Tonight, the UFC returns with UFC Vegas 46! As we embark on a new year full of great action, let’s first close out the MMA News Top 100 Fighters of 2021 list as voted on by our panel!
This list is NOT solely based on fights and performances of 2021. Being active in 2021 is what QUALIFIES one to make the list. Instead of only considering performances of the year, we are taking a holistic look at who is the better overall fighter exiting 2021 based on our selected criteria. A full explanation of the criteria can be found below.
1: Career Trajectory/Recent Performances (50%)
Where are the fighters trending right now? How much evidence-backed momentum do they have?
2: Career Success/Body of Work (25%)
Championships, wins, résumé, etc.
3: Likelihood To Be The Betting Favorite In Any Fight In 2021 (25%)
This was determined using past betting history, betting lines during 2021, and the projected odds moving forward as determined by the panel. This category is being used to get a gauge of the talent level the public feels the fighter is/was at.
Be sure to keep checking back right here at MMANews.com for frequent updates to this list throughout the month of January as we continue to update this list!
And finally, you can view the conclusion of The MMA News Top 100 UFC Fighters of 2021 below!
#10: Rose Namajunas
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Rose Namajunas made one statement loud and clear with her mouth prior to the fight and with her foot during the fight on April 24, 2021, inside the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida: She’s the best.
With Namajunas defeating arguably the two best strawweights the promotion has ever seen (herself excluded), Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Zhang Weili, and defeating both twice, she has established herself as the one and only best strawweight in the UFC.
A case can be made that no champion on the entire roster has a higher career trajectory than Namajunas due to the fact that she has already beaten the very best the division has to offer, she continues to visibly get better and more advanced as a technical mixed martial artist, and the fact that she is still only 29 years old.
Namajunas barely gets the edge over Robert Whittaker due to her advantage in career trajectory, the fact that she is a current titleholder, and the fact that she had a memorable finish in 2021 while Whittaker has only earned decision wins since 2017.
Heading Into 2022: Rose Namajunas will look to keep her undefeated rematch record intact when she faces Carla Esparza if and when that expected bout becomes official.
#9: Max Holloway
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Next up in our top 10 fighters of 2021 we have the current record-holder for most wins in the featherweight division, Max “Blessed” Holloway.
On paper, Max Holloway is 2-2 in his last four fights. What’s more, he’s 3-3 in his last six fights. So how is he #9 on our list?
For one thing, one of those three losses took place in the lightweight division, where Holloway had never competed before in the UFC. The bulk of our appraisal for each fighter is what they’ve achieved in their primary weight class. While any loss carries an impact on a fighter’s placement on this list, that impact is much lighter if the fighter lost outside of the division in which they are active, established, and familiar.
And the most recent of those three losses happen to be one of the reasons Holloway is ranked so high. Due to how close and controversial his loss to Alexander Volkanovski was at UFC 251, this serves as evidence that Holloway is one round on one judges’ scorecard away from again reigning as champion. This acknowledgment helps Holloway in Category #3.
In category #2, Holloway’s aforementioned status as the featherweight win record-holder earns him high credit, especially considering some of the names included on that record, especially and including two finishes over who many consider to be the featherweight GOAT, José Aldo.
And in category #1, Holloway participated in back-to-back Fight of the Night-winning performances in 2021, with “Blessed” showing that setting more records via nonstop punches is standard for him.
Heading Into 2022: Originally scheduled to face Alexander Volkanovski in a trilogy fight, Max Holloway will instead be recovering from injury. Only time will tell if a title shot will still await him when he makes his Octagon return and if he’ll compete this year.
#8: Amanda Nunes
Reasoning Behind Ranking: The next time you prepare to watch Amanda Nunes on TV, you can still feel safe putting your bets on her. Seeing as how she’s only lost one time since 2014, the odds are in your favor. And with her historic run during this stretch, despite her major setback against Julianna Peña at UFC 269, she will always be a champion.
With dominant victories over Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, and other legacy wins over Valentina Shevchenko, Germaine de Randamie among others, Nunes earns maximum credit and then some in Category #2.
Additionally, the fact that she remains a comfortable betting favorite over Julianna Peña in their hypothetical rematch despite her second-round submission loss to her tells you that she is still considered most likely to win any fight in the bantamweight division.
Had Amanda Nunes done to Julianna Peña what the overwhelming majority of fans were certain she would, she’d have a firm case for #1 on our list. Instead, the massive ding she suffered in her underperforming loss to “The Venezuelan Vixen” has her at #8.
