Talk about a roaring return. UFC welcomed back fans to the arena on Saturday night for UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida, and were they ever treated to something special. Whether by sheer coincidence or because of the energy of those fans, UFC 261 quickly became one of the most memorable nights of fights in UFC history from the first bout on the early prelims to the main event to close the show.
Kamaru Usman successfully defended his welterweight championship in the main event with a one-punch knockout of rival Jorge Masvidal. The knockout was a fitting capper to a trio of title fights that saw Rose Namajunas win the strawweight championship for a second time with a knockout of Weili Zhang and Valentina Shevchenko dominantly defending her flyweight championship with a second-round TKO of Jessica Andrade.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest takeaways from the pay-per-view card at large following resounding victories for some of the pound-for-pound best in the sport.
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Kamaru Usman closes in on G.O.A.T. status
The UFC often rushes to declare current champions to be the greatest to ever compete in their division. Usman garnered those comparisons to Georges St-Pierre shortly after winning the welterweight crown over Tyron Woodley. At the time, it was extremely premature. But those comparisons have stopped being silly at this point, however, with Usman developing an incredible resume that is only made better when you put into context some of the victories he has piled up as of late. Against Colby Covington, the biggest trash talker in the sport, Usman went to war before breaking his jaw in something of a symbolic shutting of the mouth. After Masvidal accused him of having no power following their first fight, Usman scored an absurdly brutal one-punch knockout. In the middle of those fights was a comeback knockout of Gilbert Burns in a fight where Usman was hurt early.
The scary thing for the welterweight division is that Usman continues getting better. Every time out, he shows something new. He's got a wrestling base to fall back on, but added power in his striking game -- and now added technique to better apply that power. It's a reverse GSP, where St-Pierre went from striker to dominant wrestler to cement his place in history. There's more big money fights for Usman, including a rematch with Covington that seems almost certain to happen. And, with each victory, Usman's claim as an all-time great only grows, and comparisons to St-Pierre become less ridiculous.
Namajunas completes improbable journey
No woman in UFC history had ever lost a championship and regained that title. That ended on Saturday night with Namajunas' head kick knockout win over Weili Zhang to win the strawweight championship. It was the conclusion of an unlikely chapter in Namajunas' career. Namajunas hit unbelievable highs when she dethroned Joanna Jedrzejczyk to capture the 115-pound title in November 2017. But things came to a crashing end when she suffered a slam knockout to Jessica Andrade in May 2019.
A combination of unwanted attention paid to Namajunas as champion and the crushing defeat had her considering walking away from the sport. Instead, she chose to go back to work, beating Andrade more than a year later and earning her shot at the new champ. Namajunas quickly put questions about her mental state to bed, crushing Zhang with a head kick to once again claim the title. One only has to look at her emotional reaction as the belt was wrapped around her waist to see that Namajunas felt the gravity of the moment.
'The Hurt Business' is a real thing
It took one Anthony Smith leg kick to completely deaden the nerves in Jimmy Crute's leg in the first fight of the pay-per-view portion of the card. Everyone looked on as Crute repeatedly rolled his ankle trying to walk on a leg he could simply not feel. It was a gruesome moment, even as Crute attempted to convince the ringside physician to allow him to fight on. They would not allow it, however, as Smith was awarded the TKO victory. One fight later, Crute's injury suddenly didn't look so bad, with Chris Weidman snapping his leg in half on the first kick he threw to the leg of Uriah Hall.
There was a vicious sort of irony to the injury, with Weidman having famously won his rematch with Anderson Silva -- one fight after ending Silva's long reign as middleweight champion -- when Silva threw a leg kick that snapped his own leg. These sort of freak injuries are rare in mixed martial arts, but they haunt the memories of fans who happen to have tuned in to those fights.
Weidman's injury is a horrific reminder that fighting is a dangerous occupation. Next up for Weidman is surgery on Sunday. Then comes -- hopefully -- a long, hard road back to the Octagon for the former middleweight champion.