2021 was an especially wild year for mixed martial arts filled with WTF moments and shocking finishes
It's been a while folks - thanks to COVID, I've been out of commission for the past month and I even missed writing up the year-end annual MMA awards.
Instead, today I bring you a piece I had been working on before the holidays that compiles all of the crazy and violent moments that happened in the wild world of MMA in 2021.
Looking back on last year, one can't help but be amazed at just what we've seen unfold in the beautiful and crazy sport we call mixed martial arts. MMA has always delivered violent finishes, epic fights, bizarre coincidences, and plenty of drama over the years, but 2021 seems to have been a particularly eventful year.
The sheer amount of moments seen over the last year that make your jaw drop is simply staggering when you look over what's happened in the sport - from Conor McGregor getting smashed before breaking his leg against Dustin Poirier to Kamaru Usman's starching of Jorge Masvidal, from seeing a five-time BJJ World Championship winner get tapped out by a fighter that goes by the name "Fluffy" to seeing Demetrious Johnson get knocked out over in ONE FC, 2021 has been absolute chaos.
The fights and events are organized below into the month in which they occurred, and as always, make sure to click on the links if you want to see plenty of GIFs.
UFC debuts on ABC and delivers family-unfriendly violence, Max Holloway channels Ali
The first card of 2021 in the sport's biggest promotion marked the first time that the UFC was ever broadcast on ABC (which is also owned by ESPN parent company Disney). The channel is normally known as a family-friendly network, yet on this night, they saw nothing but pure violence on the main card, and some absolutely stunning results.
The main card opened with an absolute slobberknocker as Punehele Soriano put an end to Dusko Todorovic's undefeated run in vicious fashion.
Then came Joaquin Buckley, who was coming off of a crazy 2020 in the UFC in which he had lost in his debut to Kevin Holland, then scored the knockout of the year in his next outing and followed it up with another vicious KO in November. He was heavily favoured in a match-up against Alessio Di Chirico, who was riding a three fight losing streak and had just one finish in his eight UFC appearances.
To everyone's astonishment, Di Chirico landed a crippling head kick just midway into the opening frame that completely killed Buckley's hype train in an instant and saw Buckley on another highlight reel - just not his own.
The main event saw Max Holloway deliver an absolutely sensational and dominant five round beatdown over the incredibly tough Calvin Kattar. The epic fight saw Holloway land absurd amounts of damage on Kattar, regularly landing extended videogame-esque ultra combos and rocking his victim on multiple occasions, yet somehow Calvin managed to survive to see the final bell. The beatdown saw Holloway set the new UFC record (which he also previously held) with an astounding 445 strikes landed over the course of 25 minutes.
In the closing moments of the one-sided beatdown, Holloway took the opportunity to proclaim his boxing superiority to the commentary booth, taking his eyes off of his opponent before landing a solid right hand. He continued yelling to the commentators and looking away from Kattar even as he dodged multiple punches from his opponent in a display of bravado that would make the great Muhammad Ali proud.
Michael Chandler makes his UFC debut in style
Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made his highly anticipated debut at UFC 257 against top ten UFC staple Dan Hooker. Hooker was expected to be a tough test for the UFC newcomer, but Chandler quite literally walked through his opponent and once again showcased his nasty punching power and explosive athleticism.
The win saw Chandler earn himself a title shot after just a single UFC fight.
Dustin Poirier puts Conor McGregor down
UFC 257 marked the highly anticipated return of Conor McGregor to the Octagon after having fought just once in the last two years against a withered Cowboy Cerrone. In a rematch nearly six years in the making, McGregor once again squared off with Dustin Poirier; McGregor had previously finished Poirier in the opening round of their first meeting down at featherweight.
Surprisingly, McGregor was rather subdued in the leadup to their rematch, taking a much more respectful approach to his well-liked opponent. When it came time to step into the cage however, both men came out swinging. McGregor took the close first round thanks to his trademark power punches, but Poirier landed plenty of shots of his own and chopped away at McGregor's heavy lead leg with thudding calf kicks.
In the second, as he regularly does, Conor began to slow down and the brutal calf kicks began to take their toll on the fading Irishman. A solid counter and another chopping leg kick wobbled the compromised McGregor, inspiring the "Diamond" to unload on his prey, tagging the former champ with vicious hooks and uppercuts against the fence before McGregor eventually crumpled to the canvas in defeat.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in January:
Manon Fiorot TKOs Victoria Leonardo
Umar Nurmagomedov (Khabib's cousin) chokes Sergey Morozov out cold
Warlley Alves smashes Mounir Lazzez's gut
Ike Villaneuva knocks Vinicius Moreira dead
Makhmud Muradov TKOs Andrew Sanchez with an ultra combo
Cory Sandhagen sends Frankie Edgar to the Netherrealm
Cory Sandhagen has cemented himself as one of the best bantamweights on the planet and is certainly no stranger to exciting finishes - when he stepped into the Octagon to face Frankie Edgar he was coming off a wheel kick KO of former title challenger Marlon Moraes in 2020 after all.
Known for his ridiculous toughness and heart, Edgar had only been stopped by strikes on two occasions, both coming in recent years up at featherweight and both had also occurred in fights Edgar took on short notice. While Sandhagen came in as the favourite against the former lightweight champ, nobody expected Edgar to go down within the first thirty seconds of their fight.
