The UFC has produced some fantastic knockouts to reminisce about in 2021. While technical knockouts (TKOs) are well and good, it’s the one-punch or single-strike KOs that tend to go viral and truly capture the imagination of the general public. We’re talking about the ones that left a fighter’s opponent in another dimension altogether.
A viral knockout could change the course of an MMA fighter’s career. It alters the perception of a fighter in the eyes of matchmakers and fans alike.
Jorge Masvidal became a superstar overnight following his stunning 5-second flying knee KO against Ben Askren. Francis Ngannou’s devastating uppercut against Alistair Overeem sent shockwaves across the combat sports community. Conor McGregor’s 13-second KO against Jose Aldo sparked a gigantic boom in the popularity of the sport.
Last year, UFC middleweight Joaquin Buckley saw his stock rise tremendously following his sensational knockout against Impa Kasanganay. He won the ‘Knockout of the Year’ award for 2020.
That said, we thought we’d take a look at the 5 frontrunners for the UFC’s ‘Knockout of the Year’ award.
We have added a few prerequisites and qualifications for our nominees. These include the level of competition the finish came against, the circumstances surrounding the fight and of course, the skill behind the KO.
#5. Derrick Lewis KOs Curtis Blaydes (at UFC Vegas 19)
Derrick Lewis has delivered an array of memorable knockouts in his time in the UFC. ‘The Black Beast’ has 13 KO/TKO finishes to his name since joining the promotion, the most in UFC history across all weight classes.
Lewis took on Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Vegas 19.
Many expected him to struggle against a high-level wrestler like Blaydes and the first round was testament to that sentiment. Blaydes oustruck and outpointed Lewis throughout the course of the opening 5 minutes as the latter barely threw a strike.
Turns out, he was looking for one specific opportunity to capitalize on, which presented itself in the second round. Blaydes shot in for a takedown against Lewis, but was met with a powerful uppercut from one of the hardest punchers in the sport. The thunderous punch knocked Blaydes out cold.
#4. Kamaru Usman KOs Jorge Masvidal (at UFC 261)
2021 saw Kamaru Usman transition from being the UFC welterweight champion to also being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ racked up three title defenses this year and has finally started to get the respect he deserves from the MMA community.
Up until 2021, Usman was largely feared for his wrestling prowess and durability. Under the guidance of legendary striking coach Trevor Wittman, he has added yet another layer to his offensive arsenal. His TKO victory over Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 showcased his undeniable improvements in the realm of striking.
Two months later, Usman took on Jorge Masvidal in Jacksonville, Florida. The duo had locked horns once before at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi, where Usman came out on top via unanimous decision. The animosity between the two prompted Usman to call out Masvidal following his win over Burns. They squared off in the main event of UFC 261.
The consensus opinion was that Masvidal possessed the superior striking acumen, and that Usman would have to use his wrestling in order to win the fight. However, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ produced one of the most sensational knockouts of the year, landing a flush right cross straight onto the jaw of 'Gamebred' to defend his title.
#3. Francis Ngannou KOs Stipe Miocic (at UFC 260)
Francis Ngannou’s knockout victory over Stipe Miocic represented so much more than the strike that caused the KO. The duo had locked horns three years prior, when Miocic was a dominant champion and Ngannou was a contender on the rise.
Ngannou finished all of his opponents in the UFC leading up to his first fight with Miocic and was the betting favorite going into the bout against the reigning champion. However, Miocic showed incredible heart and resilience to defeat Ngannou on the night, exposing the latter’s inferior wrestling and lack of cardio.
Ngannou went on another knockout spree between 2018 and 2020 to earn another shot at Miocic’s belt. The duo squared off in the main event of UFC 260 in Las Vegas.
This time around, Ngannou was much better prepared. He refrained from chasing a KO finish in the first round and opted to land heavy leg and body kicks instead. When Miocic shot in for a takedown, Ngannou completely shut it down and reversed the position on the dominant champion.
In the second round, Ngannou caught Miocic with a powerful left hook that saw the champion crumble to the canvas. A new UFC heavyweight champion was crowned, marking the dawn of a new era in the division.
#2. Cory Sandhagen KOs Frankie Edgar (at UFC Vegas 18)
Cory Sandhagen is one of the more interesting fighters in the UFC’s bantamweight division. The highly skilled fighter hailing from Colorado has enjoyed a decent ascent up the rankings at 135 lbs.
He secured three finishes in his first three bouts in the promotion and followed them up with two decision victories before suffering an embarrassing submission loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 250.
His loss to Sterling brought about a change in his approach to mental preparation going into fights. This was on display when he secured a TKO victory over Marlon Moraes.
Sandhagen was a lot more aggressive in his fight against Moraes and wasn’t shy in showcasing his plethora of devastating strikes. He carried the same mentality into his fight against UFC legend Frankie Edgar.
Frankie Edgar was expected to be a tough task for Cory Sandhagan considering his wrestling credentials and achievements in higher weight classes. However, what transpired at the UFC Apex when the duo locked horns left MMA fans around the world in utter disbelief.
Sandhagen used impeccable movement and timing to draw Edgar towards him before unleashing a vicious flying knee. The knee landed flush onto the chin of the former UFC lightweight champion, putting him to sleep.
#1. Jiri Prochazka KOs Dominick Reyes (at UFC Vegas 25)
In under a year, Jiri Prochazka has gone from being the UFC’s latest recruit to the light heavyweight division in 2020 to the No.1 contender in the 205 lbs division in 2021.
The Czech’s unbelievable rise in the promotion is unprecedented. He is expected to compete for undisputed light heavyweight gold in 2022 despite the fact that he has fought just twice in the promotion. His performances have warranted everything he’s received so far.
Prochazka’s first fight in the UFC was a sensational knockout victory over former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in 2020. Somehow, he managed to produce an even better KO in his second outing in the octagon when he took on yet another former title challenger in Dominick Reyes. The duo squared off at UFC Vegas 25.
The contest was one of the best fights of the year for as long as it lasted. Both fighters, being powerful strikers, managed to land bombs on one another throughout the course of the opening round.
The second round saw Prochazka take over as he started to have more success on the feet. With 30 seconds left on the clock, Prochazka connected with an incredible spinning elbow to knock Reyes out cold.