UFC 261 showcased three title fights in Jacksonville, Florida, Saturday night, where two champions defended their titles while another failed to do so. This event was also the first since the pandemic commenced to have 15,000 in attendance. At full capacity, the event was sold out. The championship battles did not disappoint the crowd, ending the night in a dramatic fashion.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade started the championship fights off in the women’s flyweight division, with the defending titleholder putting on a clinic. Shevchenko let it be known early that she wanted nothing more than to defend her belt for the fifth time. She put the pressure on Andrade quickly and took her down with ease with a perfect takedown offense landing 7/7. In round two, Valentina made sure to finish the fight fast. Valentina continued the onslaught and did not let Andrade catch a break. After landing two more takedowns, Shevchenko was able to pass into side control, where she elbowed her way to a bloody victory. Referee Dan Miragliotta called a stop to the contest in round two at 3:19. Valentina Shevchenko won via technical knockout (TKO). Many claim she is running out of competition in the flyweight division, meaning there could be a super fight in talks very soon.
The co-main event showcased another title bout in the women’s strawweight division, where Weili Zhang was looking to defend her belt for the second time. However, Rose Namajunas had plans to reclaim her throne as the women’s strawweight champion after losing it in 2019. In the first round of the fight, Namajunas landed a vicious head kick knockout, Rose rushed in for the finish on the ground with ruthless hammer fists. Referee Keith Peterson called a KO/TKO stop only a little over a minute into the fight. However, there was some controversy in the stoppage, as Zhang felt like she had much more to offer. It was clear the stoppage was not premature and referee Peterson made the right call to prevent any more unnecessary damage. Rose reclaimed her belt in an outstanding and swift fashion and was very emotional at the end of the fight.
Before the fight started, Rose kept chanting, “I am the best.” After the fight, Joe Rogan interviewed Namajunas asking, “You were saying to yourself, I’m the best, I’m the best.” Namajunas responded in tears, “I am the best.” Rose is not only the best but also became the first woman in UFC history to reclaim a belt previously lost. What a historic night for the new champion.
Moving to the rematch and the main event of the evening, reigning and defending welterweight champion Kamaru Usman battled Jorge Masvidal for the second time. They fought last year, when Usman defeated Masvidal in a decision. Masvidal took the first fight on a week’s notice after Usman’s challenger Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Masvidal took the opportunity on short notice and knew the complications. He had to cut 20 pounds in six days to make weight. After the fight, many questioned if Masvidal had a full training camp, could he dethrone Usman? Masvidal even said in a post-fight interview, “Instead of six days, give me six weeks.”
All that controversy was put to rest this past Saturday night, as Usman finished Masvidal at the beginning of the second round with a vicious right hand that completely shut the lights out for Masvidal. Usman knocked Masvidal out a minute and two seconds into round two. Referee Herb Dean instantly stopped the fight. Masvidal had never been knocked out before in fifty-four pro fights. Now, Usman believes he has finally seen the last of Masvidal. In a post-fight interview, Usman stated, “I’m just ecstatic. I can’t believe we’re at this moment right now, and I have turned the page and closed that chapter.” Jorge Masvidal, with respect and humbleness, stated, “He’s got my number, he won this fair and square, and God bless him.”
With UFC 261 being the first full fan attendance event in some time, it was certainly a breath of fresh air for many fight fans around the world. President Dana White spoke upon the event after and laughed in happiness, stating, “It’s good to say this, the gate was 3.3 million dollars.” As venues are starting to open up again, expect more successful UFC events to take place as the year goes on.