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The 10 UFC fights still to come in 2021 to get most excited for

Sep 9, 2021
  • Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer

    • MMA columnist for ESPN.com
    • Analyst for "MMA Live"
    • Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun

The UFC is down to 13 live events remaining in 2021 (not including Dana White's Contender Series). As of now, the schedule consists of one more trip to Fight Island for UFC 267, the promotion's first visit to New York since 2019 and a consistent lineup of events in Las Vegas to close out the year.

This week features a rare Saturday off before a 10-week stretch of fight cards, including three numbered events: UFC 266, UFC 267 and UFC 268.

With much of the schedule for the rest of the year already laid out, what are the top 10 fights you should be excited for? Here's my personal list.

Note: This list consists of fights that are already signed or nearly so. The UFC is still matchmaking for 2021, and there are a handful of excellent fights in the works -- but not quite finalized, so not included in this list.

10. Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Peña, bantamweight championship, UFC 269 on Dec. 18

Frankly, most of Nunes' fights wouldn't make this kind of list ... because she's simply too dominant. I wouldn't say she's too dominant for her own good, because that's ridiculous. She walks in, takes very little damage, drops a highlight and walks out. That's great for Nunes. But she might be too dominant for our good as viewers, because most of her fights are over before they begin.

Anthony Smith looks for his third straight win, as he takes on Ryan Spann, who's 5-1 in the UFC, in a clash of light heavyweights looking to climb into the title picture.

UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Spann
Saturday, Sept. 18, UFC Apex, Las Vegas
Main card: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+
Prelims: 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+

Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive live UFC events, weigh-ins and more; Dana White's Contender Series; and more exclusive MMA content.

This one might be, too. There is certainly a chance that Peña is just out of her league here. That is always, always a possibility when talking about a Nunes opponent.

But I have to say, I'm giving Peña more of a chance than most recent challengers. At the very least, I don't think she'll be out of there quickly. I think she'll force Nunes to compete with her. She's very tough -- mentally and physically. And I do believe her confidence is authentic. I might not predict Peña to win this fight when the time comes, but I can tell you I'll predict her to put up a fight.

9. Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili, strawweight championship, UFC 268 on Nov. 6

This would be ranked higher if it weren't for the fact we just saw the matchup in April. And even though I'm fine with Zhang getting an immediate rematch -- I do think she's capable of giving Namajunas a completely different fight this time -- it's just not one of those highly anticipated rematches we all had to see immediately. That said, Zhang is undeniably world-class. She has proved she's a champion, but nothing proves one is a champion more than bouncing back from a loss like the one she suffered the last time out against Namajunas.

8. Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez, strawweight, UFC Fight Night on Oct. 9

When Dern signed with the UFC in 2018, we all knew there was no ceiling to her potential because of what she brought from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world. The question was whether she'd put everything else together.

Three years in, she appears to be on the cusp of putting it all together. She's got a winner's mentality. She's not struggling to make the weight anymore. Her game is becoming more well-rounded by the day. She's dedicated to the sport. There is no doubt in my mind Dern could become a 115-pound champion.

2 Related

Rodriguez is unquestionably her toughest test to date. Rodriguez is on a roll as well. She views herself as nothing short of championship level. One of these two is going to fight for a belt in the next 18 months -- I believe that. Let's see who it is.

7. Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori, middleweight, UFC Fight Night on Oct. 23

So much anger in one middleweight matchup. We've been waiting to see how Costa will respond to his very disappointing title bid against Israel Adesanya in 2020. Vettori is always entertaining, in the cage and out. This five-round main event will likely feature a very fun buildup and a violent clash of styles on fight night.

6. Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell, lightweight, UFC Fight Night on Dec. 4

Nearly all of the selections on this list are championship fights, main events, co-main events or featured bouts with high-profile fighters. This is really the only one that doesn't feature a household name, but all true fight fans are looking forward to it. Fiziev and Riddell are two of the most intriguing and entertaining prospects in the lightweight division. This has legitimate Fight of the Year potential. It's easy to tell your friends you're looking forward to a Conor McGregor fight. Tell them you're looking forward to this one, and show what a true (and smart) MMA fan you really are.

5. Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, bantamweight championship, UFC 267 on Oct. 30

It might surprise you that I have this rematch so high on the list. But the story behind this one is just outstanding to me. Sterling was pretty universally well-liked in the sport before he won the title against Yan in the manner in which he did. Yan's illegal knee. Sterling claiming the belt via Yan's disqualification. Photos of Sterling holding it up and celebrating with friends that night, when many felt he should take no joy in winning the way he did.