Yet go down he did. It took Sandhagen just 28 seconds to dispatch the legendary New Jersey fighter, a flying knee from hell separating Edgar from the world of the living. The extremely sudden and violent finish was as incredible as it was unsettling to watch for MMA fans who had seen Edgar compete in the Octagon for the better part of two decades and now saw him lay motionless facedown on the canvas.
"Fluffy" Hernandez Submits a Five-Time World BJJ Champion
Rodolfo Vieira is as decorated in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as one can possibly get. He won the World BJJ Championships five times, won the BJJ World Cup seven times, and won gold at the revered Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championships. To say the Brazilian grappler's foray into mixed martial arts carried some hype was an understatement, and heading into UFC 258, he already sported a 7-0 record with a 100% finishing rate (six by submission) including two submissions in the UFC.
Standing opposite the hulking grappling sensation was Anthony "Fluffy" Hernandez, an 8-2 (1NC) fighter who arguably sported a much less imposing 2-2 record in the UFC (one of his wins was overturned to a No Contest because he tested positive for marijuana, so I'm calling that a win here). He had also previously been submitted in 2019 by Markus Perez, and was coming off a 39 second TKO loss to Kevin Holland.
It should be any easy sub for the BJJ ace, right?
Early on, it sure looked that way as the shredded Brazilian threw his seemingly overmatched prey to the canvas and went to work. Unlike Vieira's other opponents however, Hernandez was defending very well, getting himself out of submission attempts and forcing the bigger man to constantly work to get him down and to keep him there. Fluffy not only survived the first round, but near the end of the first he even managed to rock the already clearly exhausted Vieira on the feet.
In the second, Hernandez flipped the script entirely and began beating down Rodolfo, forcing him into a sloppy desperation takedown attempt. Once there, Fluffy teased a D'Arce choke before transitioning into an arm-in guillotine and shockingly, he forced Vieira to tap. The stunning upset was complete and the submission loss marked the first time an ADCC gold medalist had ever been submitted in the UFC - said gold medalists had a combined record of 77-43-0-1 in the UFC at the time, showing just how insane it was to see such a high level BJJ artist tap inside the Octagon.
Kamaru Usman gets stunned by Burns early, then scores a finish of his own
After racking up a ridiculous 12-0 record in the UFC and two title defenses which included a thrilling back and forth war with Colby Covington and a shutout over the surging Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman was all but confirmed as the next long-standing champion in the welterweight division.
That narrative nearly collapsed early in UFC 258's main event however, as dangerous contender Gilbert "Durinho" Burns cracked the champion in one of the opening exchanges with a huge right hand that had Usman reeling. Usman did his best to avoid further punishment, and a missed kick caused Burns to slip to the canvas - wanting to avoid Burns' renowned BJJ game, Usman instead kicked away at Burns' legs and stayed just close enough to stop Burns from getting up, stalling the action and allowing him to recover while Durinho's opportunity to shock the world dwindled.
When it did return to the feet however, Burns was still enjoying quite the advantage, and it seemed like Usman's title may still have been up for grabs.
In the second however, Usman's stunning jab began to piece Burns up and a big right hand wobbled the hungry challenger. Though he did his best to fight back, he clearly never recovered and was later dropped by a jab, narrowly surviving the second stanza before ultimately getting dropped again early in the third and finished by the champion.
Derrick Lewis lands an uppercut from hell on Curtis Blaydes
After injuries and back-to-back losses had many believing fan-favourite Derrick Lewis' time with the elite of the heavyweight division was over, the "Black Beast" turned things around and picked up three straight wins. The streak saw him pitted against elite contender Curtis Blaydes, who himself was riding an impressive four fight win streak and whose only losses in his career had been to heavyweight king Francis Ngannou.
The dominant wrestler was a heavy favourite over the wild brawler Lewis, who fought a measured first round that saw him largely outstruck by Blaydes. Early in the second round however, Lewis found what he had been setting up all night - a picture perfect uppercut.
The Black Beast perfectly timed a takedown attempt from Blaydes and before he even knew what hit him "Razor" was out cold on the canvas, his title shots dashed by one of the most spectacular knockouts of the year.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in February:
Ode Osbourne catches both Jerome Rivera's kick and a body
Alexander Volkov unceremoniously ends Alistair Overeem's UFC tenure
Aiemann Zahabi starches Drako Rodriguez with a right hand
Julian Erosa goes HAM on Nate Landwehr and finishes him with a flying knee
John Castanada stops Eddie Wineland with a barrage of punches
Chris Daukhaus tees off on Aleksei Oleinik for the TKO win
Petr Yan dominates Aljamain Sterling only to lose his title for being...too violent
Petr Yan's defense of his bantamweight title against streaking contender Aljamain Sterling was the first of three title fights at UFC 259, and their fight was a banger for four rounds it lasted.
Aljo came out firing with tons of volume on the notoriously slow starter in Yan, landing the occasional big shot amidst flurries that largely did little (if any) damage to the champion. When Yan started firing back in the final two minutes of the round however, things started going downhill for the challenger.
After getting rocked and taken down, the fight shifted heavily into Yan's favour, the champion picking up steam and punishing Sterling as the challenger's brisk early pace coupled with Yan's caused him to fatigue early. Though he still had his moments, Sterling began to be largely dominated by the champion, and as the rounds passed by, it seemed like fans were destined to see Yan retain his title by a wide decision - if Sterling even managed to survive.
