UFC 261: A Night Of High Drama
By Harry Jensen
In a night of spectacular finishes and sickening injuries, it is hard to definitively say who stole the show. But Kamaru Usman did a very good job in trying to do so.
The tension was palpable even through a TV screen and a 5-hour time difference during the night’s action, where 15,269 fans were welcomed into a sold-out arena, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Florida, for the first time since March 7th last year.
The five fights on the main card saw 5 KO/TKO victories, which lasted an accumulative 7 rounds, equating to 20 minutes and 37 seconds.
Usman showed the world why he’s being considered one of the greatest welterweights of all time, amongst the likes of Georges St Pierre and Matt Hughes, with a stand-out striking performance against a fighter whom many thought would have an advantage over the champion on the feet.
It seems like every title defence he makes is more impressive than the last, with a new tool being added to his ever-increasing arsenal every single time he makes the walk.
‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ kept his title to maintain the African oligopoly of champions at 170, 185, and 205+, and the scene of Usman’s father wearing the belt after seeing his son compete live for the first time was an emotional sight to behold.
This win brings him to 5-0 in title fights, and a 14-0 win streak in the UFC, only two wins behind Anderson Silva’s record.
At this point, Usman seems to be “doing laps” of his welterweight contenders, as he humorously put it, with the only logical fight for him being a rematch with Colby Covington, the man he so emphatically knocked out in late 2019. After that, it seems that the winner of the summer showdown between Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson is next in line to challenge the champion. We are well and truly in the midst of the Usman Era.
Meanwhile, Rose Namajunas made UFC history by becoming the first woman to reclaim a championship after her sensational left high kick knockout of the highly touted Zhang Weili in the very first round.
‘Thug’ Rose seems to have a habit of making highlight reels out of strong champions, as her knockout last night makes for a great wallpaper. You would be hard-pressed to pick the most impressive knockout between her win over Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Zhang Weili, but the fact that last night’s bout lasted a mere 1 minute and 18 seconds and ended after her first head kick connected takes the honour for me.
Valentina Shevchenko yet again cemented her claim as a pound-for-pound great last night with a shut out performance against #1-ranked Jessica Andrade, whom many thought would be Shevchenko’s toughest challenge to date.
Andrade was a sitting duck for Shevchenko’s takedowns for as long as the fight lasted, and the Kyrgyzstani national completely nullified the Brazilian’s high-crotch-and-slam takedown threat.
Shevchenko finds herself in a state of limbo in women’s mixed martial arts, whereby she has no real competition at 125lbs, and the lady in charge at 135lbs, that being Amanda Nunes, already has two wins over her. Does she risk moving up in weight to get one back against her inter-divisional rival, or does she continue to dominate at flyweight? Only time will tell, but hopefully if she decides to stay at flyweight, her performance on such a high-profile card will increase her pay-per-view sells.
The fight between Uriah Hall and Chris Weidman ended in 17 seconds, where the first time in UFC history a fighter won without throwing a single strike. Weidman unfortunately broke his shin clean in half after having a low kick checked perfectly by Hall, which was eerily similar to Weidman’s victory over Anderson Silva all those years ago in 2013.
There are some incredibly uncanny similarities which unearthed last night: Weidman, the first man to beat Anderson Silva in the UFC, lost to Uriah Hall, the last man to beat Anderson Silva in the UFC; Weidman suffered the exact same injury to Silva’s last opponent that he dealt to Silva himself the last time they fought; Uriah Hall’s ‘technical knockout’ last night now has him level with Anderson Silva on most finishes in UFC middleweight history.
A significantly less severe leg injury was dealt just before this fight, as the highly-experienced Anthony Smith beat prospect Jimmy Crute by 1st round Doctor’s stoppage after landing a perfectly placed kick to Crute’s peroneal nerve just behind his knee, rendering the Australian’s leg completely useless.
Smith has found himself in a bad run of form as of late, but this impressive performance tonight gives him his first winning streak since 2018 and a good opportunity to bounce back into the light heavyweight rankings. Perhaps he will be paying attention to the Jamahal Hill vs Paul Craig fight on June 12th at UFC 263.
Elsewhere on the card, Colombian Jeff Molina beat Chinese national Aori Qileng in a barn-burner, which rightfully so won the honour of ‘Fight of the Night’, which included a particularly fun scorecard of 29-27 to Molina.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Zuffa