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The year of 2021 holds a lot of promise in the wake of a 2020 year that saw the world scramble to keep things together. A COVID-19 vaccine is currently circulating the globe and has shown many positive results.
What does this mean for the UFC? Well – a lot. The most important factor being the return of live crowds. Though nothing is to be rushed, UFC events could, potentially, see the return of live crowds somewhere within the second half of 2021. It should also mean less scrambling for the promotion to fill their cards, as less fighters are likely to pull out of fights at the last minute due to a positive test result.
With that said, 2021 is still very much up in the air for the world of sports. However, the UFC was a shining example of how to continue putting on events in a safe manner given the circumstances. They continued to put on incredible events for the fans watching at home while taking limited time off. And 2021 is looking to be even more promising. Here are the top-five potential fights that we are looking forward to in 2021.
We start with a bout that is still fresh in our minds. This fight between welterweights Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev was scheduled to be the main event of this past weekend’s UFC Fight Night event. Unfortunately, Leon Edwards tested positive for COVID-19 and the fight was pulled from the card. A welterweight fight between Stephen Thompson and Geoff Neal took its place.
Edwards currently finds himself on an eight-fight winning streak that most recently saw him defeat former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos via unanimous decision. However, that bout against dos Anjos took place in the summer of 2019 and Edwards has been somewhat of a ghost since. Allegedly turning down several fights offered to him in 2020, Edwards finally found himself scheduled to take on former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in his home country of England. However, when COVID-19 lockdowns took effect, the card was moved to the United States and Edwards was unable to leave England.
Literally days prior to the fight with Chimaev, the UFC has Edwards removed from the welterweight rankings due to his inactivity. But once the fight with the rising star was officially announced, Edwards saw his name returned to the number-three spot in the rankings.
Khamzat Chimaev made a huge name for himself as a fan favorite and also a company favorite due to his game attitude and willingness to fight anyone. Chimaev made himself known on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi this past summer after fighting twice in 10 days – winning both bouts despite them being in different weight classes. He then turned around just two months later and defeated veteran Gerald Meerschaert in just 17 seconds with a knockout punch.
This fight is destined to be important. It may not be a fight of the night as both men have proven they can end fights in a dramatic and quick fashion. But it will be important. A win for Edwards secures his claim as the next number-one contender after being overlooked by many. If he derails the Chimaev hype-train, there’s nothing else for him but a rematch with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
But if Chimaev can defeat the number-three ranked welterweight while heading into the bout as number-15 in the rankings, then we could potentially see the fastest rise to title shot in modern UFC history. A win over Edwards could see him fight for a title next which would make it just his fifth UFC bout.
Leon Edwards (via TKO)
We stick with the welterweight division with this next one, considering it is constantly at battle with the lightweight division as the most impressive, cut-throat division in the UFC.
This is set to be the ultimate grudge match of 2021 should you believe the bad blood between these two fighters is legitimate and not just a publicity stunt. These two former teammates and friends are also the last two to fall victim to current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and both feel they deserve another crack at the gold. And for good reason.
Colby Covington flew mostly under the radar in his early UFC career but stepped into the spotlight as one of the most brash and hated figures in the post following his win over Demian Maia in Brazil in which he insulted the entire country in his post-fight interview. He has kept his heel persona boiling at 100-percent ever since, insulting everyone around him, including UFC president Dana White.
But his skills could not be denied. The win over Maia was his fifth in a row, and he followed that with two more. One over Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title (of which he was eventually stripped) and the other over former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. This seven-fight winnings streak could not be ignored and Covington was granted a shot at champion Kamaru Usman last December at UFC 245. Covington would lose the bout via TKO in the fight round, but he held his own with the champion and even a hater could not deny that he still had his wits about him at the end of the fight, leaving many wondering if he could have kept going (although it’s safe to say he would have lost the decision in the end).
Covington could have been granted an immediate rematch for the title if the division wasn’t so stacked. Therefore he went on to fight another rival in former champion Tyron Woodley. And despite his personality, no one can deny the absolutely dominant performance he showed over the former champion, whom he ultimately finished via TKO (coincidentally also in the fifth-round).
And during all this time, he couldn’t help himself from talking insane amounts of smack towards Jorge Masvidal.
