Another year has come and gone. As we’ve been hearing for a few years now, “it was our best year yet” according to UFC President Dana White. Not only was the UFC extremely financially successful, but they were also successful at providing us with memorable moment after memorable moment. Somehow Jake Paul was one of the most talked about figures within the world of MMA in 2021. Yeah. It was a wild year in combat sports to say the least. So now that the year has come to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the best MMA moments of 2021, as picked by me.
Event Of The Year: UFC 261
They’re back! UFC 261 was the first event of the year to feature a full arena of fans. The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL played host to 15,269 fans, which was criticized by many as people were still unsure how Covid-19 was going back in April, 2021. However you felt about it, it was undeniable that having the fans back created an insane energy that UFC events had been missing for so long. The fights only added to that feeling.
When UFC 261 ended, I turned to my friend I was watching with and said that it was the most violent UFC card I had ever seen. I had other friends watching who don’t usually watch UFC events and I felt like I needed to apologize to them for how gruesome it was and explain that “it’s not usually like that.” Every fight on the main card seemed to end in an increasingly brutal way. Most notably this was the card where Chris Weidman’s leg snapped in half.
Then, Rose Namajunas landed one of the most beautiful head kick knockouts you will ever see to regain her championship over Zhang Weili.
No telegraphing whatsoever ! Weili braced for the lowkick but got hit with a head kick. Simply Beautiful from Rose💥❤️ pic.twitter.com/cLp8t8hIji
— 𝔽𝕆ℕ𝕀 💎 (@stargazer109) November 2, 2021
The event capped off with perhaps one of the most shocking and violent finishes with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman viciously KO’ing Jorge Masvidal.
The card was filled with so many quick, violent finishes, that it actually became the 3rd shortest UFC card of all time.
SHORTEST MAIN CARDS – UFC PPV History (5 fights)
19:10 – UFC 29
19:23 – UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar
20:56 – UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2
21:19 – UFC 55
21:50 – UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir
— UFC News (@UFCNews) April 25, 2021
Honorable mentions: UFC 268, UFC 269.
Feel Good Moment Of The Year: Brandon Moreno Becomes Champion
At UFC 263 in Glendale, AZ fans got to watch the feel good moment of the year in MMA. The first time Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo squared off at the end of 2020 was a fight of the year candidate. When they rematched in June, 2021 at UFC 263, fans got to witness something magical when Moreno was able to secure a finish over Figueiredo via a rear naked choke to become the new flyweight champion.
After securing the choke, Moreno walked around the octagon in a daze almost as if he had no idea what just happened. Then, it all hit him, and he broke down. It was a beautiful moment to watch, and this octagon-side video was one of my favorite videos of the year:
Moreno became the first Mexican born UFC champion and would give one of the most inspiring octagon speeches of all time. It was hard not to shed a tear watching.
After the fight Moreno would meet up with Israel Adesanya, who successfully defended his title in the main event. The two shared pizza together at the post-fight press conference which created this iconic and lovable photo of just two champions sharing some pizza.
Brandon Moreno 🇲🇽 et Israel Adesanya 🇳🇬 finissent l’année sur le theme « Ceinture et Pizza » 🍕🏆🤣 pic.twitter.com/pzEbIOWUQ3
— MMA Empire ⚔️ (@MMAempireFR) January 1, 2022
I would argue that Moreno is the most likable fighter in all of MMA. How can ANYBODY not like this man?!?
Honorable mentions: Francis Ngannou becomes heavyweight champion, Julianna Peña upsets Amanda Nunes.
Craziest Moment Of The Year: Conor McGregor’s Breakdown
If Brandon Moreno winning the flyweight championship was the feel good moment of the year, this is the feel bad moment of the year.
Although it feels like forever ago, 2021 actually began with McGregor vs. Poirier II. Dustin Poirier would kick 2021 off to a wild start by becoming the first person to KO McGregor. Fans didn’t know what to expect after the biggest superstar of all time had suffered such a terrible loss like that.
McGregor didn’t come back friendly to say the least. For months he campaigned for the trilogy fight, changing from his friendly approach with Poirier in the rematch to a dark and honestly sad approach leading up to their trilogy. Things only got worse after the fight.
With the stage set for a massive trilogy fight, fans would leave with an unsolved feeling as the fight devastatingly ended after McGregor broke his ankle at the end of the first round. However just because McGregor was on the ground quite literally broken and defeated, that didn’t stop him. He would descend into madness by continuing to scream at Poirier about his wife and yelling at the officials to count it as a doctor’s stoppage.
