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5 best UFC events of 2021

Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261 [Image via @espnmma on Twitter]
Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261 [Image via @espnmma on Twitter]
C. Naik
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2021 proved to be a milestone year for the UFC as the worldโ€™s premier MMA organization continued to deliver stellar events every month. While many events in 2020 took place without a crowd due to COVID-19 restrictions, 2021 saw a comforting return to normalcy as fans were allowed back for certain numbered events.

The year started off with a bang on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi as Conor McGregor returned to action to take on Dustin Poirier in a rematch at UFC 257 in January. The year ended with an incredible night of fights in Las Vegas at UFC 269: Oliveira vs. Poirier in December.

Image courtesy of BT Sport on YouTube
Image courtesy of BT Sport on YouTube

Following the final numbered event of 2021, Dana White mentioned in the post-fight press conference that the company had shattered its previous annual pay-per-view revenue record for the calendar year.

That being said, we ranked the five best events of the year based on the buzz going into the event, how stacked the fight cards were and the moments that they produced.

Here are the five best events of 2021.


#5. UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

OFFICIAL: Your Poirier-McGregor 2 poster has landed ๐Ÿ’Ž๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช[ #InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi ] https://t.co/fbvMEO2RBE

The rematch between Irish superstar Conor McGregor and lightweight contender Dustin Poirier went down in Abu Dhabi. McGregor won the duoโ€™s first bout back in 2014 with a first-round knockout. Going into the bout, Poirier was ranked No.5 in the featherweight division, while McGregor was at No.6.

Rewind the clocks โณโฎ Look back on @DustinPoirier vs @TheNotoriousMMA from #UFC178 now. #UFC257 https://t.co/fgl3FuQ60l

Notably, McGregor wasn't his usual antagonistic self in the build-up towards the fight. In fact, he was extremely courteous throughout fight week and was very complimentary of Poirier.

McGregor was the favorite going into the bout, with many believing that Poirier would struggle with the power and accuracy of 'The Notorious'. Poirier repeatedly attacked McGregor's calf with powerful kicks, rendering the Irishman almost immobile in the second round.

Poirier capitalized on his success with leg kicks and cornered McGregor into the fence with lethal hooks, one of which caught the latter flush on the chin. 'The Diamond' secured a TKO victory to level the series between the duo at 1-1.

On the biggest stage, @DustinPoirier delivered ๐Ÿ’Ž What did you think of his performance?[ #UFC257 | #InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi ] https://t.co/6G66PCn9bk

The co-main event saw Michael Chandler make a resounding statement in his promotional debut, securing a sensational TKO-victory over Dan Hooker. His incredible performance saw him break into the top 10 in the lightweight rankings.

A debut worthy of a title shot ๐Ÿคฏโš™๏ธ @MikeChandlerMMA has his date with gold in Houston![ Join the Fight Club pre-sale: bit.ly/31zREVZ ] https://t.co/M5XKxAVGSy

Soon after the bout, Chandler cut a promo with a pro-wrestling style post-fight interview to put the entire lightweight division on notice. He called out the likes of Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Khabib Nurmagomedov in emphatic fashion.

Michael Chandler calls out McGregor, Poirier and Khabib after his UFC debut ๐Ÿ‘€#UFC257(via @ufc)https://t.co/H1xNLNGmCD

The rest of the fights on the card delivered as well.

Women's strawweight contender Marina Rodriguez knocked out Amanda Ribas in the opening bout of the main card. Middleweights Andrew Sanchez and Makhmud Muradov duked it out for two and a half rounds before the latter secured a TKO victory. Joanne Wood edged closer to title contention with a unanimous decision win over former title challenger Jessica Eye.

The night, however, belonged to Dustin Poirier. 'The Diamond' not only leveled his series with Conor McGregor at 1-1, but also set up a lucrative opportunity for himself. The promotion looked to immediately book a trilogy bout, which ended up happening at UFC 264.

#4. UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2 at Madison Square Garden, New York City

Big fights back in the Big Apple ๐ŸŽ Your OFFICIAL #UFC268 poster is HERE ๐Ÿ”ฅ[ #UFC268 | Saturday Nov 6th | LIVE on #ESPNPlus PPV ] https://t.co/tMhYHRq0TI

The UFCโ€™s return to the most iconic arena in the history of combat sports, Madison Square Garden, gave fans a night to remember.