During Covington’s rise, Jorge Masvidal was enjoying a career resurgence, as he went undefeated in 2019. He started last year by knocking out Darren Till in the second round in Till’s own home country of England. He followed that performance with a record breaker – becoming the first man to ever defeat Ben Askren and he did it in just five seconds with a flying knee. He would then take out UFC legend Nate Diaz via third-round TKO for the inaugural (and, supposedly,simply symbolic) BMF (baddest mother f-) championship.
Masivdal’s stock had risen so high that when Gilbert Burns had to drop out of his welterweight title bout with Kamaru Usman at UFC 251 this past July, the UFC tapped Masvidal to take his place with just a week’s notice. Masivdal would lose the fight via unanimous decision but many wonder how “Gamebred” would have fared if he had the time to focus on a more traditional six-to-eight week fight camp.
The last two men to challenge for the title should be the next to face each other for the right to a second UFC title shot.
Colby Covington via decision
Of all the potential champion-versus-champion fights that could take place in 2021, this is the one that interests us the most. The mega-superstar middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is set to move up in weight to challenge for his second title against arguably the most underrated and overlooked champion in the UFC currently, light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz.
Both of these men had incredible success in 2019 that carried over into even more successful years in 2020.
The middleweight champion Adesanya spent 2019 defeating his idol Anderson Silva, beating number-one contender Kelvin Gastelum in the fight-of-the-year for the interim title, and finished the year by defeating champion Robert Whittaker via second-round KO for the undisputed title at UFC 243.
Riding the wave of his success, the undefeated fighter made good on claims that he would fight anyone – even the most feared fighters in the division – when he challenged Yoel Romero despite the latter coming off of a loss. In what unfortunately ended up being one of the biggest dud title fights in recent memory, Adesanya retained his title against Romero via unanimous decision.
It was immediately following this title fight – while still inside the octagon, in fact – that the bad blood between the champ and another middleweight beast, Paulo Costa, began. The two went back and forth on social media, in interviews, and in person, constantly declaring their dislike for each other and their belief that the other stood no chance in a fight against themselves. The two men were both undefeated and the title fight was booked for UFC 253 this past October. It marked the first time that two undefeated male fighters would compete for a title since 2009.
Adesanya would absolutely own the octagon, using his fluid movement to outclass Paulo Costa on the feet and he would eventually TKO the challenger in the second-round. Costa has since been clamoring for a rematch but he did nothing in the fight to show that fans would be excited to see the two do battle again. That’s when “Izzy” set his sights on the light heavyweight division and his words did not go unnoticed by the newly crowned champion.
Yes, Jan Blachowicz also had a stellar 2020 year and has not been shy to respond to all challenges.
Blachowicz defeated Luke Rockhold by knockout and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by decision in 2019 which led to a number-one contender bout against Corey Anderson. Anderson had been very vocal on social media, constantly trading barbs with then-champion Jon Jones. Blachowicz seemed all but invisible in the build-up to the fight and all the way up until the two were in the cage. And then he used his “polish power” to knock out Corey Anderson in devastating fashion in just three minutes. The UFC took notice and Jon Jones, who was in attendance, seemed excited at the prospect of defending his title against the new number-one contender.
But it was not meant to be. Citing difficult contract negotiations, Jones vacated his light heavyweight title and has, most recently, stated his intentions to move up to the heavyweight division. Luckily for the UFC, this left them with a no-brainer fight to make: Jan Blachowicz – the number-one contender versus Dominick Reyes – the man many believed beat Jones in their title fight earlier this year.
Unsurprisingly set as the underdog by Vegas oddsmakers, Blachowicz once again let the people know what he was capable of when he knocked Reyes out in the second round. He stopped a man who had never been stopped before and who arguably was the rightful owner of the undisputed title.
At 37-years-old, Blachowicz has looked better than he ever has and he seems to be enjoying his time at the top with a cool and calm demeanor. The contrast between Blachowicz’s down-to-earth persona and Adesanya’s fast and flashy ways are the perfect contrast to use for promotion of this fight. And 2021 is definitely the time to do it. Both men currently find themselves with a gap in competition within their own divisions and not only have both men expressed their desire for the bout but UFC president Dana White has also seemed to confirm that this will be the next fight for both of them.
