The Ultimate Fighting Championship returned to a sold-out crowd in Jacksonville for UFC 261 last Saturday— marking the promotion’s first full-capacity event in more than a year. Fans at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena were treated to a stacked fight card, punctuated by three electric title bouts that each ended by stoppage.
The main event featured a welterweight title rematch between champion Kamaru Usman (19-1) and No. 5 Jorge Masvidal (35-15). The pair crossed paths back in July on Fight Island, where Masvidal served as an emergency replacement at UFC 251 on just six days’ notice. Usman cruised to a unanimous decision victory against the depleted Masvidal, who had to cut 20 pounds in less than a week to qualify for the championship fight.
Despite a full training camp for Masvidal, the result would stay the same Saturday night. Usman clocked Masvidal with a vicious right hand early in the second round, dropping “Gamebred” to the canvas nearly unconscious. Following up with hammer fists, Usman would put Masvidal, and their rivalry, to rest.
Usman’s emphatic victory marks his fourth — and arguably most impressive — welterweight title defense. Usman defeated former teammate, Gilbert Burns (19-4) at UFC 258 in February via TKO after surviving early adversity. “The Nigerian Nightmare” appears destined for a fiery rematch with Colby Covington (16-2) next.
The co-main event similarly delivered with the women’s strawweight title fight between incumbent Weili Zhang (21-2) and then-No. 1 Rose Namajunas (11-4).
Zhang last defended her belt in March 2020 at UFC 249 against Joanna Jędrzejczyk (16-4) in a bout that was crowned 2020’s fight of the year. Namajunas, a former UFC strawweight champion, clawed her way to a split decision victory over Jéssica Andrade (21-9) last July.
Namajunas claimed UFC gold for the second time in her career Saturday after a spectacular high kick put Zhang flat on her back early in the first round. Namajunas then pounced on the champion and secured her victory with ground strikes.
After the victory, “Thug” was visibly emotional as UFC president Dana White wrapped the belt around her waist, much like her first coronation at UFC 217 in November 2017. The pair may very well meet again soon in what has been a season of title bout rematches.
The first title fight of the evening featured women’s flyweights in champion Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) and challenger Andrade. In Shevchenko’s fourth title defense as the flyweight queen, she defeated Jennifer Maia (18-7-1) via unanimous decision last November.
Andrade — the former UFC strawweight champion — propelled herself to a title shot after an impressive debut at 125 where she defeated then-No. 1 contender Kaitlyn Chookagian (15-4) last October.
Shevchenko dominated Andrade on the ground — making a point to emphasize an area of her game that some thought was underdeveloped. “Bullet” made easy work of the dangerous submission artist Andrade, taking her down seven times at a 100% clip.
In the second round, Shevchenko locked up Andrade in a perilous crucifix position, enabling the champion to unleash a torrent of punches and elbows en route to a stoppage victory.
Shevchenko has laid waste to top flyweight contenders her entire reign as champion, and is without an obvious next opponent. Therefore, a trilogy with the greatest of all time, Amanda Nunes (21-4), could be in store for the Kyrgyz champion.
UFC Fight Night: Reyes versus Procházka preview
Top light-heavyweights No. 3 Dominick Reyes (12-2) and No. 5 Jiří Procházka (27-3-1) meet at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this Saturday. The winner will have pole position at the next title shot at 205 pounds.
Reyes is coming off his second-straight light heavyweight title bout loss. He most recently succumbed to Jan Błachowicz (28-8) at UFC 253 and lost a close decision to Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) at UFC 247 February 2020.
Procházka made the most of his promotional debut with a wicked knockout of Volkan Oezdemir (17-5) at UFC 251 last July. Procházka was the Rizin light heavyweight champion before signing to the UFC in January 2020 and has been riding a 12-fight win streak since December 2015.
How Reyes can win:
Reyes is an elite striker and utilizes an array of attacks out of the southpaw stance. Reyes maintained constant forward pressure and the strength to ward off the champion’s wrestling for much of the five-round war with Jones. If Reyes’ striking tools are sharp and his fitness is in check, he will be a lot for Procházka to handle. Further, if the version of Reyes’ chin that allowed him to last five rounds with Jones shows up Saturday, he’ll be a tough out.
How Procházka can win:
While Procházka may be green in the ranks of the UFC, he is a seasoned mixed martial artist with 31 professional bouts — more than double that of Reyes. Procházka has a serious power stroke, knocking out each of his last nine opponents.
“Denisa” utilizes an unorthodox fighting style that involves constant stance switches and hand movements — a puzzle few have been able to solve. Procházka has the power and cunning to end this one early, but he’ll need to survive all that Reyes has to offer, first.
Peter’s Prediction: Procházka via R3 KO/TKO
Charles’ Prediction: Procházka via R1 KO/TKO
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