Charles Oliveira, right, defeated Michael Chandler in a memorable match at UFC 262 to win the UFC Lightweight Championship. Carmen Mandato / Getty Images
There were dominant performances by the champions, surprises in the title fight and a surprising phenomenon that seems to be gaining momentum. The only thing the MMA world didn’t have in the first half of 2021 was a card in front of a full house in Las Vegas.
That will change on July 10th, when Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier finish their trilogy at UFC 264 in the T-Mobile Arena.
A look back over the past six months reveals some accomplishments – and moments – that deserve recognition. Our 13-person committee chose the best fight, the best fighters, the most spectacular finish, the best view and the biggest surprise.
Best fight: May 15, Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler
Check out the fight here
Charles Oliveira celebrates his TKO against Michael Chandler with Joe Rogan, Dana White and walks into the Houston crowd
This is the best fight of the first half of 2021, and not just because it ended in an exciting hiatus that crowned a successor to the great Khabib Nurmagomedov as the UFC lightweight champion. What also makes this the best fight so far this year is that it almost crowned another champion.
Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will complete their trilogy on July 10th, and a lightweight title shot in front of a sold-out crowd will be at stake in Las Vegas.
UFC 264: McGregor versus Poirier 3
• Saturday, July 10th, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
• Main card: 10:00 PM ET on ESPN + PPV
• Preliminary Round: 8:00 PM ET on ESPN / ESPN +
• Early Preliminary Rounds: 6:00 PM ET on ESPN / ESPN +
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Oliveira was the one who got the belt around her waist after dropping Chandler with a left hook in the first few seconds of the second round. But that was just the surprising end to a twisted story full of twists and turns. Chandler knocked Oliveira down twice in the opening round, and at one point he had him caught in a tight guillotine stranglehold.
At the end of the first five minutes, it seemed that the UFC was on the verge of having a new champion, and 19 seconds into Round 2 it turned out to be – except it was a different guy than the one who was doing the round 1 ended as if the fight was his. A surprising ending. The biggest bets. What more can we ask for?
– Jeff Wagenheim
Check out these fights that have also received votes: Jiri Prochazka versus Dominick Reyes; Beneil Dariush versus Diego Ferreira; Max Holloway versus Calvin Kattar; Santiago Ponzinibbio versus Miguel Baeza
Best fighter: Rose Namajunas
See Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili here
Chael Sonnen marvels at Rose Namajunas’ amazing knockout from Zhang Weili and apologizes for not previously recognizing her as one of the greatest of all time.
This is not a case against Amanda Nunes or Valentina Shevchenko in the pound-for-pound conversation. Your résumés are beyond reproach. Both defended the title in 2021 as definitive favorites, and both looked like that on fight night. But if narrative and trajectory weren’t factors, the Fighter of the Year awards would be just P4P snapshots.
Namajunas made history in April when he defeated Zhang Weili to become the first woman to hold multiple UFC titles in a weight class. She was almost a 2-to-1 underdog against the perceived buzz saw, a champion who was undefeated in 20 fights over nearly eight years. That was until Namajuna’s speed, skill, and strength combined with a head kick knockout to reclaim the straw weight throne and turn the deepest women’s division on its head. While other women’s champions struggle to find challengers to challenge, Namajunas’ victory opens a door full of compelling opportunities. Every opponent in the top 3 is a dream of style or plot or both. And namajunas are preferred in each of these pairings.
Namajunas’ decision to win the title shot of Jessica Andrade last year was tied to a theme of salvation. Zhang’s knockout in April could mark the beginning of a longer reign.
– Phil Murphy
Also get votes: Nunes, Shevchenko.
Best Male Fighter: Kamaru Usman
Check out Usman versus Jorge Masvidal here
Kamaru Usman gives his thoughts on the best world planet weights of all time.
Frankly, Usman stands out in this category by a wide margin. He’s not just winning fights, he’s not just defending his title – he’s cementing his case as an all-time great. In 2021, he overtook Jon Jones as ESPN’s # 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He forces a debate about who is the greatest welterweight of all time between him and Georges St-Pierre. He emphatically ends his opposition.
Not only did he post a third round against his former teammate Gilbert Burns on Feb 13, but he also added a highlight role, which on Feb 24 he widened the gap between himself and the rest of the division.
If Usman’s second half of 2021 looks anything like his first, we’ll take it to the top with some of the biggest year-long campaigns in the history of the sport. So far he is undeniably the “Fighter of the Year”. – Brett Okamoto
Also get votes: Brandon Moreno, Francis Ngannou.
