A packed space. A raucous crowd. Superstar sightings. Surprising upsets. Impressive finishes. Damaged bones. Blood, sweat and tears.
UFC 261 returned a way of normalcy to the sports activities international Saturday evening with considered one of its craziest occasions in years. Billed as the primary full-fledged wearing tournament because the coronavirus pandemic altered the arena greater than a 12 months in the past, it delivered greater than even its staunchest promoter imagined.
“I don’t assume it will get any higher than this night,” UFC President Dana White stated. “You couldn’t have a greater evening. … It was once wonderful. The group was once wonderful. The fights had been wonderful. … There’s only a other power you get when individuals are right here. It was once insane.”
Kamaru Usman ended the development by way of successful his 18th immediately bout and holding his welterweight belt. Usman knocked out Jorge Masvidal with a proper punch to the jaw early in the second one spherical, silencing a pro-Masvidal crowd.
Usman’s knockout victory was once his 3rd in his closing 4 fights, additional showcasing his spectacular versatility and a capability to regulate techniques all the way through bouts. The previous NCAA Department II wrestler had just one knockout victory in his first 10 UFC fights ahead of he stopped Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal with punches up to now 18 months.
“Jacksonville, Florida, you stated you sought after violence. You’re welcome,” Usman stated.
Usman’s 18 consecutive MMA victories come with 14 immediately wins since becoming a member of the UFC in 2015. Handiest Anderson Silva’s streak of 16 immediately UFC wins is longer within the promotion’s historical past.
“He’s one of the crucial easiest ever. He’s an absolute stud,” White stated. “You’re an fool should you assume this man is uninteresting.”
Usman (19-1) thanked Masvidal (35-15) for scaring him and pushing him, pronouncing it is been a very long time since he felt apprehensive ahead of a bout.
This one was once a rematch from their short-notice combat in July. The 33-year-old Usman beat Masvidal at Struggle Island, successful a unanimous determination at UFC 251. Masvidal stepped in on six days’ observe, flying midway around the globe to fill in for No. 1 identify contender Gilbert Burns after Burns examined certain for COVID-19.
Masvidal held his personal and went 5 rounds in opposition to the champ, whose technique together with stomping on Masvidal’s toes each time they had been locked up.
Some idea Masvidal would have a greater probability with a complete coaching consultation. Now not in point of fact.
Nonetheless, Masvidal had the group at the back of him. They cheered wildly for the 36-year-old Miami local, breaking into “Ole, Ole, Ole” and “Let’s move Jorge” chants, and booed Usman on every occasion imaginable.
“He is were given my quantity, guy,” Masvidal stated.
It was once the closing of 3 identify bouts, however hardly ever probably the most sudden.
Rose “Thug” Namajunas (11-4) surprised Zhang Weili (21-2) to take the strawweight belt. Namajunas despatched Zhang to the canvas with a left foot to the face, and the bout was once stopped on the 1:18 mark of the hole spherical.
Namajunas broke down in tears within the octagon as she changed into the primary girl in UFC historical past to recapture a championship belt. 3 earlier champions did not reclaim belts they’d misplaced, together with Ronda Rousey.
Zhang erupted in anger, obviously disappointed with the referee’s determination to forestall the combat. Replays confirmed how vicious the kick was once, however Zhang insisted she by no means misplaced awareness.
Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) completely ruled Jessica Andrade (21-9) to retain her belt, slamming Andrade to the canvas 3 times in two rounds. She in the end gained a TKO after a sequence of bludgeoning blows to Andrade’s head and ear. Shevchenko danced within the octagon after the grappling victory and exclaimed, “I will be able to do the whole thing.”
The sold-out tournament drew a star-studded crowd. There was once no social distancing within the 15,000-plus-seat enviornment and few mask in any route. It was once a transparent signal that no less than some fanatics are able to go back to customary after greater than a 12 months of coping with COVID-19 adjustments to their routines.
“I’ve pictured this second 1,000,000 instances over, so it was once the whole thing I anticipated it to be,” stated Jeff Molina, who beat Qileng Aori in an undercard bout. “Having fanatics again is superior. … I stepped in there, I became and seemed on the crowd, raised my hand and certainly stuck some excellent power, excellent vibes from the group.”
Seven-time Tremendous Bowl champion Tom Brady was once sitting cage-side together with Tampa Bay teammates Mike Evans, Blaine Gabbert and Josh Wells.
Florida legend and Jacksonville local Tim Tebow was once readily available together with his spouse. And Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and linebacker Myles Jack had been within the first few rows.
Former Bucs receiver Antonio Brown dipped into a big bucket of popcorn as he sat subsequent to YouTube sensation and superstar boxer Jake Paul, who were given right into a nose-to-nose argument with former UFC fighter and present commentator Daniel Cormier ahead of the primary card. The packed space taunted Paul a number of instances all the way through breaks and no less than two times all the way through fights.
The primary card’s first two fights ended with important leg accidents, the second one extra grotesque than the primary.
Chris “The All-American” Weidman snapped his proper leg kicking Uriah Corridor within the opening seconds of the bout. Weidman reputedly made it worse when he attempted to face on his damaged bone. He crumpled to the canvas in ache and almost definitely surprise.
Clinical team of workers rushed to position his leg in an air forged as Corridor struggled to handle his composure at the different facet of the octagon. Weidman, who was once combating UFC legend Anderson Silva when Silva broke his shin with a kick, was once in the end performed of the cage on a stretcher. He’s scheduled to have surgical treatment Sunday.
“I’ve were given not anything however admire for Weidman,” Corridor stated. “He’s actually one of the crucial easiest. … It’s the sucky a part of the game. It’s a harm trade.”
Mins previous, Anthony Smith hooked up with Jim Crute’s left leg and left him suffering to face. Crute hobbled to his nook between rounds and attempted to return again out for the second one, however docs stopped the combat after initial diagnosing it as a torn knee ligament.
“I couldn’t really feel my leg,” Crute stated. “I couldn’t stand on it.”
White introduced his blended martial arts behemoth again to Florida 11 months after the Sunshine State allowed him to host an tournament following a two-month shutdown.
Jacksonville hosted UFC 249 in Would possibly, and White vowed a go back go back and forth when the state totally reopened.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized a reopening plan closing 12 months that allowed huge wearing occasions to renew in past due September, despite the fact that decreased capability and restricted social distancing had been really helpful. However till UFC’s go back go back and forth, nobody had allowed complete capability indoors.
UFC hadn’t hosted fanatics in america in additional than a 12 months. There was once a restricted crowd for the closing tournament at Struggle Island in January.
“It’s time to get again to customary,” White stated whilst pronouncing a $3.Three million gate, only a small portion of the entire take after pay-per-view gross sales are tallied.
“If you wish to put on a masks, put on a masks. When you don’t need to put on a masks, don’t put on a masks,” White stated. “Everyone’s simply doing their factor, and you already know what, folks appear to be they’re so much happier down right here in Florida than they’re in a few of these different (freaking) states. You recognize what I imply?
“Everyone is doing their factor down right here and residing their existence. And that’s how it’s intended to be. It felt excellent to be right here.”