6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 261

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IApril 25, 2021

6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 261

0 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    UFC 261 went down in front of a sold-out crowd in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday night, and the fans who filled the arena certainly got their money's worth.

    In the main event, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman cemented himself as one of the sport's greatest fighters by shutting the lights out on Jorge Masvidal with a blistering second-round knockout. With that outcome, he's now on a 14-fight unbeaten streak in the Octagon and seemingly running short on credible challenges.

    Before Usman defended his title, fans were treated to two other title fights, as Rose Namajunas reclaimed the strawweight title with a first-round, head-kick knockout over Weili Zhang, and flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko defended her belt with an effortless-looking, second-round TKO win over former strawweight queen Jessica Andrade.

    Throw in the memorable action that composed the undercard, and it's clear that fight fans have plenty to talk about over the coming days.

    One of the main topics, as ever, will be what's next for the stars of the card. Keep scrolling for the fights we're hoping to see once the dust has settled.

Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2

1 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    After beating Jorge Masvidal for a second time in the UFC 261 main event, all signs point to Usman participating in another rematch: a do-over with former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington.

    Usman defeated Covington by fifth-round knockout in a 2019 Fight of the Year contender. While he left the Octagon with the belt still wrapped round his waist that night, the fight was incredibly competitive, and the pair still have plenty of lingering animosity.

    Those factors have led UFC President Dana White to all but confirm Usman and Covington will fight next. It's not the most exciting option in the world—most people would probably prefer to see a fresh challenge for Usman—but it's bound to be a fun one all the same.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Leon Edwards

2 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    After losing to Kamaru Usman for a second time–particularly in such violent fashion—Jorge Masvidal faces a long journey back to welterweight title contention.

    We suggest he starts that journey by fighting Leon Edwards.

    Edwards is slated to fight Nate Diaz at UFC 262 on May 15. Whether he wins or loses that fight—and make no mistake, he should win—he would likely jump at the chance to fight Masvidal.

    While Edwards has long desired the chance to challenge Usman for the welterweight title, he's seemingly out of luck given that White intends to book a rematch between Usman and Covington.

    A fight with Masvidal would be a suitable consolation prize for a few reasons. First and foremost, because Masvidal remains a highly regarded fighter and one of the sport's biggest stars. Even more notably, however, Masvidal and Edwards had a backstage dust-up in London in 2019 and have been keen to settle their beef in the Octagon ever since.

Rose Namajunas vs. Yan Xiaonan-Carla Esparza Winner

3 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    After shutting off Weili Zhang's lights, Rose Namajunas is once again the UFC strawweight champion. That means that she will soon have to turn her attention to her first title defense. 

    Our pick for that first defense is the winner of the May 22 fight between Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza.

    Both women are on impressive winning runs. Yan is on an 11-fight streak, including six in the UFC's Octagon. Esparza, meanwhile, has won her past four and holds a victory over Namajunas, which would give their potential rematch a built-in revenge narrative.

    Either woman would be an excellent challenge for the new champ, and either fight could easily co-headline an upcoming pay-per-view.

Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2

4 of 6

    Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Image

    Weili Zhang is no longer the UFC strawweight champion. She lost her title in the co-main event of UFC 261, when she was chopped down by a first-round head kick from Rose Namajunas. 

    It was the worst possible outcome for Zhang and her legions of fans. The good news for the former champion and her supporters is that she's unlikely to lose much ground in defeat. All it will take is another win or two for her to be contending for the title again.

    Zhang should begin her road back to the title by running it back with a fellow former champion in Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The pair first met in early 2020, when Zhang defending the title by split decision in the best fight of the year—and one of the best fights ever, period.

    Today, with both women riding losses, a rematch makes all the sense in the world.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy-Joanne Calderwood Winner

5 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Dominating UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko picked up yet another lopsided victory at UFC 261, this time dispatching former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade with a volley of second-round punches.

    With this win behind her, Shevchenko finds herself in a familiar situation: She once again seems to be out of viable challengers. 

    While it's tempting to suggest that she be booked for a trilogy fight with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes—a woman she lost two razor-close decisions to previously—Nunes is booked for a fight with Julianna Pena at UFC 265 on August 7. So in the interim, we suggest Shevchenko takes on the winner of the upcoming fight between Joanne Calderwood and Lauren Murphy, which is slated for UFC 263 on June 12.

    If she and Nunes both get through their next challenges—which feels like a certainty—then we can book the trilogy.

Anthony Smith vs. Magomed Ankalaev

6 of 6

    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Fifty-one-fight veteran Anthony Smith picked up an important win in the opening bout of the UFC 261 main card, chopping down rising light heavyweight contender Jimmy Crute with a first-round calf kick.

    With this victory, Smith built on the momentum of a first-round submission win over another up-and-comer in Devin Smith and further distanced himself from a pair of decisive losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic—a skid that had many fans singing his funeral dirge.

    Now he's back on a win streak, Smith should be matched up with surging Russian contender Magomed Ankalaev. While he would face an uphill battle in this prospective matchup, he would also have a significant experience advantage, and few people weaponize that kind of advantage better than he does.

    Book these two light heavyweight stars for the headliner of an upcoming Fight Night card, and give the winner a crack at a top-five foe.