UFC 261: The Most In-Depth Analysis You'll Find
This weekend, the UFC has put together another mega pay-per-view for a sold-out crowd for the first time since March 2020. An action-packed main card including 3 massive title fights. A welterweight grudge match between the number 2 pound for pound fighter and one of the promotion’s biggest stars currently. A straw-weight title fight including a champion sprinting down the path to be one of the greatest in her division with the whole country behind her, and a former champion who’s one of the best technicians inside her division along with owning some of the most jaw-dropping performances in women's MMA. A flyweight title fight between one of the best striker's in UFC right now, easily the #2 pound for pound female in the sport, and a former champion who's found new success coming up in weight and who's on track to put on the most competitive fight the flyweight division has seen. The rest of the card is tailor-made to blow the hair back of the eager fans finally returning to bring the energy back to what these title fights have been missing.
Starting with the main event, we have a rematch in one of the biggest rivalries going on in the sport right now; reigning champ Kamaru Usman looking to defend again against Jorge Masvidal. Kamaru, coming off his best performance in his long run on dominance when he took out his former teammate Gilbert Burns in the third round. With Khabib retiring, Usman is easily the best wrestler in the UFC right now. His grappling has treated all his opponents like they're his little brother including all-time great submission artist Demian Maia and current #2 welterweight contender Leon Edwards. He’s an underrated pick for the best cardio in the game right now, if the UFC decided to add another 5 rounds to their title fights Usman wouldn't sweat it at all. He's shown incredible composure in facing adversity like when it got rough for him early in the Burns fight. When he banged out the 5th round knockout in the bad blood dog fight with Colby Covington. Since moving his training to Colorado under coach Trevor Wittman, Kamaru’s boxing has improved leaped and bounds adding a championship jab that’d make Georges St. Pierre proud, which has made his overall game incredibly scary to be matched up against.
Jorge Masvidal History
We got the living legend Jorge Masvidal on the other hand. A man who’s paid his dues fighting everywhere in every organization. From street fighting in the backyards of Miami with Kimbo Slice. Fighting for the old dodgy promotion BodogFIGHT in places like San Jose, Costa Rica and St. Petersburg, Russia. Fighting in the Sengoku Lightweight Grand Prix in the legendary fight capital Saitama, Japan. Even at the Playboy mansion when Strikeforce used to put on shows there. Jorge’s upbringing, backyard fighting, and mercenary style of a global fighter have given him an iron mentality. He's shown it time after time when he's in the cage. When he head-kicked lightweight legend Yves Edwards or when sparked middleweight Cezar Ferreira with an elbow in the clinch. His d'arce choke over talented grappler Michael Chiesa. When he went to Donald Cerrone's backyard of Denver, Colorado, and knocked him out twice in one fight. The start of his resurrection when he flatlined Darren Till in front of his home crowd in London. Then finally his superstar performance where he smoked Ben Askren in 5 seconds with a flying knee to acquire the fastest finish in UFC history.
Jorge has brought more brutality to his slick Muay Thai striking recently. When he’s in the zone he’s beautiful to watch. It’s a joy to watch his footwork and slips, his effortless 3-4 punch combinations, clean roundhouse kicks, knees, and elbows. Fantastic takedown defense, insane balance, never powers through things just nothing but the technique to get back to the feet.
Jorge Masvidal vs Kamaru Usman: The First Fight
Jorge is going to need to execute all these skills perfectly against Kamaru. It'll be interesting to see what adjustments Jorge is going to make this time. A big problem for him last time was him cutting 20 plus pounds in 6 days. It affected him in the championship rounds, on the other hand, him coming in lighter could cost him giving Kamaru the size advantage when getting pressed against the cage where he struggled last time.
Jorge vs Kamaru: The Rematch
I'm curious to see if Jorge took anything away from the Gilbert Burns fight where Usman was dropped. He might copy some of the shots or combinations Burns had success with. Jorge of course can end anybody but he's going to need perfect execution this time as Kamaru is just a difficult match-up for him. Kamaru has been getting better every fight like a true champion, with the improvement in his striking I feel if he mixes up the wrestling most of the fight there's a possibility that Kamaru could be the first man to finish Jorge late in the UFC. No matter who wins this fight this weekend I feel whoever it is will have a massive increase in stardom. Usman extends his 13-fight win streak proving he's the best welterweight since GSP. Masvidal avenging the loss spectacularly or dominantly he'll be even bigger and will have so many fights set up for him in the future.