If you want to rewatch one of the saddest octagon interviews in UFC history (which was met with A LOT of criticism that it took place at all) you can revisit it here. I guess at least we got the “your wife is in me DMs” line out of it.
Unfortunately things just got worse on social media after the fight. The whole thing just left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Nothing about it was really fun to watch and it made me seriously question my McGregor fandom.
Honorable Mention: Chris Weidman’s leg break.
Fight Of The Year: Holloway vs. Rodriguez
On November 13, 2021, the greatest featherweight of all time Max Holloway returned to fight against the always exciting Yair Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been out of the octagon for roughly two years at the time which lead many to think that Holloway would make easy work of Rodriguez, especially after Holloway’s legendary performance against Calvin Kattar from earlier in 2021. However, Rodriguez put up a brilliant effort which lead the two to have an all out war for 5 rounds, winning the fight of the year in my eyes. Here’s just a very small taste:
Yair got up FIRING 💥
— UFC (@ufc) November 13, 2021
Rodriguez even tried to repeat his iconic last second elbow KO over The Korean Zombie, and it LANDED:
Yair is hunting for his signature up elbow 👀
— UFC (@ufc) November 13, 2021
The war was so crazy that Rodriguez had to leave in an ambulance, but that didn’t stop Holloway from going to greet Rodriguez IN THE AMBULANCE.
"YAIR! You frickin' animal."
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 14, 2021
Just look how insane this photo is, and what Holloway had to say about it!
Max Holloway paid respect to Yair Rodriguez 🤙
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 15, 2021
Holloway would win the fight via unanimous decision.
Honorable mentions: Volkanovski vs. Ortega, Gaethje vs. Chandler.
Knockout Of The Year: Usman vs. Masvidal II
It’s no secret that the thing people think of the most when thinking of MMA is vicious knockouts. The sport took a long time to gain mainstream attention because for years it was viewed as too brutal and archaic. Now that it has official begun to become part of the mainstream sports world, the knockouts still remain as the most admirable, viral part of the sport.
In a year filled with vicious knockouts, one stands out more than the rest. When Kamaru Usman viciously knocked out Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 in April, it quite literally rocked the MMA world.
For years, the one thing that doubters of Usman would constantly say is that he was a “boring” fighter. He was a fighter that didn’t go for finishes and just clinched and did what he needed to do to win. That argument was officially put to rest when Usman put Masvidal’s lights OUT. What made it even more insane was the fact that Masvidal had never been put out like that before. Masvidal had only one TKO loss on his professional MMA record, but he had NEVER been put out the way that Usman put him out.
You can watch that vicious beauty here:
I stated earlier that my favorite photo of the year was of Moreno and Adesanya eating pizza. However, if I had to pick the most iconic MMA photo of 2021 that will have historical significance, this would definitely be it.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) April 25, 2021
Honorable Mentions: Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi, Francis Ngannou vs. Stipe Miocic.
Fighter Of The Year: Kamaru Usman
This shouldn’t come as a shock. Just look at the year that Kamaru Usman has had. Headlining three PPVs this year, Usman made three successful defenses of his welterweight title, which he is now in his FOURTH calendar year of defending.
At UFC 258 in February Usman defeated his former teammate Gilbert Burns via a third round TKO. Many claimed that Burns would be his hardest challenge to date, citing rumors that Burns used to give Usman trouble when they would spar together. Usman put those rumors to rest and made his work with Burns look relatively easy.
At UFC 261 in April, Usman delivered the knockout of the year with his vicious knockout win over Jorge Masvidal, which would be his second title defense against Masvidal. Again, this officially put to rest the notion that Usman was a “boring” fighter that was incapable of finishing fights.
At UFC 268 in November, Usman defeated his biggest rival Colby Covington for a second time. In what was my most anticipated fight of the whole year, Usman and Covington delivered another classic that would see Usman be tested the most he ever had been, similar to how things went the first time the two faced off in December 2019. Ultimately, Usman would get the decision win over Covington to continue his reign as welterweight champion.
Having a year like this doesn’t come without a toll, though. At his UFC 268 post-fight press conference, Usman said that what’s next for him is taking time off to be with his family, specifically his daughter. He spoke about how it didn’t matter that he was stacking up millions of dollars if it meant that he had to spend months away from his daughter.
There is no doubt at all that Kamaru Usman is the pound-for-pound best MMA fighter in the world.
Honorable mentions: Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Rose Namajunas.
The 2022 MMA year kicks off January 15 with a UFC fight night headlined by Calvin Kattar vs. Giga Chikadze. The first PPV event of the year is UFC 270: Ngannou vs. Gane on January 22.