UFC 261 was billed as one of 2021’s biggest UFC shows – particularly as it had fans in attendance – and thankfully for fans who tuned in, it delivered.
UFC 261 treated us to two masterful title defenses from two of the UFC’s best champions, as well as a new champion being crowned.
So with this in mind, here are the five biggest winners from UFC 261: Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal II.
#1 Kamaru Usman – defeated Jorge Masvidal to retain the UFC Welterweight title
By far, the biggest winner at UFC 261 was Kamaru Usman.
Not only did the UFC Welterweight champion retain his title, but he also proved without a shadow of a doubt that he’s a better fighter than Jorge Masvidal – by knocking him silly in the second round.
Usman obviously dominated Masvidal at UFC 251 last year, but the late notice for Gamebred coming into that fight meant that questions still remained.
Those questions were firmly answered last night. Usman looked like the better striker despite Masvidal’s vaunted stand-up game and then became the first man to knock him out – in violent fashion, too.
The win gave Usman his fourth successful UFC title defense. And while he’s still a way from Georges St. Pierre’s nine successful defenses, there’s definitely a chance he could match GSP if he keeps up this kind of form.
If nothing else, this big win over Masvidal should propel Usman onto the next level from a star power point – meaning his next fight will be highly anticipated.
#2 Rose Namajunas – defeated Weili Zhang to win the UFC Strawweight title
When a UFC champion loses their title, it’s rare that they manage to regain it. It’s even rarer still that they manage to take it from a different fighter to the one who originally defeated them for it.
Nobody had defeated Magnum in the UFC before, and no fighter had really been able to hurt her – even Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who threw all she had at her, couldn’t knock her down.
But Namajunas switched her lights off with a perfectly timed left head kick in the first round, taking back the title she lost to Jessica Andrade in 2019.
The likelihood is that Namajunas will have to face a dangerous grappler next – either Mackenzie Dern or Carla Esparza – so only time will tell if this title reign lasts longer than her initial one.
But last night, she delivered one of the most memorable finishes in UFC Strawweight history, and she was certainly one of UFC 261’s big winners.
#3 Valentina Shevchenko – defeated Jessica Andrade to retain the UFC Flyweight title
The Bullet simply bullied Andrade like no other fighter had done in the UFC, throwing her around and beating her down on the ground.
When the end came via some Matt Hughes-esque elbows in the second round, it honestly felt like a mercy stoppage.
The big question now is whether anyone in the UFC can even test Shevchenko, particularly at 125lbs. It seems like The Bullet is head and shoulders above any potential opponent.
The best route may well be a third fight with UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. But for now, at least, Shevchenko is a big winner.
#4 Anthony Smith – defeated Jimmy Crute
When he lost to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in 2020, it looked for all intents and purposes like Anthony Smith was beginning to slide down the totem pole in the UFC’s 205lbs division.
But Lionheart bounced back well last year with a win over Devin Clark and picked up another big win last night over Jimmy Crute to keep himself very relevant in the Light Heavyweight division.
Crute was being built as a contender for the division’s next big thing, but the Australian was put right onto his back foot from the off by Smith.
Lionheart landed numerous jabs, marking Crute’s face up, but the telling blow was a savage leg kick that caused an injury that meant The Brute was unable to continue into the second round.
Smith may not capture another title shot as he did in 2019, but this win definitely keeps him in the mix at the top of the division. And at 32 years old, he should be around for years to come.
#5 Brendan Allen – defeated Karl Roberson
It’s always interesting to see what happens to a prospect once they suffer their first loss in the UFC, and we got plenty of answers from Brendan Allen last night.
All In was knocked out by Sean Strickland last October. And after being thoroughly whitewashed in that fight, it was hard to guess how he’d look against Karl Roberson.
But Allen showed that he’s not been knocked off track by the loss to Strickland by submitting Roberson in the first round with a slick heel hook.
Based on this showing, there’s every chance that Allen can quickly rise up the rankings at 185lbs, and it was also quite clear that he’s still one of the division’s best hopes for the future.
Allen might not have taken a $50k bonus for his work last night, but he should definitely be seen as one of UFC 261’s biggest winners.