Before we head into the last PPV card of the year, UFC 269, we thought it was the perfect time to outline which UFC events were the best in 2021.
UFC 268 promised fireworks in the leadup, and boy did it deliver!
The hugely anticipated rematch between Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman and long-time foe Colby Covington was the number one fight on offer and fight fans will remember the epic war these two underwent back in 2019.
Needless to say, the sequel definitely lived up to the hype.
But before we get to that one, there were some other fights that ensured that UFC 268 found its way onto the Top 4 Fight Cards of 2021!
The UFC has made a habit of booking a high octane fight to kick off the main card.
Normally it’s a couple of emerging prospects who will lay it all on the line.
However at UFC 268, it was a matchup that could have rightfully headlined an event in its own right; Justin Gaethje vs Michael Chandler. And the best part? The boys promised to throw leather, and that they did, for 3 whole rounds – with neither fighter giving an inch.
Whilst Chandler had his moments (particularly early where he wobbled Gaethje with an overhand right), it was ‘The Highlight’ who reigned supreme, taking out a unanimous decision in a fight that will go down as a legitimate contender for the converted ‘Fight of the Year’ honours.
Whilst almost no fight could back up the Gaethje v Chandler slugfest, the duo of fights that immediately followed (Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo and Frankie Edgar vs. Marlon Vera) did their best to keep the momentum rolling. And that they did…by the time the co-main event had rolled around, fight fans were buzzing in anticipation, just waiting for 2 of the biggest rematches of the year to begin!
First up, fan favourite ‘Thug’ Rose defended her Strawweight Championship against Weili Zang – the Chinese naitive who had steamrolled every opponent until she finally ran into Thug Rose at UFC 261 seven months earlier. Many expected Weili to right her wrongs and avenge her head-kick loss to Namajunas in April, however Thug Rose had other ideas.
By this stage, most fight fans felt as though UFC 268 had already been one of the best cards of the year.
And just as we reflected on what an amazing card it had been up to this point, Kurt Angle’s theme music hit those speakers, and we were reminded that the biggest rematch of the year was still ahead of us. What a day to be alive!
This time there would be no “fake eye pokes”, no “fake nut shots”, and certainly no “fake refs” (sorry Marc Goddard, Colby’s words, not ours!). The stage was set, and the two best Welterweights on planet earth delivered!
We saw a more measured approach from Colby, a far cry from the relentless pace he had applied against the likes of Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley in previous bouts.
Whilst Colby certainly had his moments, it was clear that Usman held a decisive power advantage – dropping Colby twice with left hooks at the end of the second round.
Many argued that Colby opted to fight more strategically this bout because he had felt how hard Usman had hit in the first matchup back in December of 2019. And let’s face it, who could blame him?
Much like the first fight, Colby seemed to get better in the face of adversity, and despite being down and out at the end of the second round – he came back very strong in Round 3 and gave the Usman camp some very anxious moments (including taking Usman down – something that nobody had managed to do to Kamaru Usman up until that point).
Of course, the official stats don’t want to admit that the takedown actually occurred… but we all know what we saw. In the good old words of Chael Sonnen: “who are you going to believe, me? Or your lying eyes?”
As fate would have it however, the champion did what champions do, coming out to weather the storm and claiming a unanimous decision victory to retain his title. After the fight Kamaru and Colby seemingly squashed their beef with an embrace in the middle of the Octagon, before the champ declaring “he’s tough as s—” – acknowledging the heart and determination that Colby Covington brings to the cage.
Who knows what’s next for either fighter, but once again, we cannot rule out a third fight somewhere down the line.
All in all, the fights were so entertaining that this was a “must have” in our Top 4 Fight Cards for 2021!
With a main card of fights that never hit the third round, you could be forgiven for thinking the fighters of UFC 261 had somewhere else to be.
