UFC 261 is an MMA event that will go down in history. Not only was it the first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) event with fans in attendance since the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but it also broke several UFC records. Only two fights on the main card went outside of the first round, and they were abruptly stopped in the second. We saw head kicks, one punch knockouts, and incredible ground striking. There were also three title fights to headline the event. Rose Namajunas snapped Weili Zhang’s meteoric 21 fight win streak to take the Women’s Strawweight title, Kamaru Usman became the first man in the UFC to knockout Jorge Masvidal to retain his Welterweight title, and Valentina Shevchenko battered Jessica Andrade to keep her Women’s Flyweight Title. With such incredible championship performances, it’s hard to remember what happened earlier in the night. But the fight that stuck with me more than any other was Anthony Smith’s exceptional performance against Jimmy Crute.
Jimmy Crute has been a rising star in the UFC since he signed with promotion in 2018. With an impressive 12-1 record, the 25 year old fighter seemed destined for greatness. He was given a chance to prove himself against Anthony Smith, a seasoned MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) veteran, on Saturday. Had he beaten Smith, Crute would have taken his #6 ranking in the Light-Heavyweight division, and officially made the move from prospect to contender. It seemed that the outcome had a foregone conclusion, with Crute coming into the fight as a 2 to 1 favorite, and analysts predicting an emphatic victory for the up and comer. But Anthony Smith was unfazed by the hype. With 50 fights to his name, and several dozen finishes to boot, Smith had more than enough experience to give Crute a run for his money.
As Smith made his walk, we saw an energetic and happy fighter. He smiled while bouncing around with his hands in the air and greeting his many fans. But as soon as he entered the octagon, he became focused on the task at hand. He squared off with Crute in the middle of the octagon as the referee recited the rules. The two men touched gloves, and went to their corners. The bell sounded and the fight began. Crute became the early aggressor, with a body kick and a few heavy shots that missed their mark. But as the fighters found their rhythm, the story began to change. Crute threw his first leg kick, and Smith responded with a smile. Then Smith then threw a powerful left-handed jab which passed right through the guard of Crute, and found its mark on his eye. While the punch didn’t stagger Crute, it certainly told him that Anthony Smith was not going to be an easy opponent.
For the next 3 minutes, we saw an exchange of strikes. Crute continued to use his leg kick in an attempt to slow Smith down, while Smith continued to find success with his jab. As the round continued, Crute’s face began to swell. Smith’s high pressure striking had been consistent, and it had allowed him to work in a range of different strikes. As the final minute of the round approached, Smith threw his first leg kick, which landed perfectly behind Crute’s left knee, striking a vital nerve. Crute took a step back, and his leg gave out. He fell to the ground, then threw a desperate takedown attempt against a surprised Smith. Crute was able to knock him down, but Smith found his way up by posturing against the side of the octagon. The final ten seconds of the round ticked down, and Crute took Smith down again, but his attack was neutralized. The bell sounded, and Crute stumbled back to his corner.
The corner men desperately tried to fix his damaged nerve with ice, but when Crute tried to stand, he stumbled again. Smith’s powerful and impeccably placed kick had done its damage, and the doctor was forced to stop the fight. Crute respectfully raised up Smith’s hand for the crowd, and the fans cheered. The analysts were forced to scratch their heads and watch while the veteran celebrated his victory. Smith proved that experience can outperform hype, and that an old dog can still beat a young buck. While this performance may have been washed away by the other impressive fights on the card, the lesson it taught will stay in the hearts of MMA fans for years to come.