Heading Into 2022: Amanda Nunes has made her intentions for 2022 clear. Her next featherweight title defense, if it ever comes, will have to wait. First, “The Lioness” will look to regain her throne in a second confrontation with Julianna Peña.
#7: Petr Yan
Reasoning Behind Ranking:
As if drinking a vial of poison
Something gets into his bones,
Now, he keeps on tearing you up
There may be no one in all of MMA who makes slow-starting look so dominant. Whether or not Yan drops a round in a fight, by the time it’s all she wrote, you can’t help but kick yourself for ever doubting this Russian terminator.
Regardless of how a Petr Yan fight starts, both before and during the bout, he has earned the benefit of the doubt of pundits and oddsmakers to be expected to win any fight he’s in. His style is too efficient, too fundamentally sound, too crisp with his hands, too aware of his body-weight distribution.
Had Petr Yan finished his UFC 259 title match against Aljamain Sterling the way it appeared he was on track to, he could be placed even higher on our list. Instead, the knee heard ’round the world dings the Russian a bit.
Unbeaten in his last 12 fights, Yan remains a safe bet going into practically any fight. And his body of work and résumé should not be slept on, with wins over Jimmie Rivera, Douglas Silva de Andrade, and two names placed high on our list: Cory Sandhagen and the legendary José Aldo.
Heading Into 2022: Petr Yan will have an opportunity to rectify his UFC 259 blunder when he rematches Aljamain Sterling at UFC 273 in April.
#6: Charles Oliveira
Reasoning Behind Ranking: When a man fights for 11 years in the same promotion before finally becoming champion, you can be certain that mistakes were made along the way and dues were paid time after time. Next thing you know, Charles Oliveira is on a 10-fight winning streak. And once considered a gatekeeper at lightweight, we may very well have seen “Do Bronx” lose for the last time.
Charles Oliveira’s recent performances are nearly impossible to top. In 2021, he had two championship finishes. Prior to that, he dominated Tony Ferguson from bell to bell. And before that, he had strung together seven consecutive finishes. Therefore, beyond just recency, Oliveira isn’t just likely to perform well, but he’s become practically a lock to win.
During this stretch, he’s also racked up massive points in Category #2, with wins over Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, and Tony Ferguson, three fighters who appear on our list this year, including someone ranked within the top 15 in Poirier.
Heading Into 2022: If “Do Bronx” is to pick up another finish, he’s going to have to go through hell to get it done. The warmonger that is Justin Gaethje now awaits him.
#5: Israel Adesanya
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Although it’s true that Israel Adesanya went 1-1 in 2021 while Charles Oliveira is unbeaten in 10 fights, it’s the fact that Israel Adesanya is 21-0 in his division that makes him extremely tough to top in the “likelihood to win a fight” category. And he earned this record through hard work, blood, sweat, and tears from the dirt.
Additionally, in terms of name value, Adesanya may have the strongest résumé in middleweight history, with wins over Anderson Silva, Yoel Romero, Kelvin Gastelum, and three names on our list: Marvin Vettori (2), Paulo Costa, Derek Brunson, and the biggest reason for his placement: his dominant second-round KO of our 11th-ranked fighter, Robert Whittaker in 2019.
Adesanya’s loss to Jan Blachowicz affects his points earned in category #1, but he mitigated some of the damage there with his unanimous decision victory over Vettori after the fact.
Heading Into 2022: Israel Adesanya will now look to defeat Robert Whittaker for a second time when the two meet next month at UFC 271.
#4: Alexander Volkanovski
Reasoning Behind Ranking: There are two primary reasons behind Alexander Volkanovski’s placement as our #4th ranked fighter:
1) He has defeated two names ranked very high on our list: José Aldo (#20) and two wins over our #9-ranked fighter, Max Holloway.
2) The man has not lost a fight since 2013 and is on a nice, round, 20-fight winning streak. And if there was any doubt about this man’s will to win and his likelihood to survive anything put in front of him, there was this moment:
In round 3 of his successful title defense over another fighter on our list, Brian Ortega (#39), Alexander Volkanovski showed what lies down under: the unyielding will of a champion. After witnessing that and considering that he is undefeated in the UFC and also undefeated as a featherweight, it’s clear that Volkanovski is one of the very best fighters on planet Earth.
Heading Into 2022: Alexander Volkanovski will look to add yet another name to his résumé when he takes on The Korean Zombie at UFC 273 in April. If he gets through that, he could be looking at the trilogy fight against Max Holloway that was originally planned for “The Great.”
