The fans were back at UFC 261 on Saturday night and they had plenty to cheer about.
A sold-out crowd saw former champ Rose Namajunas reclaim the women’s strawweight title and Kamaru Usman retain the welterweight belt with highlight-reel knockouts at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Namajunas landed a left high kick to knock out champion Zhang Weili and send more than 15,000 people into a frenzy in the first UFC event with full attendance in more than a year.
Usman kept his belt by landing a massive right hand to knock out challenger Jorge Masvidal just 1:02 into the second round of the main event.
“Y’all said you wanted violence,” Usman said to roars of approval. “You’re welcome.”
It was the first time Masvidal had been knocked out in his pro career and the first time he had been stopped in any fight since a submission loss on a Bellator card in 2009.
Usman wanted the rematch despite earning a decision victory over Masvidal in July in order to get a more convincing win.
It was the 18th straight win overall for Usman and fourth consecutive successful title defense.
“You elevated me,” Usman said of Masvidal. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been nervous for fights. He made me go to the workshop and sharpen my tools to deliver a performance like that. I’m still getting better.”
Masvidal insisted he would be more competitive after taking the first fight on less than a week’s notice, but left humbled.
“It hurts,” Masvidal said. “I’ve never been knocked out in 50 pro fights. Usman showed me something he didn’t show me in the first fight. I guess that’s what happens when you get overconfident. He has my number. He beat me fair and square.”
Namajunas, who first won the belt with a spectacular knockout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2017, needed just 1:18 to snap Weili’s 21-fight winning streak and recapture the title.
“I did it again,” an emotional Namajunas said.
The kick dropped Weili and Namajunas rushed in to follow up with punches. Weili mustered little defense and the fight was stopped, though she protested.
In the third title fight on the card, women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko once again exerted her dominance with a second-round knockout of former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade.
Shevchenko took Andrade down five times in the first round and then again in the second, working to a crucifix and finishing the fight with short punches and elbows on the ground.
She is now 14-2 since 2011 with the only two losses coming to two-division champ Amanda Nunes.
“While my opponents are trying to figure out my weakness, don’t waste your time,” Shevchenko said. “There isn’t one.”
Middleweight Uriah Hall evened his record against former champion Chris Weidman, though he didn’t get the satisfaction he was seeking.
Weidman’s leg snapped below the knee as he tried to throw a leg kick just seconds into the rematch of a bout Weidman had won by knockout on a Ring of Combat card back in 2010.
The injury was eerily similar to a leg break suffered by Anderson Silva when he fought Weidman in Las Vegas in 2013.
It was not the kind of victory Hall hoped for when he accepted the fight against Weidman.
“I wanted to put on a great performance but I just wish him and his family well,” said Hall, the first fighter in UFC history to win a fight without attempting a strike, according to UFC president Dana White. “It’s the sucky part of this sport, it’s the hurt business but I have nothing bad to say about him. I hope he can come back from it. You are still the best, Chris.””
A leg injury also ended the opening fight on the main card as light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith earned a TKO victory over Jimmy Crute.
Smith landed a leg kick that appeared to deaden the foot of Crute, who was somehow able to secure a takedown and finish the round. The referee asked Crute to show he could put weight on the foot before the start of the second round and stopped the bout when he couldn’t do it.
Results of Saturday’s event in Jacksonville, Florida
Kamaru Usman def. Jorge Masvidal, KO, second round (1:02), to retain welterweight belt
Rose Namajunas def. Zhang Weili, KO, first round (1:18), to win Zhang’s women’s strawweight belt
Valentina Shevchenko def. Jessica Andrade, KO, second round (3:19), to retain women’s flyweight belt
Uriah Hall def. Chris Weidman, TKO, first round (0:17), middleweights
Anthony Smith def. Jimmy Crute, TKO, first round (5:00), light heavyweights
Randy Brown def. Alex Oliveira, submission, first round (2:50), welterweights
Dwight Grant def. Stefan Sekulic, split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28), welterweights
Brendan Allen def. Karl Roberson, submission, first round (4:55), middleweights
Patrick Sabatini def. Tristan Connelly, unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), featherweights
Danaa Batgerel def. Kevin Natividad, KO, first round (0:50), bantamweights
Rodrigo Vargas def. Rong Zhu, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), lightweights
Jeff Molina def. Oileng Aori, unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27), flyweights
Ariane Carnelossi def. Na Liang, KO, second round (1:28), women’s strawweights