The month of women is traditionally celebrated in March, but this Saturday at UFC 261 the celebration could be extended (you can buy the PPV here).
For the second time in the company’s history, two of the three championship fights that will headline the main event between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal will feature female fighters.
All of them are either champions, or they were at some point in their careers.
Chinese fighter Zhang Weili will defend her strawweight title against former champion Rose Namajunas, while reigning flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will face former champion but strawweight Jessica Andrade.
The only other time there were two women’s championship fights on the same card was at UFC 193, where Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey in one of the biggest upsets ever seen in the UFC.
But, in a rematch for the UFC welterweight championship with as much expectation as that of Nigerian and future Hall of Fame Usman and Cuban Masvidal … why do we say that women will steal the show? Let’s take a look.
Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas
“Better dead than red”, has been the phrase that has driven this great fight over the past two weeks.
Namajunas (10-4), of Lithuanian roots, charged her future rival Weili (21-1) for the mere fact of being a native of China and representing a “communist empire.” It is never good to mix politics and sports in fights like this, but it seems that it is something that does not affect Rose.
“My opinions are based on my experiences. I don’t care what they think,” said Namajunas, a fighter who considers herself a highlight machine thanks to her creativity and artistry in the Octagon.
The problem is that the last time a rival got into issues – extra cage – with Weili, she came out with a loss and a bruise on her head (Joanna Jedrzejczyk). Anyway.
Zhang Weili retained the strawweight crown in classic
The Chinese fighter maintained her title by split decision in a great fight against the Polish Joanna Jedrzejczyk that by consensus was the 2020 Fight of the Year.
Zhang enters this fight with a 5-0 record in the UFC, tied for the fourth best start for women. A win over Namajunas would tie Weili with former bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. “I have been training intensively in ‘grappling’. I have the formula to beat it,” he said.
Now, Namajunas will not be an easy opponent either. On the contrary, it could be the toughest challenge for the Chinese fighter.
Namajunas is tied for the most wins before the final bell in strawweight history. He has won three by submission and one by knockout, the last being in November 2017, when he was awarded the title. “I am happy to fight again for a title. At first it was difficult because, when you are a champion, everything is magnified. I always wanted to be it again,” she said.
If Namajunas triumphs on Saturday, she will become the first female to hold the same title multiple times.
Other fun facts courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information about this duel:
Zhang records a completion percentage of 81% (17 out of 21 wins); 10 by knockout and seven by submission.
Zhang makes 6.38 significant strokes per minute, the fourth-highest rate in strawweight history.
Namajunas performs 53.3% takedown accuracy, the third highest in strawweight history.
According to Caesars William Hill, Zhang (-190) is a favorite over Namajunas (+160).
Valentina Shevchenko: The best of the flyweight champion
Valentina Shevchenko has dominated the 125-pound division after winning the vacant belt against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December 2018.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
On the other hand, Valentina Shevchenko (19-3) – born in Kyrgyzstan – will defend her flyweight championship for the fifth time when she faces former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade (21-8).
Since moving to flyweight in 2018, the fellow Peruvian national is 6-0, beating her opponents by 157 significant hits according to UFC statistics.
A win over Andrade, a native of Brazil, would tie Shevchenko with Rousey and Jedrzejczyk for second place in all-time world title defenses.
Shevchenko has the highest takedown accuracy in flyweight history, while Andrade has the second-highest in UFC history. It will be an exciting battle.
For her part, Andrade is fighting for the second time at 125 pounds, seeking to emulate the so-called best of all time (GOAT), Amanda Nunes, as the only fighters to clinch titles in two different divisions.
The Brazilian has 12 victories in the UFC, the second most after Nunes, precisely. Andrade is the only one to win fights at three different weights. “When I think about this division, what brings me is joy,” the Brazilian said at the recent UFC Countdown. “I’m ready to surprise,” he clarified.
Other flashy facts courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
Shevchenko has the most significant hitting accuracy in flyweight history (54.7%).
Andrade records 6.38 significant strokes per minute, the third highest among active women.
According to Caesars William Hill, Shevchenko is a favorite (-420) over Andrade (+330).
Buy UFC 261: Usman Vs. Masvidal 2 here
The UFC 261 undercard will be held in Jacksonville, Florida, marking the return of a crowd to capacity since March 2020. 15,000 fans are expected at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Buckle up for an entertaining, exciting and historic evening where the women will steal the show. The quartet will be in charge of using this event as a showcase to reaffirm the high level of the female branch.