When the first two bouts ending in freak leg injuries (Chris Weidman suffering from a psychic reverb from his leg injury KO over Anderson Silva, while Uriah Hall became the first fighter to win a bout without making a single offensive motion), many began to wonder if the main card portion of the event was cursed…but then, the storm clouds parted and the MMA Gods delivered by way of the championship matches.
First, Valentina Shevchenko utilised her underappreciated wrestling to shut down the vicious striking of Jessica Andrade enroute to a second round TKO, furthering her claims as the best Women’s MMA fighter of all time.
Following on from that, Rose Namajunas overcame the bookmakers and the doubts of yours truly to land a picture-perfect head kick, elating the combative Floridian crowd by taking the title from Zhang Weili in the very first round.
Finally, in the main, Kamaru Usman silenced the critics of his lacklustre victory over Jorge Masvidal the first go-round at UFC 251 by violently KO’ing the near-unfinishable Gamebred.
As a whole, UFC 261 delivered in ways that very few cards do, and the drama to open the main card and it’s exceptional championship performances to close it will ensure it has a place in history books for a long time.
Yeah, I get it, it wasn’t the most entertaining main event with a dominant Israel Adesyna playing with the Italian for the whole 5 rounds…but look deeper, this card was so much more.
Brad Riddell took on the chiselled jaw of Drew Dober in a matchup that was always going to be trouble for the both.
Clean strikes went back and forth in a performance that attracted a Fight of the Night bonus and a decision win for our Oceanic mate Brad Riddell.
SIDE NOTE: The boys avoided eating a ridiculous amount of hot wings that was wrapped in a cheeky wager from across the Pacific with Punchlist MMA
We were then treated to Leon Edwards vs Nate Daiz with Nate slipping through a punch that rocked Edwards in the final minutes.
In true Diaz form, instead of following it up with a flurry of punches, Diaz opted to simply point at him and taunt while Edwards stumbled around.
To complete the highlight reel of UFC 268, we were treated to a co-main event of Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno.
Not only did Moreno sink in a choke and securing the belt, but the boys all tried and failed to hold back tears as we watched him battle his emotions during the post-fight interview – truly one of the most wholesome moments in MMA.
Listen, ignore whatever the others have written. You know it, I know it, the best PPV card of 2021 was UFC 266.
The PPV card had everything you could wish for: KOs, a Diaz brother tearing shit up and an Aussie getting his hand raised.
But the greatness of the card started even before people had laid money down for the PPV.
Where the other boys have gone wrong is to ignore that a card starts with the prelims, and 266 had some killers.
In a sign of things to come for the Australia and NZ crew, Dan Hooker got his hand raised against a guy who even Statman had to listen to the pronunciation six times to get right.
Beating Haqparast after going through the ordeal of lockdowns and being separated from his family and his gym – inspiring stuff!
Onto the main card and things kept kicking off – Jessica Andrade beating the hell out of some poor woman, two heavyweights punching each other in the face for 15 minutes without the common decency to fall over…the stage was set for the final three fights to really bring us home.
Nick Diaz got off the couch to fight a legend in Robbie Lawler, and while they both looked like they could’ve done with a smoko in the middle of the fight to catch their breath, the brawl was almost a call back to the olden days of UFC (if you played it at like 0.8 speed).
We got to see Valentina Shevchenko continue on her murderous rampage in the Flyweight Division, aided and abetted by Dana White and Sean Shelby who provide her with fresh-ish meat on the regular.
And then, in the main event, Alexander Volkanovski – the pride and joy of Windang, NSW – took on Brian Ortega.
Ortega has made people sit up and take notice with his fight against the Korean Zombie but The Volk shut him down numerous times over the course of their five rounds together.
The boys had a heart attack as one when Ortega locked up the tightest choke in UFC history in the third round, but Volk showed true spirit in battling out of it.
Reminds me of a young Snags getting himself out of a tight triangle choke back in the old two-stripes days. Impressive stuff.
All round, 266 had the drama and the excitement we needed from the UFC – and isn’t it good when a PPV ends with one of our own getting their hand raised?