#3: Francis Ngannou
Reasoning Behind Ranking: People are so caught up in how “scary” Ngannou is as a knockout artist that they neglect to give full recognition to his body of work and résumé.
At this moment, Ngannou has victories over Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem, Andre Arlovski, and three names on our list this year: Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Curtis Blaydes, and of course, the primary reason for his placement: his redemptive and brutal KO of the consensus heavyweight GOAT, Stipe Miocic.
And here’s the thing. Ngannou didn’t just use brute KO power to get it done. He outskilled Miocic on the feet throughout the fight and, what’s most frightening of all, he even outgrappled him.
Perhaps what’s most taken for granted about Ngannou’s career is the fact that most of the legends he’s defeated, he’s done so within minutes. Whenever you can say you’ve knocked out Junior dos Santos, Curtis Blaydes, experienced kickboxer Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and the legendary Cain Velasquez all within a total combined time of approximately three minutes, you might just be a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Heading Into 2022: Another year, a fresh new batch of targets in his sights. Here comes The Predator.
Francis Ngannou may have the toughest fight of his career from a pure skill standpoint when he takes on the magnificent Ciryl Gane next Saturday at UFC 270. With a dominant victory there, we may have to begin two conversations: potential heavyweight GOAT and pound-for-pound #1 status.
#2: Valentina Shevchenko
Reasoning Behind Ranking: When you step into an arena with Valentina Shevchenko’s name on the marquee, there are three things you know for certain: you’re going to see a Lezginka, you’re going to be left mesmerized, and somebody’s gonna get their head kicked in tonight.
When it comes to “likelihood to win a fight” and even career trajectory, Valentina Shevchenko is untouchable in points earned because there have been no signs whatsoever that she will stop doing what she’s doing. Since 2018, Shevchenko has proven to be the most dominant champion in the UFC with room to spare, truly finding her home at 125.
One thing that’s holding her back is the fact that many of her opponents were overmatched. However, let’s not forget that she does hold victories over former UFC champions Jéssica Andrade and Joanna Jędrzejczyk. And even outside of flyweight, her body of work includes wins over former bantamweight champion Holly Holm and reigning bantamweight champion Julianna Peña, who placed #21 on her list. And in her only UFC losses to Amanda Nunes, both fights were competitive, especially the split-decision loss in 2017.
Also, from a pure skill standpoint, she has shown no weaknesses and has continued to sharpen her toolset every year, arguably becoming the most fundamentally sound, technical, and well-rounded fighter on the UFC roster.
Heading Into 2022: There’s likely more dominance to come in 2022, but The Bullet’s next victim has yet to be selected.
#1: Kamaru Usman
Reasoning Behind Ranking: The undisputed UFC welterweight champion, the record-holder for most consecutive wins in the welterweight division, the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, Kamaru Usman has the juice, the sauce, and all them things.
Let’s break down why Kamaru Usman is our #1-ranked fighter category by category.
- Recent Performances: In 2021 alone, Usman began the year by surviving arguably the most adversity he’s ever faced in the UFC after getting quasi-dropped by Gilbert Burns, only to put on an absolute clinic from that point forward.
He then followed that up with what fans on UFC’s Twitter page voted as the Knockout of the Year at UFC 261 over Jorge Masvidal.
He then defeated one of the best fighters on the UFC roster for the second time, our #17-ranked fighter, Colby Covington.
- Career Trajectory: Having nearly cleaned out the division at 34 years old, Usman’s career is now trending towards potential GOAT status. In fact, out of everyone on the UFC roster, he is arguably the closest towards reaching this recognition.
- Body of Work/Résumé: As noted, Usman has practically cleaned out his division. And throughout his legendary career, he holds wins over Colby Covington (2), Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal (2), Leon Edwards, Tyron Woodley, Rafael dos Anjos, Sean Strickland, and Demian Maia. Five of those names appear on our list this year, and a minimum of two of them are likely to be Hall of Famers. This murderer’s row is the primary reason Usman was placed over Shevchenko.
- The other reason Usman was placed over Shevchenko is because of his flawless UFC winning percentage.
Kamaru Usman has the highest winning percentage in the entire history of the UFC. So when it comes to “likelihood to win a fight,” there’s that.
Heading Into 2022: As of yesterday, Kamaru Usman’s next “lapee” in the welterweight division will potentially be Leon Edwards, as that is who UFC President Dana White confirmed is next in line for the champion.
So there you have it! That concludes the inaugural MMA News Top 100 UFC Fighters list! How did we do?! Let us know what you think in the comments section, and you can expect to hear back! Happy debating!