UFC 261 Main Card Preview: Three Title Fights & Two Rematches
We have a truly epic night of fights coming to us this weekend at UFC 261, particularly in the main card, starting at 10pm ET.
Firstly, as you could tell by the title, we have three title fights to look forward to, two rematches, and one light-heavyweight contenders fight to open up the main card.
One of the rematches is going down in the main event for the UFC welterweight championship, the other is the first feature bout of the evening, which was a title fight their first time around believe it or not. The other two title fights showcase the women’s strawweight & flyweight divisions, and they couldn’t be more exciting match ups.
Some don’t care as much for female fights, but honestly, in these two bouts, we couldn’t ask for better match making.
These are five seriously intriguing match ups, and we’ll start by getting into the first fight on the pay-per-view event right now.
Anthony Smith (34-16) vs. Jimmy Crute (12-1)
This is a very exciting light-heavyweight contenders bout to open up a stellar UFC 261 main card!
We’ve got the No. 6 ranked former title challenger in Anthony Smith and the No. 13 ranked prodigy in Jimmy Crute.
Smith started out his career as a journeyman, making it to 18-9 before coming to the UFC. He’d lose that UFC bout via submission, get released, and lose his next bout to Josh Neer, also via submission.
This marked his third-straight defeat via submission. To his credit, the first two were against multiple-time world BJJ champions Roger Gracie and Antonio Braga Neto.
Smith then won his next seven-straight before making it back to the UFC, where he went 4-1 with three knockouts upon return. He was the TKO’d by Thiago Santos before moving up to 205 lbs, where he intially went 3-0 with three finishes over the likes of former UFC light-heavyweight champions Rashad Evans (KO) and Shogun Rua (KO) in round one, as well as former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir (RNC) in round three.
This was followed up by a unanimous decision defeat to Jon Jones, before he returned just three months later to submit (RNC) Alexander Gustafsson in round four. Now he was 4-1 at 205 lbs with four finishes, two over top five contenders, and his only defeat coming to the champion.
However, Smith would lose his next two bouts to Glover Teixeira (TKO) and Aleksandar Rakic (UD), before submitting (triangle choke) Devin Clark in his last bout.
Jimmy Crute is another one of those talents that just has no ceiling to his potential. He came to the UFC with an 8-0 record off his Contender Series victory. For starters, Crute submitted (kimura) grappling wizard Paul Craig in round three of his UFC debut, which was just insane.
Crute followed this up with a TKO victory over Sam Alvey, before he was submitted (Peruvian necktie) himself by another stellar grappler in Misha Cirkunov. Crute has since rebounded with first-round finishings of Michal Oleksiejczuk and Modestas Bukauskas (KO).
Crute may be the future of the sport, or at the very least his division, but he’s got a dangerous ‘Lionheart’ lying in wait for him this weekend.
Now we get into the first feature bout.
Chris Weidman (15-5) vs. Uriah Hall (16-9) II
We have an incredibly exciting feature rematch coming this weekend in the middleweight division between the No. 9 ranked Uriah Hall and No. 11 ranked Chris Weidman.
Neither of these men really quite lived up to the hype we’d assumed they would, but we’ll get into that in a minute.
These two fought on the regional scene for the ROC middleweight championship back in 2010.
Chris Weidman came into the bout with a record of 2-0, while Uriah Hall came in with a record of 4-0. Weidman would walk away the victor via TKO in round one, and he’d defend his belt one time before coming over to the UFC with a 4-0 record.
‘The All-American’ won his first five bouts with the UFC, defeating the likes of Alessio Sakara (UD), Jesse Bongfeldt (standing guillotine choke), Tom Lawlor (D’Arce choke), Demian Maia (UD), and Mark Munoz (KO).
This of course improved his record to 9-0 going into his championship clash with the greatest of all-time, to that point, Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva. Though Weidman was being picked apart, he took advantage of Silva clowning him and KO’d the longest reigning champion in UFC history in the second round.
