UFC 261 Recap: Usman and Shevchenko retain, Namajunas wins title back

With three title fights on a stacked UFC 261 card, the night lived up to the hype.

Updated: April 25, 2021 • 6:20 PM ET

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Jacksonville, Fla. - Wikimedia Commons

In the main event of UFC 261 in front of 15,000-plus fans on Saturday night, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman proved that he’s still the king of the 170-pound division with a devastating second-round knockout of rival challenger Jorge Masvidal at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.

The fight was a rematch from their previous meeting at UFC 251 last July, during which Usman won by unanimous decision. Masvidal took the first fight on six days’ notice, and much of the talk leading up to UFC 261 questioned how Masvidal would look against the champion with a full training camp. Usman, however, silenced all of his doubters in resounding fashion, separating himself from the rest of the welterweight contenders.

Usman is the first man to finish Masvidal in the UFC, winning his 14th straight UFC fight in the process. With two more wins in his next two bouts, he’ll tie Anderson Silva for the longest winning streak in UFC history. The 33-year-old Usman has also defended the welterweight title four times and more importantly, he seems to be getting better with each fight.

Masvidal was known as the better striker entering the bout, and many pundits expected Usman to use his wrestling to push Masvidal against the fence and control the fight, much like he did in their first matchup. However, Usman left no doubt that his striking has significantly improved and his right hand should be feared by all welterweight contenders. He landed that right hand with power four times before eventually knocking out Masvidal, who never saw it coming.

It’s one thing for an already dominant champion to say he’s still getting better, it’s another thing for him to actually prove it in a fight. Usman has done just that in back-to-back bouts, first against Gilbert Burns in February and on Saturday against Masvidal. But, where does the champion go from here? What else does he have to prove?

UFC President Dana White has stated that No. 1 contender Colby Covington, who lost to Usman in a nearly five-round war in 2019, will be next in line to challenge for the welterweight title.

“I said it the other day, and I’ll say it a million more times,” White said at the post-fight press conference. “The fight with him and Colby Covington is one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen. Those two stood in there toe-to-toe blasting each other until Colby went down with a broken jaw. He’s (Usman) not afraid to trade with anybody, he’s not afraid to stand with anybody, if he has to wrestle he wrestles. He’s become an unbelievable, well-rounded fighter, one of the greatest ever and on his way to possibly being the best ever.”

Whether Covington is next, Usman doesn’t have much else to prove regarding his legacy. He has victories over four of the top five contenders in the welterweight division and defeated future Hall of Famer Tyron Woodley to win the belt in March 2019. While a rematch with Covington might make the most sense because their first fight was extremely entertaining and competitive, the champion doesn’t need another win over Covington to significantly enhance his resume.

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The rest of the main card

• In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas became a two-time strawweight champion with a dynamic head kick knockout of Zhang Weili. It was one of the best knockouts of 2021 thus far, as Namajunas became the first two-time strawweight champion in UFC history.

• Valentina Shevchenko successfully defended the women’s flyweight title for the fifth time with a second-round TKO of No. 1 contender Jessica Andrade.

• Uriah Hall defeated former champion Chris Weidman by TKO in 17 seconds, as Weidman suffered a gruesome broken leg on the first leg kick he threw at Hall.

• In the opening fight of the main card, former title challenger Anthony Smith defeated Jimmy Crute by first-round TKO (doctor stoppage). After the end of the first round, Crute was unable to continue after a Smith leg kick injured his leg and left him nearly unable to walk.

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