After 13 months away, the public was finally admitted to enjoy UFC fights once again as Jacksonville served as the host city for Saturday night’s UFC 261 from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
UFC 261 featured 13 MMA bouts, nine of which ended in stoppages, resulting in a 69.2 percent stoppage rate on the evening.
Since Jan. 16 on Fight Island, the UFC has now presented 162 fights, 73 of which have ended in stoppages, for a 44.1 percent stoppage rate across the promotion.
So far in 2021, Sports Drink has now seen 350 fights, with 182 ending in stoppages, resulting in a 52 percent stoppage rate across the board.
The Fights Themselves:
Liang Na vs. Ariane Carnelossi:
The card began with this Strawweight fixture between Liang Na (15-5), who was making her UFC promotional debut on this card, and Ariane Carnelossi (13-2).
Right from the command to start, the two fighters scrapped with each other, much to the delight of the audience.
Na dumped Carnelossi twice in the opening round, nearly finishing her with an armbar on the second attempt, before scoring with ground and pound shots later in the round to take mount—attempting a triangle choke submission—fought off by Carnelossi as the round lapsed.
Between rounds one and two, the referee nearly ended the fight because Na was on the canvas for an extended period of time—before she returned to her corner.
Liang Na was completely gassed by round two, to the point where the referee intervened just 88 seconds into the round, calling it for Carnelossi (second-round TKO.)
Aori Qileng vs. Jeff Molina:
Your second fight of the card took place at Flyweight as Aori Qileng (18-8) battled Jeff Molina (9-2).
As Jon Anik mentioned, there were five MMA fighters who made their respective UFC promotional debuts on Saturday night, with Qileng and Molina as the second and third such fighters to accomplish the feat on the card.
It was a close opening round, with Qileng taking the period due to his takedown of Molina.
Molina would turn it on in the second round, capitalizing with a knockdown of Qileng, with Qileng fighting angrily in round three, relentlessly throwing solid punches at Molina.
Molina reversed the script later in the round, scoring with serious punches against Qileng and he just continued to tee off down the stretch.
The fight went to the cards after three rounds with Jeff Molina winning (unanimous decision.)
Co-Featured Early Prelim: Kazula Vargas vs. Rongzhu:
UFC 261’s co-featured early prelim saw Lightweight action between Kazula Vargas (12-4) fight Rongzhu (17-4), who became the first UFC fighter born in the 2000’s to make his UFC debut.
Vargas easily took the opening round due to his striking, outpacing Rongzhu by nearly a 3-to-1 clip over the first five minutes.
Round two saw the fight turn into a grappling fight, with Vargas tiring out quite a bit after attempting two guillotine chokes, defended by Rongzhu, who allowed Vargas to take guard later in the period.
Vargas counterstruck often in the final round of the scheduled three, with Rongzhu taking top position as the fight ended—but it was too little, too late for Rongzhu, as Vargas took the fight (unanimous decision) after 15 minutes.
Featured Early Prelim: Danaa Batgerel vs. Kevin Natividad:
Your featured early prelim saw Danaa Batgerel (9-2) fight Kevin Natividad (9-3) in the Bantamweight ranks.
Folks, I hope none of you blinked, as Danaa Batgerel scored a flash knockout of Kevin Natividad inside the opening round, the second stoppage of the night.
Pat Sabatini vs. Tristan Connelly:
UFC 261 moved to ESPN for the late prelims, which began with this Featherweight confrontation matching Pat Sabatini (14-3), formerly a stalwart of Cage Fury Fighting Championships on UFC Fight Pass, with Tristian Connelly (14-7).
About a minute into the fight, Sabatini took Connelly down and secured top position, starting a grappling exhibition which saw him accumulate north of three minutes in ground control time.
This continued through round two, which saw him time his strikes against Connelly.
In a departure from the first two rounds, round three was almost exclusively a stand-up battle—with Connelly dumping Sabatini late in the fight.
But for Tristan Connelly’s camp, it was much too little, way too late to have any kind of favorable switch on the scorecards, as Pat Sabatini took this one via unanimous decision.
Karl Roberson vs. Brendan Allen:
Your last fight prior to the co-featured prelim saw Middleweight action between Karl Roberson (9-4) and Brendan Allen (16-4).
Just as Sabatini did against Connelly in the fight before this, Brendan Allen accumulated half of the first round’s clock in ground control—which would turn out to be the only round of the fight, as he locked in a heel hook submission on Roberson for the third stoppage of the event.
Co-Featured Prelim: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic:
Your co-featured undercard bout had Welterweight action between Dwight Grant (11-3) and Stefan Sekulic (12-3).
The opening round was a feeling-out process for both men, but Sekulic was the aggressor, landing a takedown of Grant.
Sekulic landed his second takedown of Grant during the second round but couldn’t advance on it—dumping Grant again in round three—before Grant dumped Sekulic for his first takedown of the fight.
Sekulic displayed incredible grappling down the stretch, nearly ending the fight with a submission—but the horn to end the fight blared before he could lock it in.