At the end of the fourth round, Yan was absolutely pummeling his challenger, at one point leaning on Sterling as he squatted in the middle of the Octagon, one knee clearly down on the canvas. It was at this point that Yan decided "You know what would work great here? A knee!".
The incredibly illegal strike would end up seeing Aljamain crowned as "champion" after Yan was disqualified, but the weirdness didn't end there. Though the knee was no doubt illegal and was very powerful, Sterling decided to play it up to a ridiculous degree, plainly acting as if he were dying and relinquishing any sympathy he would have had given that he in fact was illegally kneed - he followed that up by claiming the fight was very close before the knee (it wasn't) and that Yan wanted out, celebrated with the belt as if he had actually earned it, and then took an optional surgery to pull out of the immediate rematch.
What a weird, delightful sport MMA is.
Grant Dawson scores a buzzer beater comeback KO
Leonardo Santos has long been considered a darkhorse in the lightweight division. Despite now being 41 years old, Santos came into his fight against prospect Grant Dawson on a 13-fight unbeaten streak. The last time the BJJ wizard and improving striker lost was way back in 2009, although injuries caused significant lulls in activity during his career.
The Brazilian standout looked well on his way to extending his winning streak as he outmaneuvered the far younger 27 year old for the better part of three rounds. As the seconds ticked away in the final stanza and Dawson tried in vain to score a finish, it was all but confirmed Santos would cruise to a decision win over the youngster. Yet in the waning moments of the third, Santos lazily looked for a leglock and left his head completely open.
Dawson didn't think twice and sent hammer fists from hell crashing into Santos' chin, knocking the veteran out mere moments before the final bell. Dawson's killer instinct scored him a massive comeback and erased all of the work Santos had done up to that point - and reset Leonardo's unbeaten streak with just a single second remaining on the official clock.
Francis Ngannou claims the heavyweight throne
2018 was supposed to be Francis Ngannou's year - having a ten fight win streak with his only loss coming in just his second pro fight and every victory coming via finish, Ngannou was seen as the scariest heavyweight on the planet. When he stepped up to challenge Stipe Miocic for his crown at UFC 220 however, his lack of wrestling and cardio was badly exposed as he tired after expending all his gas in the opening stanza and proceeded to be battered for the next four rounds.
A dismal loss to Derrick Lewis followed, a fight which saw Ngannou completely refuse to engage - it appeared as if the setback to Stipe broke the Cameroon native and many wrote him off as yet another failed heavyweight prospect.
Four first round knockouts later (the lengthiest of which was just 71 seconds), Ngannou was back to challenge Miocic once more. But this time, he promised, he was prepared for Stipe's wrestling and to fight a smarter fight than he had in his first title shot.
Still, with how dominant Stipe had been in their first meeting, many were picking the champ to once again defeat the heavy handed challenger. As the fight began at UFC 260 however, it soon became apparent that Ngannou wasn't lying about the improvements he made.
Not only was Ngannou staying calm and composed, landing heavy shots on the outside and avoiding wasting energy on taxing blitzes on the champ, but he was also easily stuffing Stipe's takedown attempts and getting back to the middle of the Octagon each time, something he was completely incapable of doing back in 2018 when they first met.
Early in the second round, Ngannou landed a devastating jab that dropped the champ and started off a barrage of strikes that hurt Miocic; pressing forward, Ngannou then ran into Stipe's trademark right counter. Instead of hurting him however, it merely reminded Ngannou that he needed to stay patient, so he reset himself in the middle of the cage. Mistaking Ngannou's pause for weakness, Stipe charged only to run himself right into a left hook that ended his second championship reign in brutal fashion.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in March
Trevin Jones lands the "smash punch" to stop Mario Bautista
Uros Medic goes off on Aalon Cruz
Kennedy Nzechkwu bounces back from the brink of defeat to starch Carlos Ulberg
Kai Kara-France faceplants Rogerio Bontorin
Matthew Semelsberger flattens Jason Witt in just 16 seconds
Charles Jourdain mauls Marcelo Rojo's midsection
Dwight Grant puts Jonathan Martinez down with a left hook
Dan Ige flatlines Gavin Tucker in just 22 seconds
Ryan Spann TKOs Misha Cirkunov in 71 seconds
Tai Tuivasa steamrolls Harry Hunsucker
Adrian Yanez dominates, then faceplants Gustavo Lopez
Max Griffin starches Song Kenan in the first
Jamie Mullarkey smashes Khama Worthy in 46 seconds
Demetrious Johnson gets finished in ONE FC
Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson may not have been the most popular fighter in the UFC, but if there's one thing he was known for, it was dominating his competition.
By the time he was famously traded to ONE FC in 2018, his record stood at 27-3-1 with two of his losses coming up at bantamweight - he had defended his flyweight title a record eleven consecutive times and dominated the division for years, losing his title in an extremely controversial decision to rival Henry Cejudo. In ONE FC, he similarly dominated his opposition, going 3-0 in 2019 to win ONE's flyweight Grand Prix.
Though Johnson won the Grand Prix, ONE still had a separate flyweight champion - the 18-3 Adriano Moraes. The two wouldn't square up in 2020 however due to the COVID situation in Singapore - instead, Moraes put his title on the line in 2021 against the flyweight GOAT.
The fight started off competitive, but in the second round, MMA fans around the world were shocked to see Demetrious Johnson get knocked out cold.
