Wow. What a night of fights put forth by the Ultimate Fighting Championship last night. UFC 261 may not be the greatest mixed martial arts card of all time. However, it’s surely in the discussion because of its social relevance in bringing fans back, and the highlight reel moments that will play on several fighter’s hype videos for eternity.
This event produced signature events that will be talked about in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come. Some of those discussions will be on a positive tip, to reminisce on happenings that were jump-out-of-your-chair significant. There were also several low-light moments for a few notable talents on the card. Including what could be the final UFC fight for an “All American.” Let's get into the various winners and losers at the sports biggest show of 2021 in this 261 post-topsy .
UFC 261 Post-topsy: It was a lady’s night, and the action was right
Two of the three title fights on the card offered a showcase of elite fighters of the X chromosome variety that felt significant. In Valentina Shevchenko versus Jessica Andrade and Zhang Weili versus Rose Namajunas, fans were treated to contests between four of the top-five pound-for-pound female fighters on earth. Yet, compared to years past the times have changed and these competitors are some of the best fighters on the planet in either gender.
Although neither fight was a war for the ages, both provided definitive finishes based around top-shelf talent overcoming its like, in memorable ways. Also worth mentioning was the night's open bout between Ariane Carnelossi and Na Liang. Which was a wild free-for-all on the feet and the mat, that got the Jacksonville crowd red-hot and displayed what we all missed in seeing MMA action in front of a packed audience. UFC 261 only had three women’s fights but all of them stood above their male contemporaries.
The saga of ‘Usman the Great’ continues
Kamaru Usman’s run in the UFC has often been dominant, but also at times boring. Over his first 10 fights in the organization--all victories--only two of them did not go to a decision. He had built a reputation as one the least interesting great fighters on the roster. I even wrote about it earlier in the year.
However, something changed starting at the end of 2019. Maybe it was having to go to battle with men he hated. Maybe it was also choosing to switch camps once the possibility of facing teammate Gilbert Burns became a certainty. But since his UFC 245 bout with Colby Covington—which was a classic scrap—the current welterweight champ has become one of the most exciting fighters on the roster.
His transition from grinding wrestler to knockout artist seems complete, having scored knockouts in three of his last four title defenses. However, putting the uber-durable Jorge Masvidal to sleep for the first time in his 40-fight career was an exclamation point on who Usman is now. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is not only a pound-for-pound talent, but he is also a must-see superstar in the sport.
The BMF title may really become a thing now
By getting knocked out for the first time in his 18-year career, Masvidal’s pursuit of UFC gold was brought to finality. Yes, if Covington beat Usman for the title later this year, a fight between the former American Top Team buddies would be an easy sell. But at 36-years-old and coming off his first knockout loss, it seems like the superstar status of “Gamebred” would be better used in attraction fights for the oh-so-popular “Bad Mother F*cker” title.
Since winning the fictional title at UFC 244 in 2019, the belt has collected dusted and gone undefended. And that’s not to say other fighters in the sport haven’t been calling for opportunities at it. They certainly have. Now may be as good as time as any for Masvidal to sure up his MMA legacy by going on a BMF title tour and turning that fictional belt into something more fact-based. And selling out arenas around a post-pandemic world.
Broken limbs and scrambled nerves
When Anthony Smith forced Jimmy Crute to do the stanky leg, Michael Chandler-style, in the main card’s opening bout we all figured that would be the last we'd see of fight ending injuries at UFC 261. Boy, were we wrong. The likely short-term nerve damage the Aussie sustained in his fight was nothing compared to the career-altering injury suffered by former middleweight champion Chris Weidman.
“All-American” will forever be known as the man that brought an end to Anderson Silva’s dominant reign as champion. However, he is will also be forever linked to his former foe in suffering the same injury that he dealt Silva in the pairs 2013 rematch. A low kick that was perfectly checked, and shattered a lower leg bone. It’s all the more fortuitous since it happened against Uriah Hall. The same man that handed “The Spider” a loss in his promotional swan song.
The 36-year-old Weidman is in a difficult position. He will be 37 in August and trying to battle back from a serious injury in the final leg of his career. A career that has seen a serious downturn as he’s lost six of his last eight fights and been stopped early in all of those losses. If this is not the end of his career, the promotion could very well decide on their own this is the end of his UFC run. Just like they did to the man he will forever be connected to in Silva.
Chinese MMA had a rough night
Zhang Weili losing her strawweight title will be the biggest takeaway for many, as far as the trio of title fights goes. However, the nation of China as a whole had a difficult night inside the Vystera Veterans Memorial Center last night. Not only did their greatest fighting export get demolished by the new two-time division champion Namajunas, but three other talents from the country also fell on the early prelims.
Three of the first four bouts of the card was a showcase of talent from the promotions UFC academy in China. RongZhu, AoriQileng, and Na Liang all fought bravely in their UFC debut losses. Showing toughness is not something lacking in fighters from Asia. However, the trio also showed that the Chinese academy still has some work to do in building future stars. They seemed technically well behind their opponents and fellow prospects on fight night. The organization hopes to mine the fight fan market in the most populated nation on Earth. Yet, we all realized yesterday elite talents like Zhang are not at all easy to find or develop.
Cashing bonus checks
Two champions, a reigning king and second-time queen, were awarded performance bonuses last night. While two UFC newbies scored US $50,000 checks for their entertaining “Fight of the Night” winning scrap on the early prelims portion of the card.
Performance bonus: Kamaru Usman
Performance bonus: Rose Namajunas
Fight of the night bonus: Jeffrey Molina & AoriQileng