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!
#60: Arnold Allen
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Attention, UFC Featherweight Division: London’s Calling, and it’s ready to drown out the other voices at 145.
Arnold “Almighty” Allen is our #60-ranked fighter of 2021 because he has not lost a fight since 2014 and is undefeated in his seven-year UFC career. It’s just that simple. His victory over our #95-ranked fighter, Sodiq Yusff, is what really cemented his place on our list. At 17-1 and only 27 years old, the career trajectory of Allen is unmistakenly on the rise.
What’s preventing Allen from a higher place on the ranking are two factors. Though his record is impressive, his performances haven’t left too much of a footprint on the imaginations of the audience, with only two of his eight UFC wins being finishes, the most recent being four years ago. Furthermore, he is not overly feared by the oddsmakers and pundits, which is considered in our third category. For instance, Arnold was an underdog going into his most recent fight against Yusuff.
Heading Into 2022: Ranked at #7, Arnold Allen is theoretically only two fights away from potentially landing a world title shot. As it is, he is already on an eight-fight winning streak, so a case could be made that with the right win, that number could drop down to just one fight away. Where do YOU see Allen sitting in the UFC standings by the end of the year? It’s one of the quietest, yet most relevant questions in the featherweight division that could carry the loudest impact.
#59: Jorge Masvidal
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Jorge Masvidal was arguably the UFC’s Fighter of the Year in 2019. Had this list been in existence then, it would have been interesting to see where he’d have been placed. However, since becoming the inaugural BMF champion at UFC 244 in Madison Square Garden, Masvidal is yet to win a fight. There is absolutely no shame in that when you consider that the losses have come to the UFC”s pound-for-pound #1-ranked fighter, Kamaru Usman, but that doesn’t change the fact that his lack of activity and viral KO loss didn’t do him any favors in terms of this year’s list.
All that said, his placement at #59 is warranted because, aside from losing to Usman, he had won his there prior fights by viral finishes and has competed against the best in the world for multiple years now. Down from his toes all the way up to his face, the battle scars of this Miami native can be vicariously felt by viewers and directly felt and shared by his opponents. Not counting the Usman losses, Masvidal has won six of his last eight fights and has looked to be just as athletic and game as he’s ever been.
Heading Into 2022: Jorge Masvidal remains in the mix at welterweight ranked #6 in the division. He was originally expected to fight Leon Edwards next, but he has recently hinted that a long-awaited grudge match against former best buddy Colby Covington could be next instead.
#58: Stephen Thompson
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Entering 2021, many people wondered, “Just what is the secret to Wonderboy keeping all his majestic powers at 37 years old?” After turning 38, however, Thompson lost his 2021 fights decisively, first to Gilbert Burns and then to Belal Muhammad, both by unanimous decisions.
Nevertheless, Thompson still holds a win over our #59-ranked fighter, Jorge Masvidal, and also holds recent wins over two other names on our list: Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. In addition to that, at this point, Thompson has proven to be a legend in our sport and has been competing against the very best of the best since circa 2013, including a TKO victory over former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Heading Into 2022: After back-to-back losses and now pushing 40, Thompson may very well be in a must-win situation in 2022. One name who has thrown out his name as a potential opponent is Sean Brady.
#57: Merab Dvalishvili
Reasoning Behind Ranking: From the second a Merab Dvalishvili fight begins, his message to his opponent is unmistakable: “Welcome, my son, welcome to The Machine.” And from one part to the other, the machine operates nonstop. It doesn’t tire, malfunction, and it damn sure doesn’t break.
After beginning his UFC career at 0-2, Dvalishvii hasn’t looked back, turning in seven consecutive wins, including arguably the comeback of the year over Marlon Moraes at UFC 266.
Heading Into 2022: Merab Dvalishvili enters 2022 ranked #6 at bantamweight. During his win streak, he has picked up victories over Casey Kenney, former UFC title challenger John Dodson, Cody Stamann, and the aforementioned Marlon Moraes. Up next? Does it matter? Whomever the machine feeds him will be prepared to be spat out.
#56: Paulo Costa
Reasoning Behind Ranking: The last two years haven’t been kind to Paulo Costa, which makes this position very debatable if not controversial. First, Israel Adesanya made short work of the Brazilian at UFC 253 with an easy second-round KO. Then, Costa lost his next bout to Marvin Vettori after questionable fight-week conduct regarding his weight cutting.
Still, it’s important to remember that one of those two losses came against one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the promotion, and the other fight against Vettori might have won Fight of the Night if Costa’s fight-week antics didn’t all but disqualify him from that honor.
Regarding our criteria, one would be hard-pressed to find many fighters on the UFC roster, let alone the middleweight division, who would be considered more likely to win a fight by oddsmakers and pundits. The reason for that is fairly obvious: Costa has consistently marched forward like a terminator set to “Eraser Mode.” 11 of his 13 wins have been by knockout. And in terms of résumé and body of work, Costa has notable wins over Uriah Hall, Johny Hendricks, and of course, the great Yoel Romero, among others.
Heading Into 2022: Paulo Costa remains a top-5 middleweight directly at #5. There is currently no word on who will be his next opponent. At the moment, the larger story is about which division he will be competing in moving forward. Costa’s management insists that he will remain at middleweight while Dana White has mandated the Brazilian move up to light heavyweight after his latest scale issues.