After a frenetic exchange, Johnson dropped down for a double leg only to fall directly into the path of a nasty uppercut from Moraes. The shot put the former flyweight king on the canvas and in his attempt at getting up, he was then smashed back down by a brutal knee to the head (which is perfectly legal on the ground over in ONE FC), with several more shots putting Johnson out. The finish was as shocking as it was brutal, and given Moraes had just three prior KOs on his ledger, it's safe to say no one saw the upset coming in that fashion.
Jeremy Stephens delivers the first KO via...push?
This mishap didn't occur in an actual fight, but it deserves mentioning because it is absolutely bizarre and purely MMA.
Longtime UFC staple Jeremy Stephens was slated to return to the lightweight division to square off with Drakkar Klose at UFC on ESPN 22: Whittaker vs. Gastelum in April. Everything was going according to plan as the two made weight the day before their scheduled meeting - it was in the post-weigh-in staredowns that things went awry.
The two squared off and it appeared that Klose was saying something to the ill-tempered Stephens - something that Stephens apparently didn't appreciate. And so "Lil Heathen" shoved Drakkar with the strength of a thousand men, sending Drakkar flying backward and nearly killing him in the process.
Well, not exactly - but the mighty shove was enough to apparently injure Klose, causing a cervical sprain and even a concussion that forced him to withdraw from the bout and for the UFC to institute new rules around fighters putting their hands on other fighters pre-fight night.
Considering he's now winless in his last five outings (disregarding a 15 second No Contest via being eye poked), Stephens may not have much to be proud of in the last few years, but he can at least lay claim to having the most devastating pushing power in all of MMA.
Clay Collard spoils Anthony Pettis' PFL debut
Though the former UFC lightweight champion has certainly seen better days, he remains one of the most recognizable names in the sport, which is why many were surprised when the UFC let him walk from the promotion and instead sign with the PFL.
No doubt the allure of a possible $1 million payday for winning the PFL "playoffs" was a big motivating factor for Pettis' move, and although he ended his UFC career on a 6-8 downturn, his losses were to top flight competition and he ended his run with the promotion with two straight wins over Cowboy Cerrone and Alex Morono. Many fans expected him to do well with the PFL - but being matched up with Clay Collard, who sports a high-volume boxing style (he went 9-6 as a pro boxer, though he made a name for himself for upsetting multiple prospects), hardcore fans salivated at the betting lines given Collard's heavy underdog status.
It didn't take long for those hardcore fans to be proven right as Collard picked Pettis apart in the early going, his volume and body-punching in particular giving Pettis fits. In the second round, the competitive scrap turned into a one-sided beatdown as Collard dropped Pettis not once, but twice with body shots to turn in a dominant 10-8 round. Pettis did show signs of life however - in the third, with his back against the wall and in desperate need of a finish, "Showtime" landed a flush head kick followed by an insane flying knee that nearly scored him a comeback KO, but ultimately his decision to follow Collard to the mat allowed Collard to hang on and secure a decision victory. Pettis would follow up this epic scrap with a close decision loss in his next outing in June, making him 0-2 in his new home.
UFC 261 delivers heaping helping of violence
UFC 261 was an absolutely stacked card that featured three title fights and a litany of exciting matchups. It was made even better by the fact it took place in the free state of Florida, bringing with it a full crowd of over 15,000 fans in a return to pre-covid norms.
The first fight of the night was certainly bolstered by the crowd as Ariane Carnelossi and Na Liang went to war from the opening bell - in the second however, Carnelossi really took over and eventually TKOd the Chinese prospect.
Other highlights on the preliminary portion of the card included Danaa Batgerel stopping Kevin Natividad in just 50 seconds after a flush left hook landed early, Brendan Allen scoring a rare ankle lock submission on Karl Roberson, and Randy Brown dropping Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira before locking up a rear-naked choke for the tap.
The main card unfortunately opened with some very odd and devastating injuries - first, Jimmy Crute's leg was shut down after Anthony Smith scored with several dreaded calf kicks, although that didn't stop Crute from taking Smith down (twice) on essentially one leg. Despite having no lasting damage (the kick can shut down the nerves in the lower leg which causes the instability, but it goes away in a few minutes), the doctor waved off the fight between rounds, much to Crute's dismay. And then came a real devastating injury...
Chris Weidman shatters his leg
It is a sight that no one likes to see - a fighter falling down after throwing a leg kick that is checked, their shin bones snapped in half with their lower leg flopping around as if their bones were turned to rubber.
The very rare injury occurred just moments into a fight between former middleweight champion Chris Weidman and his old opponent Uriah Hall, who he had previously knocked out over a decade prior. After slamming his shin into Hall's knee, Weidman tried to step back only for his now broken leg to give out from under him, folding in half like a cheap lawn chair.
The grotesque injury snapped (no pun intended) any hopes Weidman had of building momentum toward another title shot as he lay writhing in pain on the Octagon floor. It was a brutal sight to see, but it was made utterly bizarre when you realize that just three such injuries had occurred in the UFC up to that time - and Chris was involved in two of them, with Anderson Silva having famously snapped his own leg on Weidman's knee back in 2013.
Valentina Shevchenko reaffirms her dominance over the flyweight division
It's not often anymore that anyone goes into a fight with Shevchenko and doesn't find herself staring at astronomical 10:1 or higher odds for the champ, but Jessica Andrade had solidified herself as one of the best and most powerful female fighters on the planet at strawweight and had previously fought up as high as bantamweight.
