Happy New Year, fight fans! To kick off our 20th anniversary, we will be rolling out the MMA News Top 100 UFC fighters of 2021 throughout the month of January 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! You can view Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Part 3 begins right now!
#80: Chris Daukaus
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Coming in at #80, Chris Daukaus is ranked just above Tai Tuivasa (#82) and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (#81) despite having much less UFC experience. That is because, unlike the aforementioned heavy hitters, the power in Daukaus’ punches knocked out two men this year who have been ranked in the promotion: Alexey Oleynik and Shamil Abdurakhimov.
Furthermore, Daukaus’ only loss in the UFC was against the #3-ranked Derrick Lewis. We will find out if Tuivasa will fare any better against The Black Beast at UFC 272.
In the meantime, Daukaus’ two KO wins over proven opponents along with winning five of his last six fights, each by KO, is why the former Philadelphia police officer is our #80-ranked fighter of 2021.
Heading Into 2022: At the start of 2021, Daukas was 2-0 in the UFC and ready for a big step up in competition. By the finish of his second KO and Performance of the Night win of 2021, everybody knew his name. Daukaus is currently ranked #7 in the UFC’s heavyweight division and will be looking to bounce back from his KO loss to Lewis the next time he enters the Octagon.
#79: Kai Kara-France
Reasoning Behind Ranking: In 2021, Kai Kara-France was sure to get one message across loud and clear: Don’t Blink. Two first-round knockouts and two Performance of the Night bonuses make Kai Kara-France our #79 fighter of 2021. The 28-year-old is currently only ranked #6 at flyweight, but unlike all the flyweights ranked above him, Kara-France holds a KO victory over a former UFC champion: Cody Garbrandt.
In addition to his blinkless picture-perfect 2021, Kara-France has won three of his last four fights overall and has a 6-2 UFC record.
Heading Into 2022: Kai Kara-France will now set his sights on a title eliminator against Askar Askarov at the March 26 UFC Fight Night event.
#78: Marlon Vera
Reasoning Behind Ranking: You can add Marlon Vera to the 2021 Undefeated Club, with “Chito” spittin’ out buck shots to two victims with a pair of performance bonuses for his bounty. First, Vera outgunned Davey Grant in the Fight of the Night of UFC on ESPN: The Korean Zombie vs. Ige. Next, he turned in a viral KO of former champion and UFC legend Frankie Edgar, which is the primary reason behind his placement at #78.
Vera also holds a victory over our #87-ranked fighter, “Sugar” Sean O’Malley from 2020.
Heading Into 2022: Marlon Vera enters 2022 ranked #8 in one of the deepest divisions in the UFC at bantamweight. His next fight is up in the air, but one man he’s expressed interest in is former foe “Sugar” Sean O’Malley in a rematch of their 2020 bout that saw an ending that left many wanting more answers.
#77: Geoff Neal
Reasoning Behind Ranking: While it’s true that Geoff Neal picked up a victory over a ranked opponent in 2022, the main reason behind his ranking on our list is his résumé of a 50% finish rate in the UFC and once holding a seven-fight win streak, including a major win over someone who will be appearing later on our list, Belal Muhammad. At 31 years old, Neal still has time to make an even bigger splash in the deep welterweight talent pool.
Heading Into 2022: After defeating Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC 269, Neal finds himself ranked #12 in the welterweight division. His next opponent is unknown, but after three straight fights that went to a decision, Neal’s Handz of Steel are itching to revert to laying out his opponents like hypnosis.
#76: Calvin Kattar
Reasoning Behind Ranking: With only one fight in 2021 in what was a one-sided beatdown in favor of his opponent, Max Holloway, it certainly wasn’t the “recent performances” category that netted Kattar his #76 placement. However, let’s not pretend that this loss was not against arguably the greatest featherweight in UFC history.
In terms of body of work and likelihood to win a fight, Kattar’s overall record of 22-5 is one of the more impressive in the division and is no doubt a strong reason why he is ranked in the top 5 at featherweight.
In the UFC, Kattar is 6-3, with four of those six wins coming by way of finishes, including victories over the following respected names: Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Andre File, Shane Burgos, and Dan Ige. Additionally, two of his three losses in the UFC (Holloway and Zabit Magomedsharipov) have won Fight of the Night.
Heading Into 2022: After getting bruised up by Blessed to kick off the 2021 UFC season, Kattar will arrive in Las Vegas prepared to rise like the New Orleans sun above the brand-new horizon that is 2022. He will again kick off the UFC’s season this year when he faces Giga Chikadze next Saturday at UFC Vegas 46. This time, he’ll be the one hoping to lead the battering dance.