Weili Zhang vs Rose Namajunas For The Straw-Weight Title
Next up we got Weili Zhang versus Rose Namajunas for the straw-weight title. The fight I'm most excited about on this card. It's amazing to see what the 115lb division has blossomed into the past 4 years. Once ruled by the dominant Joanna Jedrzejczyk but since then the title keeps switching hands with the top 15 filling up with killer after killer.
The woman who ended the long reign of Joanna was former champion Rose Namajunas. A quiet Lithuanian girl from Milwaukee who found martial arts to deal with the tough circumstances she faced as a child.
Earning a black belt in Karate and Taekwondo then later getting her brown belt in Jiu-jitsu, take all the traditional martial arts she learned growing mixed in with coaching from Duke Roufus and Trevor Wittman. Rose has become one of the most dynamic fighters in strawweight history. From her submissions, kicks, and boxing, I don’t even know where to start. Rose grabbed the MMA community's attention when she pulled off a flying armbar when he was fighting for Invicta FC.
She entered the Ultimate Fighter season 20 at the age of 21 and earned three submissions in a row including top 15 contenders Joanne Calderwood and Randa Markos. Earning a vacant title shot against Carla Esparza which she ended up losing. She bounced back quickly with a rear-naked choke over one of the most gangster girls in the division Angela Hill. Then, she brutalized Paige VanZant where she got a 5th round rear-naked choke again, leaving Paige covered in blood. She lost a contested split decision to former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz. After that, she put together a run that earned her the nickname "Thug Rose" when she kicked Michelle Waterson upside the head, jumped on her back, and snatched up the neck for yet another rear-naked choke which earned a title shot against the division Boogey women Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
More on Namajunas
Rose was a massive underdog against the dominant champion, and she went in there and stopped her in 1 round with a left hook to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the sport, she then defended it in a rematch with a 5-round decision. She ended losing the title to Jessica Andrade in one of the best straw-weight title fights there’s been but avenged the loss a year later in a high-level slugfest. Taking some time off to get her mental correct Rose is back with the fire to become champion again.
Rose has a tall task in front of her with the current champion Weili Zhang. Just like Rose, Weili dealt with plenty of adversity in her childhood and found martial arts early in life with Kung Fu and Sanda (a Chinese style of kickboxing). Working 3 jobs to support her passion, she made her MMA debut in November of 2013 losing her first fight and now ending up with a record of 21-1 with 17 finishes.
Weili is built like a Chinese bulldog with a specialty in Muay Thai, power in all her strikes and throws, but all of that matched with good technique. She’s only 5-0 in the UFC but earned a title shot in her 3rd fight with the promotion against Jessica Andrade in her home country of China. Andrade was coming off her amazing slam KO of Rose Namajunas looking scarier than ever. Weili went in there and bulldozed Jessica in 42 seconds. Grabbed the Thai clinch on here and smashed her with a barrage of knees, elbows, and punches. Surprised with the success of the new champion the UFC threw her to the wolves where she’d defend her title against one of the best strawweight’s of all time Joanna Jedrzejcyzk. They went on to put on with no exaggeration one of the best fights of all time. If you’re a fan of MMA, you need to go watch this fight. I beg of you.
These ladies beat the living snot out of each other for 25 minutes, not some sloppy brawl though. Flawless technique with long combinations and momentum swings. Both of those ladies left a piece of themselves in the cage for the pursuit of greatness. When you see how they poured every ounce of their soul into that fight it's impossible not to give these ladies the respect they deserve. Not only was it an all-time great fight, but it's also one of the toughest fights to score that has ever happened in the UFC.
Straw-Weight Title Fight Matchup: Zhang vs Namajunas
It’d be very difficult for this fight to live up to the standards of Weili-Joanna, but I think this fight has a high possibility of playing out similarly. For Weili she must work the legs of Rose. Rose's footwork is a very big part of her game. She likes to be light on her feet to pivot, reset, and hop in and out of the pocket. Joanna found success with leg kicks in the later rounds of her second fight with Rose as she started to fade a bit. If Weili can slow the movement down for Rose, she can apply pressure better and make her easier to hit. For Rose, it's to exploit the boxing of Weili. Rose has some of the best boxing out any female in the UFC right now, if she can somehow lull Weili into a boxing match I feel she'll have the advantage. Rose also could take the back quickly when capitalizing on stuns and knockdowns so she can snatch up one of her famous rear-naked chokes. God, we are in for such a treat with this fight!