After a close split decision loss to former (and future) champ Rose Namajunas, Andrade opted to move up to 125 and immediately announced her presence in the division by easily stopping top contender Kaitlyn Chookagian in the first round. Her sheer power and strength had some believing she would be a stiff test for the dominant flyweight queen (though Valentina was still nearly a five to one favourite).
Unfortunately for Andrade, she was outclassed from the second she stepped into the cage. Shevchenko effortlessly avoided her power and picked her apart at range, and to the surprise of some, taking Andrade down at will where she easily handled and eventually pounded out the Brazilian via a mounted crucifix in the second round.
Rose Namajunas unseats China's champion
Former strawweight champion Rose "Better Dead than Red" Namajunas took on Zhang Weili in the co-main event of UFC 261, and for many the fight was as close to a pick-em fight as one could get. Would Rose's sniping long-range style and size advantage carry her to victory? Or would Weili's strength and power overwhelm the American challenger?
Before the fight ever really entered its second gear, Rose Namajunas ended Weili's title reign with a perfectly placed lead high kick that sent the champion to the canvas. A few follow up shots and Zhang was out cold, and Rose became the first female to become a two-time champion in a division.
Zhang later blamed the crowd booing her (and many in the media called it racist...lol) for the loss, but I'd say the loss was more to do with the fact that Rose kicked her in the face.
Kamaru Usman silences his critics by starching Jorge Masvidal
There were a lot of people that picked Kamaru Usman to successfully defend his title in his rematch with Jorge Masvidal - after all, he had dominated Jorge for 25 minutes not long ago, short notice or not. No one however thought that Usman would knock Masvidal out on the feet, and I mean no one.
And yet, Usman did what many thought was impossible.
After a close first round, Masvidal seemed to be getting comfortable in the second, playing around with the champion on the feet. That comfort however would be his own undoing.
Usman fully committed to a right staight early in the second stanza, barrelling right through Masvidal and turning his chin as he lazily attempted a check hook. A few follow up shots later, Masvidal was out cold and the champion who had previously been known for being a "boring" fighter had just knocked out his last two challengers.
The knockout marked the first time since way back in 2008 that the incredibly tough Masvidal was knocked out - Rodrigo Damm scored the only other stoppage by strikes Masvidal ever suffered, and it was via the exact same punch Usman would land 13 years later.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in April
Patricio Pitbull Freire chokes out Emmanuel Sanchez after a two punch combo
Diana Avsaragova lamps Tara Graff
Jarjis Danho lamps Yorgan De Castro after a five year layoff
Mateusz Gamrot ices Scott Holtzman with a right hand
Paul Daley finishes Sabah Homasi following a stand-up war
Tony Gravely finishes Anthony Birchak with a left hook
Gerald Meerschaert chokes Bartosz Fabinski out cold
Brendan Loughnane lamps Sheymon Moraes
Cezar Ferreira folds Nick Roehrick
Jiri Prochazka becomes the top light heavyweight contender in vicious fashion
Jiri Prochazka was an exciting new addition to the UFC's light heavyweight division when he was signed in 2020, and he immediately made a splash by viciously knocking out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir last July. Having already been seasoned by his time in Rizin, fearsome finisher Prochazka now touted an impressive 27-3-1 record with just a single decision on his resume.
Although fans hopes were certainly high on the newcomer, he took on a tall task for next outing - Dominick Reyes. Although Reyes was coming off a surprising loss to Jan Blachowicz, he had arguably defeated Jon Jones in his prior bout and was the top contender in the division.
But Jiri gave zero fucks who he had in front of him.
From the moment the opening bell rang Jiri was in Reyes' face, throwing bombs and pressuring with an aggression bordering on recklessness. Both men traded haymakers in wild exchanges, with both of the talented strikers being rocked at several points in the first and then the second round. But Prochazka's relentless assault began taking its toll on "The Devastator" and the momentum swayed to Jiri's side. And then he left no doubt in anyone's mind - there was a new #1 contender in town.
Late in the second, Prochazka crashed into Reyes against the cage with an elbow that was blocked by Dominick's guard - instead of clinching or backing off however, Jiri stepped through and spun to deliver a brutal spinning back elbow to Reyes' chin that left the former title challenger lifeless on the canvas. The savage finish solidified Prochazka's claim to a title shot and capped off a wonderfully violent scrap by the two 205-pounders.
Fabricio Werdum scores a submission, gets knocked out in PFL debut
Fabricio Werdum was the second former UFC champion to make their PFL debut this year, and unlike the first, the heavyweight great had early success thanks to a tight triangle choke that made his opponent Renan Ferreira tap out in the first round...unfortunately for Werdum, the referee didn't see it and Ferreira decided to fight out of it instead, hammering Werdum from the top with ground and pound until he let go of the submission and was subsequently TKOd.
The fight was pure MMA in its strangeness and we'll never know if Ferreira got out of the triangle through his ground and pound or if the tap made Werdum let up on the submission enough for Ferreira to escape. The result was later overturned to a No Contest by the commission given the tap, but due to injuries sustained in the bout Werdum didn't compete again in the PFL in 2021. Not exactly the great start in a new chapter of his career he was surely hoping for.
Anthony Rumble Johnson comes back...in a fight?
