As we enjoy a week off from UFC action it seems like a fun time to reflect on the fights we have seen already through the first half of 2021. What follows are my picks for each MMA Award category thus far. There are arguments to be made for every single one of these, but listed here are my personal selections. It will be interesting to see if any of the clubhouse leaders can hold their spots until December.
Fight of the Year: Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
- Sure this fight was a bit one-sided but it was my favorite to watch so far this year. The volume that Max Holloway poured on Calvin Kattar was crazy, connecting on 445 strikes. It was a beautiful display of skilled violence and Max’s chirping throughout the latter rounds make it even more enjoyable. Not to mention Holloway slipping a five punch combination he wasn’t even looking at. Give it ‘Performance of the Year’ if you prefer but no way what we witnessed that night isn’t a highlight of 2021. If you think a more competitive bout deserves the award I completely understand. Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler was probably the most exciting five minutes of action we will get in 2021 and could certainly get the nod. I also was on the edge of my seat for all of Gregor Gillespie vs. Diego Ferreira.
Event of the Year: UFC 261
- This pick was easy for me. UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida was awesome. The energy from a full crowd made this card incredible from start to finish. Ariane Carnelossi beat Na Liang in an incredibly back and forth fight to open the card. What followed was arguably even more exciting as Jeff Molina and Aoriqileng went to war for fifteen minutes, each getting caught with massive shots. All five main card fights ended inside the distance and MMA fans around the world were shocked seeing Rose Namajunas and Kamaru Usman land enormous knockouts in their title bouts. We have had other great events this year, with UFC 259 being one that sticks out. However, none in my opinion compare to this card on April 24th.
Best Male Fighter: Kamaru Usman
- The two tile defenses by Kamaru Usman already this year have him in the driver seat for Best Male Fighter. His February knockout of Gilbert Burns was impressive as is, but following that up with his knockout of Jorge Masvidal in April showed that he will likely remain champion for a very long time. Usman’s 14-fight UFC winning streak is the longest active streak in the company. I imagine that this category resolves itself. An active champion like Usman will likely fight again by the end of the year at least once. Depending on his performance we may see him surpassed by someone like Dustin Poirier with a second stoppage of Conor McGregor. Ciryl Gane is another name I would watch out for as securing an Interim belt in August could allow him time to earn undisputed gold before Christmas. Right now though, Usman is clearly the best. He has a solid argument to be ranked number one pound-for-pound.
Best Female Fighter: Rose Namajunas
- As far as female fighters go, the most headlines were likely written about Namajunas so far this year. It was awesome to see her get the strawweight belt back with a knockout of Zhang Weili at UFC 261. After a quiet first minute of action in Jacksonville, the arena erupted when a flush head kick by Namajunas crumpled the defending champ. She has always been a fan favorite, but the victory she earned that night certainly cemented her legacy as one of the best to ever do it. Kayla Harrison is not too far behind her though, as far as 2021 is concerned. Closing out the PFL Playoffs with two more dominant finishes would certainly cement her spot near the top of the rankings. She is showing no signs of slowing down on her rise to the top.
Knockout of the Year: Cory Sandhagen knocks out Frankie Edgar
- The best knockout I saw through six months of mixed martial arts was that of Cory Sandhagen against Frankie Edgar. The flying knee was perfectly executed, landed on target, and came incredibly early in that bout. Sandhagen was aware of Edgar’s forward pressure and knew this strike had a high chance of landing before even throwing it. A lot of MMA fans were upset to see a legend like Edgar fall to the canvas stiff as a board, but it is about time we give this perfect knockout the credit it deserves. The runner-up here is quite clearly Jiri Prochazka’s second round knockout of Dominick Reyes. That spinning elbow landed flush and sent a compromised Reyes falling face first on the mat. Prochazka is a major threat at light heavyweight and his fun style will likely yield more jaw-dropping KOs like this.
Submission of the Year: Anthony Hernandez submits Rodolfo Vieira
- The Submission of the Year leader is currently Anthony Hernandez in my eyes. Entering his bout with Rodolfo Vieira, Hernandez was 7-2 and lined a +375 underdog. While his work on the mat was excellent, it was really his cardio and perseverance that earned this win. After weathering an early storm, Hernandez hurt Vieira to start round number two. Soon after we saw Fluffy gain dominant position and finish the ADCC champion with an arm-in guillotine choke. The race here is still wide open as no true jaw dropping submissions have captivated fans yet. There is also an argument to be made for champion Amanda Nunes who made quick work of Megan Anderson in a title defense this spring. She won that bout by inverted triangle-armbar.
Best UFC Newcomer: Manon Fiorot
- Manon Fiorot is a problem. The French prospect won her first two UFC fights this year in spectacular fashion. In her debut we saw Fiorot overwhelm Victoria Leonardo with volume striking, eventually scoring a second round finish by standing TKO. That performance was replicated in June when she once again scored a standing TKO win, this time over Tabatha Ricci. She is averaging over eight significant strikes per minute thus far. With a bout scheduled against Mayra Bueno Silva at UFC 266, we will soon see just how well Fiorot can perform against upper level competition. King Casey O’Neill also had two huge finishes this year since making the jump from UAE Warriors. As a member of the same division though, I give Fiorot the nod for this award as she likely wins in a bout between the two.
Best Coach: Trevor Wittman
- While Justin Gathje has yet to have a fight booked for 2021, the work of Wittman pupils Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas are more than enough to secure this halfyear award. A coach securing two championship in one night is not only difficult, but likely incredibly nerve-racking as well. I cannot imagine walking out for Usman’s defense after coming off the high of Namajunas’ KO prior. All of his fighters have a strong stance that gives them a base for defense and offense. Coach Wittman builds many layers of more sophisticated striking off of this base, catering to the needs of each fighter. Also live in this category are coaches James Krause and Eric Nicksick who have done just as well when it comes to securing wins. Khabib Nurmagomedov started off 2021 strong as a coach, but will need to stack a few more victories before being seriously considered.
With six months of action remaining, I would not be surprised to see any of these awards change hands. Comment below if there are any picks you disagree with or if you have any predictions for what is to come in the latter half of 2021.