As we approach a brand-new year, the world’s most prominent mixed martial arts promotion is wrapping up another hugely successful twelve-month period of combat sports action. From pay-per-view buys to Dana White’s ongoing battle with the Covid crisis, join us in looking back on the UFC’s most notable and memorable moments of 2021.
The UFC’s Knockout Victory Over COVID-19
While most sporting establishments struggled to handle the wrath of COVID-19, Dana White and the UFC went head-to-head with the global pandemic and came out on top.
Coronavirus began shutting down sporting events and arenas in 2020, but the fast thinking and problem-solving attitude of the UFC were fully equipped to deal with the pandemic when 2021 arrived.
January of 2021 saw the UFC make a return trip to Fight Island on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. A safe space where negatively tested bubbles could continue their jobs alongside vigorous COVID-19 testing and top-notch health and safety protocols.
Fight Island was created in the summer of 2020 for the sole purpose of holding UFC international events without the pandemic preventing shutdowns. UFC President Dana White made sure the company wouldn’t come to a halt by establishing a location where fighters, staff members, and fans could come together and enjoy the normalcy of Fight Night events and pay-per-views.
In addition to Fight Island and the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC began holding all U.S.-based events behind closed doors at their Apex facility in Enterprise, Nevada. For the entirety of 2021, the UFC Apex has been the home for all non-PPV UFC events labelled as ‘UFC in Vegas’ cards. Once public restrictions were eased, the Apex has even allowed limited public spectators.
Champions Were Crowned in Abundance
Nothing perhaps was more exhilarating than the plethora of newly crowned UFC champions we witnessed in 2021 – beginning with Cameroon’s first-ever UFC titleholder and the most devastating knockout artist in the game, Francis Ngannou.
Despite losing to Stipe Miocic some years prior, the odds were stacked in favour of Ngannou, which was a true testament to how intimidating this man’s punching power really was. And for a good reason, oddsmakers were correct to line Ngannou as the betting favourite because he proved once again that his brute force and strength wasn’t to be played with.
Following Ngannou’s championship success at UFC 260 in March 2021, a betting underdog in Rose Namajunas would shock the world when she head-kick KO’d Weili Zhang and took her strawweight belt. Rose, alongside Valentina Shevchenko and others, made UFC 261 an early contender for the fight card of the year.
And the title changes didn’t stop there. The retiring UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov left the 155lb strap vacated. The Brazilian Charles Oliveira knocked out Michael Chandler to become the new king in one of the UFC’s most talent-stacked divisions. Arguably, Oliveira was the most satisfying title change of 2021 because of the near 40-fight journey it had taken him to reach this pinnacle moment.
He is now set to defend his title against another UFC veteran in Dustin Poirier this Saturday at UFC 269. Currently the champion is going in as the underdog at +140. Make sure to check out the UFCfight odds as this card is stacked from top to bottom and will surely not disappoint.
UFC’s first-ever Mexican-born champion was crowned in June 2021, as Brandon Moreno couldn’t hold back the tears after submitting Deiveson Figueiredo via a rear-naked choke.
Controversy surrounded Ciryl Gane’s interim heavyweight success in August, with many fans and critics wondering why Ngannou was penalized after becoming the new heavyweight champion just five months prior. However, as fight fans, we cannot deny that Ciryl Gane vs. Francis Ngannou for the undisputed heavyweight championship will kick start the UFC’s 2022 pay-per-view calendar with a must-watch contest.
Last, and certainly not least, the UFC returned to Abu Dhabi, where Bruce Buffer echoed “And new” two times in one night. UFC 267 from the Etihad Arena in Dubai saw the 42-year-old Glover Teixeira defy the odds and submit Jan Blachowicz to become the oldest first-time successor of a UFC championship. On the same night, Petr Yan recaptured the bantamweight title he’d previously lost via a questionable DQ to Aljamain Sterling back in March. And you might be thinking, “why wasn’t Sterling’s bantamweight title win mentioned?”, the simple answer is, he didn’t win the belt; it was handed to him.
Conor McGregor Dominates the PPV Buys… Again!
Despite a career downtrend, the most polarising figure in mixed martial arts continues to dominate the pay-per-view buy rate.
Irelands own “The Notorious” Conor McGregor rarely fails to make the headlines whether he’s scheduled to fight or not. Although he’s received a lot of negative attention over the past few years, his popularity is undeniable. The year 2021 would be no different. Heading into 2022 fans and bettors alike are wondering when he might make his return to the octagon. You can already find odds on who he might face in his next fight. You can find Nate Diaz at +275 odds to face McGregor next. Tony Furguson at +350 and Justin Gaethje coming in at third at +700 to face off against Conor.
UFC’s holding company, Endeavor, went on record to reveal that the UFC has had the most successful nine-month period in the promotion’s history. Of course, McGregor topped the list with his UFC 257 and UFC 264 appearances, but the overall growth and attention towards mixed martial arts make it the fastest growing sport worldwide.
UFC 264: McGregor vs. Poirier III – 1.8 million buys
UFC 257: McGregor vs. Poirier II – 1.6 million buys
UFC 259: Blachowicz vs. Adesanya – 800 thousand buys
UFC 261: Usman vs. Masvidal II – 700 thousand buys
UFC 263: Adesanya vs. Vettori II – 600 thousand buys
UFC 262: Oliveira vs. Chandler – 300 thousand buys