After four years away from the sport, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson returned to MMA, this time inside the Bellator cage. Originally slated to fight another former UFC powerhouse in Yoel Romero, a medical issue forced Romero out and instead Rumble took on the unknown Jose Augusto.
Now Anthony Johnson scoring a second round knockout isn't exactly surprising, but what is surprising is the fact that in the first round, Rumble was dropped and rocked badly by a left hook and nearly saw himself finished.
A notorious frontrunner, Johnson has never come back from being hurt or losing badly to win a fight - he is a fighter that has been known to "find ways to lose" when the going gets tough, so seeing him actually fight through adversity and mount a comeback is one of the most shocking turn of events of the year.
Andre Muniz snaps Jacare's arm
There aren't many people in the world that have anywhere near the accomplishments Ronaldo Jacare Souza has in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The man has eight world BJJ championship gold medals to his name, was an ADCC champion, and even had his arm broken by Demian Maia in a jiu-jitsu match yet gutted it out and won on points. Though he was riding a three fight losing streak heading into 2021, the 26-9 former Strikeforce champion had never been submitted in competition throughout his lengthy combat sports career.
Enter Andre Muniz. Despite having none of the credentials on the ground, the imposing middleweight is a wizard on the mat and unlike virtually all of Jacare's other opponents, actually wanted to face Souza on the ground.
Taking his back while trying to take the 41 year old down, Muniz climbed up as Jacare tried to throw him off, and it was here that he transitioned to an extremely unique armbar. Even with all of his grappling prowess, Jacare was unable to defend and had his upper arm snapped in half in the process - showing his toughness, even after his arm was broken in two, Souza never tapped and instead the ref stepped in to save his arm from further damage.
It is always shocking to see a grappler of Jacare's caliber be submitted let alone injured in the process, but with Rodolfo Vieira being tapped out earlier this year, 2021 was the year of BJJ legends being taken out by fresh young talent.
Edson Barboza batters Shane Burgos en route to a delayed reaction KO
There was a lot to love about the main card opener at UFC 262 - renowned striker Edson Barboza squared off with pure action fighter Shane Burgos and the two threw down from the opening bell, pitting Burgos' volume-heavy boxing against Barboza's sublime kickboxing.
As time wore on however, it soon became the Barboza show - while Burgos showed ridiculous amounts of toughness, Barboza was simply picking him apart, landing combinations at will and chewing him up with his trademark leg and body kicks.
Early in the third many fans were questioning just how long Burgos would be able to survive the onslaught, when all of a sudden, his body said "no mas".
Barboza landed a solid right hand, one of many he had landed in the fight. Burgos seemed to take it without issue, until about two seconds later - all of a sudden he began retreating on unsteady legs, falling into the fence and falling unconscious just moments later. It was an absolutely bizarre finish that had many worried about Shane's health - typically, when a fighter loses consciousness after receiving blows to the head (but not right away as they're struck), it indicates severe brain trauma or even a bleed in the brain. Luckily, Burgos was fine and instead it simply registers as an odd delayed-reaction knockout for the great Edson Barboza.
Charlie Olives comes back from the brink of defeat to capture UFC lightweight gold
Charles Oliveira has certainly taken the long way to UFC gold - the young Brazilian entered the UFC as an elite submission threat, but always seemed to stumble against top competition (as well as weight issues when he fought at featherweight). Though he recorded plenty of submissions and was always an exciting addition to any event, by 2017 he had a 10-8 record in the UFC with all but one of his losses (and just one of his wins) coming via stoppage.
He wasn't exactly seen as championship material anymore, and was also known for having questionable heart when things weren't going his way, particularly in his reaction to getting hit at times. But then he turned things around - bringing his striking up to the caliber of his ground game, Oliveira became a truly well-rounded threat while doubling down on his grappling prowess. Four straight submission victories followed, breaking and extending the most submissions in UFC history record in the process - then came back to back knockout victories that showed just how dangerous the Brazilian was on his feet.
With a submission over Kevin Lee and a dominant blowout of former interim champ Tony Ferguson, Oliveira secured a crack at the now-vacant lightweight crown in the wake of Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement. He would square off with former Bellator champ Michael Chandler, who was coming off a starching of Dan Hooker in his UFC debut.
Oliveira looked strong early, getting Chandler to the ground and dominating him in his domain. Midway through the round however, Chandler found a way up and soon after landed one of his trademark blitzes, dropping "Do Bronx" to all fours and nearly knocking him out in the process. Chandler landed bombs on top and had he been facing the Oliveira of old, he surely would have had UFC gold wrapped around his waist that night.
But Oliveira found a way to survive the hellacious beating he suffered at the end of the round, regrouped in his corner, and came out with a newfound sense of urgency to start round two. It took him just 19 seconds to walk Chandler down, land a beautiful left hook to drop the American, and finish him with a vicious barrage of strikes. And he did it all after surviving a brutal beating in the opening round - not bad for a guy previously called out for quitting by his opponent.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in May
Giga Chikadze scores a finish via "Giga kick" on Cub Swanson
Johnny Eblen mauls Daniel Madrid
Bruno Silva knocks out Victor Rodriguez in 60 seconds
Cris Cyborg batters Leslie Smith for a fifth-round knockout
Carla Esparza batters Yan Xiaonan
Leon Edwards beats Nate Diaz, embarasses himself in the process
As much as people love Nate Diaz, he was never a top welterweight and is far better at lightweight, as much as he would rather fight up at 170. Leon Edwards on the other hand, has many in the media claiming he should have gotten a title shot for the past 18 months due to his eight-fight win streak, despite not beating a single opponent that was top ten ranked in the weight class in his entire career.
