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2021 has come to a close and the mixed martial arts world was treated to yet another fantastic year. Many great fights, many great new fighters, across many different promotions. There were so many great moments to look back on this year. From one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, to a last minute spinning back fist KO in Bellator, MMA fans around the world can’t claim that 2021 was a disappointment. So today we will look back at the year and I will give you who I thought did enough to earn an end of the year award.
Coach Of The Year
Nominees: Trevor Wittman, Rafael Cordeiro, Eugene Bareman
Winner: Trevor Wittman
Trevor Wittman quite possibly had one of the greatest nights of coaching/cornering in MMA history. At UFC 268 he was coaching in 3 of the 5 main card fights. He started off the night in the corner of Justin Gaethje who would earn the victory against Michael Chandler. Fast forward to the co-main event strawweight title fight. He would be in the corner of Rose Namajunas who would successfully defend her title against Zhang Weili. And then right after that he would coach Kamaru Usman to a second victory over Colby Covington. Rafael Cordeiro and Eugene Bareman had good years as well. Cordeiro had fighters like Cris Cyborg go undefeated on the year in Bellator and Eugene Bareman had many successful fighters on the year at City Kickboxing in New Zealand. But the magnitude of Wittman’s coaching wins were what put him on the top of the pedestal.
Comeback Fighter Of The Year
Nominees: Anthony Smith, Jose Aldo, Julianna Pena
Winner: Julianna Pena
2-0 on the year with one of those wins being a bantamweight championship victory in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Pena only had one fight in 2020, a loss to Germaine De Randamie. And there really is no better way to bounce back from a win less year then to come out and do what Julianna Pena did. She said she was going to do it and many called her crazy, not so much anymore. But just know, her and Nunes will definitely be running it back at some point in 2022.
Submission Of The Year
Nominees: Hernandez vs. Vieira, Muniz vs. Jacare, Pena vs. Nunes
Winner: Muniz vs. Jacare
Never in my life did I think I would mention Jacare Souza’s name in a submission of the year and he be on the wrong end of it. But that is MMA for you. In the first round of their fight, Muniz would lock in an armbar that would actually break the arm of Jacare Souza. Pretty nasty sight, but excellent execution from Muniz.
Knockout Of The Year
Nominees: Sandhagen vs. Edgar, Pettis vs. Horiguchi, Usman vs. Masvidal
Winner: Pettis vs. Horiguchi
Sorry to all of you UFC only people, but this was easily the knockout of the year for me. The spinning back fist that Sergio Pettis landed in this fight is as perfect as one you could throw. On top of that, this was a hail mary attempt in a fight that Pettis was losing on the scorecards. He took a chance late in the fight and it paid off. Horiguchi was out, and out for awhile.
Breakout Star Of The Year
Nominees: Paddy Pimblett, Terrance McKinney, Giga Chikadze
Winners: Giga Chikadze
I know many would think the obvious choice here would be Paddy Pimblett. Definitely the most popular fighter of the three. However, he only had the one fight and he was rocked in that fight at one point. Chikadze on the other hand picked up two big wins over two big names in Cub Swanson and Edson Barboza. And while he has been in the rankings for awhile now, he has not been a name that people throw around as one of the top guys at 145 until now.
Upset Of The Year
Nominees: Teixeira vs. Blachowicz, Pena vs. Nunes, Moraes vs. Johnson
Winner: Pena vs. Nunes
The biggest upset in the history of the women’s bantamweight division. No one saw this coming other than Julianna Pena. And not only was this an upset of Amanda Nunes. It also upset the potential super fight between Amanda Nunes and Kayla Harrison. Harrison is reigning PFL champion and former 2 time Judo Gold medalist. Unlikely to happen now considering Pena’s victory.
Fight Of The Year
Nominees: Gaethje vs. Chandler, Holloway vs. Rodriguez, Volkanovski vs. Ortega
Winner: Gaethje vs. Chandler
Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler not only put on the fight of the year. But this fight will without a doubt be in the UFC Hall of Fame one day alongside the likes of Jones vs. Gustafsson and Griffin vs. Bonnar. These two went to absolute war with Gaethje coming out on top via decision after three rounds.
Female Fighter Of The Year
Nominees: Rose Namajunas, Julianna Pena, Kayla Harrison
Winner: Rose Namajunas
I am aware I have given a lot of praise to Julianna Pena thus far, and rightfully so. However, Rose Namajunas defeated Zhang Weili not once, but twice as the betting underdog. Both of which were strawweight title fights. Two wins against the absolute best the division had to offer, hard to beat that.
Male Fighter Of The Year
Nominees: Kamaru Usman, Ciryl Gane, Charles Oliveira
Winner: Charles Oliveira
Most fans feel that the obvious choice here would be Kamara Usman. Three victories on the year, against three world class opponents in Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal, and Colby Covington. And don’t get me wrong, Kamaru Usman is absolutely deserving of fighter of the year as well. On the other hand, Charles Oliveira not only had two championship victories in 2021, he completely changed the image that much of the MMA world had of him. Prior to his fight with Michael Chandler, “Charlie Olives” was seen as a guy with all of the skills, but who quit when the going got tough. And that is exactly how his fight with Chandler was going as he was almost finished at the end of the first round. How does he respond? A perfect left hook that drops Chandler less than 10 seconds into the second round. He would reign down some follow up strikes and win the lightweight title via TKO. Then to end the year he defeats Dustin Poirier who many were already calling the best lightweight in the world before the fight even took place. Charles Oliveira is fighter of the year for me in 2021.
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