Among other categories, the promotion listed five of the best debutants to have arrived on MMA’s biggest stage in the first six months of this year. The voters for the award were made up of UFC employees, such as digital producer Gavin Porter and editorial director Thomas Gerbasi.
Given how strong the year has been for the UFC so far, it’s unsurprising that a number of impressive debuts missed out. The list of those receiving votes but falling short of the top five included Jeremiah Wells, Mason Jones, Umar Nurmagomedov and Bruno Silva.
The name at the top of the list also won’t come as a surprise. On Fight Island in January, Michael Chandler made his highly anticipated UFC debut against Dan Hooker. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful debut in the promotion’s history.
Against perennial lightweight contender “The Hangman,” Chandler opened his UFC account with a vicious first-round knockout. In the awards piece, the promotion acknowledged that while “Iron Mike” isn’t a rookie, his first Octagon performance couldn’t be ignored.
“This isn’t really fair, because Michael Chandler is far from a rookie in the sport, but if we’re playing by the rules, he did debut in the UFC in 2021 with a ferocious first-round finish of ultra-tough Dan Hooker, earning him a May shot at the vacant lightweight title against Charles Oliveira… I think it’s fair to say that we’ll be seeing plenty of the Missouri native among the 155-pound elite in the years to come.”
Despite a championship fight defeat against Charles Oliveira at UFC 262, nobody can downplay how impressive his performance against Hooker was at the start of the year.
Just pipped to the top spot by Chandler was women’s flyweight Manon Fiorot. The French 31-year-old has recorded back-to-back second-round TKO wins since arriving in the UFC this year.
“France’s Manon Fiorot carries the nickname of “The Beast,” and there is no more apt moniker than that once she enters the Octagon on fight night,” the promotion wrote.
With Scottish-born Australian Casey “King” O’Neill adding a second flyweight to the top three, and Dana White‘s Contender Series alum Uros Medic adding some Serbian flavour in fourth, Terrance McKinney had to settle for fifth.
“T-Wrecks” boasts a truly remarkable story of overcoming adversity. Given that he broke the record for the fastest lightweight stoppage in UFC history, McKinney will likely be recognized as the closest challenger to Chandler in top spot by many, even with four fighters being ranked ahead of him for the award by the UFC.
“Perhaps the only disappointing part of Terrance McKinney’s UFC debut was that it didn’t last long enough for fans to hear his compelling story and triumph over adversity to get here,” said the UFC about McKinney’s UFC 263 debut.
Do you think that Michael Chandler was the best newcomer in the first half of 2021?