Sterling has been forced to deal with the full force of internet trolls since that night in March, and he'll go into this rematch under a lot of doubt. Many expect Yan to take the belt back and move on. So, Sterling has this one chance to drastically change how all of this is remembered. If he were to go in and dominate Yan, man, that changes the whole narrative. Nights don't get any bigger for a UFC fighter than the one Sterling will go into on Oct. 30, and for that reason, I'm very hyped about it.

4. Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, lightweight, UFC 268 on Nov. 6

I won't insult you by even explaining this one. Gaethje vs. Chandler speaks for itself. Absolute fire. Cheers to all of us for simply being allowed to witness it.

3. Khamzat Chimaev vs. Li Jingliang, welterweight, UFC 267 on Oct. 30

Chimaev could be the best fighter on the planet. I mean, I don't know. He could be. Could he also be massively overrated? Yeah, that's possible as well. The amount of hype this man generated in a short amount of time in 2020, it still boggles the mind. But he was deserving of it. He was looking to fight every week, in multiple weight classes. He exceeded all expectations. I still find myself wondering what would have happened had he and Leon Edwards met late last year. We could be looking at Chimaev fighting for the welterweight title already, which is just mad.

Will he look the same after struggling for months with COVID-19 symptoms? All reports out of Sweden say he will. Li is a legitimate foe, but if Chimaev stomps him as he has everyone else, the hype will rush back and this story will take off again.

2. Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2, welterweight championship, UFC 268 on Nov. 6

Now, this is a rematch to truly get up for. Covington has given Usman his toughest championship fight in the UFC. I would say he's a bigger rival to Usman than even Jorge Masvidal, whom we've already seen fight Usman twice. Covington has a better chance of actually beating Usman than Masvidal probably ever had.

Personality-wise, Usman and Covington are complete opposites in so many ways. Usman is, by many votes, the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, which he wasn't considered to be when they first fought. Covington has a real issue with the way that many people remember their first fight. He believes he was much closer to beating Usman than he has ever received credit for. The backdrop of New York City is perfect for this fight. I love everything about it.

1. Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega, featherweight championship, UFC 266 on Sept. 25

So, my guess is that this is a sleeper pick for most anticipated fight of the rest of the year. I think fans are looking forward to this 145-pound matchup, but above anything else the rest of the year? I might be in the minority on that. But I really want to find out how good Ortega is. He made it to a title fight against Max Holloway while training out of a garage. Holloway outclassed him, and since then Ortega has changed virtually everything around him. He has fought only once in the past 2½ years but looked pretty much perfect in that win against Chan Sung Jung last October. How good is he? Is he the best featherweight in the world, but we've just had to wait a long time to find out?

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Ortega will need to be the best featherweight in the world to beat Volkanovski. The champ's style hasn't fully resonated yet with the fans, but I struggle to find many fighters out there I respect more when it comes to preparation, fight IQ, professionalism, technique and ability to make in-fight adjustments. It is going to take a world-class performance to beat this man.

I love the prefight narratives and the dynamic between two fighters -- all of that is really fun. But for me, nothing beats a fight in which I really do not know who is going to win, because both athletes are remarkably good. And that's what we've got with this one.

© ESPN Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sours: https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/32171729/the-10-ufc-fights-come-2021-get-most-excited-for

