Kamaru Usman continues to redefine greatness in mixed martial arts.
Usman (19-1) defeated Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 261. Continuing his pattern of finding different ways to dominate a fight, Usman won this fight with his striking. He knocked out Masvidal (35-15) with a right hand just over a minute into the second round, extending his win streak to 18 in a row. Usman also put to rest a massive threat in Masvidal, and unexpectedly, not with his wrestling.
Usman is running out of challengers. His performance should earn a place atop UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings as the number-one fighter in the world, a distinction that is becoming increasingly difficult to argue.
There were three title fights on the UFC 261 card and one changed hands when Rose Namajunas knocked out strawweight champ Zhang Weili.
It marked a defining moment in the career of Namajunas (11-4), who ended the 21-fight win streak of Weili (21-2). Namajunas won the fight by virtue of a high kick KO. Following the finish, Weili expressed frustration that the fight was called, but it was certainly the right decision. Namajunas regaining the belt two years after dropping it is a milestone moment in her career, and now sets up a rematch against Weili.
In a fight that will be slightly overlooked due to Usman’s dominance and Namajunas regaining the strawweight belt, Valentina Shevchenko dominated Jessica Andrade.
The fight lasted two rounds, and Andrade (21-9) was fortunate to last that long. Showing off her elite grappling skills, Shevchenko (21-3) controlled every moment of the bout, retaining her flyweight title. She has cleared any and all competition from the division, and unless she meets Amanda Nunes for a third time, is in desperate need of a legitimate opponent.
The opening two fights of the night both ended in TKOs due to stoppage. Unfortunately, Uriah Hall now has the distinction of becoming the first-ever UFC fighter to win a bout without throwing a strike. This was not the way Hall (17-9) wanted to win, but it was the reality after Chris Weidman’s opening fight kick that split his own leg in half. The injury was devastating, and could potentially end the career of Weidman (15-6). This had been a highly anticipated rematch from 11 years ago, a bout that Weidman won, but it turned into a finish eerily similar to Weidman’s TKO win against Anderson Silva at UFC 168 in 2013, where Silva also suffered a gruesome leg injury.
The opening bout of the night also ended in a TKO stoppage, as Anthony Smith defeated Jimmy Crute. Smith (35-16) dropped a damaging leg kick on Crute (12-2) near the end of the first round. Crute finished the round competitively on the ground, but after he could not place weight on his left leg before the start of the second round, the referee stopped the fight. Smith looked sharp in the win, especially with his left jab, and the win serves as a reminder that he still has a lot to offer in the light heavyweight division.
All three title fights delivered on this card, and the main event was more than a reminder of Usman’s brilliance. Usman now has the longest win streak (14) in UFC, he is tied for third-most wins in welterweight title fights, and incredibly, he is showing more dominance with each win. Further cementing his legacy by becoming the first fighter to finish Masvidal since 2009, Usman showed at 261 why he is the No. 1 fighter in the world.
WELTERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: KAMARU USMAN (C) VS. JORGE MASVIDAL -- 12:09 AM ET
For the first time since 2009, Jorge Masvidal got finished in a fight.
Kamaru Usman extended his welterweight title reign, making a convincing claim that he is the pound-for-pound number one ranked fighter in the world. Usman (19-1) knocked out Masvidal (35-15) in the second round with a ferocious right hand, erasing whatever doubts remained he had any peer in the welterweight division.
The win streak for Usman now improves to 18. Known for his world-class wrestling, the win was extra satisfying because he won this bout with his striking. That was the most impressive win of Usman’s career, defeating a legitimate threat in Masvidal. Usman continues to get better with each win, which is remarkable considering he is already the best in the world.
Next up for Usman appears to be a rematch against Colby Covington, but it will also be interesting to see who emerges from the Leon Edwards-Nate Diaz bout in May at UFC 262. But moving past Masvidal is a major moment for Usman. This victory further elevates Usman, who is operating on an entirely different level from the rest of the division.
