Saturday’s UFC 261 event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in Jacksonville, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
1 – Kamaru Usman
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I hate getting into the all-time great debate while a fighter is still active. But Kamaru Usman is making me go back on my word with each performance. On Saturday night, “The Nigerian Nightmare” knocked out Jorge Masvidal in emphatic fashion, and in just five title fights, he’s hearing louder and louder comparisons to welterweight great Georges St-Pierre. That’s no surprise given his body of work, not just in the UFC, but overall, and the scariest part is that Usman may just be approaching his prime. Okay, I’ll be good and not get into the welterweight G.O.A.T. debate, but I may not be able to hold out for much longer.
2 – Rose Namajunas
I don’t know what I was expecting from Saturday’s co-main event between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t expecting a head kick knockout from “Thug Rose.” But that’s why they fight the fights, and after a long road back to the belt she held from 2017 to 2019, Namajunas is on top of the throne again, and the possibilities are endless for intriguing fights for the champ at 115 pounds, whether it’s rematches with Zhang or Carla Esparza, a third fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, or maybe even a showdown with surging Mackenzie Dern. No matter what’s next, we’ll all be watching one of the most intriguing fighters ever to grace the Octagon.
3 – Valentina Shevchenko
champion in the UFC resides at 125 pounds, and Valentina Shevchenko proved my point once again with a flawless effort against Jessica Andrade. Of all the title fights on Saturday’s card, I believed Andrade was the most live underdog, given her power, strength and ability to take an opponent out of their game and make them fight her fight. That didn’t happen. Instead, Shevchenko put on a clinic and once again made the world look at the rest of the flyweight division and wonder who has the goods to take the crown from “Bullet.”
4 – Jeff Molina
After our chat before Saturday’s bout, Jeff Molina quickly raced to my top ten interviews list, and the star potential for the New Jersey native was clear. Then he went out and put on a Fight of the Night performance against Aoriqileng and that whole “star” thing may be arriving sooner rather than later in a flyweight division that can always use compelling action fighters with just as compelling personalities and backstories.
5 – Randy Brown
I’m always a little biased toward my fellow New Yorkers, but no matter where you come from, you had to be impressed with the performance of Randy Brown on Saturday night. In his first fight since a disappointing outing against Vicente Luque last summer, “Rudeboy” was in a statement-making mood against Brazil’s Oliveira, and whether it was a rocket-like right hand or the rear naked choke that ended the bout, it’s clear that Brown’s potential is starting to catch up to his reality at 170 pounds.