Weidman rematched Silva and also walked away the victor via TKO in round two, this one coming at 1:16 of the round, after the first ended at 1:18, only this time, Silva’s leg was folded in half considering Weidman checked a leg kick of his, thus resulting in the stop.
The new UFC middleweight champion of course got his first title defense out of the way in the Silva rematch, and he defeated two more legends in Lyoto Machida (UD) and Vitor Belfort (TKO) in his next two defenses.
Next came a defense against former three-time Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, who defeated Weidman via TKO in round four to take his championship.
This made them both four-time world champions, and it’s too bad we never got to see that rematch like we were supposed to.
Weidman would also lose his next two to Yoel Romero (KO) and Gegard Mousasi (TKO), before submitting (arm-triangle choke) Kelvin Gastelum to rebound his career. Two more KO defeats would follow however, to Jacare Souza and Dominick Reyes, before he won a unanimous decision over Omari Akhmedov last August.
Uriah Hall came onto The Ultimate Fighter 17 with a record of 7-2 and went 4-0 on the show with three vicious knockout victories. However, he lost the finale to Kelvin Gastelum via split decision, and also lost a split decision to John Howard in his next bout.
Hall then went 5-1 over his next six, only losing a split decision to Rafael Natal, while defeating the likes of Chris Leben (TKO), Thiago Santos (UD), and Gegard Mousasi (TKO).
He’d go 1-4 in his next five however, being finished via (T)KO by Derek Brunson, Gegard Mousasi in their rematch, Paulo Costa, as well as a unanimous decision defeat to Robert Whittaker.
Hall has since gone 3-0 over the likes of Bevon Lewis (KO), Antonio Carlos Junior (SD), and Anderson Silva (TKO).
It’s crazy how this sport works sometimes. The man to defeat Anderson Silva twice only had three title defenses, and perhaps the most hyped MMA fighter ever never even made it close to a title.
Now we get into the second feature bout, and the first of three title fights.
Valentina Shevchenko (20-3) vs. Jessica Andrade (21-8)
Perhaps the greatest female mixed martial artist alive, Valentina ‘The Bullet’ Shevchenko, is looking to make the fifth-straight defense of her UFC women’s flyweight championship this weekend against former UFC women’s strawweight champion Jessica Andrade.
Shevchenko came to MMA after a 56-2 run in professional kickboxing, which includes becoming an 11-time world champion, as well as a 2-0 record in boxing.
She also has a 2nd-degree black belt, as well as a Master of Sport in Taekwondo, an International Master of Sport in Muay Thai, a Master of Sport in both boxing and kickboxing, as well as a Master of Sport, and a black belt in Judo.
That’s quite the accomplished cadet aye?
‘The Bullet’ came to the UFC with a record of 11-1, only having lost a doctor stoppage TKO to future Strikeforce & UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche, which she’d later avenge.
After going 3-2 to start her UFC career, a UD & SD defeat to Amanda Nunes, and victories over former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman (SD), former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm (UD), and The Ultimate Fighter 19 winner and current bantamweight title challenger Julianna Pena (armbar).
Both fights with Nunes were incredibly close as well. She lost rounds one and two of the first, but dominated round three, and many believe she won the second fight. However, she’s gone 6-0 since her most recent defeat to ‘The Lioness’, and that includes going 5-0 in championship fights at 125 lbs.
Jessica Andrade is the female version of Wanderlei Silva, to put things accurately.
She’s a put-your-head-down-and-swing-hard kind of fighter, and it’s very entertaining to see. Tell us, when’s the last time we saw a woman at 115 lbs & 125 lbs that has one-punch KO power?
Well, after losing the championship she claimed by defeating Rose Namajunas, Andrade moved up to 125 lbs to take on No. 1 contender Katlyn Chookagian, who she KO’d at the end of round one with a vicious shovel hook to the body.
