UFC 2021 review: Conor McGregor isn’t just the star anymore as MMA continues its journey to mainstream
Mixed martial arts are entering the mainstream. 2021 has been perhaps the most important year for the sport so far on its path to mass acceptance, with its flagship promotion, the UFC, bringing together games of great intrigue more often than ever before. competitiveness while once again welcoming full crowds.
Conor McGregor has fought more than once in a calendar year for the first time since 2016, helping to secure at least two seismic events for UFC President Dana White and his team, while Israel Adesanya and Jorge Masvidal – the company’s next biggest stars – have also set foot in the Octagon. McGregor was twice beaten by Dustin Poirier, knocked out for the first time in his career in January before suffering a horrific broken leg in the second of those two contests, while Masvidal was brutally knocked out in his career. second attempt to dethrone welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
Adesanya was also defeated – for the first time in his professional MMA career, in fact – as he attempted to become the two-weight title holder by challenging then-light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. He retained his crown in the middleweight division, however, beating Marvin Vettori for the second time in his UFC race.
Elsewhere, Khamzat Chimaev has confirmed his status as the UFC’s new rising star. Having secured that tag in 2020 with outright wins at 170 and 185 pounds, the Russian-born Swede saw his shotgun start in promotion temporarily interrupted by a serious and prolonged fight from Covid-19. He returned in October, however, running a game with Li Jingliang to improve his record to 10-0 with 10 finishes. In fact, he remarkably absorbed just one big strike in the UFC. Some are already talking about the 27-year-old as Usman’s potential successor to the top of the welterweight division, in which Briton Leon Edwards is closing in on a title shot and securing a notable victory over Nate Diaz, whose brother Nick returned after a seven-year absence.
In heavyweight, the consensus division GOAT Stipe Miocic could not keep Francis Ngannou at bay as he did in 2018. Three years after his defeat by humiliating decision by the part-time firefighter, Ngannou finally acceded to champion status by knocking out Miocic in the second round, his unmatched power making him another contender to become a crossover star.
However, Ngannou’s ex-teammate Ciryl Gane became France’s first UFC champion by winning the interim title against Derrick Lewis, staging a massive unification fight with the “Predator” for the first pay-per-view of 2022.
A new champion was also crowned in light heavyweight as Blachowicz failed to follow his decisive victory over Adesanya with a win over veteran Glover Teixeira, who became the second longest-serving UFC title holder by submitting the pole.
There were also crownings in the lightweight and flyweight, with 155-pound Charles Oliveira claiming the strap left vacant by Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2020 by finishing new fan-favorite Michael Chandler – who made an exciting debut in January afterwards. joining the Bellator UFC. Chandler appeared to win the fight at the end of the first round but couldn’t fend off the Brazilian, who stopped the American early in the second round.
Poirier’s two wins over McGregor set him up for a title shot against Oliveira in the final pay-per-view of 2021, with many fans expecting the ‘Diamond’ to finally cross the line and carry the undisputed UFC gold. The former interim champion was subdued by Oliveira, however, with the Brazilian improving his existing records for most finishes and most submission wins in UFC history. Elsewhere in the division, Liverpudlian Paddy Pimblett had a successful UFC debut, winning by first round knockout after an early scare and seeing his profile swell as a result.
It was Brandon Moreno who became king at 125 pounds, following his December 2020 draw against Deiveson Figueiredo with a submission victory over the formidable flyweight. The pair are now ready for a trilogy fight in January on Ngannou’s undercard against Gane.
As Aljamain Sterling technically reigns over the bantamweight, so did the confusion in March. The Jamaican-American got off to a quick start in his title shot against Petr Yan, but the Russian took over and watched on his way to victory before illegally hitting a downed Sterling to lose by disqualification. As such, âFunkmasterâ is the most contested of the undisputed champions, especially with Yan having since won the interim belt in a bout of the year against Cory Sandhagen. Elsewhere in the division, fan favorite Sean O’Malley continues to climb, finally entering the rankings – and nearly making it into the top 10.
However, there was greater stability at the featherweight, with Alexander Volkanovski retaining his title for the second time, beating Brian Ortega in an absolute thriller. Ortega looked to have the Aussie in must-see submissions on at least two occasions, but Volkanovski fought for it and retained the gold. Earlier this year, former champion Max Holloway broke many striking records as he edged out Calvin Kattar with one of the greatest performances the sport has ever seen.
Rose Namajunas regained her strawweight title with a superb header in the first round from Zhang Weili, before retaining the strap against the Chinese later in the year in a two-way battle. Meanwhile, Valentina Shevchenko remained the flyweight queen with TKO wins over Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy.
One of the most shocking moments in sports history came in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division, where consensus GOAT Amanda Nunes dropped her 135-pound belt to underdog Julianna Pena this month. here, submitted by the American in the second round to the amazement of those participating in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This result might actually have heightened the intrigue as she saw two-time Professional Fighters League (PFL) lightweight champion Kayla Harrison take on Nunes in the future, with the world and Olympic champion judoka now a free agent.
The unique format of the PFL play-offs has seen its popularity rise further this year, while Bellator’s defining moment came in the form of a knockout contender of the year by Sergio Pettis, who was well behind on the scorecards in his bantamweight title defense against Kyoji Horiguchi before stopping champion Rizin with a phenomenal return punch.
While that finish was arguably a knockout of the year, the fight of the year was considered by most fans to be Justin Gaethje’s three-round war with Michael Chandler in November, his relentless pace punctuated by many quasi -end until Gaethje gets the green light from the judges.
Meanwhile, the Fighter of the Year was surely Usman, who established himself as the UFC MVP – fighting three times and successfully retaining his welterweight belt at every opportunity. He stopped his friend and former teammate Gilbert Burns, scored a devastating knockout against old nemesis Masvidal and once again fended off fierce rival Colby Covington – highlighting the pantomime villain in an instant classic, two years after stopping the American at the fifth round of another epic. .
Usman’s improvements were evident under coach Trevor Wittman, who also works with Namajunas and Gaethje, all three victorious at UFC 268 on a monumental night for Wittman.
With all things considered at the end of an exciting year in MMA, here is The independentthe end of year rewards of:
Fighter of the Year: Kamaru usman
Fight of the year: Justin Gaethje beat. Michael chandler
Upset of the year: Julianna Pena beat. Amanda Nunes
Coup de grace of the year: Sergio Pettis defeated Kyoji Horiguchi
Revolutionary fighter: Paddy pimblett
Fight that must be done in 2022: The UFC must finally pull the trigger on Jon Jones’ transition to heavyweight, associating him with the winner of Francis Ngannou against Ciryl Gane.
A bold prediction for 2022: Conor McGregor will sort of find himself in a title fight before the end of the year.