Best result: May 1st, Jiri Prochazka’s Spinning Elbow KO of Dominick Reyes
Check out the fight here
Jiri Prochazka takes advantage of some early openings and appears to injure Dominick Reyes in Round 1.
The twisting elbow that Dominick Reyes ended was really just the icing on the cake of a Prochazka performance brimming with bold flavors.
In the nearly two rounds that the light heavyweight fight lasted, Prochazka showed unorthodox intransigence, delivering punches from unexpected angles and awkward stances and positions. And while absorbing a few blows too, Prochazka mostly displayed paradoxical defensive skills as he was hard to find while at the same time constantly facing Reyes.
When Prochazka pulled Reyes into retreat midway through the second round, he continued to land punches even as he followed his opponent to the cage and then along the fence. After Reyes had only the energy to assert himself, Prochazka gave his attack flow a new spin.
The torso twist that added a quick elbow to the Reyes skull gave Prochazka his 12th consecutive win. And the stunning, memorable finish put the Czech 28-year-old at the top of the £ 205 title contenders.
– Jeff Wagenheim
Look at these comments, which also received votes: Cory Sandhagen defeats Frankie Edgar; Kamaru Usman defeats Jorge Masvidal; Rose Namajunas defeats Zhang Weili; Francis Ngannou defeats Stipe Miocic; Terrance McKinney defeats Matt Frevola
Biggest surprise: gimmick boxes invade the MMA room
Ben Askren shares his perspective on the fight against Jake Paul and insists that the fight has not been rigged.
Novel boxing permeating the MMA ecosystem isn’t just the biggest surprise in the MMA world in the past six months, it’s actually one of the most popular things happening in the sport right now. The boxing match between the award-winning YouTube star Jake Paul and UFC veteran Ben Askren, a former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champion, was a big draw on April 17th.
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A few weeks after defeating Askren, Paul attended UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida and was booed with relish by MMA fans saying “F — Jake Paul!” while actually high-level UFC fights were taking place. It was the first ticket to a sold-out crowd since the pandemic began, and the focus during a three-championship battle ticket was on a confrontation between Paul and Daniel Cormier near the stands.
UFC President Dana White got irritated because he was asked so often about the latest callouts from his fighters to Paul, or vice versa. White has said that he will not allow any current fighter to box Jake or his brother Logan Paul.
Jake will next fight former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Then there was an impressive performance by 46-year-old former longtime UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who earlier this month defeated Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in Mexico – a former world boxing champion who was 11 years younger than him with 60 professional boxing matches. Silva is sure to have a huge money boxing match next – eight years after losing the UFC belt.
– Marc Raimondi
Also receive votes: Second place was the creation of a preliminary UFC heavyweight championship bout.
Best prospects: Movsar Evloev
Watch Evloev vs. Hakeem Dawodu here
Movsar Evloev (left) has had two wins so far in 2021, including a split-decision win over Nik Lentz at UFC 257 in January. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC
Prospect is a tricky label. Evloev has 15 professional fights including five in the UFC. But the Russian featherweight is only 27 years old and has not yet developed into a real “contender”. He’ll probably do it soon, though.
Evloev looked very impressive when he scored a unanimous win over fellow campaigner Hakeem Dawodu at UFC 262 in June. Evloev’s wrestling is totally dominant in general. With his oppressive wrestling and grappling style, he will pose a major threat to almost anyone in the featherweight division.
The victory over Dawodu was his second that year. Evloev defeated Nik Lentz by split decision at UFC 257 in January. It was a major win against a seasoned gatekeeper like Lentz, who is also a tough wrestler-gripper.
If there’s one thing Evloev can improve on, it’s ending battles. He has yet to claim a win in the UFC, although he did so regularly as the M-1 bantamweight champion. Perhaps after joining the UFC in 2019, he is still adjusting to the move from bantamweight to featherweight.
In any case, Evloev looked superb and there is clear growth potential for someone in their athletic heyday. That’s a scary proposition for 145 pound fighters in the UFC.
Also get votes: Brendan Allen, Phil Hawes, Brendan Loughnane, Miranda Maverick, Sean O’Malley, Aaron Pico and Claressa Shields.
Panel: Kel Dansby, Andrew Davis, Andrew Feldman, Andres Ferrari, Tim Fiorvanti, Eric Jackman, Roman Modrowski, Morgan Mularski, Arda Ocal, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Eric Tamiso, Jeff Wagenheim.