Bleacher Report 2021 MMA Awards: Best Card | Launderer report


Gary McCullough / Associated Press

It’s been a good year to be a fighting fan.

Not only was 2021 filled to the brim with high-end main events that respected their positioning, but there were also several cards whose lineups gave an entire night of competitive combative titillation.

The Fight Night shows topped by Max Holloway’s loss to Yair Rodriguez and Jose Aldo’s victory over Rob Font were notable on premium cable, not to mention the particularly compelling pay-per-view extravagances titled UFC 257, 264, 266, 267, 268 and 269, respectively.

But there is something special about being the first.

Although the UFC 261 April 24 card was already the promotion’s fifth pay-per-view (and 14th overall show) of the year, it was the first time in precisely 413 days – since ‘UFC 248 in Las Vegas on March 7, 2020 – that a large crowd was in attendance to witness the fights directly.

After this long break, Dana White and Co. were ready to do anything.

Fans arriving at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Were greeted with a pre-show hype video that ended with a simple “Welcome Back”, and when Bruce Buffer, still in tuxedo, arrived at the center of the Octagon, removed his mask and barked his trademark “We’re live!” at 6:20 p.m., it was a good thing that the integrity of the roof was not in question.

Gary McCullough / Associated Press

Even in a building not yet full, it was a freezing moment.

But it wasn’t just the vibe that made it the best event of 2021.

The 13-fight show featured three title fights atop an overcrowded bill, including a welterweight championship rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal that was a one-game throwback on Fight Island that Masvidal took less than a week’s notice in July 2020.

In fact, the record was so packed that flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko’s defense against No.1 contestant Jessica Andrade wasn’t even the main co-event. That tag was kept for strawweight title holder Zhang Weili, who was about to risk his belt against challenger Rose Namajunas.

Previously, the main card also had former middleweight champion Chris Weidman (against Uriah Hall) and former light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith (against Jimmy Crute) in the first two fights, and the prelims included Brendan Allen and Randy Brown.

Even Jake Paul, just a week after his dismissal from former UFC contestant Ben Askren, was in the building as the target of obscene chants from the crowd and a brief hovering from Daniel Cormier.

Turns out the fights were just as good as the names.

Usman’s erasure of a Masvidal punch in the second round of their meeting was the best knockout of the year in an à la carte spotlight setting, although he wasn’t too far from it. arrival of the leg kick that Namajunas imposed on Weili to start his second career title race after an 18-month reign from 2017 to 2019.

“Jacksonville, Florida, you all said you wanted violence. You’re welcome,” Usman said. “I told everyone that I was always better. The sky is the limit for me.”

As for Shevchenko, she landed 32 major strikes and completed seven eliminations in seven attempts in just over eight minutes to be the fifth successful defense for his 125-pound belt.

“I like to surprise people. I can do anything,” she said. “For anyone studying me and looking for a weakness, don’t waste your time. There isn’t.”

A positively exuberant Smith made it through the cage until Mark Morrison’s ever-catchy “Return of the Mack”, signing hats and mingling with fans before landing a late first-round kick behind the left knee of Crute which prompted the Australian to wobble towards his stool and ultimately rendered him unable to participate in the second.

It was the second in what is now a three-fight streak for Smith, who abandoned a decision to Jon Jones at UFC 235 in March 2019.

“We are just building,” he said. “Even at 32 years old and 51 fights, I’m still improving.”

As for Weidman, his highlight was certainly memorable and undeniably painful.

He kicked off a right kick that Hall checked with his left knee, then screamed in pain as his leg seemed to break cleanly and knocked him to the ground.

Medics immediately entered and Weidman was taken on a stretcher, giving Hall a disappointing TKO victory after just 17 seconds over an opponent who had knocked him out in 2010 before heading to the UFC.

A rerun was shown in the arena twice, and the crowd gasped at the severity of the injury, especially as Weidman bowed forward and his leg sickly collapsed under him.

“I have nothing but respect for Chris Weidman,” Hall said. “It’s crazy how we ended up here again. I wanted to put on a great performance. I hope he’s doing well. I wish the family good luck. I know they’re watching.

“I hope he can come back.

Weidman’s career status remains unresolved.

But by the time the arena lights went out in April, White himself suggested that the octagonal normality—At various points along the dizzying / appalling continuumhad already returned.

“I don’t think it’s getting any better than tonight,” he said.

“I mean, you couldn’t have a better night than tonight. I mean, I don’t know how you guys felt, but the whole night has been a ‘holy’ night.

“It was amazing. The crowd was amazing. The fights were amazing.”

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