MMA 2021 Year in Review: Fight of the Year

Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, UFC 268
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 06: (R-L) Justin Gaethje punches Michael Chandler in their lightweight fight during the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Coronavirus pandemic, year two. The world has opened up again. Well, sort of. The delta variant is waning; say hello to Omicron. Well, despite the pandemic still dragging on, 2021 felt just a little more normal than the previous year, at least in the MMA world. Promotions ventured out a little more. Fans returned, at least at a handful of events. And there were some very, very good fights.

One fight stood out above all the rest. As soon as it was announced, you sort of knew it would. That might be spoiling the surprise, but really, no one should be shocked at our 2021 Fight of the Year.

Fight of the Year 2021

Jay Anderson: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler lived up to the hype. It was exactly what we wanted it to be. Gaethje is truly the most entertaining fighter in the sport these last few years. There were some good second options, like Ponzinibbio vs. Baeza, which was my second choice, but the stakes were much higher for Gaethje vs. Chandler.

Farzin Vousoughian: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler: this fight was the most hyped in terms of action-packed fights and it delivered. Two former lightweight champions outside of the UFC gave it all they had, just as fans expected.

Eddie Law: Justin Gaehje vs. Michael Chandler,  UFC 268. One of the most exciting back-and-forth brawls between two badass lightweights looking to punch their ticket to a title. When that fight ended, NOBODY was sitting down and the ‘Just Bleed’ crowd couldn’t get enough.

Alex Behunin: Gaethje vs. Chandler – This is my fight of the year because it had so much expectations and it completely lived up to them. Both guys went to war, and it reminded everyone why MMA is the best sport in the world.

Gabriel Gonzalez: Gaethje vs Chandler. The fact that this one stood out during a run where there were four consecutive weeks with Fight of the Year candidates should tell you everything you need to know.  The fact that it lived up to the hype, provided a rally from Gaethje following serious trouble in the first round, and the fact that a possible shot at the lightweight title was on the line put it above the other great battles on my list.

Justin Gibbons: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega was such an exciting fight and has to be my fight of the year. Both men showcased how tough they were at UFC 266. The fact that this fight went to a decision is truly a testament to how durable both Volkanovski and Ortega are. Volkanovski vs. Ortega is a fight that left me wanting more.

Michael Lynch: Gaethje-Chandler is the fight of the year. In one word: banger.

Josh Evanoff: Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje. Very rarely in MMA do fights get hyped to the heavens and then deliver. Against all odds, the UFC 268 bout delivered and somehow succeed expectations in a fight that will be replayed for years to come.

Bryson Hester: My pick for fight of the year is Max Holloway vs Yair Rodriguez. This just beats out my second place fight of Justin Gatheje vs Michael Chandler thanks to Holloway vs Rodriguez being 5 rounds of nonstop edge of your seat action and having a variety of kicks and ground fighting incorporated.

Shawn Bitter: To me it’s between Alexander Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega and Justin Gaethje vs Michael Chandler. It has to be Gaethje and Chandler. Both guys brought it right off the rip. It’s a fight that had it all and showed the heart of both guys. Both had huge moments in the fight and somehow went three rounds. The only bad thing about this fight was that it was only three rounds.

Daniel Vreeland: Gaethje/Chandler. There were some longer fights that delivered this year, and some that were more technical. But this is one of those fights that lived up to expectations in a perfect way. There wasn’t a single dull moment in this fight.

Dan Doherty: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler. It would be silly to pick anything else. A pair of lightweights who were the best fighters outside the UFC for a long time finally met in the Octagon and it delivered. Both men emptied the tank to the fullest degree as near-finishes came often. This was the type of fight you show friends who are interested in the sport.

End result: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler takes Fight of the Year by a landslide. No title on the line, but a title shot, and the All-Violence 2021 title, if that’s a thing (and it should be). This is the second time Gaethje has claimed our Fight of the Year, the first being back in 2017.