Regardless of who's fault that is (there were multiple fights of his that fell through during the last few years), the fact remains that he has still not faced the true elite in the division at the time they were elite, and his last outing was a No Contest following a bad eye poke against late replacement Belal Muhammad, after which he demanded a title shot despite the fact he had repeatedly fouled his opponent and they were only seconds into the second round of a five round fight.
Trying to finally give Edwards a name that could have fans on board with giving Edwards a crack at the title, the UFC gave Edwards the biggest name they could get at welterweight that isn't truly elite (at that weight) - Nate Diaz. Stylistically, it was a layup for Edwards, who had all the tools to beat Diaz, who hasn't really fixed the holes in his game that have been present and exploited for many years.
Instead of making a statement however, Edwards took the most conservative approach possible - while he was certainly beating the younger Diaz brother, he wasn't exactly bringing fans over to his side with his overly cautious and dull approach. Yet somehow, despite a rather slow pace, Leon began to noticeably fatigue in the later part of the special five-round non-title and non-main event fight - leading to Diaz rocking his opponent in the final minute of the fight.
Considering Diaz is known almost entirely for his volume punching (alongside his jiu-jitsu and ridiculous toughness of course), it seemed to surprise even Diaz, who taunted his staggered opponent, losing vital seconds in which he may have been able to mount an incredible comeback KO in the process. Diaz did eventually go after his hurt opponent, but Edwards managed to survive by the skin of his teeth.
And of course, he then proceeded to once again demand a title shot after the incredibly unimpressive performance.
Brandon Moreno destroys Deiveson Figueiredo
After their absolutely epic draw to close out 2020, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno were destined to return to the cage for another war for Figueiredo's flyweight crown.
Though many thought the young Mexican challenger could make adjustments and win in the rematch, the Brazilian champion was roughly a two-to-one favourite heading into the rematch - this should come as no surprise given that had the champion not had a point deducted for a groin strike in their first meeting, he'd have won the decision and was reportedly quite ill the week of the fight.
Yet when the two squared off for a second time, not only did Moreno show improvement, he made Figueiredo look like he didn't even belong in there with him. Moreno charged forward from the opening bell and took it to the champ, eventually dropping him with a jab late in the first. He proceeded to dominate everywhere the fight took place, and in the third round, he took the champ's back and locked in a rear-naked choke to secure his title as the first Mexican-born fighter to win a UFC title.
Not bad for a 28-year-old who was once cut by the promotion after back-to-back losses.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in June
Jairzinho Rozenstruik stops Augusto Sakai late in the first
Chris Wade faceplants Arman Osparov
Terrance McKinney scores a 7-second knockout over Matt Frevola
Paul Craig dislocates Jamahal Hill's arm with a triangle armbar
Ricky Glenn starches Joaquim Silva in 37 seconds
Matt Brown faceplants Dhiego Lima
Bruno Silva smashes Wellington Turman on the ground
Seung Woo Choi stops Julian Erosa's winning streak
Genah Fabian puts down Julija Pajic
Larissa Pacheco cracks Olena Kolesnyk
Bruno Cappelozza smashes Muhammed Dereese
Corey Samuels scores a 10-second KO on Isaiah Hokit
Marcin Prachnio stops Ike Villaneuva with a crushing body kick
Jeremiah Wells smashes Warlley Alves
Tanner Boser runs through Ovince Saint Preux
Dustin Poirier takes the trilogy, Conor McGregor breaks his leg
Unlike their rather cordial meeting back in January, the third fight between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor was filled with vitriol and resentment as McGregor went back to his old antics after "respectful Conor" got smashed in the cage.
Fight week culminated with McGregor claiming that Poirier would be taken out on a stretcher - Mystic Mac would make his return with this comment, only he predicted the wrong fighter would be leaving their trilogy bout on said stretcher.
The fight began promising enough for the Irish superstar, as he managed to land several leg kicks and a solid left hand early - but as soon as Poirier came forward and let his hands go, it was Conor desperately looking to tie up and avoid the striking range. Ironically, Conor had claimed before the fight that submissions and decisions didn't count - the only real wins and losses in fighting came via knockout, yet it was Conor who opted to dive on a guillotine at UFC 264.
Off his back, McGregor did manage to land some solid elbows from his guard, but it was mostly Poirier controlling and landing elbows of his own. Near the end of the round, McGregor managed to find himself back on his feet, where the two exchanged straight lefts that narrowly missed each other's heads - only to see McGregor collapse to the canvas, his left leg snapped low on the shin bone.
The unfortunate injury left their trilogy ending on a low note and raised more questions than answers - with Poirier firmly in control, the injury robbed him of a conclusive win to settle their score, while Conor maintained his leg was seriously injured heading into the fight, raising concerns over why on earth he'd have been throwing so many kicks with that leg if he knew it was compromised going in.
The fight also showed just how far the Irish star has fallen - while sitting broken against the Octagon fence, he proceeded to take his trash talk to new lows, bringing Poirier's wife into the mix and making clear threats against his family. Considering the grisly injury he endured, you'd think people would have felt bad for the fighter, yet thanks to his disgusting antics not one soul felt bad for the disgraced former champ.
