Marking the return of a full capacity crowd, UFC 261 provided the frontrunner for the event of the year.
With all five main card fights ending via stoppage, the night’s three title fights would see the most emphatic victories.
Starting with flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, ‘Bullet’ would dominate Jessica Andrade on the mat as the Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian fighter scored a second-round TKO through ground-and-pound from the crucifix position.
Next up would see Rose Namajunas make history as the first female fighter to regain a UFC title as a brilliantly faked lead leg high kick put Zhang Weili down in the first round.
Finally in the headline act, Kamaru Usman would defeat Jorge Masvidal for the second time as a monstrous right hand put ‘Gamebred’ out cold for the first time in his career.
With such a brilliant event in the books, the UFC will leave little time to absorb the fallout of the PPV event as a light heavyweight title eliminator fast approaches this weekend.
As a result, here are five fights to make with the big winners of UFC 261’s main card:
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards or Stephen Thompson
Not only is Kamaru Usman bolstering his claim to be the pound-for-pound #1, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ is closing the gap on Georges St-Pierre’s position as the greatest welterweight of all time.
With vast improvements from one bout to the next, Usman looks unstoppable as champion.
As for what’s next, the 170 lbs king deserves to take a break after recording two emphatic title defences in the space of three months.
By taking a breather from competition, either Leon Edwards, who is set to face Nate Diaz next month, or Stephen Thompson, slated for a July bout with Gilbert Burns, should put themselves as the clear #1 contender.
Rose Namajunas vs. Esparza / Xiaonan Winner
With Zhang Weili shifting her hips back expecting a leg kick, Rose Namajunas would go high and regain the UFC’s strawweight championship.
Now a two-time 115 lbs champion after her head kick TKO win, Namajunas should look to a new challenger for her first title defence.
As Carla Esparza and Yan Xiaonan prepare to square off in May, the winner of that clash should be lined up for a shot at ‘Thug’ Rose.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Amanda Nunes III
While a fight between Lauren Murphy and Joanne Calderwood looks to be a #1 contender bout in the flyweight division, seeing Shevchenko move straight onto her next challenger would feel like a holding pattern for the dominant queen of 125 lbs.
Instead, why not pit Shevchenko against Amanda Nunes for the third time with both riding high?
Both Shevchenko and Nunes are at the top of their respective games and a champion vs. champion fight would shine a bright light on two brilliant representatives for women’s MMA.
Uriah Hall vs. Hermansson / Shahbazyan Winner
Winning in possibly the worst imaginable fashion, Uriah Hall’s checking of Chris Weidman’s leg kick would cause a gruesome compound fracture just 17 seconds into the contest.
As expected, Hall was respectful in victory and immediately offered Weidman the opportunity to run the fight back should he recover.
For the time being however, injuries seem to be a reoccurring feature at the top end of the middleweight division.
With possible opponents Jared Cannonier and Darren Till sidelined, Hall should look towards the upcoming Jack Hermansson – Edmen Shahbazyan contest as his next foe.
Anthony Smith vs. Johnny Walker
While the fight between Anthony Smith and Jim Crute didn’t exactly end in conclusive fashion, Smith’s smart jab would look excellent before a Crute deadened leg was enough to wave the contest off by the ringside doctor.
Now on a two-fight winning streak, Smith is perhaps operating as a gatekeeper to the elite at 205 lbs.
While a fight with Magomed Ankalaev has been bandied about, I’d like to see Ankalaev face off against Aleksandar Rakic to try and clear out the backlog of contenders at the very top of the division.
With those two names ruled out, a fresh match-up with the hard-hitting Johnny Walker would be a fun clash of styles between Smith and the Brazilian.