Flyweight Title Fight: Valentina Shevchenko vs Jessica Andrade
Let’s not forget we have one more amazing title fight. Valentina Shevchenko versus Jessica Andrade for the flyweight title. Valentina is right up there with Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg for being one of the greatest female fighters ever. She's one of the best strikers in the UFC right now regardless of gender. She holds an 8-2 record in the UFC and a kickboxing record of 57-2. She's a Master of sport (Russian national title) in Taekwondo, boxing, kickboxing, and Judo. I don’t know what her current living situation is now but recently she didn’t have a home or place to stay, just traveling all over the world finding the best gyms like Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand and Grudge Training Center in Denver, Colorado alongside with co-main event fighter Rose Namajunas.
She has the most complete skill set in her divisions. Ring generalship that gives her the ability to fight backwards and counter or be able to corral her opponents and apply pressure. A high fight IQ that always has her making good decisions, avoiding risks, and change the phase of the fight when she needs to. Of course, her kickboxing is her biggest strength.
When she dominated former champion Holly Holm for 5 rounds at bantamweight. when she took Amanda Nunes to 5 round split decision in a tense striking chess match which I felt she beat Amanda. When she won the 125lb title against Joanna Jedrzejcyzk (who she beat 3 times before in kickboxing too) or when she recently slept Jessica Eye with one of the most vicious head kicks, you’ll ever see. Don’t sleep on her submissions and top game though. She pulled off a clean armbar against gritty wrestler Julianna Pena or when she trapped Katlyn Chookagian in a crucifix position and punched her head into the canvas. As dominant Val has looked, she has her toughest opponent since Amanda this weekend.
Jessica Andrade is one of the most fun female fighters to watch right now. A 5’1 Brazilian Pitbull with the power to knockout anybody in her division or throw them around like a rag doll. She’s one of the more experienced female fighters with a UFC record of 13-6 across the 115lb, 135lb, and 125lb divisions. It’s insane because even being so undersized against the ladies at 135lb she was slamming them around like it was nothing special. She's one of the only females in the lighter divisions with one shot knock-out power, like when she starched Karolina Kowalkiewicz with a right hook, or when she folded Katlyn Chookagian like a beach chair with a liver shot.
Andrade's Best Performance
Jessica's best performance is when she weathered the early storm against Rose and ended up slamming the defending champion right on her head to win the 115lb title. They met again a year later in a back-and-forth technical brawl, where Jessica made huge improvements with her head movement and boxing, but unfortunately was on the wrong end of a split decision that I felt she deserved to win. Jessica has the grappling, raw strength, and power in her boxing to give Valentina her most difficult fight since Amanda.
Flyweight Title Fight Matchup
In Valentina’s last fight against Jennifer Maia, she had some difficulties getting held against the cage and was even put on her back a few times. Jessica took some notes from that because her grappling is just a good as Jennifer’s but with even more strength. Jessica will do her best work in boxing range mixing her hooks to the head and body. Valentina has to fight Jessica as Joanna Jedrzecyzk did 4 years ago, stick and move. Front kicks to the body to keep distance from her. Jessica is constantly moving her head back and forth to get in the pocket, Valentina could easily catch her with a head kick or a step-in knee when Jessica dips her head. I think Val gets it done but Andrade has a better chance to pull off the dub than the oddsmakers are giving her credit.
Other Fights to Look Forward to
There are some more fights to keep your eye on though. We got former middleweight champ, Chris Weidman, taking on Uriah Hall. A striker versus grappler matchup with Weidman looking to make a final run at the title. Uriah being on his best streak in the UFC coming off a huge knockout victory over division GOAT Anderson Silva. With both gentlemen being 36 this is a huge crossroads fight for both of them to make a final push at 185lbs. We got a great main card opener with a light heavyweight fight between Jimmy Crute and Anthony Smith. Crute being one of the most promising contenders at 205lbs right now taking on his biggest test in the former title challenger and division workhorse Smith. It's a great stylistic matchup with 2 power strikers who are competent wherever the fight goes.
Also, a fantastic featured prelim with a welterweight bout between Randy Brown and Alex Oliveira. Two tall long strikers who are always looking to finish. A middleweight fight between rising prospects Karl Roberson against Brendan Allen. Allen looking to bounce back from his first loss after putting together a 3-fight win streak including a submission win over Kevin Holland. Roberson coming back from a submission loss to top 5 contender Marvin Vettori, Roberson with laser-accurate kickboxing, and F-you power. Great grappler versus striker match-up.
With the fans finally back to bring some energy back to these fabulous matchups, we're in for a real treat this Saturday!