Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans were never short on action this year, as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) alone offered 41 cards in 52 weeks. It took a lot to stand out in that sort of field, but there were a handful of shows that managed to pull it off. Let’s count down 2021’s “Events of the Year.”
5. UFC Fight Night: Aldo vs. Font
Is this evidence of some recency bias on my part? Maybe, but you can’t deny that it was a hell of a show.
Aside from the bizarre Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight fight, things stayed pretty compelling from beginning to end. Vince Morales’ vicious knockout of Louis Smolka and Claudio Puelles kneebar finish of Chris Gruetzemacher made for a strong start, while Manel Kape’s beatdown of Zhalgas Zhumagulov highlighted the remainder of the undercard. The main card kicked off with another huge upset from Chris Curtis and never lost steam, offering a wild comeback submission from Clay Guida, a rapid knockout from Jamahal Hill, a wheel kick from Rafael Fiziev, and a terrific back-and-forth main event to cap things off.
Things were so hectic that the brass handed out four “Performance of the Night” bonuses. Not bad for a free card.
4. UFC 269: Oliveira vs. Poirier
Speaking of recency bias, here’s another terrific show from the end of this year.
The nine “Prelims” set the stage nicely with five finishes and two excellent three-rounders in Dominick Cruz vs. Pedro Munhoz and Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige, and the two remainders were plenty watchable in their own rights. Save for a slightly underwhelming clash between Geoff Neal and Santiago Ponzinibbio, then main card was much the same. Rualian Paiva and Kai Kara-France scored brutal knockouts to kick it off, Julianna Pena scored a historic upset submission of Amanda Nunes, and Charles Oliveira once again showed his newfound heart by surviving an early knockdown to tap Dustin Poirier in the main event.
Worth the investment, I’d say.
3. UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Rodriguez
If you like knockouts, this was the event for you. Eight of the 11 bouts ended via (technical) knockout, including an insane seven in a row. Of particular note were Da Un Jung’s elbow finish of fellow up-and-comer Kennedy Nzechukwu, Joel Alvarez’s mauling of Thiago Moises, and Khaos Williams’ stunning third-round wipeout of Miguel Baeza.
We didn’t get the finish we expected in the main event, but the event was honestly the better for it. Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez spent five rounds beating the tar out of each other, showcasing incredible grit and adaptability to turn what we thought would be a wipeout into a “Fight of the Year” candidate. Quality definitely made up for quantity.
2. UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
The card started with two consecutive “Fight of the Night” candidates and ended with two “Knockout of the Year” candidates. The stuff in the middle wasn’t too shabby, either, as Brendan Allen and Randy Brown scored solid finishes to highlight the “Prelims” undercard.
The pay-per-view (PPV) portion admittedly got off to a weird start thanks to a pair of leg injuries, one significantly more gruesome than the other, but the final three bouts made up for it. Following Valentina Shevchenko’s destruction of Jessica Andrade, Rose Namajunas needed just 78 seconds to put Zhang Weili to sleep and once again claim ownership of the UFC Strawweight title. Not to be outshined, Kamaru Usman went on to knock Jorge Masvidal’s head into next week with the most brutal right hand he’d ever thrown, capping off a PPV that lived up to its lofty potential.
1. UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2
This card had two “Fight of the Year” candidates back-to-back, plus Chris Barnett wheel kicking Gian Villante into oblivion. Hard to beat that.
The show opened with a number of entertaining, competitive match ups, but it absolutely caught fire four fights in with the aforementioned wheel kick. Five straight knockouts followed, among them a huge upset from Chris Curtis and a lethal flying knee from kickboxing great Alex Pereira, before a pair of phenomenal wars in Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler and Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo.
Then came a front kick knockout courtesy of Marlon Vera and two highly competitive title fights, which saw Rose Namajunas and Kamaru Usman narrowly retain their belts against highly capable challengers.
Between the “holy sh-t” moments and the consistent entertainment, UFC 268 stood head and shoulders above its peers. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
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What Was The Best UFC / MMA Event Of 2021?
This poll is closed
UFC Fight Night: Aldo vs. Font
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Rodriguez
Other (Explain in comments section below)
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