NOTE: 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, in essence, 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 read below.
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. In order to qualify for the list, a fighter must have competed at least once in 2021. Before we begin, here is a look at the criteria used in making this list:
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 down below, beginning with #90!
#90: Daniel Rodriguez
Reasoning Behind Ranking: With three victories in 2021, if this list were strictly about the year each fighter had, a case could be made that Rodriguez could crack the top 25 of our list, maybe higher. But even based on our criteria in this list, #90 is a conservative placement for Rodriguez, who is 6-1 in the UFC overall to go along with his flawless 2021 record. So why isn’t he ranked higher?
The win that most stands out for Rodriguez is his unanimous decision victory over Kevin Lee last August. However, Lee was very unproven and arguably undersized at welterweight. And other victories over Preston Parsons and Mike Perry (name recognition aside) weren’t notable enough to give him a higher placement or even a place in the UFC rankings, which loosely relates to his career trajectory. Rodriguez also lost to unranked veteran Nicolas Dalby via unanimous decision just last year.
Heading Into 2022: There is no denying that D-Rod will be pulling up to the entrance of 2022 with heavy momentum strapped to his back. And if he can replicate his 2021 success against some more proven and consistent welterweight competition, then not only will he keep earning more cash, but he’ll prove that being denied a spot in the UFC rankings and a higher spot in the MMA News year-end rankings just don’t make sense.
#89: Mackenzie Dern
Reasoning Behind Ranking: The numbers prove that Mackenzie Dern is one of the most respected fighters in the strawweight division. Dern is yet to be a betting underdog in any fight and has been as high as a -530 favorite during her UFC run. This respect helps her in category #3, which factors in how she is viewed by the public. Though she lost her most recent fight to Marina Rodriguez, it was a Fight of the Night-winning performance, and she has won four of her last five fights.
In terms of résumé, Dern has been able to win 7 of her 11 victories by submission, including three Performance of the Night wins in the UFC.
Heading Into 2022: Dern will be looking to execute more righteous submissions and take home more limbs as she steps into the new year. Dern is currently ranked #5 in the strawweight division and #14 in the UFC’s women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
#88: Nassourdine Imavov
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Landing a spot in the Top 100 over names like Tony Ferguson, Cody Garbrandt, and Darren Till isn’t bad at all for a 25-year-old, but it’s been earned by Nassourdine Imavov with his last two performances, which saw this UFC gladiator turned Russian Sniper mercilessly execute Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan.
In fact, Imavov is the only person to ever finish Henisch, who has proven to be one of the most durable fighters at middleweight. Both Heinisch and Shahbazyan have been ranked in the past, and these victories in addition to the fact that 9 of Imavov’s 11 wins being finishes speaks to his current career trajectory. Imavov did suffer one loss on the year, however, to Phil Hawes in a majority decision loss in February.
Heading Into 2022: Nassourdine Imavov enters the year ranked #12 in the middleweight division. Maybe after his last two performances, the betting odds will give him more separation from his opponents than he’s had in the lines thus far. And maybe this Russian will continue to earn respect with more finishes to come and a potential higher MMA News ranking in our 2022 list.
#87: Sean O’Malley
Reasoning Behind Ranking: “The Sugar Show” arrives at #87 on our list in what was a very tricky placement. On one hand, O’Malley’s recent performances are top-50 worthy, and he has never appeared overmatched throughout the course of an entire fight. His 15-1 record’s only glitch came from an ending that was arguably a matter of circumstance more than Marlon Vera’s intentional precision.
The biggest factor that puts O’Malley here is that he’s earned 12 of his 15 wins by finish, including five of his seven UFC victories.
O’Malley went 3-0 in 2021 with all three wins by KO/TKO.
Heading Into 2022: The question on everyone’s mind is: How will O’Malley stand up to tougher competition? It’s one of the most exciting questions entering the year for MMA fans as a whole. We shall certainly find out. In the meantime, O’Malley is ranked #12 at bantamweight, and his highly anticipated next opponent has not yet been uncloaked.
#86: Ilia Topuria
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Although Ilia Topuria is currently on the outskirts of the UFC’s featherweight rankings, he was previously ranked in 2021 and is 3-0 in the promotion with a flawless 11-0 career record overall.
Additionally, Topuria holds a victory over one of the most feared men in his division, grappling standout Ryan Hall. In that contest, Topuria was able to act as both the bull and the Matador when roping in a knockout of Hall in what was the American’s first loss in the UFC.
The primary reason Topuria is not ranked higher is because of his low sum total of fights. However, his well-rounded skillset has earned him respect from the oddsmakers, and there is major room for ascension for Topuria in next year’s list.
Heading Into 2022: Topuria has his first fight of the year booked when he takes on fellow prospect Movsar Evloev at UFC 270, where someone’s 0 will have to go. A victory here will most likely bring Topuria back into the UFC rankings and possibly even score him a top-10 opponent after that.
#85: Dan Hooker
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Dan Hooker could have very easily missed this year’s list altogether. Instead, he finds himself ranked over accomplished names like Tyron Woodley and Tony Ferguson and over prospects like Sean O’Malley and Ilia Topuria. The difference between being unlisted and his #86 spot comes down to the fact that Hooker did pick up a win in 2021 unlike the proven names. As for the prospects and the others, how many names beneath him would be expected to fare any better against Islam Makhachev or Dustin Poirier?