To do that to someone that’s only ever been finished by the champion, then to do it that much easier, it was a sight to see. This is such an incredible match up, we’ve finally got a super exciting test for Shevchenko!
Weili Zhang (21-1) vs. Rose Namajunas (9-4)
This is many peoples favorite fight on the card at UFC 261.
Rose Namajunas has been a prodigy of sorts ever since we first saw her compete back on The Ultimate Fighter 20 back in 2014, where she went 3-0 on the show with three submission (kimura x2, RNC) victories.
All three opponents were more experienced than her, being 4-1, 8-0, and 4-1, and she just ran right through all of them. She lost the finale to Carla Esparza however, being submitted (RNC) in round three, bringing her record to 2-2.
Namajunas won her next three bouts over the likes of Angela Hill (RNC), Paige VanZant (RNC), and Tecia Torres (UD), before dropping a split decision to Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Namajunas then submitted (RNC) Michelle Waterson, and was granted a title shot following her victory.
‘Thug Rose’ then became the first woman to defeat the legendary Joanna Jedrzejczyk, doing so via first round TKO. She followed this up with a unanimous decision victory, out-striking the multiple-time world kickboxing champion for five rounds in her first title defense.
Next came a defeat to Jessica Andrade, who she was looking great against early on. However, Andrade picked Namajunas up and slammed her on her head, KO’ing her on the spot. It was upsetting because this Namajunas we were seeing was the best version yet by a long shot.
Namajunas has since had one fight, where she avenged her defeat to Andrade via split decision back in July of 2020.
Weili Zhang has been nothing short of perfect since making her UFC debut, and really, from her second professional bout on. She lost her first via unanimous decision, and has been on a 21-fight win streak since with 17 finishes.
This includes becoming a three-time KLF strawweight champion and a Top FC strawweight champion before making her UFC debut. Zhang came to the UFC with a record of 16-1, and won her first three bouts with the promotion before challenging for the UFC strawweight championship opposing Jessica Andrade.
Zhang stormed right through Andrade, TKO’ing her with a vicious knee to the body just 42 seconds into the fight, and we now have our first ever Asian UFC champion. Zhang has since defended her title once, against Joanna Jedrzejczyk via split decision back in February of 2020.
Though Namajunas has had all this hype and potential, she has come up short a few times, but she may still be the best in the world. We’ll find out this Saturday when she faces a near undefeated killer in Weili Zhang.
One thing is for certain, don’t let these challenger records fool you.
Kamaru Usman (18-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-14) II
Lastly, we have the UFC welterweight championship on the line in the five round main event of the evening.
Kamaru Usman looks to make the fourth-straight defense of his UFC welterweight championship, which would surpass Tyron Woodley on the welterweight title defenses list. He’d still be behind Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre, but chances are, he may catch up to them as well.
Usman first came to the UFC off The Ultimate Fighter 21, where he went 2-0 on his season before submitting (arm-triangle choke) fellow finalist Hayder Hassan in round two at the finale.
‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ hasn’t lost since either.
Actually, his only defeat came in his second professional fight. Since then, he’s won 17-straight. His sophomore UFC effort saw him defeat Leon Edwards via unanimous decision, before doing the same to Alexander Yakovlev, Warlley Alves, and Sean Strickland.
Usman then KO’d Sergio Moraes, before dominating Emil Weber Meek, former two-division title challenger Demian Maia, and former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos to unanimous decision victories.
At this point, Usman was 14-1, and he’d won all ten rounds in both five round fights, which granted him a title shot at Tyron Woodley, who was 4-0-1 in UFC title fights and 19-3-1 as a professional.
Usman absolutely mauled Woodley to a unanimous decision victory, it was a very easy night for him defeating one of the greatest welterweights to ever do it. His first defense came against Colby Covington, who while they had an incredibly competitive, close fight, Usman TKO’d Covington with 50 seconds left in the fight to secure his first title defense.
‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ followed this up by losing round one, but winning rounds two-through-five against Jorge Masvidal in his second title defense. That brings us up to his most recent victory, where he finished Gilbert Burns off via TKO in round three, marking the third defense of his title.
Jorge Masvidal doesn’t necessarily deserve this shot, but he did deserve the first one, and he only got six days to prepare for it, if that makes sense. Now that Masvidal’s coming off a one-sided defeat to the champion, some of us turned our heads when this bout was signed.
However, Masvidal did only get six days to prepare for their first fight, which isn’t preparing.
All he had time to do was get on a few planes and make weight, and his showing wasn’t bad considering. Usman is perhaps the sports No. 1 pound-for-pound talent, and Masvidal kept from being finished over the coarse of 25 minutes while his energy levels were low.
Masvidal got his start fighting in the backyard in Miami back in the Kimbo Slice era.
He’s since turned it into a professional career and done incredibly well in it.
Despite his record, ‘Gamebred’ is one of the most elite talents we have in all of mixed martial arts. He’s always had good takedown defense, but it’s gotten better over time, and his striking has always been elite as well, but like his takedown defense, he’s also improved in that.
Masvidal came to the UFC with a record of 23-7, being a former AFC welterweight champion, and having fought Gilbert Melendez, the man many believed to be the No. 1 lightweight in the world, for the Strikeforce lightweight championship.
After winning his first two UFC bouts over the likes of Tim Means (UD) and Michael Chiesa (D’Arce choke), he then lost a close unanimous decision to Rustam Khabilov, a fight many believed he won, before winning his next three against Pat Healy (UD), Daron Cruikshank (UD), and James Krause (UD).
Masvidal then lost a split decision to Al Iaquinta in a fight literally everyone said he won, and he did, it was a bad call. That made him decide to move up to 170 lbs, where he faced The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil middleweight winner Cezar Ferreira.
Though the bout was contested at welterweight, Ferreira was so much bigger than Masvidal, it was astounding these two were actually fighting one another. It didn’t look the best for Masvidal initially, but he handily got the KO victory toward the end of round one.
Two more split decision defeats would follow against former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, and then Lorenz Larkin, both decisions of which could’ve gone either way, before he won his next three over the likes of Ross Pearson (UD), Jake Ellenberger (TKO), and Donald Cerrone (TKO).
The Cerrone fight was really his coming out party, he’d now finished a 28-0-1 professional kickboxing champion with only his striking. However, he’d be defeated by two-time title challenger Demian Maia via split decision in his next fight, a fight many believed he won, then he got pieced apart by two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson.
‘Gamebred’ took a good year-and-a-half away from the sport following these two setbacks, but returned for a Fight Night main event against Darren Till, who was coming off his title shot against Tyron Woodley.
Masvidal very shockingly KO’d Till in round two with a beautiful combination he was setting up the entire fight, and his next outing showed him claim the fastest KO in UFC history, doing so against undefeated (19-0) nine-time world champion (Bellator 5x, ONE 4x) Ben Askren.
This was followed up by a three-round battering of Nate Diaz, which showed Masvidal victorious via TKO (doctor stoppage), and he was now the No. 1 contender at 170 lbs.
UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was expected to face Gilbert Burns at UFC 251 in July of last year, but Burns tested positive for Covid-19 and the bout was cancelled on a weeks notice.
One or two days later, Usman versus Masvidal was announced on six days notice.
Now, we get to see a better version of him. If Masvidal kept the same energy he had in round one for at least two more rounds, he may have won them as well.
Masvidal is one of the toughest talents we’ve ever seen, not even Paul Daley could finish him in a fight that was only contested on the feet. Toughness isn’t enough though.
Can the best version of ‘Gamebred’ beat ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’? And better yet, was the best version of Jorge Masvidal left in 2019? We’ll find out this weekend!
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I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That’s the first fight I saw, and the fight that got me hooked on the sport. Since then, the sport has grown so rapidly, and my goal is to enlighten everyone on what’s going on in the sport today.