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Wow. UFC 261 was a banger. The UFC returned in a big way with finishes, a full crowd and nothing short in drama. On today’s Aftermath we are looking at the three epic title fights and see what could be on the horizon for the winners and losers on last night’s card.
Valentina Shevchenko Has No Weaknesses
On My MMA News, I wrote about Valentina Shevchenko needing a fight that actually mattered after her last win. I pitched the idea that Jessica Andrade was a fight that could present a challenge to Shevchenko. I take that back. There are no fights for Valentina Shevchenko except Amanda Nunes. Andrade was supposed to show off her wrestling and present a challenge to Shevchenko that could play spoiler. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Andrade found herself in some clinch situations with Shevchenko against he fence at UFC 261. It resulted in Shevchenko countering the takedown attempt with takedowns of her own.
Andrade really didn’t have anything for Shevchenko. No power. No strength. No speed. Nothing. Now, Andrade has exhausted all of her options for title fights and will have to sit back in a gatekeeper role in whatever weight class she chooses.
Next opponent for Valentina Shevchenko: doesn’t matter
Valentina Shevchenko said it best in her post fight interview at UFC 261: there are no weaknesses. Her fight game is complete. She has no real holes in her game. She’s perfect. Shevchenko makes no real mistakes. There are no challengers for her to face that actually threaten her. None except Amanda Nunes but I feel that ships sailed.
Shevchenko finished Andrade with vicious elbows from a crucifix. The fact that she managed to get in that position against the supposedly strong wrestler proved her point. She’s the best. As for who is next, Shevchenko has beaten 4 of the top 5. But what is Lauren Murphy going to present Shevchenko that she already hasn’t seen? There is literally no contenders that threaten Shevchenko on the horizon. Maycee Barber was supposed to threaten her, she won’t. Taila Santos is a good prospect but she’s miles away in the rankings and needs minimum three wins. Antonina Shevchenko is out there and being Valentina’s sister and sparring partner, but she won’t get there any time soon if ever. Rose Namajunas? Too small. There is nothing left but to pad on the stats for Shevchenko.
Rose Namajunas Reminds Everyone Who She Is at UFC 261
Next opponent for Weili Zhang: Joanna Jedrzejczyk rematch, Xiaonan Yan
I was really high on Weili Zhang coming into UFC 261. I thought she had the skills to run through Namajunas and I questioned if Namajunas even wanted to fight any more on the Beforemath section on Rokfin. Boy, I was wrong. Zhang did fight well the short time she was in there with Namajunas. She planned on dealing with the mobility of Namajunas with low kicks to slow her down. Should she not get caught with that high kick, she could very well have dealt with Rose on the outside until the later rounds and got inside and caused some damage. But she didn’t. Rose Namajunas set the kick up perfectly and put the Chinese champion away.
Being finished in the first round isn’t good for title shot rematches. Weili Zhang will have to fight her way back to the title after her loss at UFC 261. An immediate rematch with Namajunas is out of the question. But she could be one win away from a rematch at least. The best fight for her is Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The first fight was the Fight of the Year in 2020 and a rematch was high on my list. While I didn’t think Jedrzejczyk deserved another crack at the title, now that Zhang isn’t the champion, the logistics are a lot less complicated. The fight was fantastic and a five round close war like that was deserves 5 more rounds.
The second option for Zhang is a China versus China matchup. Xiaonan Yan is on a great winning streak and currently is scheduled to face Carla Esparza in May. Should Yan win and Jedrzejczyk be booked against Namajunas or someone else, a Zhang-Yan match could be huge, especially in China, a market the UFC is trying to break into.
Next opponent for Rose Namajunas: Yan/Esparza winner, Weili Zhang rematch
Rose Namajunas has the opposite problem that Valentina Shevchenko has. Don’t let her 10-4 record fool you, Namajunas is a player. She is also heads and toes above her competition skill-wise. But for her, she’s not faced much being quite inactive. There are a plethora of options for Namajunas in the stacked strawweight division that’s not Jedrzejczyk, Andrade or Zhang. While these three are tempting, there’s really nothing there for her in terms of growing her legacy.
Should the UFC forgo the Joanna Jedrzejczyk fight, the inner of Yan and Carla Esparza could find their chance to shine as a title contender. Namajunas would get a fresh name to add to her resume and the UFC fans and brass could get something new to think about.
That’s all that really excited me for Namajunas, however. There’s the Zhang rematch since the UFC loved her influence over the China market. And it would be interesting to see how Zhang reacts to a loss and how she adjusts to being beat for the first time in 21 tries.
Kamaru Usman, King of the Welterweights
Next opponent for Jorge Masvidal: Nate Diaz 2, Vicente Luque
Jorge Masvidal was the fan favorite coming into UFC 261. But it was his astounding lack of anticipation on the improvement of Usman that handed him the knockout loss on the night. He was on to something with the leg kicks early on but abandoned it as well. Masvidal’s jarring did manage to get Usman to take unnecessary risks by throwing haymakers at the end of the first, and he managed to get to the fence off a takedown in the middle of the cage, getting up. But that’s about it.
Masvidal will likely keep his most loyal fans. But as far as the “future champion” Jorge Masvidal, you can kiss those ideas goodbye. He did get in and get his cash, but he will likely not fight for the title any time soon. Not while Usman is around.
That said, the there are two real matches that could be on the horizon. One is the rematch with Nate Diaz in a BMF rematch. The two fought at UFC 244 until the doctor said Diaz was cut up too much and can’t continue. While Diaz is fighting Leon Edwards soon, I don’t see him getting past Rocky and should he, he will fight for the title. If that’s the case, or if Diaz just plays his normal games, there’s always the next option…
Vicente Luque. This one’s a barn burner of a fight and one fans will absolutely love. Luque just fought and knocked out Tyron Woodley. He brings the fight on the feet and would pair well with Masvidal. Luque is also 6th ranked and wouldn’t be a huge step back for Masvidal either.
Next opponent for Kamaru Usman: Colby Covington 2, Leon Edwards
Kamaru Usman fought great at UFC 261. Seeing him go from wrestler to complete mixed martial artist at the hands of Trevor Wittman is something fans need to cherish. He is taking Usman from champion level to a level only attained by a few of the greatest fighters of all time. Usman has shown weakness, and as mentioned earlier, threw some haymakers in the second Masvidal fight. But the new and improved version of Kamaru Usman should scare every welterweight in the world.
That is except Colby Covington, who has been in the cage with Usman before. The two slugged it out at UFC 245. Covington’s hubris will likely take him into the Usman fight confident. But the newfound hands of Kamaru Usman will give Covington fits and if the same gameplan is taken, will see Covington finished earlier than last time. While I don’t like this fight and think there are other contenders at welterweight, this one has been deemed as next by the UFC.
But, if we’re being real, Leon Edwards needs to fight for the strap again. He just needs to beat Nate Diaz when they fight, which should be doable. They can’t cancel that and have Edwards coming off of a no contest to fight for the belt. That said, with how active Usman has been, it’s possible we get Covington this summer and then Edwards at the end of the year. A boy can dream.