According to UFC President Dana White, 2021 was the biggest year in the company's history and while there's many reasons for that, one of the biggest, is due to some of the fights you'll see on this list.
Whether it's some of the action on the UFC's new partnership over on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, some of the crazy moments we saw at the company's Apex facility in Las Vegas or if it was in front of a capacity crowd across the United States, there's an unlimited amount of fights that could've been on this list but not to worry...Fightful MMA has you covered on compiling the top five fights of the year that was in 2021.
Number 5: Jiri Prochazka def. Dominick Reyes via KO (spinning-elbow) — UFC Vegas 25
SPOILER ALERT! This fight will *probably* be on another list later in the week for an obvious reason. Dominick Reyes was fresh-off his narrow decision loss to Jon Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and Jiri Prochazka was coming off of a highlight knockout in his promotional debut of former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir. Reyes was expected by many to get himself back on track en-route to another crack at the longtime 205-pound king however, the Czech-born Prochazka had other plans and the second the bell rang, you could see a potential Prochazka finish coming...but nobody was ready for what was about to happen. Prochazka tuned up the California-native from bell-to-bell and seemingly out of nowhere, another Jiri Prochazka highlight reel finish happened at the blink of an eye when he hit a lightning quick spinning back elbow that sent Reyes face-first to the mat and the birth of a new title contender was created.
Number 4: Max Holloway def. Yair Rodriguez via Unanimous Decision — UFC Vegas 42
Max Holloway found himself in a pair of Fight of The Year contenders yet again in 2021. This time, with some fresh faces at the top of the UFC's stacked 145-pound division in the form of Calvin Kattar and the one who makes this list, Yair Rodriguez. The former UFC Featherweight Champion, Holloway tuned up Kattar on UFC Fight Island but that fight just misses this list due to the lack of competitiveness of the bout but the Mexican-born Rodriguez gave Holloway everything he could handle and then some. Rodriguez looked game right from the bell and was up on many fans' scorecard after the opening two frames but the former champion would prove why he's still one of the best 145-pounders on planet earth by turning it on for the final three rounds by planting over 130 significant strikes on Rodriguez over the last 15-minutes en-route to a unanimous decision victory which may have earned him a third crack at current champion Alexander Volkanovski...who you may see later on, on this list.
Number 3: Petr Yan def. Cory Sandhagen via Unanimous Decision — UFC 267
The last year-and-a-half was an extremely interesting scene over the last year for the UFC's 135-pound division. New faces in Sean O'Malley and Chito Vera have firmly positioned themselves for top 10 fights in 2022, old faces in Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz have shown that they're not done yet, former champion TJ Dillashaw quite possibly still runs the division even after a length suspension and it reminded us that you can win a title...without finishing your opponent or winning a judges' decision. Undisputed Champion Aljamain Sterling secured UFC gold for the first-time in his career at UFC 259 this past March when he beat current interim champion Petr Yan via DQ after Yan drilled him with an illegal knee while he was still down on the mat. Injuries during training camp delayed the rematch between the two which forced the UFC's hand and booked Petr Yan to face Cory Sandhagen for an interim title at UFC 267...and what a treat it was. Sandhagen was coming off of a loss to the newly returned former king of the division in TJ Dillashaw but the latter wasn't available to slot-in at UFC 267, which allowed Sandhagen to jump the line regardless of the loss. On Halloween-eve on Fight Island, the Colorado-native Sandhagen proved that he's among the best in the world in the bantamweight division as he gave Yan everything he could handle. Sandhagen came out and won the first two rounds on nearly everyone's scorecards but Yan had to remind everyone why he never 'lost' his title in the first-place as he turned up the heat for the final three frames and was on the right side of the judges' scorecards to firmly plant himself as the king of the bantamweights and earned himself another shot at the man who took his title, Aljamain Sterling at some point in 2022.
Number 2: Alexander Volkanovski (C) def. Brian Ortega via Unanimous Decision — UFC 266
The penultimate fight on this list is Alexander Volkanovski defending his 145-pound title against Brian Ortega at UFC 266. If you plainly look at the stats of this one, it didn't look competitive at all...but if you watched the fight, boy was it. 'T-City' was getting his second chance at UFC gold, after coming up short against Max Holloway at UFC 231, but Ortega never goes out quietly. The California-native Ortega came about as close to winning a title as you could come when you get out-struck 214-88. At the end of round three, Ortega nearly forced a tap from Volkanovski but the Australian-champion displayed why he's at the top of the mountain at 145-pounds and somehow survived not only that attempt but another one the very next round. On the feet, Ortega had his moments but it was the champion who seemingly did whatever he wanted but if there's ever such a thing as a moral victory...Brian Ortega is the undisputed king.
Number 1: Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler via Unanimous Decision — UFC 268
Who else did you think was going to top this list? This could've been firmly slotted in at the top of the list before the fight even took place. It was nearly impossible for this fight to live up to what the fans hoped it would be...but boy did it ever. 'Iron' Mike Chandler came out SWINGING and was on his way to win the opening round (that somehow didn't end in a knockout) until Gaethje absolutely walloped him with a hook that sent him flying to the canvas but Chandler was somehow able to regain composure and continue to fire back. Round number two was more of the same but was potentially the most clear round for either fighter as Gaethje really turned up the heat for the final minute of the round. In the third and final round, it was much like the opening frame where Chandler started fast but Gaethje stole the round late and wobbled Chandler a handful of times but the latter would prove his nickname 'Iron' correct and stayed the course and saw out the full 15-minutes before being on the wrong end of the judges' scorecards. What a joy of pure and beautiful, utter violence we were treated to under the bright lights inside of the 'World's Most Famous Arena', Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Be sure to stay tuned with Fightful MMA's week-long 2021 year-of awards, where tomorrow we'll bring you our Knockout of The Year award!