The five best UFC fights of 2021 including Gaethje's war with Chandler and Max Holloway's beatdown of Kattar

THE UFC provided some truly unforgettable fights this year – many of which are still on the tips of the tongues of combat sports fans.

MMA fans were treated to a plethora of iconic bouts that will live long in the memory.

So SunSport thought it'd only be right to recap the top-five fights of what proved to be another stellar year for the MMA leader.


Justin Gaethje vs Michael Chandler

As soon as the battle of fan favourites Gaethje and Chandler was announced,fireworks were expected. And boy did the pair deliver.

The former lightweight title challengers collided on the main card of UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden.

And their showdown was like two hurricanes crashing into one another.

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Both men went for broke from the get-go and rocked each other several times in the first round. Gaethje, however, took control in the second when he dropped Chandler with a picture-perfect uppercut.

Chandler, to his credit, somehow managed to survive the storm and continued to plod forward like a man possessed.

Both men ended the fight battered and bruised and had to be transported to the hospital following their war for the ages.

Alexander Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega

The long-awaited meeting of featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and former title challenger Brian Ortega was well and truly worth the wait.

The most recent Ultimate Fighter coaches clashed in the main event of UFC 266 in Las Vegas and turned in one of the best bouts in the history of the 145lb division.

Australia's second UFC champ was picking apart Ortega until he got dropped in the third and trapped in a guillotine – T-City's signature move.

The end of Volkanovski's reign as featherweight king looked imminent, but he somehow managed to battle through the vice-like choke and the ensuing triangle attempt.

The Great came roaring back in the fourth and nearly finished the fight with a brutal barrage of ground and pound that left Ortega bloodied.

Ortega somehow survived the onslaught and made it to the fifth round, although he had nothing more to give in his bid to dethrone the imperious Volko.

Max Holloway vs Calvin Kattar

Max Holloway closed out the first UFC card of the year with an absolutely stunning individual performance in his featherweight showdown with Calvin Kattar.

Many fight fans tipped slick boxer Kattar to give the Hawaiian one of his toughest tests outside of champion Volkanovski, but boy were they wrong.

Blessed put on an absolute clinic against the Bostonian, who he bloodied up with a UFC record 445 strikes.

The 29-year-old pieced up Kattar with his slick boxing and use of elbows in close range.

And he provided a sensational viral moment when he looked to the commentary team mid-fight and declared himself the 'best boxer in the UFC' as he stunningly dodged six punches.

Although the fight was a one-sided beatdown, Holloway's masterclass on Fight Island was undoubtedly one of the stand-out moments of the year.

Petr Yan vs Cory Sandhagen

Following an injury to bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, former titleholder Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen ended up vying for the interim belt in the co-main event of UFC 267 in October.

Fans were drooling at the stylistic match-up as soon as the fight was announced. And both men well and truly delivered in their Abu Dhabi dust-up.

Russian wrecking machine Yan showcased his wide array of striking with several unorthodox combinations – many of which did the rounds on Twitter the following day.

But the Sandman Sandhagen didn't let the former champ have things his own way and gave No Mercy the toughest test of his UFC stint.

The judges ultimately preferred Yan's handiwork, although Sandhagen's stock rose tremendously with his valiant display – which he turned in on only five weeks' notice.

Amanda Nunes vs Julianna Pena

The penultimate title fight of 2021 between defending women's bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes and underdog Julianna Pena provided the biggest upset in UFC history.

After being dominated in the first round, Ultimate Fighter season 18 winner Pena rallied in the second and went to war with the dominant champion.

Pandemonium ensued when the Venezuelan Vixen began tagging Nunes with stiff jabs and finding a home for her right hand.

Nunes came roaring back like the Lioness she is and stung the challenger with heavy shots of her own.

But determined to get her hands on UFC gold, Pena dug deep and stayed in the fire.

A cracking right hand just after the three-minute mark sent a tired and rocked Nunes into a desperation mode, so much so she shot for a takedown.

Pena stuffed the attempt and quickly transitioned to the back before blowing the roof off the T-Mobile Arena by sinking in a rear-naked choke and forcing the seeming unstoppable Brazilian to begrudgingly submit to her will.


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