The prelims produced six straight finishes, all of which came inside the first two rounds. Chris Barnett and Chris Curtis produced sensational knockouts despite being betting underdogs. Promotional debutants Ian Garry and Alex Pereira made huge statements of intent with their respective knockouts. MMA veteran Bobby Green and rising middleweight contender Nassourdine Imavov also secured KO/TKO victories in the prelims.

The main card started with a bang as the crowd in attendance witnessed one of the best fights of the year. Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler went to war for three full rounds. While Gaethje controlled the pace of the fight in the last two rounds, the first will go down in history as one of the greatest single rounds ever. โ€˜The Highlightโ€™ came out on top with a unanimous decision victory.

That's one for the history books ๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ‘[ #UFC268 | The Main Card is LIVE on ESPN+ PPV: ufc.ac/3pxVxYV ] https://t.co/EKQE6N7sTU

The next two bouts saw another barnburner of a fight between Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo, as well as an incredible front-kick knockout by Marlon Vera. Burgos emerged victorious following a decision-win, while Vera secured a third-round KO victory over former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

Fan-favorite Rose Namajunas took on Zhang Weili in the co-main event. The duo had locked horns earlier in the year in Jacksonville, Florida, where โ€˜Thug Roseโ€™ knocked out her Chinese foe in the first round with a head-kick. The rematch at Madison Square Garden was a tactical affair, with Namajunas coming away with a split-decision victory.

DEFENDED HER THRONE ๐Ÿ† ๐ŸŒน @RoseNamajunas remains #ANDSTILL!!![ #UFC268 | B2YB @CryptoCom ] https://t.co/VPyfpHGlyZ

The main event saw Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington run it back, almost two years after their first fight in 2019. Usman secured a TKO victory over Covington in their first bout, but it was an incredibly competitive fight until the finish.

In the rematch, โ€˜The Nigerian Nightmareโ€™ further solidified his status as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world with a unanimous decision victory over โ€˜Chaosโ€™, who briefly paid his respects to the champion moments after the five-round war.

What did Colby Covington say to Kamaru Usman after #UFC268?๐Ÿ“บ Watch a brand new Thrill & The Agony on @UFCFightPass now! https://t.co/tvhWMzM89P

The UFC's return to Madison Square Garden was certainly a night to remember.

The return to MSG was a ๐Œ๐Ž๐•๐ˆ๐„ ๐ŸŽฌ[ ๐Ÿ† #UFCHonors | Presented By @ToyoTires ] https://t.co/Nyu73VX9Eg

#3. UFC 267: Blachowicz vs. Texeira at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Oh my ๐ŸคฉYour #UFC267 poster is official and we're bringing the heat to Abu Dhabi - what a card! ๐Ÿ”ฅWhich fight you looking forward to the most? https://t.co/C8AgqiBinE

With UFC 267 and UFC 268 going down on back-to-back weekends, the majority of the hype was surrounding the latter considering the name value on the respective main cards. However, the former will go down as one of the best events of the year for hardcore MMA fans.

The main card kicked off with a dominant performance by light heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev against former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. The former established himself as a real threat to the title, and is likely just a few fights away from fighting for the belt.

The next bout produced perhaps the best performance of the night as rising star Khamzat Chimaev broke into the welterweight rankings with an incredible win over Li Jingliang. The Chechen phenom choked out his Chinese counterpart inside the first round and followed it up with a terrifyingly entertaining post-fight interview.

"EVERYBODY! I COME HERE FOR EVERYBODY! KILL EVERYBODY! I'M THE CHAMP!"@KChimaev wakes up and ALWAYS chooses violence ๐Ÿ˜ฐ #UFC267 https://t.co/7e7z1lrLBc

Islam Makhachev made his way into the top 5 in the lightweight rankings with a seemingly effortless outing against Dan Hooker. The Russian took down the Kiwi in the very first round and successfully secured a kimura submission. Makhachev barely broke a sweat in the fight and called for a title shot in his post-fight interview with Daniel Cormier.

The co-main event saw Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen battle it out for interim gold in a five-round war. The duo produced one of the best fights of the year, with Yan coming out on top. The Russian won via unanimous decision to set up a rematch between himself and the bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.

Meet your official interim bantamweight ๐‘ช๐‘ฏ๐‘จ๐‘ด๐‘ท๐‘ฐ๐‘ถ๐‘ต @PetrYanUFC ๐Ÿ† #AndNew[ #UFC267 | B2YB @CryptoCom ] https://t.co/QBGgYC1pFX

Light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz and No.1 contender Glover Texeira locked horns in the main event, with the latter producing one of the most inspiring performances in MMA history. Texeira dominated Blachowicz in the first round and sunk in a rear-naked choke in the second to win the belt.

