In a year absolutely saturated with misery, we needed people to entertainingly concuss one another more than ever, and plenty of them delivered the goods. Let’s look back on 2021’s “Fights of the Year.”
5. Gregor Gillespie vs. Diego Ferreira (UFC on Vegas 26)
Gregor Gillespie is an easy man to root for. He has an incredible story, has been nothing but a gentleman in the ring, is a damn fine fisherman, and can f***in’ fight. It was a shame to see him sit out for 18 months after suffering his first-ever loss to Kevin Lee, but his return last May was worth the wait.
This was just an absolute delight for anyone even remotely interested in the ground game, as Gillespie’s impeccable wrestling pedigree and Ferreira’s high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu combined to produce some of the wildest scrambles we’ve seen this year. Ferreira nearly found the finish late in the first, but Gillespie inhuman pace soon wore on him, allowing Gillespie to take dominant position and pound him out in the second.
It was, to take the low-hanging fruit, a “Gift.”
4. Edson Barboza vs. Shane Burgos (UFC 262)/Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo (UFC 268)
Yeah, this is basically the Shane Burgos Appreciation Section. The man’s utter disregard for his own well-being produced a pair of phenomenal scraps, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t give his sacrificed brain cells the recognition they deserve.
His May clash with Edson Barboza followed a similar script as his unreal battle with Josh Emmett last year. Barboza’s vicious counters allowed him to take the first round, but with both men sitting on over 70 significant strikes landed as the second came to an end, Burgos’ pressure and body attack appeared to be paying dividends. Then, early in the third round, “Hurricane” finally ate a right hand he just couldn’t absorb, crumpling to the canvas to end the card’s Fight of the Night.
Burgos’ battle with Billy Quarantillo six months later proved even wilder, as he and “Billy Q” combined to land 361 significant strikes in the span of 15 minutes. That’s 24 per minute; on average, somebody was getting punched or kicked every 2.5 seconds. Burgos wound up thriving in the chaos, dropping Quarantillo early and ultimately tenderizing his legs to claim victory.
If it hadn’t been for the #2 entry on this list, odds are it would have been his second consecutive $50k bonus. Alas, he’ll have to content himself with my approval.
3. Jiri Prochazka vs. Dominick Reyes (UFC Vegas 25)
His lengthy run on the Japanese circuit and wild UFC debut against Volkan Oezdemir made one thing very clear about Jiri Prochazka: he is can’t-miss TV. We expected madness when he got the call to face Dominick Reyes, and that’s exactly what we received.
Reyes had clearly done his homework, as he looked to exploit the shaky wrestling and iffy striking defense that had long vexed “Denisa.” Unfortunately for him, Prochazka simply refused to stop advancing and throwing strikes, and though the numbers were close after one round, it appeared the Czech samurai was in full control.
“The Devastator” turned things around in the second with a monstrous counter left, the same shot that once folded Ovince St. Preux. It forced Prochazka to attempt a takedown, and though Reyes initially threatened a guillotine, it quickly backfired as Prochazka racked up damage from the top. The onslaught continued as Reyes worked his way back to the feet, then concluded violently with a clean spinning elbow that put Reyes out cold.
Not bad for two rounds of work.
2. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler (UFC 268)
This was only ever going to end one of two ways: a dramatic early finish or a war for the ages. We got the latter.
Both men immediately went to work with monster low kicks and death blows to the head. Chandler, an incredibly fast starter, drew first blood with a series of right hands that left “The Highlight” staggering back to the fence. There would be no repeat of Gaethje’s loss to Dustin Poirier, however; he withstood the attack and fired back, arguably retaking the round with an impressive late effort.
Gaethje’s attrition began paying dividends in the second round, holding Chandler in place long enough for a huge uppercut to send “Iron” to the canvas. Chandler showed similar levels of resilience, surviving ever more damage and coming back with his own massive shots despite a badly damaged lead leg. Targeting Gaethje’s body opened new avenues of success for him, only for a botched slam to give Gaethje the momentum once again. Gaethje’s persistence and the accumulated low kicks kept the comeback out of Chandler’s reach, resulting in a unanimous decision for the former WSOF king.
Five rounds next time.
1. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega (UFC 266)
Forget the wide scores ... this was one of the best title fights in recent memory, a war that considerably bolstered both men’s legacies.
The first two rounds took place entirely on the feet, where Volkanovski’s volume and power clashed with Ortega’s sheer implacability, before things took a turn for the spectacular in the third. Midway through the round, Ortega — sporting a freshly busted nose — timed one of Volkanovski’s many low kicks for a successful knee tap takedown that he immediately turned into an airtight mounted guillotine.
Volkanovski inexplicably worked his way free and started to pound from guard, only for Ortega to lock up his other signature movie: the triangle choke. This looked even deeper than the one before, but Volkanovski again managed to survive, and the sight of him diving right back into Ortega’s guard to try and punch a hole through his head was one of the most stunning of the year.
You can argue whether this fight or the one before deserved the top slot. You can’t argue that this wasn’t “Round of the Year.”
Despite absorbing heinous amounts of damage, Ortega managed to trip Volkanovski to the mat early in the fourth and jumped on an anaconda choke. Once again, Volkanovski’s takedown defense proved impregnable, and he once again elected to jump right into the danger zone of Ortega’s guard to rack up more punches.
“T-City” probably shouldn’t have been allowed to come out for the fifth, but come out he did, marching toward Volkanovski as always. He simply refused to stop, and the punches he landed in the final minute were among the heaviest we’ve seen Volkanovski absorb in ages.
Just an absolute violent delight, one of the tensest five-rounders I can remember. Well done, lads.
- Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez
- Merab Dvalishvili vs. Marlon Moraes
- Mike Davis vs. Mason Jones
- Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand
- Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Miguel Baeza
What Was The Best UFC / MMA Fight Of 2021?
This poll is closed
Gregor Gillespie vs. Diego Ferreira
Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo
Edson Barboza vs. Shane Burgos
Jiri Prochazka vs. Dominick Reyes
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
Other (Explain in comments section below)