Three title fights, and fans. Those were the big stories heading into UFC 261.
Whether the coronavirus pandemic is under control enough for a full house to be pulled off safely is a debate for another day. Fact is, the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena was sold out of UFC 261, and it had sold out fast. Three title fights topping the card didn’t hurt (nor would the complimentary face masks for fans), the crown jewel of which was… well, that likely depended on where you stood.
Kamaru Usman was set to face Jorge Masvidal in the main event, a rematch of their Fight Island showdown last July. Where Masvidal took that bout on just days’ notice, this time around, he’d have a full camp. Would it change anything? That remained to be seen. If the fight seemed somewhat unnecessary, with Masvidal not having competed since that first meeting, it was still a fight that would garner more attention than any match-up not involving Colby Covington.
More compelling were the other two title fights on the card: Valentina Shevchenko had what was likely the biggest test of her career in former strawweight champ Jessica Andrade. Far from undersized at flyweight, Andrade had previously competed in the bantamweight division (as Shevchenko had herself). With four title defenses, Shevchenko was quickly establishing a dynasty at 125lbs, one that Brazil’s Andrade was looking to halt in its tracks.
Then there was Weili Zhang. While not the rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk many had hoped for, her strawweight title defense against former champ Rose Namajunas was just as compelling — and perhaps a little heated, thanks to controversial comments from “Thug” Rose.
All six fighters were scheduled to be on hand for Thursday’s UFC 261 pre-fight press conference. Not to mention UFC President Dana White, Florida Governor Ron Desantis, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. You can view the official live stream above, starting at 4PM ET.