UFC 261 welcomed fans back to the building for the first time in over a year. Whatever your thoughts on the timing, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge, fans in Florida certainly made themselves heard. Did they ever. They were also treated to three thrilling title fights, and two unfortunate leg injuries — one of which left Chris Weidman’s career in doubt. As for the winners, where do they go from here? Let’s take a look.
Kamaru Usman did exactly what he set out to do at UFC 261. After going the distance with Jorge Masivdal in their first meeting last year, “The Nigerian Nightmare” proved in the sequel that not only was the win no fluke, but that he has Masvidal’s number. He also began the first man to knock Masvidal out in the UFC, showing an improved stand-up game in the process.
Usman has suggested that he is currently lapping the division, and he’s not entirely wrong. One name he hasn’t faced is Stephen Thompson. “Wonderboy” is always in the mix, but off two wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, he probably needs one more. The rematch with Covington will draw more eyeballs anyway, and Dana White has already proclaimed that “Chaos” is next.
Kamaru Usman’s next fight: Colby Covington
“Thug” Rose became the first female fighter in UFC history to reclaim her title on Saturday. Her win over China’s Weili Zhang was stunning, and definitive. A first round finish set up with a head kick, proving once again that Namajunas, despite struggling to stay active over the years, is one of the best fighters on the planet. Moving forward, there are a few options for her next fight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk has thrown her name in the hat, and Carla Esparza is fighting Yan Xiaonan shortly. Then there’s a possible rematch with Weili Zhang. That’s a very real possibility, but why not book the much-anticipated rematch between Zhang and Jedrzejczyk now as a five-round non-title fight atop a Fight Night card? In the meantime, Namajunas can face the winning of Esparza vs. Xiaonan.
Rose Namajunas’ next fight: Winner of Carla Esparza vs. Yan Xiaonan
If Jessica Andrade was the toughest test of Valentina Shevchenko’s career, she passed with flying colors. Trapping the former strawweight champ in a crucifix in the second round and pounding her out, “Bullet” made it look easy. She’s all but cleaned out the division, and a rematch with Amanda Nunes (a third fight, which arguably is a rubber match depending on how you feel about scoring in the last one) is what everyone wants. Nunes is booked, however, so in the meantime, let’s have Shevchenko go for a sixth title defense against the winner of Joanne Calderwood and Lauren Murphy.
Valentina Shevchenko’s next fight: winner of JoJo vs. Murphy
In a wild turn of events, Uriah Hall watched in horror as a checked kick snapped the leg of Chris Weidman at UFC 261. Eight years earlier, the exact same thing had happened, with Weidman in Hall’s place, and Anderson Silva the unfortunate victim. While Hall takes home the TKO win, it’s not how anyone wanted to see things play out. It also leaves Hall in an interesting spot — he’s on the best run of his UFC career, with wins over Silva and Weidman, but this sort of win won’t bump his stock any, through no fault of his own.
Middleweight is all locked up at the moment anyway, with Marvin Vettori awarded the next title shot, and Robert Whittaker promised the winner. Paulo Costa is getting over COVID-19, Darren Till broke his collarbone, and Jared Cannonier broke his arm in a fight with Whittaker last year. Cannonier was targeting a return sometime March or later, and we’re already past that. If he’s ready to get back to work, Hall makes sense.
Uriah Hall’s next fight: Jared Cannonier
Jimmy Crute suffered the other leg injury on Saturday, off a kick from Anthony Smith. Instantly going to rubber, it seemed more of a nerve issue than anything else. If there’s no ligament damage, hopefully Crute can get back to work soon. Smith, meanwhile, has won two straight. But another up-and-comer should be next, as Smith’s a ways off from the title picture. How about Magomed Ankalaev? They’re right next to each other in the rankings at the moment.
Anthony Smith’s next fight: Magomed Ankalaev