There are still several candidates to become the UFC or MMA “fight of the year” remaining on the 2021 calendar.
Some of the best bouts on paper failed to live up to the billing so far, but last week’s Derrick Lewis versus Ciryl Gane fight could give way to a strong finish to the MMA schedule. Here’s a look at a few possible front runners to steal the show on upcoming cards.
6 Major UFC and MMA fight left in 2021
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan II
In March, the UFC bantamweight title clash between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling was among the most anticipated fights of the year. When the two meet again at UFC 267 in October, it will once again be one that MMA fans circle on the calendar.
The first fight brought extensive controversy, as an illegal knee from Yan turned what looked like a title defense into a disqualification, and Sterling taking the championship belt in the process. The war of words is already bringing sparks in the buildup to the rematch. By UFC 267, look for bad blood to boil over as Sterling and Yan fight once more to determine who will reign supreme in the UFC’s star-studded bantamweight division.
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington II
In another highly anticipated UFC championship rematch, UFC welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman will face heated rival and former interim UFC champion Colby Covington in the main event of UFC 268 in November
Usman won the pair’s first meeting by fifth-round technical knockout in what was one of the biggest fights and moments of 2019. Since then Usman has added another three dominant title defenses to his resume against Jorge Masvidal (twice) and Gilbert Burns.
It may be hard to find two opponents more at odds and evenly matched than Usman and Covington, whose war of words has continued since their first fight. Come UFC 268, fans will get to see the second act in what has become one of the sport’s marquee rivalries.
Vadim Nemkov vs. Anthony Johnson
In the semifinals of the Bellator light heavyweight Grand Prix, champion Vadim Nemkov will defend his title against former two-time UFC title challenger Anthony Johnson in the main event of Bellator 268.
Nemkov, who won the title off of former champion Ryan Bader a year ago, and defended it in a rematch with Phil Davis most recently, hasn’t lost since 2016. On the strength of his current eight-fight winning streak, replete with victories over past and current UFC talent, Nemkov is making a strong case as one of the sport’s elite light heavyweights.
A win over the terrifyingly powerful Johnson — who knocked out Jose Augusto Azevedo in his May Bellator debut — would go a long way toward establishing legitimacy with more casual MMA fans. Johnson’s power and his potential to finally clinch a major title, as well as the Grand Prix implications of the title fight, make this a must-see booking come October.
Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez
Who doesn’t love seeing two of the sport’s most entertaining strikers throw down for five rounds? When former UFC champion Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez meet in November, that’s exactly what MMA fans will get.
After losing his title to Alexander Volkanovski, and coming up short in their rematch by way of two close decisions, Holloway put on a performance for the ages against Calvin Kattar on the UFC’s debut on ABC. The five-round masterclass saw Holloway break the promotional record for strikes and significant strikes landed, and striking differential in a single fight.
Rodriguez hasn’t fought since 2019, with injuries and a USADA suspension keeping the exciting Mexican featherweight away from the Octagon for some time. He is on a three-fight unbeaten streak since a loss to Frankie Edgar in 2017 and most recently dispatched of Jeremy Stephens in his last bout.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Tim Johnson
He’s undoubtedly past his athletic and competitive prime, yet every time Fedor Emelianenko fights, he’ll make lists like these. The Russian heavyweight legend is slated to compete at Bellator 269 against Tim Johnson in October in what could very well be his last fight, as he competes in front of his countrymen in Moscow.
Emelianenko’s career is the stuff of legend, and the former PRIDE FC heavyweight champion’s resume boasts impressive names and unforgettable fights. As his career winds down, Bellator has booked the GOAT candidate in his native Russia for Bellator 269. Making this one a truly special occasion.
He’ll face Johnson, who came up short in a bout for the interim Bellator heavyweight championship in his last outing. Prior to the loss to Emelianenko protege Valentin Moldavsky, Johnson had won three straight fights against fighters currently in the promotion’s heavyweight top-10 rankings.
Brendan Loughnane vs. Movlid Khaybulaev
The 2021 PFL season has been rolling along, and it’s been action-packed, to say the least. When Brendan Loughnane and Movlid Khaybulaev face off in the main event of PFL Playoffs 3 this month, fans will get the bang for their buck.
Loughnane became a household name when, despite an incredible performance, UFC President Dana White elected not to sign him to the promotion off a win on Dana White’s Contender Series. PFL was the biggest beneficiary of this decision, as Loughnane has won four straight fights under their banner after joining the league in 2019.
He will have his hands full against Khaybulaev, who stands at 17-0-1. Khaybulaev has won three straight since a 2019 no-contest against UFC veteran Daniel Pineda. Including his most recent outing being a win over former two-time PFL champion Lance Palmer.
For both its playoff significance and sheer action potential, this fight is a must-watch for MMA fans in August.
–Field Level Media