UFC 261: Post-Fight Report

Main Event: Usman vs. Masvidal 2

Yet another masterful performance from Kamaru Usman. I’ll be honest, coming into this fight I considered it to be nothing more than a pay day for Usman. After the Burns fight, It seemed pretty obvious that Colby Covington deserved the next shot. Masvidal really didn’t do anything in the first fight to hint that this second one would be more competitive, and he hasn’t fought since that first matchup, while Usman has had a fight an is clearly improving.

There was, of course, the “built in excuse” that Masvidal took the first fight on short notice, and Usman erased all doubt on Saturday night. Usman wanted this fight for two reasons; the first is that he knows the path to victory in this matchup, and the second is that it was a bigger draw than the Covington rematch would be.

None of this is to say that Masvidal was a free win or an easy matchup, but Usman is a nightmare (no pun intended) matchup for any welterweight in the world right now, let alone a fighter with limited grappling experience, with 14 losses, making his last run at the title. The way that this win went down is what was most impressive, a well-balanced attack from Usman punctuated with one of the cleanest straight right hands you will ever see.

Usman is starting to cement a claim as the greatest welterweight of all time, now breaking Georges St. Pierre’s consecutive wins record, but still trailing GSP by five title defenses. Looking ahead, Covington is now undeniably the next fight for Usman, as confirmed by Dana White. For Masvidal, it’s likely time to step away for at least a few months. The top four ranked welterweights without a fight currently booked are Vicente Luque, Michael Chiesa, Li Jingliang and Sean Brady. Personally I think any of those fights could make sense for Masvidal for different reasons, but I’m not sure any of them can help him earn a PPV bonus or even put him in a main event, so I don’t know that Masvidal would be interested in fighting any of those names.

We cashed a nice +250 ticket on Usman to finish the fight here. Honestly, I thought the knockout would come later in the fight, but Usman’s 2nd round knockout was not a surprise. It seemed coming into this fight that Masvidal didn’t have respect for Usman’s power, which is a serious mistake. Usman played it relatively safe in the first fight, but his hands are getting better with each fight, working under Trevor Wittman.

Co-Main Event: Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas

This was the fight I was most looking forward to on this card, and my only complaint about it (other than having to rip up my parlay tickets) is that it didn’t last longer. That is at no fault of the now and once again women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, who finished Zhang Weili by first round knockout with a beautiful lead high kick.

I was wary to include Zhang in parlays but did it anyway because I expected this fight to go very much the same way that her fight with Joanna Jędrzejczyk did. If this fight had gone the distance, I was counting on the consistency and level of pressure that Zhang implements to ware on the less-consistent Namajunas and lead to either a late finish or a decision win for Zhang.

Until last night, I expected that those three would have a series of competitive fights over the next few years and trade the belt between the three of them. I see them as three of the best mixed martial artists on the planet, male or female. Rose, however, proved to be a step above Zhang and Joanna, now defeating each of them convincingly.

Rose put all doubt to rest with her performance on Saturday. She is still getting better, every single fight, and possesses a level of power that many have underestimated and is  deadly coupled with her high-level technique. I wouldn’t mind seeing this fight re-booked at all, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing the Rose vs. Joanna trilogy, with Zhang awaiting the victor.

Women’s Flyweight Championship: Shevchenko vs. Andrade

Valentina Shevchenko is one of the most dominant athletes this sport has ever seen and, on Saturday night, she continued that dominance with a convincing win over a fighter who many considered to be the toughest flyweight challenge of her career so far.

We cashed Valentina ITD at +145 on this fight, a bet I almost always leave on Valentina’s fights. Betting on her to finish is one of the only profitable ways to bet on her, since her moneyline odds are always so steep. Even in this, her “toughest challenge” at flyweight, she closed at well over -450 on the moneyline.