It is a perfect clash of styles, personality, and fight culture between two strong competitors who are willing to go toe-to-toe with the best. The biggest question: how does Adesanya fare fighting with the extra weight on his frame?
Israel Adesanya via decision
A rematch six-years in the making.
These two last did battle in 2014 whilst both were competing in the featherweight division. It was Conor McGregor who came out on top in the first bout defeating Poirier via TKO in the first round.
But a lot has happened to both men in the years that followed, with both men getting their first taste of UFC gold during that time.
Set to main-event the first pay-per-view card of 2021, WSN took a closer look at the early odds of this fight and you can read about the details HERE.
Needless to say, this bout will hold huge implications for the lightweight division, which currently isn’t even certain if it will have a champion by next year or not. Dana White has insisted that this fight between Poirier and McGregor will not include an interim title but the winner is surely likely to fight for an undisputed title following the January bout.
Dustin Poirier via submission
It’s hard to deny the mass appeal of a heavyweight title fight, and that is why our most anticipated fight of 2021 (thus far) has to be the seemingly undeniable rematch between champion Stipe Miocic and monster challenger Francis Ngannou.
It’s very, very hard to dislike UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Small when it comes to the division, Miocic holds the record for most heavyweight title defenses in a row in UFC history with three. Miocic has not been very active in competition in recent years but that has been due to both recovering from injuries and working as a firefighter in his home-state of Ohio. Yes, being the UFC heavyweight champion is a part-time job for Miocic.
Miocic won the title from Fabricio Werdum back in 2016 and went on to defend it against Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and – yes – Francis Ngannou. Ngannou was undefeated in the UFC at the time and had yet to enter a third-round. Miocic would exploit Ngannou, whoever, exposing the knockout artist for his lack of wrestling ability and his cardio. Despite some early adversity, Miocic went on to handedly defeat Ngannou via unanimous decision.
Following that win, Miocic would take on the light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who was moving up in weight to challenge for a second title at UFC 226 in the summer of 2018. Cormier would unexpectedly knockout Miocic in the very first round. Miocic took more than a year off following the fight, lobbying for a rematch that was finally granted to him. The two met again at UFC 241 last August and after weathering Cormier’s onslaught of strikes for the first three rounds, Miocic made the necessary adjustments to his strategy and regained the heavyweight strap with a fourth-round TKO victory.
Both Miocic and Cormier would be out of action for yet another year as it was now Cormier demanding his rematch. The UFC ultimately booked the trilogy bout and the two fought for the final time at UFC 252 this past August. They would go the distance and Miocic would be declared the victor via unanimous decision. Cormier would go on to retire from the sport of MMA and Miocic has yet to defend his title since.
Since losing to Miocic in January 2018, Ngannou went on to lose his second in a row by decision to Derrick Lewis in one of the least entertaining fights in UFC history. Ngannou admitted that the Miocic fight affected his psyche and he was unable to find his groove and pull the trigger in the fight against Lewis. However, “The Predator” made changes to his game and training and has come back as the beast we all remembered him as through his early days in the UFC.
Never shying away from believing he was deserving of the next title shot, Ngannou was forced to stay busy and keep competing to keep his name relevant as the years-long trilogy between Miocic and Cormier tied up the division. Ngannou has fought four times in the last two years, winning all four fights by first-round KO or TKO and earning three performance of the night bonuses. He defeated Curtis Blaydes for a second time, knocked out former champion Cain Velasquez in what was his long-anticipated return to action, and also KO’d Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruick – the latter of which surprisingly requested the fight against Ngannou. Bold move.
Now neither man has fought since the summer and there is no denying that these two will have a date in 2021. Both have come a long way since their last fight, with Miocic fighting one of the greatest fighters of all time thrice and defeating him twice and Ngannou earning four first-round knockout wins in a row. But has Ngannou’s wrestling and grappling game improved since their last meeting? We have yet to see any proof. And will Miocic be able to avoid the bombs thrown by “The Predator” or will speed, or lack thereof, be the deciding factor?
Francis Ngannou via TKO
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Ryan Bristlon is a Canadian writer currently residing in Hamilton, Ontario. He studied print and broadcast journalism at Humber College and has been a lifelong fan of the sport of hockey and the NHL.
Email: [email protected]More info on Ryan Bristlon
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