UFC 261 did not disappoint with its three title fights. All three ended in KOs, with Valentina Shevchenko starting with a dominant win over Jessica Andrade, followed by Rose Namajunas and Kamaru Usman.
The moments were unforgettable, but Jorge Masvidal was barely on the mat after being knocked out by Usman in the main event before his eyes were on the future. Is Usman well on his way to dwarfing the best fighters the UFC has ever seen after moving up 14-0 in the promotion, and if so, can he continue to dominate the best welterweight fighters? At first it appears to be a rematch with Colby Covington.
As for Shevchenko, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that anyone other than Amanda Nunes will pose a serious challenge to the women’s flyweight champion. But is now the right time to book the trilogy fight and the risks that come with it?
Namajunas was the only challenger to win a title shot at UFC 261, but it’s familiar territory for the now two-time strawweight champion. With regard to the history of this division with its numerous title changes, does Namajunas now have the best résumé and take over the coat of the UFC strawweight GOAT?
Not all of Saturday’s headlines were made in the cage. UFC President Dana White said he was open to giving a rematch to Nick Diaz, who has not fought in six years and who was present on Saturday. Will Diaz compete in the octagon in 2021?
Our jury made up of Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim shows what comes out of UFC 261 and what doesn’t.
Nick Diaz will fight in the UFC in 2021
Helwani: real. I believed Nick Diaz when he told me in November 2019 that he would fight again in 2020. Of course, no one could have predicted that the pandemic would ruin many great things planned for 2020, including the highly anticipated return of Diaz. But 2021 is the new 2020, and I believe he is sincere in his desire to fight at least one more time. He is actively training and seems to be back in phenomenal shape. The fact that he was present at UFC 261 also speaks volumes. He wants to be around the sport. He wants to take up the sport again. He wants the sport to hug him too.
Be water. pic.twitter.com/uN9oKCgcmk
– Nick Diaz (@ Nickdiaz209) April 14, 2021
Dana White said at the post-fight press conference that he would speak to Diaz afterwards. I was told the meeting went well but no further details were given. That’s OK. This is all good news in the hope that one of the most popular fighters in MMA history will take off again for the first time in over six years.
Who would he fight on this return? We can worry about that later. I like the idea of running it back with Robbie Lawler – why jump in right now? – but I think any opposing conversation could be a bit premature at the moment. An idea that I don’t like? Khamzat Chimaev. Why? That makes no sense. That would be a big mistake. Nobody wants Diaz to fend off relentless shutdown attempts. You want to see Vintage Diaz which will be a welcome sight for everyone.
It is not unreasonable to believe that Usman will eventually achieve GOAT status
Raimondi: These are difficult to discuss at the moment. Timeliness bias is a real thing. What Usman did to take down Masvidal at UFC 261 was spectacular. I think Usman is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet right now. But the greatest of all time in MMA? This is a much tougher conversation.
With that said, I will say that this statement is real. No, it is not unreasonable to believe that Usman could at some point achieve this prestigious status. It’s so excellent and it just seems to get better. One could already say that Usman’s consistency is on a different level than that of his colleagues. He is 14-0 in the UFC and has won 18 in a row. Rarely have we ever seen him in trouble. And even if there seems to be a mistake or moment of concern, Usman remains incredibly relaxed and composed, like when he came back when he was dropped in the first round at UFC 258, finishing Gilbert Burns.
Those 14 straight wins in the UFC are significant. Only one man has a longer UFC winning streak: Anderson Silva at 16 in a row. At the end of this series, Silva was considered the greatest of all time. Georges St-Pierre was neck to neck with him too, and Jon Jones was gradually darkening both of them. Silva, St-Pierre and Jones all have one thing in common that Usman has not yet achieved and that is a long title reign.
Jones has had 11 light heavyweight title defenses, Silva has 10 middleweight titles, and GSP has nine welterweight titles. Usman is currently on four welterweight title defenses – he’s still in third place behind Matt Hughes welterweight (seven) – so he has some work to do before he can get into this conversation. Now you could argue that the competition Usman faces is on par or tougher with opponents GSP, Silva and Jones. But that’s hard to quantify.
Usman’s win on Saturday was made even more impressive by the way he did it. Masvidal hadn’t lost via KO / TKO since 2008 and had never been kicked out the way Usman kicked him out with a bazooka-style right hand. Masvidal is famous for its longevity. Usman unanimously dominated Masvidal at UFC 251 last July, but this time he undeniably shaped it.
If Usman moves on and beats Covington in another rematch and then deals with someone like Leon Edwards, the conversation about the best welterweight and fighter of all time can resume with an increasingly convincing argument. Usman, 33, hasn’t arrived yet. But is it conceivable that he could one day reach this climax? It is absolute.
Dana White is right, there is no reason to book Shevchenko / Nunes 3
Valentina Shevchenko lands a series of takedowns against Jessica Andrade in her title shot at UFC 261.
Okamoto: Not really. Obviously, there are numerous reasons to book the trilogy – namely, that it could be the only truly competitive fight for either of them. Is there a reason to book it right away? Not really. The opportunity doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
But I agree with White that Shevchenko and Nunes should be able to build their own legacies completely apart before we consider rebalancing them. The reality is that they are not in the same weight class. It’s not really fair to Shevchenko to play them off against each other, great as it is, as she’s always the one at a disadvantage.
If you’re the UFC, booking the trilogy now doesn’t help much. Yes, it’s an amazing fight, but then what? If Nunes loses, you have just lost your dominant “champion champion”, the only current one on the roster (although Shevchenko would take on that coat at least temporarily, depending on whether or not she would have more fights at 135).
And if Shevchenko loses again, you’ll have reduced the attractiveness of your flyweight champion. At this point, let them defend their respective titles against just about anyone. Let them really scrub those departments clean. And if you’re still standing at the end – as we would now at least expect – then book this third fight.
Real or not: Namajunas is the biggest straw weight ever
After Rose Namajunas’ breathtaking knockout against Zhang Weili, Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan have an incredible reaction.
Wagenheim: I suppose that is real, but i say that without much energy behind it. When I think about who is the tallest in a weight class, I think about the dominance that Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko have shown conspicuously in regulating their divisions. Namajunas was anything but dominant.
Namajunas is now a two-time champion in the UFC’s 115-pound division, but she has only one successful title defense to her credit. Joanna Jedrzejczyk has five. But of course Namajunas owns two wins over Jedrzejczyk. The only other straw weight with title defense is Zhang Weili, and it was the biggest fight in the history of the straw weight (also against Jedrzejczyk). But Zhang also defeated Namajunas. So it would be difficult to find anyone but “Thug Rose” and when the title is back in their possession Namajunas will have a chance to move their case forward.
The concept of the largest ever seems unsuitable for this weight class, as the throne is in a revolving door. There were six title reigns, more than any other women’s division, as well as a few long-lived weight classes for men. But Namajunas has played a role in each of these reigns. Aside from her own two belted runs, she dethroned Jedrzejczyk and Zhang, was dethroned by Jessica Andrade, and lost the 2014 title bout that made Carla Esparza the first ever UFC strawweight champion.
Namajunas’ fingerprints were circulated throughout the division throughout their brief history. If that makes her the greatest at this point, so be it.