The reason I was convinced she would finish Andrade is that she has unbelievable counter striking, and Andrade is a forward-moving fighter who would likely walk into those counter shots. I also think Valentina is more advanced on the ground and physically stronger, so she had the ability to finish this fight on the ground, which she did, moving into a dominant crucifix position and dropping elbows until the referee had seen enough.

I don’t even know who you give her at this point. If Lauren Murphy beats Joanne Calderwood, she has likely earned her shot, but she doesn’t stack up in skill or style with Valentina. For Andrade, she could consider a move back down to strawweight, or, at flyweight, Cynthia Calvillo would make a lot of sense.

Hall vs. Weidman 2

There isn’t much to say about this. It was the only fight in UFC history that the victorious fighter won without throwing a strike. Chris Weidman’s first strike thrown was a calf kick attempt, checked by Hall which snapped Weidman’s tibia and fibula, immediately ending the fight and bringing the capacity crowd to silence and tears.

The injury was eerily similar to the one Weidman inflicted against Anderson Silva in their 2013 rematch. Weidman is one of the fighters who first made me fall in love with this sport, and I just hope he’s okay. Chris has given me some of my best memories as an MMA fan. It’s always a miserable experience to watch your heroes lose toward the end of their careers, but it’s especially hard to watch when they suffer such brutal injuries while they still have the ability to compete at a high level.

I wish him and his family all the best. I’m not sure we’ll see him in the octagon again after this but I have a lot of respect for Hall saying that the rematch would absolutely be on the table if Weidman is able to continue once healed up. However any talk of a rematch or any future fight for Weidman is conjecture at this point, the primary concern now is that he doesn’t suffer long-term effects from this injury. 

Our over and Weidman moneyline tickets were scrapped, but that was the least of our concerns given the magnitude of what happened, and I think it’s fair to call this fight an outlier, from a gambling perspective.

Smith vs. Crute

Our bet here was the over at 1.5 rounds and I really thought we were going to hit it once this fight got out of the first round. However, the fight was stopped when the doctor observed that Crute was unable to walk on his left leg with any stability, due to one of a few nasty leg kicks that Smith landed in the first round.

Crute even admitted in the post-fight interview that, if the fight had continued, he would have pulled guard and tried to extend the fight on the ground. It’s unclear at this time whether Crute suffered a peroneal nerve injury causing drop foot, or any more serious tendon or ligament damage in his knee but, either way, it was a fair stoppage that I’m not about to debate. Our reasoning for the over is that both of these guys are extremely durable, but there’s just nothing you can do about one well-placed calf kick stopping the fight.

Anthony Smith is officially back. The two difficult losses he suffered last Summer to Glover Teixeira and Alexander Rakic have both been diminished, being that both losses have aged well and Smith has now scored two dominant wins over high-caliber opponents, though Crute is a bigger feather In Smith’s cap than Devin Clark.

Looking ahead, I think Smith has to fight one of the two fighters ahead of him who don’t currently have a date. The Rakic rematch might be intriguing, given Smith’s performance since then, but I think that was too dominant of a win to warrant a rematch less than one year later. Rakic has also continued to ascend with his convincing win over Thiago Santos, and he has earned the right to wait and see what happens in front of him. He is likely 1-2 wins away from a light heavyweight title shot.

The other 205 pounder ahead of Smith without a fight booked is Santos. That fight would be an extremely intriguing matchup, almost like a “loser leaves town” fight in terms of the current light heavyweight top-ten. Santos and Smith are both veterans who, at this point in their careers, are likely looking at one last run at the title. It wouldn’t really be fair to ask Smith to risk his higher rank against a guy like Magomed Ankalaev, being that Smith just scored an impressive win over a rising contender in Crute. 

For Crute, I don’t think this loss takes too much off of his name. He showed enough in the Smith fight to earn himself another top-15 name in my opinion. I think Crute vs. any of Nikita Krylov, Volkan Oezdemir, Johnny Walker or Ryan Spann would be very fun stylistically, and make a lot of sense for the rankings.

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