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: ZHANG WEILI (C) VS. ROSE NAMAJUNAS -- 11:41 PM ET
Expecting a low kick, Zhang Weili was drilled with a left high kick by Rose Namajunas. A couple of hammer fists later, and a new strawweight champion was crowned.
Namajunas (11-4) regained the belt with the KO victory, ending a 21-fight win streak for Weili (21-2). There appeared to be a slight controversy at the end of the fight, as Weili was initially upset with the stoppage. Weili reiterated after the fight that she was not unconscious, but that served as a reminder that more consideration needs to be paid to fighters that were just knocked out.
This begins Namajunas’s second run with the strawweight title, and a perfect first defense will be running it back with Weili.
WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO (C) VS. JESSICA ANDRADE -- 11:11 PM ET
Valentina Shevchenko left no doubt. She utterly dominated Jessica Andrade, winning the bout by TKO after locking in a crucifix position and hammering Andrade with shots to the head before the official mercifully called a stop to it.
Takedown after takedown, Shevchenko (21-3) was simply too much for Andrade (21-9). Her grappling was next level, and Andrade never stood a chance.
This marks the seventh win in a row for Shevchenko, and fourteenth of her past sixteen. The only opponent to defeat her in that stretch is Amanda Nunes, and a third fight between the two would be an extremely compelling main event.
MIDDLEWEIGHT FIGHT: CHRIS WEIDMAN VS. URIAH HALL -- 10:45 PM ET
One of the most gruesome injuries in UFC history happened in the opening moments of this bout. Chris Weidman opened the fight with a leg kick, hitting Uriah Hall’s knee, causing Weidman’s leg to split in half.
This was devastating. Hall (18-9) gets the victory by TKO, but that was not the way he wanted to win. He had entered this fight on a three-fight win streak, and a win against Weidman (15-6), who defeated him 11 years ago, looked to place him in the thick of the middleweight title picture. And having lost five of his past seven, Weidman needed this win.
But only 17 seconds into the bout, the fight was stopped due to Weidman’s gruesome leg injury.
That type of injury is a career-killer. Weidman deserved a far better fate in the cage, but hopefully, there is another chapter remaining in his career.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT: JIMMY CRUTE VS. ANTHONY SMITH -- 10:24 PM ET
Anthony Smith landed an extremely effective outside leg kick on Jimmy Crute in the closing moments of round one. The shot was so damaging that Crute could not put weight on his left leg, causing the doctor to call a stop to the fight at the end of the first round, giving Smith a TKO victory.
Smith (35-16) also landed a beautiful left job throughout the first five minutes, which caused repeated damage to the face of Crute (12-2). Despite coming in as the underdog, Smith used this fight to show that he remains a force in the light heavyweight division. And while it is a damaging loss for Crute, he still has plenty of time at only 25 to regain his momentum in the division.
A championship tripleheader is about to take place in front of a packed crowd at UFC 261.
Whether it is too early for a full stadium is an entirely different subject, but the crowd will certainly add life to the fights on the main card. Headlined by a welterweight championship fight pitting Kamaru Usman against Jorge Masvidal, this has all the pieces necessary to be a tremendous card. The great Valentina Shevchenko also defends her flyweight title against Jessica Andrade, and Zhang Weili looks to make a statement in her strawweight title defense against Rose Namajunas, her toughest opponent to date.
Even the non-title bouts are compelling. In light heavyweight competition, Jimmy Crute looks to take the next step to stardom with a victory against Anthony Smith. Middleweights Chris Weidman and Uriah Hall also meet in a very exciting matchup, one that could spell doom for Weidman in UFC if he loses.
The focus here will be on Usman-Masvidal. This is a night of second chances; for Masvidal, who lost to Usman last summer; for Andrade, who seeks to erase the tag of fluke champion from her resume; and Namajunas, who has a chance to reclaim the title that once belonged to her.
Top to bottom, the entire 261 represents a massive night for the UFC.
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