MMA's Best Knockouts of the Year 2021

  • 1

    Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar

    Cory Sandhagen wins via KO/TKO, Flying Knee Feb 2021

  • 2

    Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal II

    Kamaru Usman wins via KO/TKO, Right Cross Apr 2021

  • 3

    Dominick Reyes vs. Jiří Procházka

    Jiří Procházka wins via KO/TKO, Spinning Elbow May 2021

  • 4

    Curtis Blaydes vs. Derrick Lewis

    Derrick Lewis wins via KO/TKO, Uppercut Feb 2021

  • 5

    Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas

    Rose Namajunas wins via KO/TKO, Head Kick Apr 2021

  • 6

    Stipe Miocic vs. Francis N'Gannou II

    Francis N'Gannou wins via KO/TKO, Left Hook Mar 2021

  • 7

    Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor II

    Dustin Poirier wins via KO/TKO, Punches Jan 2021

  • 8

    Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler

    Michael Chandler wins via KO/TKO, Left Hook to Ground and Pound Jan 2021

  • 9

    Joaquin Buckley vs. Alessio Di Chirico

    Alessio Di Chirico wins via KO/TKO, Head Kick Jan 2021

  • 10

    Dan Ige vs. Gavin Tucker

    Dan Ige wins via KO/TKO, Right Cross Mar 2021

  • 11

    Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler

    Charles Oliveira wins via KO/TKO, Left Hook to Ground and Pound May 2021

  • 12

    Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Jingliang Li

    Jingliang Li wins via KO/TKO, Left Hook Jan 2021

  • 13

    Roosevelt Roberts vs. Ignacio Bahamondes

    Ignacio Bahamondes wins via KO/TKO, Wheel Kick Aug 2021

  • 14

    Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza

    Edson Barboza wins via KO/TKO, Right Hook May 2021

  • 15

    Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns

    Kamaru Usman wins via KO/TKO, Power Jab to Ground and Pound Feb 2021

  • 16

    Kai Kara-France vs. Rogério Bontorin

    Kai Kara-France wins via KO/TKO, Punches Mar 2021

  • 17

    Grant Dawson vs. Leonardo Santos

    Grant Dawson wins via KO/TKO, Hammerfists Mar 2021

  • 18

    Thomas Almeida vs. Sean O'Malley

    Sean O'Malley wins via KO/TKO, Counter Left Mar 2021

  • 19

    Carlos Ulberg vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu

    Kennedy Nzechukwu wins via KO/TKO, Hooks Mar 2021

  • 20

    Matt Frevola vs. Terrance McKinney

    Terrance McKinney wins via KO/TKO, Left Cross to Ground and Pound Jun 2021

  • 21

    Dhiego Lima vs. Matt Brown

    Matt Brown wins via KO/TKO, Right Cross Jun 2021

  • 22

    Tai Tuivasa vs. Greg Hardy

    Tai Tuivasa wins via KO/TKO, Counter Hook to Ground and Pound Jul 2021

  • 23

    Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas

    Marina Rodriguez wins via KO/TKO, Punches Jan 2021

  • 24

    Warlley Alves vs. Mounir Lazzez

    Warlley Alves wins via KO/TKO, Body Kicks to Ground and Pound Jan 2021

  • 25

    Julian Erosa vs. Nate Landwehr

    Julian Erosa wins via KO/TKO, Flying Knee Feb 2021

  • 26

    Alistair Overeem vs. Alexander Volkov

    Alexander Volkov wins via KO/TKO, Cross-Hook Combo Feb 2021

  • 27

    Punahele Soriano vs. Duško Todorović

    Punahele Soriano wins via KO/TKO, Punches Jan 2021

  • 28

    Ike Villanueva vs. Vinicius Moreira

    Ike Villanueva wins via KO/TKO, Overhand Right Jan 2021

  • 29

    Adrian Yanez vs. Gustavo Lopez

    Adrian Yanez wins via KO/TKO, Counter Right Mar 2021

  • 30

    Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Alessio Di Chirico

    Abdul Razak Alhassan wins via KO/TKO, Head Kick Aug 2021

  • 31

    Cub Swanson vs. Giga Chikadze

    Giga Chikadze wins via KO/TKO, Body Kick to Ground and Pound May 2021

  • 32

    Ode Osbourne vs. Jerome Rivera

    Ode Osbourne wins via KO/TKO, Left Cross Feb 2021

  • 33

    Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez

    Aiemann Zahabi wins via KO/TKO, Overhand Right Feb 2021

  • 34

    Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jéssica Andrade

    Valentina Shevchenko wins via KO/TKO, Elbows from Crucifix Apr 2021

  • 35

    Yorgan De Castro vs. Jarjis Danho

    Jarjis Danho wins via KO/TKO, Right Hook Apr 2021

  • 36

    Adriano Moraes vs. Demetrious Johnson

    Adriano Moraes wins via KO/TKO, Uppercut, Knee and Ground and Pound Apr 2021

  • 37

    Jonathan Martinez vs. Davey Grant

    Davey Grant wins via KO/TKO, Overhand Left Mar 2021

  • 38

    Jamie Mullarkey vs. Khama Worthy

    Jamie Mullarkey wins via KO/TKO, Left Hook to Ground and Pound Mar 2021

  • 39

    Max Griffin vs. Kenan Song

    Max Griffin wins via KO/TKO, Punches Mar 2021

  • 40

    Jason Witt vs. Matt Semelsberger

    Matt Semelsberger wins via KO/TKO, Counter Right Mar 2021

  • 41

    Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov

    Makhmud Muradov wins via KO/TKO, Flying Knee and Punches Jan 2021

  • 42

    Wellington Turman vs. Bruno Silva

    Bruno Silva wins via KO/TKO, Ground and Pound Jun 2021

  • 43

    Trevin Jones vs. Mario Bautista

    Trevin Jones wins via KO/TKO, Lead Uppercut to Ground and Pound Mar 2021

  • 44

    Dricus Du Plessis vs. Trevin Giles

    Dricus Du Plessis wins via KO/TKO, Right Cross to Ground and Pound Jul 2021

  • 45

    Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos

    Amanda Lemos wins via KO/TKO, Power Jab to Ground and Pound Mar 2021

  • 46

    Manel Kape vs. Ode Osbourne

    Manel Kape wins via KO/TKO, Flying Knee Aug 2021

  • 47

    Scott Holtzman vs. Mateusz Gamrot

    Mateusz Gamrot wins via KO/TKO, Punch to Ground and Pound Apr 2021

  • 48

    Victoria Leonardo vs. Manon Fiorot

    Manon Fiorot wins via KO/TKO, Head Kick and Punches (Standing TKO) Jan 2021

  • 49

    Charles Jourdain vs. Marcelo Rojo

    Charles Jourdain wins via KO/TKO, Punches Mar 2021

  • 50

    Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill

    Paul Craig wins via KO/TKO, Arm Injury and Strikes from Guard Jun 2021

  • Sours: https://www.tapology.com/rankings/4153-2021-greatest-mma-knockouts
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    2021 in UFC

    ISOName Nickname Division From Duration Tested positive for / Info By Eligible to
    fight again Ref. Notes Flag of United States.svgT.J. DillashawBantamweight Jan 18, 20191 year (NYSAC)
    2 years (USADA) Erythropoietin (EPO). NYSAC and USADAJan 18, 2021[53]
    [54]Flag of Brazil.svgMichel PrazeresWelterweight Mar 9, 20192 years Exogenous boldenone and its metabolite 5β-androst-1-en-17β-ol-3-one. USADAMar 9, 2021[55]Flag of Brazil.svgBruno Silva BlindadoMiddleweight Jun 14, 20192 years Boldenone and its metabolite. USADAJun 14, 2021[56]Flag of Brazil.svgGiacomo Lemos Heavyweight Jul 9, 20192 years Drostanolone and its metabolite 2α-methyl-5α-androstan-3α-ol-17-one. USADAJul 9, 2021[57]Flag of Brazil.svgIstela Nunes Women's Strawweight Jul 22, 20192 years Stanozolol metabolites 16β-hydroxystanozolol and 3′-hydroxystanozolol. USADAJul 22, 2021[58]Flag of Brazil.svgRaphael PessoaBebezãoHeavyweight Mar 4, 20201 year hydrochlorothiazide and its metabolites chlorothiazide and 4-amino-6-chloro-1,3-benzenedisulfonamide USADAMar 4, 2021[59]Flag of United States.svgChase ShermanThe Vanilla GorillaHeavyweight May 13, 20209 months AnastrozoleUSADAFeb 13, 2021[60]Flag of Ukraine.svgAleksander Doskalchuk Flyweight Jun 6, 202014 months Mesterolone. USADAAug 6, 2021[61]Flag of Canada.svgMarc-Andre BarriaultPower BarMiddleweight Jul 21, 20206 months OstarineUSADAJan 21, 2021[62]Flag of Canada.svgJesse RonsonThe Body SnatcherWelterweight Jul 22, 202020 months MetandienoneUSADAMar 22, 2022[63]Flag of Mexico.svgJorge Gonzalez George St.Light Heavyweight Aug 5, 20202 years Stanozolol metabolites, drostanolone metabolite and tamoxifen metabolite. USADAAug 5, 2022[64]Flag of Morocco.svgAbu Azaitar GladiatorMiddleweight Aug 25, 20207 months tamoxifen and/or tamoxifen metabolite 3-hydroxy-4-methoxy-tamoxifen USADAMar 25, 2021[65]Flag of Mexico.svgYair RodríguezEl PanteraFeatherweight Sep 8, 20206 months 3 Whereabouts Failures in Last Year USADAMar 8, 2021[66]Flag of United States.svgKevin CroomThe Hard Hitting HillbillyLightweight Sep 19, 20204 1/2 months MarijuanaNSACJan 26, 2021[67]With addition of $1,800 fine Flag of United States.svgNiko PriceThe HybridWelterweight Sep 19, 20206 months MarijuanaNSACMar 19, 2021[68]With addition of $8,500 fine Flag of Poland.svgOskar PiechotaImadłoMiddleweight Sep 25, 202022 months Growth hormone releasing peptide 2 (GHRP-2 or pralmorelin) and GHRP-2 (1-3) free acid, a metabolite of GHRP-2, USADAJul 25, 2022[69]Flag of United States.svgCharlie Ontiveros The American BadboyWelterweight Oct 30, 20206 months Chlorodehydromethyltestosterone metabolites NSACApr 30, 2021[70]With addition of $2,245.36 Flag of United States.svgRaquel PenningtonRockyWomen's Bantamweight Nov 7, 20206 months 7-Keto-DHEA and AOD-9064USADAMay 7, 2021[71]Self-reporting doping violation when she found out she had ingested banned substances prescribed by her doctor to help treat a medical condition Flag of Uzbekistan.svgLiliya Shakirova Women's Flyweight Dec 5, 20202 years MeldoniumUSADADec 5, 2022[72]Flag of Brazil.svgGeraldo de FreitasSpartanBantamweight Jan 11, 20212 years Exogenous administration of testosterone and/or its precursors USADAJan 11, 2023[73]Flag of Brazil.svgRaphael PessoaBebezãoHeavyweight Feb 9, 20212 years 7-Keto-DHEA and AOD-9064Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) and its metabolites Chlorothiazide and 4-amino-6-chloro-1,3-benzenedisulfonamide (ACB) USADAFeb 9, 2023[74]Second USADA violation. Results collected from out-of-competition on February 9, 2021, February 15, 2021, February 16, 2021, and March 4, 2021. Ressoa also evaded sample collection on January 25, 2021 and January 28, 2021. Flag of Brazil.svgRogério BontorinBantamweight May 1, 20213 months HydrochlorothiazideUSADAAug 1, 2021[75]Flag of Colombia.svgJuancamilo Ronderos 100Flyweight May 22, 20211 month Cocaine and its metabolite benzoylecgonineUSADAJune 22, 2021[76]Flag of United States.svgChris Barnett Heavyweight May 22, 20214 1/2 months MarijuanaNSACOct 26, 2021[77]Flag of United States.svgDaniel PinedaFeatherweight June 26, 20219 months AmphetamineNSACMar 26, 2022[77]Flag of Brazil.svgRodrigo NascimentoHeavyweight July 17, 20216 months Ritalinic acidNSACJan 17, 2022[77]
    Sours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_in_UFC
    The Most Bloodiest Fights in MMA - Highlights - Brutal Moments