A.J. McKee unseats Bellator's double champ Patricio Pitbull Freire
It doesn't happen often, but once in a while, Bellator puts together a well-matched fight the entire MMA community is actually interested in.
With their Featherweight World Grand Prix coming to a head (it began in 2019), Bellator's featherweight and lightweight champion Patricio Pitbull Freire found himself squaring off with undefeated 17-0 uber prospect A.J. McKee for the featherweight crown and a $1 million prize.
What was expected to be a featherweight war turned into McKee's crowning moment as less than two minutes into the opening round, he rocked the double champ with a head kick and dropped him with a vicious combination. Though he celebrated a tad early, he re-engaged and locked up a guillotine choke to end Pitbull's reign in emphatic fashion. The 26-year-old cemented himself as one of the best featherweights in the world and one of the most exciting young fighters in the game.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in July
Zhalgas Zhumagulov submits Jerome Rivera with a nasty guillotine choke
Dricus Du Plessis stops Trevin Giles
Ilia Topuria murders Ryan Hall
Sean O'Malley batters late replacement Kris Moutinho for nearly 15 minutes
Irene Aldana sticks Yana Kunitskaya with her signature left hook
Tai Tuivasa slaps Greg Hardy while on wobbly legs
Amanda Lemos puts Montserrat Ruiz down in 35 seconds
Daniel Rodriguez blasts Preston Parsons
Billy Q batters Gabriel Benitez
Julio Arce tees off on Andre Ewell
Nassourdine Imavov takes out Ian Heinish
Adrian Yanez puts Randy Costa away
Darren Elkins once again mounts a comeback to stop Derrick Minner
Phil Rowe comes back to stop Orion Cosce
Melsik Baghdasaryan blasts Collin Anglin with a head kick
Jared Gooden puts down Niklas Stolze in 68 seconds
Cheyenne Buys takes out Gloria de Paula with a perfectly timed head kick
Gadzhi Rabadanov left hooks Daniel Carey
Rory MacDonald gets eliminated from PFL playoffs
The PFL had multiple high-profile former UFC fighters make their debuts in 2021, and while former champions had a rough start, former UFC welterweight title challenger and Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald began his PFL run in April with a dominant first round finish of Curtis Millender.
Though he wasn't quite what he used to be, his well-rounded skillset and still elite abilities had many picking Rory to win the year's PFL tournament. The first cracks in this theory came in June when he "lost" against fellow UFC vet Gleison Tibau - Rory clearly won the fight on everyone but two judge's scorecards, but just the fact that he didn't dominate the aged Tibau wasn't a good sign.
In the playoffs, MacDonald squared off with 2019 PFL champ Ray Cooper III, where he lost (a non-controversial) decision. Not exactly the million-dollar run "The Red King" was hoping for when he signed with the promotion.
Other Notable Violent Finishes in August
Miles Johns sparks Anderson Dos Santos
Manel Kape takes out Ode Osbourne with a flying knee
Ciryl Gane batters Derrick Lewis
Brett Cooper smashes Tyler Hill
Renan Ferreira walks through Stuart Austin
Bruno Cappelozza folds Jamelle Jones
Ignacio Bahamondes sends Roosevelt Roberts to the shadow realm
William Knight faceplants Fabio Cherant
Josiane Nunes blasts Bea Malecki
Brandon Jenkins scores a flying knee on Jacob Kilburn
Dustin Jacoby finishes Darren Stewart
Abdul Razak Al Hassan head kicks Alessio Di Chirico in 17 seconds
Giga Chikadze stops Edson Barboza
Khalil Rountree scores a disgusting leg kick finish
The side kick to an opponent's knee or the "oblique kick" is a weapon that has caused controversy over the years - unlike most techniques, its almost entirely set on injuring an opponent should it land correctly, with Jon Jones being the most prominent user of the technique who has drawn ire from certain opponents who believe the technique should be banned.
When landed correctly, the oblique kick will hyperextend the recipients knee and can cause extensive damage - it is however easily defended merely by not putting weight on your lead leg. This makes the kick an effective deterrent against forward movement and as such is an effective defensive technique - however, as we saw with Khalil Rountree's victory over Modesta Bukauskas, it can be extremely dangerous when landed correctly.
Rountree was already comfortably ahead of Bukauskas in the middle of the second round of their fight, utilizing his impressive muay thai attack to batter his outgunned opponent. Midway through the round however, he landed a perfect oblique kick right as Bukauskas was stepping forward into a jab. The kick caused Bukauskas' knee to buckle inward on a disturbing angle and the fighter collapsed in pain as his knee was shredded in an instant.
The brutal finish once again sparked conversations surrounding the technique and whether it should be banned or not - I'm sure Modesta's knee would have something to say on the matter.
Nick Diaz returns after over five years away from the sport, unleashes the Ruthless one
One of the most beloved figures in the sport, Nick Diaz's return to the Octagon at UFC 266 was met with equal amounts of excitement and fear. While fans were undoubtedly excited to see the elder Diaz return to action, the amount of time he had been gone and his questionable motivation were certainly concerning, especially given that he was coming back to face Robbie Lawler, who even though he had been on a cold streak at 39 years old, could still crack.
The fight was a rematch of their famous first meeting way back at UFC 47 in 2004, where the two traded bombs and Nick, known at the time primarily for his jiu-jitsu, shocked the MMA world by k