#55: Yair Rodríguez
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Much like Paulo Costa, Yair Rodríguez hasn’t given our panel much to work with in terms of recent wins. But also like Costa, based on the eye test and likelihood to win a fight, Rodriguez has proven to be among the best in his division, especially considering that he is still only 29 years old.
Rodríguez also holds a quietly impressive résumé, with wins over names like Dan Hooker, Alex Caceres, B.J. Penn, Jeremy Stephens, and one of the most memorable knockouts in MMA history that came over someone higher on our list, The Korean Zombie, Chan Jung Sung.
Has Rodríguez been inactive over the past couple of years? Sure. But when he returned, Rodriguez made a Panther’s dash back to the Octagon in giving Max Holloway the toughest fight he’s had in years with the exception of current champion Alexander Volkanovski. In fact, a very strong case can be made that Rodríguez/Holloway was the 2021 Fight of the Year.
Heading Into 2022: Yair Rodríguez is currently ranked #3 at featherweight. Will the mysterious featherweight contender fight in 2022? If so, against whom? You’ll want to stay glued to MMA News for the latest update because, love him or hate him, Rodríguez has proven to be must-see TV and has earned respect with his blood spilled inside the Octagon.
#54: Rob Font
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Despite losing his most recent fight against the great José Aldo last month, Font has won four of his last five fights, including over former champion Cody Garbrandt and former title challenger Marlon Moraes. Additionally, he defeated another ranked bantamweight in Ricky Simon as well as the current Bellator bantamweight champ, Sergio Pettis.
In terms of overall performance, although Font does have five losses on his record, by street rules, one could argue that he has never truly tasted defeat because he’s never been turned into a metaphorical chalk outline via KO or TKO.
Heading Into 2022: Entering 2022, Rob Font is ranked #5 in one of the deepest divisions in the UFC. After his war with Aldo, he may decide to sit out for a while and bide his time before making his Octagon return.
#53: Belal Muhammad
Reasoning Behind Ranking: One of the quietest ascensions over the past two years has been Belal Muhammad. Muhammad began his UFC run at 1-2 and has had his share of close fights since then. It is perhaps for these reasons that many are overlooking the fact that he has won 10 of his last 11 bouts, sans the No-Contest result against Leon Edwards last March.
In fact, Muhammad is unbeaten in his last seven fights, including a one-sided victory over our #58-ranked fighter, Stephen Thompson. With this level of consistency, Muhammad has proven that his success is 0% luck and rather 100% reason to Remember the Name.
Heading Into 2022: If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Muhammad over the years, it’s that he is willing, eager, and ready to fight anyone, anywhere, and on any amount of notice. That said, even though he is now ranked #5 at welterweight, I wouldn’t expect him to guard his spot with caution but instead continue to throw himself toward the wolves without reservation.
#52: Alexandre Pantoja
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Coming in at #52 is #3-ranked flyweight Alexandre Pantoja. Pantoja’s 2021 campaign was a successful one, with the Brazilian going 2-0 on the year, including a Performance of the Night-winning victory over Brandon Royval at UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs. Gastelum in August. In terms of his career, many, many men have been left grounded by “The Cannibal,” with Pantoja gnawing at their records with a total of 17 of his 24 victories of his own coming by way of finish, including his rear-naked choke victory over Royval.
Pantoja has won six of his last eight bouts, and we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that he holds two victories over current champion Brandon Moreno (one official, one TUF/amateur). Suffice it to say, that was highly factored into our body of work/résumé category.
Heading Into 2022: There’s not too many places for Pantoja to go but either a title shot or title eliminator. In fact, Pantoja was originally scheduled to face the aforementioned Moreno in a championship bout, but Pantoja was forced to withdraw due to injury. Will he be returning to a title shot in 2022? Or will he have to take another fight?
It is unclear how long Pantoja will be sidelined, but in the meantime, the upcoming bout between Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France could serve as the title eliminator to settle who is next for the winner of Moreno/Figueiredo III.
#51: Alexander Volkov
Reasoning Behind Ranking: When it comes to dues paid, Alexander Volkov is one of the most established fighters on our list. With a total of 43 fights to his name and experience across multiple top-tier promotions, “Drago” has seen pretty much everything this game has to offer.
In terms of his body of work and résumé, he holds wins over names like Fabricio Werdum, Roy Nelson, Blagoy Ivanov, and most recently over Marcin Tybura at UFC 267. And in terms of recency, he has won three of his last four fights and is firmly in the heavyweight title picture ranked #5 in the division.
From a skillset and likelihood-to-win standpoint, Volkov has an extremely impressive finish rate of nearly 75%. And with 22 of those 34 finishes coming by knockout, Drago has shown that despite his usual technical and patience approach, he packs a very legitimate bang.
Heading Into 2022: Alexander Volkov’s only losses in the UFC have come against names that remain very much relevant in the division: interim champion Ciryl Gane, #4-ranked Curtis Blaydes, and KO king and #3-ranked Derrick Lewis. Also, despite his many years of experience, Volkov is still only 33 years old, which is considered a relatively vibrant age in the heavyweight division.
So 2022 will reveal if this veteran will move up or downward from his #5 position. Because with the many new faces and active veterans in the division, it’s difficult to see him remaining firm without movement in one direction or the other.
Stay tuned to find out who is next on the MMA News Top 100 Fighters Of 2021 in Part 6!