    The Knockouts | 2021 Half-Year Awards

    Former interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier made it a point to say in the lead-up to his rematch with Conor McGregor at UFC 257 that six years is a long time, and he was right, as the result of his second go-round with the Irish superstar was quite different than the first one, as he evened the score with a second-round TKO victory.

    “I’m happy, but not surprised,” said Poirier, who was stopped in the first round by McGregor in their first bout in September 2014. “I put in the work.”

    “Dustin is some fighter,” said McGregor, who made his first start since a win over Donald Cerrone in January 2020. “I need activity. You don’t get away with being inactive in this business.”

    Watch It Again On UFC FIGHT PASS

    McGregor had success early, as he got in Poirier’s face immediately, yet after a brief exchange, Poirier scored a takedown 30 seconds into the fight. McGregor worked his way back to his feet and the two traded shoulder strikes as they battled in the clinch against the fence. With three minutes left, McGregor was still locked up, but he landed a few knees before breaking free with a little over 90 seconds to go. McGregor scored with a hard right hand that was answered by a hook from Poirier, both proceeding to go back and forth until the horn.

    Poirier attacked McGregor’s leg to kick off round two, while McGregor’s punch accuracy continued to impress. Poirier took the shots well and stayed busy, and after stunning McGregor with a left hand against the fence, he unloaded with both hands, ultimately dropping the Irishman with a right hand. Another big right hand followed, and referee Herb Dean stepped in, stopping the fight at 2:32 of round two.

    “We’re 1-1,” said Poirier. “Maybe we have to do it again.”

    With the win, the No. 2-ranked Poirier moves to 27-6 with 1 NC. The No. 4-ranked McGregor falls to 22-5.

    5 (tie) – Terrance McKinney vs Matt Frevola

    Sours: https://www.ufc.com/news/2021-half-year-awards-knockouts-ko-poirier-masvidal-sandhagen-mckinney-namajunas-jiri

    2021 ufc knockout


    Top 15 GREATEST Knockouts in MMA - UFC 2021 Pt. 1


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