After 15 minutes, this fight went to the scorecards, with the judges scoring a split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in favor of Dwight Grant.
Featured Prelim: Alex Oliveira vs. Randy Brown:
UFC 261’s final undercard bout went back to 170 lbs. as Alex Oliveira (22-10-1, two no-contests) fought Randy Brown (13-4).
Quite simply, it was all Randy Brown, all the time for as long as it lasted.
After nearly finishing Alex Oliveira with punches, Brown then locked in a one-armed rear-naked choke submission for stoppage number four on the night.
No. 6 contender Anthony Smith vs. No. 13 contender Jim Crute:
Your first fight of UFC 261 featuring ranked competition opened up this show’s main card in the Light Heavyweight division as sixth-ranked Anthony Smith (35-16) fought 13th-ranked Jim Crute (12-2).
Smith’s mobility was impacted in the first round, with his legs reddening due to repeated kicks from Crute.
Crute scored three takedowns in the opening round, despite sustaining a drop foot on his left leg—rendering him unable to stand—with the fight doctor stopping the contest at the end of the first round—the fifth stoppage of the card.
No. 9 contender Uriah Hall vs. No. 11 contender Chris Weidman:
The last fight of UFC 261 before the title fight trifecta pitted ninth-ranked Uriah Hall (17-9) against 11th-ranked Chris Weidman (15-6)—and, folks, I hope none of you were eating.
Uriah Hall connected on a nasty leg kick below Chris Weidman’s knee, breaking it on the first significant strike of the fight at just 17 seconds into the contest, with referee Herb Dean wisely calling it off in Hall’s favor (first-round TKO) for stoppage number six.
This leg break occurred in the same way that Anderson Silva broke his leg against Weidman in December of 2013 during UFC 168.
Uriah Hall handled his post-fight interview with absolute class.
When a fighter enters the ring, the goal is universal: these people want to win—but when a fighter wins this way, it’s quite a bittersweet victory.
You have another win to your credit, yes, but at the same time, you hope that your opponent gets well, something which Hall expressed when chatting with Joe Rogan on Saturday.
UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship: [C] Valentina Shevchenko vs. No. 1 contender Jessica Andrade:
The first fight on the title trifecta saw the UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship at stake between Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) and top-ranked Jessica Andrade (21-9).
At this point in the evening, the crowd’s reactions mirrored the chants heard at a soccer match, with the champion’s first name being yelled out, accompanied by rhythmic clapping.
Shevchenko scored four takedowns in the fight’s opening few minutes alone, the last being the most effective, gaining top control and nearly finishing the challenger with a submission.
She landed her fifth takedown of the round in the period’s final moments, solidifying the round in her column even more.
Shevchenko dumped Andrade for the sixth time in the fight right after round two began, followed by a seventh takedown just past the halfway point.
On that seventh takedown, Shevchenko landed vicious and repeated ground and pound shots, with referee Dan Miragliotta finally rescuing Andrade after the elbow strikes for the seventh stoppage.
Co-Main Event: UFC Strawweight Championship: [C] Weili Zhang vs. No. 1 contender Rose Namajunas:
Your penultimate act at UFC 261 featured the promotion’s Strawweight Championship on the line as Weili Zhang (21-2) battled Rose Namajunas (11-4).
I hope you didn’t blink, as Rose Namajunas scored a vicious leg kick to the now-former champion’s head, knocking her out cold with that high kick for the eighth stoppage.
Main Event: UFC Welterweight Championship: [C] Kamaru Usman vs. No. 4 contender Jorge Masvidal:
At just past 12 a.m. ET Sunday morning, UFC 261’s final act began as champion Kamaru Usman (19-1) fought Jorge Masvidal (35-15) for the UFC Welterweight Championship.
This fight, unlike the rest on the main card, got past the opening round, with Masvidal being the more aggressive striker, despite Usman scoring two takedowns.
Round two saw Usman remove all doubt, knocking Masvidal out cold with a vicious right cross from hammerfists for the ninth and final stoppage.
The UFC has been dealt a major curveball over the course of the last year-plus, with COVID-19 restrictions preventing it from holding a traditional arena show until Saturday night.
What irks me most about this is the fact that members of the media, most recently Las Vegas Review-Journal sportswriter Adam Hill, have worked overtime slamming the promotion simply for doing its job.
Dana White took the paper to task in a Saturday Instagram post:
As White mentions, the MMA promotion didn’t lay a single staffer off during COVID and has worked with all relevant parties in recent and upcoming UFC host cities to make certain that events like UFC 261 were, are, and will be, able to go off without incident.
What gets lost in the shuffle with Hill’s latest salvo against the UFC is the fact that it was the first major sports organization back after the pandemic hit.
UFC has been putting on live events at least once a week, nearly every week, for the past 50 weeks, including a stretch of 32 cards in 34 weekends just to restart and end its 2020 calendar of events (with at least one event every single weekend between July 11 and Dec. 19, 2020.)
How dare any of us slam Dana White, or anyone in the world, just for doing their job?
Think about that and have a good night.