The UFC began their 2021 slate on Fight Island, with three events in January. They return in February with four events in four weeks in Las Vegas, with several non-main event bouts that deserve your attention.
The four February UFC events include three Fight Night events, and one pay-per-view, UFC 258. This precedes a March in which the promotion will host two pay-per-views, with a combined seven titles held by fighters currently scheduled to fight on the cards.
Despite the packed March schedule, the four events in February aren’t too shabby themselves. Of course, that’s as of this writing. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a fight isn’t happening until the fighters are locked in the cage.
Depending on the shade of glasses, every fight could be considered interesting on paper. But these are non-main event matchups that stand-out from the rest, checking all of the boxes that make us tune in each week.
UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Volkov on February 6
Yeah, Alistair Overeem fighting Alexander Volkov is in the main event on the first card of the month. But “The People’s Main Event” is clearly Frankie Edgar versus Cory Sandhagen.
The legendary Edgar earned a split decision win over Pedro Munhoz in his bantamweight debut last year, inserting himself into the 135-pound title-picture. Meanwhile, Sandhagen, lost to future title challenger Aljamain Sterling over the summer, before a dominant victory against Marlon Moraes to close out the year.
Now, Edgar (#4) and Sandhagen (#2) find themselves in the top-five of the division, needing another victory to secure the next shot at the winner of Yan-Sterling in March. It’s easy matchmaking, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
The same can be said for the Beneil Dariush-Carlos Deigo Ferreira bout on the same card. Both fighters are ranked in the lightweight division, and are on incredible runs.
Dariush has won five straight fights, two of which coming in 2020, with four finishes and three Performance of the Night bonuses during that span. All Ferreira has done is win six straight, one of which came in 2020, when he defeated former champion Anthony Pettis. Now, one of them will have their winning streak snapped, and set themselves up for a shot at a top-10 opponent later this year.
This event will also feature the UFC debut of former RIZIN FF bantamweight champion Manel Kape. He’ll be getting a tough test in fifth-ranked flyweight Alexandre Pantoja. Kape had multiple debut bouts canceled last year, and is finally making his Octagon debut, with a chance to enter the flyweight title-picture.
UFC 258: Usman vs. Burns on February 13
Breaking news: bantamweight is stacked. There are tough fights all over the place, and the title picture is as packed as ever. Avoiding losing streaks is a must for any fighter attempting to climb the rankings. That’s why the rematch from a 2015 split decision between #8 Pedro Munhoz and #9 Jimmie Rivera makes this list.
Munhoz is on a two-fight losing streak, following his KO victory over Garbrandt at UFC 235. His most recent loss was a close split decision to divisional debutant Edgar. Now, Munhoz faces a guy he lost to years ago in order to avoid a three losing streak. That guy, Rivera, snapped a two-fight losing skid of his own in his most recent bout.
That fight, a decision victory against Cody Stamann, was at featherweight last July. A win for Rivera gives him his first series of back-to-back victories since 2017, while a loss would make it three in four fights for the 31-year-old.
UFC 258 will also host the next chapter of Kelvin Gastelum’s confounding career. Last we saw Gastelum, he was getting heel hooked by Jack Hermansson in less than 90 seconds. That loss last July sent his losing streak to three fights.
Things don’t get much easier for the ninth-ranked Gastelum, as he gets #15 Ian Heinisch. Heinisch bounced back from a couple of losses with a first round TKO victory over Gerald Meerschaert at UFC 250 last June. He’s gone 3-2 since joining the promotion from the Contender Series in 2018, and a victory over Gastelum would get the steam going on the hype train that was slowed by Derek Brunson at UFC 241.
UFC Fight Night: Reyes vs. Prochazka on February 27
Former RFA featherweight title-holder Raoni Barcelos extended his unbeaten UFC run to 5-0 last year, and will be getting the toughest test of his career yet to begin 2021. That test: 21-fight UFC/WEC veteran Raphael Assuncao.
While Barcelos has already managed to impress throughout his UFC career, the 33-year-old Brazilian lacks a marquee victory. Although the tenth-ranked Assuncao is on a three fight losing streak, Barcelos joining the ranks of Cody Garbrandt, Sandhagen, and Marlon Moraes (the last three people to defeat Assuncao) would be a major step toward title contention in one of the toughest divisions in the sport.
Ranked bantamweights? Check. Former champions from other promotions? Check. Beneil Dariush? Check. Welp. There isn’t much else a week-to-week UFC fan could ask for. Throw in the fun slate of main event bouts, and the February events have our attention. Even with everyone looking forward to the two PPVs in March.