UFC 261 Brings Back Fans, Three Titles, and Two Leg Injuries

Dayne McElwee, Courier Staff

The UFC 261 Usman vs. Masvidal 2 main card started at 9 p.m. Saturday night and saw five rather short fights, including three title fights to headline. Starting off the card was long time light heavyweight Anthony Smith taking on Jimmy Crute in a great fight to start the card off. However, in a strong leg kick by Smith that landed at Crute’s knee in the first round, the fight had to be stopped between round one and two. Crute had lost the ability to walk on that leg let alone fight. Crute seemed to want to continue, showing his immense spirit for the game and really gained a lot of respect from many fighters and fans. It is hard to say what is next for Anthony Smith, who once was a strong title contender. The next fight saw former Middleweight champion of the world Chris Weidman take on Uriah Hall. Uriah Hall had just come off a KO win against legend Anderson Silva, who has since left the UFC. It is worth mentioning there is a long and tainted history between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, who had fought twice in 2013. The first bout saw Weidman knock out Silva in a devastating and shocking fashion. The second bout, however, saw Weidman check a nasty leg kick from Silva, which split Silva’s leg in half. In the Weidman vs. Hall fight Saturday night, the very first strike Weidman threw was an identical leg kick as to what Silva threw 8 years ago. Hall checked it, and Weidman’s leg split at the shin. His leg wrapped around Hall’s, he fell back on it for a moment and then fell in agonizing pain. It was one of the worst injuries I had seen in UFC, atleast since Silva’s 8 years ago. With that putting a gut-wrenching and heart-breaking damper on the night, we moved on to the first title fight of the night, Valentina Shevchenko (Champion) vs. Jessica Andrade. Something to note is the absence of fans in UFC events since early last year, and how big of an impact it has on these fights. There was something about watching a title fight with fans in the stands that really showed how much we need to appreciate these things we have while we do. It was a rejuvenating feeling in a rather hard year for sports. As expected by most, Shevchenko finished Andrade in dominating fashion in the second round via KO/TKO in the Flyweight title fight to retain her belt. Do not let that take away from what Andrade has done and her skill level, it is just that not many are doing what Shevchenko seems to be doing constantly. That is, unless we are talking about Rose Namajunas (and Amanda Nunes of course). Rose took on the Chinese Strawweight champion Weili Zhang, who in her last bout gave us the undisputed fight of the year last year against Joanna Jędrzejczyk. While Rose is a fan favorite of many, the Vegas odds were against her in this bout, seeingWeili Zhang as a heavy favorite. In the very first round, “Thug” Rose Namajunas landed a devastating head kick to the right side of Weili’s head, leaving her on the canvas. Rose followed up with a couple ground strikes to the head that officially saw Rose earn the Strawweight title for a second time, a feat not many have done. It was an emotional and surprising win for many, as she has had a long journey in the fight game after almost retiring when she suffered a damaging takedown in 2019 from fellow card fighter Jessica Andrade. An inspiring and beautiful fight story in that result. Next was the main event of the evening, which saw Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman take on Jorge Masvidal in their second bout. They fought late last year, and Usman dominated the fight, winning on a unanimous decision. This time around, Usman did not want to leave any questions. And while Masvidal promised violence throughout all the press conferences and promotional events, it seemed as if Usman was the one who brought it. In one of the most vicious knockouts I have seen in my life watching UFC, Kamaru Usman landed a dirty straight right that immediately put Jorge Masvidal to sleep with a nice pillow and story book. Jorge Masvidal was sent to the shadow realm to check in on Ben Askren and see how he is doing. What does this mean ultimately for the dominant Welterweight champion? That is the biggest question being asked now, and I see it being answered in the coming weeks. This second round knockout put a cap on what was one of the most exciting and refreshing nights in UFC history. What a way to start the year UFC.