#75: Neil Magny
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Magny went 1-1 in 2021, but one of those wins was an impressive, unanimous decision win over our #77 ranked fighter, Geoff Neal. Additionally, Magny has won four of his last five fights, with each being unanimous decisions. In terms of résumé, you’re looking at a man who holds victories over names like Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, Kelvin Gastelum, and former world champion Robbie Lawler.
Heading Into 2022: Coming off his aforementioned victory over Geoff Neal, Neil Magny’s next assignment is undetermined. One thing we have learned from Magny over the years is that he will sign any contract in a heartbeat and he’ll do it with absolutely no regrets. Magny is currently ranked #8 in the UFC’s welterweight division.
#74: Gregor Gillespie
Reasoning Behind Ranking: In his lone fight in 2021, Gregor Gillespie arrived like a man unashamed of his first defeat, proving that he still has The Gift. Prior to his loss to Kevin Lee in 2019, Gillespie had established himself as one of the biggest and brightest prospects at 155 lbs. The Division I All-American wrestler was 6-0 in the UFC with five of the six wins being finishes. Frankly, many thought that we’d be seeing Gillespie challenging for a world title by now, with many wondering how he would have fared against the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov.
After being knocked out by Lee in 2019, Gillespie took over a year off from competition before bouncing back with yet another stoppage, this time against formerly ranked lightweight Carlos Diego Ferreira.
Heading Into 2022: Gregor Gillespie is currently ranked at #10 in the lightweight division. If Gillespie had it his way, his next opponent will be Tony Ferguson, whom he has called out in a somewhat uncharacteristic fashion.
#73: Edson Barboza
Reasoning Behind Ranking: With over a decade in the UFC under his belt, Edson Barboza has managed to remain relevant. During this lengthy stretch, the Brazilian has picked up victories over names like Paul Felder, Anthony Pettis, Beneil Dariush, Dan Hooker, and many others.
Although Barboza has never fought for, let alone won a title like some of the other veterans he is ranked above on this list, he has always managed to bounce back when faced with hardships like a true-life Rocky Balboa and has thus remained a fixture in MMA’s most competitive promotion. In 2021, Barboza went 1-1, with a KO victory over Shane Burgos and a loss to Giga Chikadze in his most recent bout.
Heading Into 2022: The 35-year-old Barboza will begin this year ranked at #10 in the featherweight division. He is scheduled to face Bryce Mitchell on March 5. Mitchell did not make this year’s list due to him not being active in 2021.
#72: Movsar Evloev
Reasoning Behind Ranking: If you want someone who is flying under the radar and right under your nose, it’s this dude. Movsar Evloev has one of the most efficient fighting styles in the UFC as evident by his flawless 15-0 record. His hard-nosed style carries the melody of the mountains that has proven to be a safe play for gambling sharps to push. Evloev’s 5-0 run hasn’t been against easy opponents. He’s beaten game opponents like Enrique Barzola and Nik Lentz as well as fellow prospects Mike Grundy and, most recently, Hakeem Dawodu.
Heading Into 2022: Movsar Evloev will begin his 2022 campaign against our #86-ranked fighter, Ilia Topuria. Topuria arguably has a better win than any of Evloev’s by defeating Ryan Hall, but Evloev has four more victories on his undefeated record. If Topuria gets the win over Evloev, he’ll almost assuredly be ranked higher next year. If Evloev wins….and keeps winning…then there’s no telling where this Russian will land on next year’s list.
#71: Arman Tsarukyan
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Arman Tsarukyan has two losses on his 17-2 record. One of them took place in 2015. The other was against Islam Makhachev. So let’s just say we’re not faulting him too much for those losses, especially when you consider that he managed to be relatively competitive against Makhachev in an exquisite contest that won Fight of the Night in 2019.
When you have a Fight of the Night against Makhachev as opposed to being on the wrong side of a Performance of the Night…and you do so at 22 years old…you might just be a bonafide prospect of the highest degree.
Since that loss in his UFC debut to Makhachev, Tsarukyan has gone 4-0 in the UFC, including wins over much more experienced names like Olivier Aubin-Mercier, 3rd-degree Brazilian black belt Davis Ramos, and a Performance of the Night TKO over Christos Giagos in September.
Heading Into 2022: Arman Tsarukyan’s young MMA career has shown that the sky is the limit for the Armenian-Russian. This Master of Sport in MMA and wrestling is currently ranked #13 at lightweight and is scheduled to face Joel Álvarez on February 26, 2022. He had hoped to be fighting Dan Hooker, but Hooker has committed to dropping down to featherweight. He also agreed to fight Gregor Gillespie, but that fight never came to fruition, either.
Like many elite rising contenders before him, it may be a long climb up the ranks for Tsarukyan due to the ol’ “high-risk, low-reward” dilemma that he poses to his peers. But if he remains active in 2022, you can just close your eyes and imagine where he might be placed on our list next year.