This coming Saturday marks the first full-capacity UFC event in over a year, and to celebrate the occasion, fight fans will be treated to three title matches in a row at UFC 261.
Kamaru Usman, Weili Zhang and Valentina Shevchenko will attempt to defend their respective belts in front of the 15,000-strong crowd at the Jacksonville Arena, Florida.
With so much on the line in a single card, there will be extra attention from certain fighters looking for the next opportunity to compete for a championship.
Let’s have a look at three UFC fighters who will be watching UFC 261 very closely.
3. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson
Since back-to-back losses against Darren Till and Anthony Pettis, Stephen Thompson has worked his way back up the welterweight rankings - ‘Wonderboy’ is currently on a two-fight win-streak in the division.
Thompson was understandably disappointed when it was announced that Leon Edwards would fight Nate Diaz at UFC 262 - Diaz is not currently in the top 15 welterweight rankings.
While ‘Wonderboy’ now looks likely to face Gilbert Burns at UFC 264, he will have a very close eye on Saturday’s main event, Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal. Thompson has been begging for a title shot since his last attempt against Tyron Woodley in 2017. A Masvidal win would make a trilogy very likely, further delaying the chance for ‘Wonderboy’ to finally become a UFC champion.
2. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has competed in the octagon at the highest level for over five years. She successfully defended her title five times before losing to Rose Namajunas in 2017.
Jedrzejczyk’s only UFC losses have come at the hands of Namajunas, Valentina Shevchenko and, most recently, Weili Zhang.
All three of her past opponents will fight at UFC 261. The co-main event will pit Zhang against Namajunas.
The Poland native will surely be next in line for a shot at the strawweight championship. No matter who the victor is on Saturday - she will be out for revenge.
1. Colby Covington
Currently ranked as the number one contender for the welterweight title, perhaps Colby Covington has the right to feel most aggrieved with the main event at UFC 261. Then again, publicly confronting the UFC president on camera while he plays blackjack was not his best idea.
Covington, a former interim welterweight champion, was stopped late in the fifth round by Kamaru Usman when they fought at UFC 245. Whilst the finish was definitive, it was hailed by some fans as the fight of 2019. It was also perhaps more competitive than Usman’s unanimous decision against Masvidal last year.
Covington is obsessed with a rematch against Usman and, just like Thompson, he will be heavily invested in the outcome of Saturday’s main event. Assuming he doesn’t want a trilogy fight, Covington will strangely be rooting for an Usman win.