Mixed martial arts had fighters step up and change the game and others who continued their years of dominance. Here are the top five mixed martial artists of 2021.
5. Charles Oliveira
After an eleven-year career with the UFC, Charles Oliveira got his first title shot in 2021 and won. He then topped that by defending it this year, extending the UFC record for most submission wins with 15 and most finishes with 18.
After defeating former Bellator MMA lightweight champion, Michael Chandler via second-round TKO, Oliveira took on Dustin Poirier.
Oliveira culminated a ten-fight, three-year winning streak with the championship defense. Of the ten fights, Oliveira only had one go to the judges, where he picked up a unanimous decision victory over Tony Ferguson.
For proving that perseverance still pays dividends, Charles Oliveira is one of the best fighters in 2021.
4. Rose Namajunas
“Thug” Rose Namajunas regained the UFC women’s strawweight belt that she lost back in 2019 to Jessica Andrade.
The second-time around was much sweeter as she dethroned Zhang Weili, the woman who pummeled Joanna Jedrezjcyk, with a first-round head kick in April.
For those who thought it was a fluke, the two rematched and Namajunas was challenged but scored a split decision win. Weili was considered the boogeyman in the division but “Thug” Rose shut up all doubts with her successful title defense in November.
3. Glover Teixeira
At 42 years old, Glover Teixeira made history this year winning the most unlikely of light heavyweight titles. The Brazilian-American defeated Jan Blachowicz via a second-round rear naked choke to become the champion.
With the win, he is the second-oldest UFC champion in history behind Randy Couture. He is also the oldest first-time champion in UFC history.
2. Julianna Peña
The “Venezuelan Vixen” certainly took 2021 by the horns and made history in the process.
Peña rode into 2021 with a submission victory over Sara McMann in January and then ended the year with a submission victory over consensus MMA GWOAT Amanda Nunes.
Peña was scheduled to face Holly Holm on May 8, 2021, at UFC on ESPN 24. However, Holm was forced to withdraw from the bout, citing hydronephrosis.
Peña was expected to face Amanda Nunes for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship in August at UFC 265. However, Nunes tested positive for COVID-19, and the bout was rescheduled to UFC 269 in December.
After Nunes turned in a typical dominant round 1, Peña came back in the second round to win the fight and title with a rear-naked choke submission.
— UFC (@ufc) December 22, 2021
The win is now widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Nunes had been unbeaten in seven years.
1. Kamaru Usman
“The Nigerian Nightmare” fought three times this year and successfully defended his welterweight title in all of them.
The wins consisted of Usman finishing Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal before getting a unanimous decision over Colby Covington in their second pairing.
Usman is slowly showing the world that he is the best welterweight in the game and possibly of all time. Only time will tell if he stays at the weight or decides to move up to middleweight, where a challenge like fellow Nigerian Israel Adesanya resides as champ.
A.J. McKee for dethroning “Pitbull” Freire and winning the Bellator featherweight tournament.
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