic, and Dana White provided a loaded fight card with potential for classic moments.
Boy-oh-boy did they deliver, with every fight being decided within two rounds. Let’s jump right into it.
Usman nails the coffin on Masvidal rivalry
It can’t be understated how much of an impact fans being back in the arena made. It was felt most in the main event, where tension was at its highest.
Almost a year after their first fight, we would soon have our answers to what Jorge Masvidal (35-15) could do with a full training camp against the champion, Kamaru Usman (19-1).
The first-round featured both fighters suppressing their adrenaline before exchanging blows on the ground. It was essentially a stalemate.
Masvidal then got comfortable, having flashed some ground offense in the first and making Usman miss in the second. The champion was swinging wildly and Masvidal cracked a smile, thinking he had the champ’s number.
Eight seconds later, a picture-perfect punch from Usman knocked Masvidal out cold for the first time in his career.
The crowd erupted for the umpteetnth time as Masvidal went crashing to the canvas. It was truly an epic moment inside the octagon.
After their first encounter, Masvidal made the grave mistake of saying Usman was one of the “softest” punchers he’d ever gone up against. Few statements have aged worse than that one.
Still relatively new on the scene, Usman is the first to admit that he’s still getting better. Tonight’s performance was evidence of said improvement.
While he’s known for his grappling expertise -- first highlighted against Tyron Woodley -- Usman now holds knockout wins over Masvidal, Gilbert Burns, and Colby Covington. That’s three of his last four fights, each one with his belt on the line.
We noted after UFC 258 that the legend of Usman is growing, and it has now gone to reach new heights.
White announced shortly after the card concluded that up next for Usman will be a rematch with Covington.
The question is no longer how good is Usman, rather how great will he end up being.
Thug Rose vanquishes Zhang Weili in under 90 Seconds
With a swift left high kick, Rose Namajunas (11-4) ended Zhang Weili’s (21-2) 21-fight winning streak.
Before the crowd could process whether Weili would suffer her first loss in eight years, it became a shocking reality.
‘Thug’ Rose was overcome with emotion after the fight, regaining the championship she shockingly lost almost two years ago.
That loss came against Jessica Andrade who finished Namajunas with a brutal slam that knocked her out. Andrade then lost the belt to Weili in her first defense.
At UFC 251, Namajunas avenged the loss to Andrade with a submission victory and awaited her second title opportunity.
Weili looked like a machine in the interim, handily beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk. But after a year-long layoff, she stated after the fight she would soon be ready to shake off this loss.
This was the only one of the three title fights to feature a new champion and Namajunas is as deserving as anyone.
Schevchenko continues evolving in her fifth title defense
Dominance summarizes Valentina Schevchenko’s (21-3) reign as the women’s flyweight champion.
Unless your name is Amanda Nunes, chances are you won’t fare well against the one nicknamed “Bullet.” Such was the case for her opponent tonight, Jessica Andrade (21-9).
Andrade, who bounces between strawweight and flyweight, was physically outmatched by the taller, stronger Schevchenko. The size advantage materialized in a way that was unexpected.
Schevchenko earned her nickname, ‘Bullet,’ through her sharp and precise kickboxing. Tonight, she displayed her equally dominant ground game against a superb grappler.
Landing five takedowns in the first round alone, Andrade was ill-equipped to defend herself against Schevchenko's unexpected gameplan.
In the second, Valentina trapped Andrade in a crucifix from side control before unleashing heavy, close-range punches and elbows. The official was forced to stop the fight because Andrade was in no position to defend herself.
This finish was another stamp on Schevchenko’s resumé, showing that she is far from a one-trick pony. Like Nunes, she’s running out of credible challengers.
Weidman Suffers a Bad Break in Opening Seconds
A matchup that could have added intrigue to the middleweight division was marred by misfortune.
In the first actual contact between the two fighters, a checked leg kick by Uriah Hall (18-9) unceremoniously broke the leg of Chris Weidman (15-6).
The moment was eerily similar to when ‘The Spider’ Anderson Silva suffered the same gruesome injury against Weidman himself at UFC 168, seven and a half years ago.
It was a tough moment to process for multiple reasons. Fans wanted to see the two skilled martial artists do battle. Uriah Hall didn’t get to showcase what he worked on during camp. Hopefully he’ll be able to get a new opponent soon.
But the feeling was worse for Weidman. His record since losing the middleweight title is 2-5, so each matchup is a chance for him to show he’s regained his winning ways and to have that opportunity taken away like this is painful.
We love this sport, but gut-wrenching injuries like this are the dark side that comes with the territory.
Weidman is set to undergo surgery on Sunday and we wish him the best in his recovery.
Crute’s leg goes numb ending in doctor’s stoppage
The main card’s opening bout was an ominous foreshadowing of what was to come on a night full of finishes. But this one was unlike the other’s.
A high-energy first round slowed down at the four-minute mark when a stiff leg kick from Anthony Smith (35-16) rendered Jimmy Crute’s (12-2) left leg numb.
In what seemed to be assessed as a severe case of drop toe, the doctors ruled that Crute could no longer compete deeming Smith the winner. It’s amazing that Crute fought on for another minute while regaining sensation in his foot.
The injury halts Chute’s momentum, who had finished each of his opponents in the UFC -- except for his submission loss to Misha Cirkunov in 2019. The 25-year-old fighter will be hungry for another opportunity in the octagon.
Smith looked good prior to the stoppage as well, especially successful with the jab. His performance will keep him in the ranks of light heavyweight contenders.