Hooker’s résumé is somewhat underrated, as the New Zealander holds wins over Paul Felder, Al Iaquinta, Jim Miller, and perhaps the biggest reason why he’s ranked where he is: a TKO win over someone placed much higher on this list: Gilbert Burns.
That said, it’s no mystery why he isn’t ranked higher. Hooker has lost three of his last four fights, two of which coming by first-round stoppage, first to Michael Chandler, then to Makhachev.
Heading Into 2022: Hooker’s current ranking at #8 in arguably the deepst division in the UFC (lightweight) adds further validity to his placement at #85 on our list. The New Zealander will now be returning to featherweight, however, where he’ll look to drop down and resume his Hangman ways.
#84: Michael Chiesa
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Michael Chiesa is the first person on our list who won a main event in 2021. That victory came over someone who will appear later, Neil Magny, and it was arguably the most impressive performance of Chiesa’s career. That along with the three prior welterweight victories earned by Chiesa, including over former UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos, is what earned “Maverick” this placement.
Of course, this credentialed grappler would be forced to release his initial strangehold of the welterweight division after back-to-back losses against Vicente Luque and Sean Brady. This is what prevented the #10-ranked welterweight from a higher position.
Heading Into 2022: Overall, Michael Chiesa has still been successful at welterweight with a UFC record of 4-2 in the division. At one point last year, his name was floated around as a potential opponent for Kamaru Usman. He’ll have some work to do in 2022 if that convo is to be brought back up again anytime soon.
#83: Amanda Ribas
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Despite her setback to #3-ranked strawweight Marina Rodriguez, Amanda Ribas’ career trajectory remains one of the most promising at 115. Her record in the promotion is 5-1, including a victory over our #89-ranked fighter, Mackenzie Dern, and she has some effective striking to match her elite ground game. In her most recent contest, Ribas defeated the current 11-ranked strawweight Virna Jandiroba via unanimous decision.
More than anything, it’s the impressive skill set that Ribas contains along with some evidence-backed results that land her at #83, and she remains one of the brightest prospects in the promotion, similar to Sean O’Malley who also has one recent defeat. In Ribas’ case, however, she holds two wins over ranked opponents.
Heading Into 2022: Amanda Ribas enters the year ranked #9 in the division. If you eat, sleep, and drink positive energy the way Amanda Ribas does, it should be easy to remind yourself that you were up one dominant round prior to your lone loss inside the Octagon against Marina Rodriguez. If she can clean up some defensive deficiencies while remaining at her aggressive, high-energy best, it’s easy to imagine Ribas being a top-5 strawweight by year’s end or firmly in the title picture.
#82: Tai Tuivasa
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Tai Tuivasa went from the prospect list to the chopping block and now to the edge of the heavyweight top 10. Purely based on 2021 performance, Tai Tuivasa could be placed within the top 20 of our list. He went 3-0 on the year with all three wins by KO, including one over a ranked opponent in Augusto Sakai.
His previous setbacks against arguably his toughest opponents prevent Tuivasa from being higher than #82. However, the new-and-improved “Bam Bam” has now changed his recipe by fighting with some more control mixed in with the usual chaos. And as a result, he’s added some scary spice to the UFC’s heavyweight division.
12 of Tuivasa’s 13 career wins are by knockout, and this heavyweight sleeper may be a mind-numbing barbiturate for his opponents, but he continues to lift fans out of their seats with one knockout banger after another.
Heading Into 2022: If Tai Tuivasa can match his 2021 success in 2022, there’s going to be a lot more shooeys, a lot more partying, and a lot more respect in next year’s MMA News rankings. Make sure you follow this big, bad man from the walkout to the beer-laden exit, as every second that he’s on screen is unpredictable and must-see.
#81: Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Reasoning Behind Ranking: Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s placement over Tai Tuivasa is a strong example of why our list is not dependent solely on the year’s performances. Tuivasa went 3-0 in 2021 while Rozenstruik went 1-2. However, those two losses came against Curtis Blaydes (#4) and Ciryl Gane (#1), two men who would assuredly be strongly flavored over Tuivasa. And the one victory on the year for Rozenstruik came over Augusto Sakai in a TKO victory that predated Tuivasa’s win over him. Furthermore, Tuivasa’s other 2021 wins over Greg Hardy and Harry Hunsucker were against opponents Rozenstruik would also be expected to beat.
Because of his increasingly tentative style as of late, it’s easy to forget that Rozenstruik’s UFC résumé includes KO victories over three former UFC heavyweight champions. In fact, each of Rozenstruik’s six promotional wins have been by KO/TKO. That’s because whenever Bigi Boy unleashes and allows his hands to go psycho, his opponents are the ones who typically end up sedated.
Heading Into 2022: Rozenstruik remains ranked comfortably within the division’s top 10 at #7 and snuggly in the MMA News year-end rankings at #81. He is in an interesting spot in the heavyweight division at the moment. Coming off a lopsided loss to Curtis Blaydes and alternating wins and losses in his last five fights, Rozenstruik will more than likely be facing someone ranked beneath him in his next fight…perhaps against the aforementioned Tai Tuivasa to settle who is the better fighter and deserving of the higher MMA News ranking!
Stay tuned to find out who is next on the MMA News Top 100 Fighters Of 2021 in Part 3!