Despite being the underdog, the 42-year-old Brazilian emerged victorious and produced one of the most memorable feel-good moments of the year.

The best #UFC267 moments from @DC_MMA, @Jon_Anik, & @FelderPaul ๐ŸŽค https://t.co/hPfMgvGAsa

#2. UFC 269: Oliveira vs. Poirier at the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

The UFC closed out 2021 with a banger of a fight card. The final pay-per-view of the year delivered on all fronts, with four out of the five fights on the main card ending in finishes.

Dustin Poirier took on Charles Oliveira for the undisputed lightweight belt in the main event. Despite being the underdog and losing the first round, Oliveira secured a third-round submission victory over 'The Diamond'. This was the Brazilian's first title defense.

Many believed that Oliveira wouldn't have the toughness and durability to manage Poirier's power and pressure. However, 'Do Bronx' proved the doubters wrong for the second time this year, seven months after he won the title against Michael Chandler.

On top of the world ๐ŸŒŽ๐Ÿ† #AndStill [ @CharlesDoBronxs | #UFC269 ] https://t.co/0xerIRmv3b

The co-main event saw one of the biggest upsets in combat sports history as Julianna Pena dethroned Amanda Nunes. Nunes, the former two-division champion, was a heavy favorite going into the championship bout. Nevertheless, Pena submitted the Brazilian in the second round to shock the world.

Still on cloud 9 โ˜๏ธ๐Ÿ† #AndNew[ @VenezuelanVixen | #UFC269 ] https://t.co/mQew1wBwa4

Cody Garbrandt suffered a horrific debut in the flyweight division, losing to Kai Kara-France by TKO. The former bantamweight champion struggled against the power of Kara-France, who dropped him multiple times in the bout.

The finish came three minutes into the first round as Kara-France landed a deadly combination on Garbrandt. The Kiwi called for a title shot in his post-fight interview.

Sean O'Malley kicked off the pay-per-view with a sensational performance against Raulian Paiva. The rising bantamweight delivered yet another highlight-reel knockout and has emerged as one of the most exciting fighters to watch right now.

The event was a fitting finale to a sensational year for the world's premier MMA promotion.

Still ๐‘น๐‘ฌ๐‘ฌ๐‘ณ๐‘ฐ๐‘ต๐‘ฎ from the movie that was #UFC269 ๐Ÿคฉ [ ๐ŸŽฅ Watch the full #UFC269 Fight Motion here ๐Ÿ”— youtu.be/1SBcpCnpynQ ] https://t.co/xDd5kgyJZ2

#1. UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal 2 at Jacksonville, Florida

๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ†๐Ÿ†Your #UFC261 poster has just dropped! https://t.co/wtS7Z8RJBg

UFC 261 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, was a milestone event for the promotion and for live sports in general. It marked the first time a sporting event welcomed back a full-capacity crowd into an arena since the initial lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic were imposed, creating an electric atmosphere.

The main card featured three championship bouts. Welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman took on Jorge Masvidal in a rematch in the main event, Rose Namajunas squared off against strawweight champion Zhang Weili in the co-main and flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko locked horns with former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade.

Astonishingly, all three title fights ended in finishes. Shevchenko dominated Andrade to retain her title, finishing the fight from the crucifix position, dropping heavy elbows on her opponent. In the co-main event, โ€˜Thugโ€™ Rose Namajunas shocked the world with a spectacular first round head-kick to become a two-time strawweight champion.

The main event saw Kamaru Usman further extend his championship reign in unbelievable fashion, handing Jorge Masvidal the first knockout loss of his career. โ€˜The Nigerian Nightmareโ€™ landed a flush right cross straight onto the jaw of โ€˜Gamebredโ€™, who many believed possessed the superior striking acumen.

Itโ€™s time for our end of year #UFCHonors! ๐Ÿ†Does this Kamaru Usman KO get your vote this year? ๐Ÿ‘Š https://t.co/OWCAdSWGQP

All in all, the promotion's first event with a full capacity crowd in attendance produced an action-packed night of fights in Florida, culminating in one of the knockouts of the year.

The first event back with fans was one for the history books ๐Ÿ“– [ ๐Ÿ† #UFCHonors | Presented By @ToyoTires ] https://t.co/InLR1pKDr7
Edited by John Cunningham
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