What were the biggest knockouts of 2021? Read on for our picks (and how we reported on them on fight night) as the highly unofficial awards season continues.
10 – Dustin Poirier-Conor McGregor 2
Former interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier made it a point to say in the lead-up to his rematch with Conor McGregor at UFC 257 that six years is a long time, and he was right, as the result of his second go-round with the Irish superstar was quite different than the first one, as he evened the score with a second-round TKO victory.
“I’m happy, but not surprised,” said Poirier, who was stopped in the first round by McGregor in their first bout in September 2014. “I put in the work.”
“Dustin is some fighter,” said McGregor, who made his first start since a win over Donald Cerrone in January 2020. “I need activity. You don’t get away with being inactive in this business.”
McGregor had success early, as he got in Poirier’s face immediately, yet after a brief exchange, Poirier scored a takedown 30 seconds into the fight. McGregor worked his way back to his feet and the two traded shoulder strikes as they battled in the clinch against the fence. With three minutes left, McGregor was still locked up, but he landed a few knees before breaking free with a little over 90 seconds to go. McGregor scored with a hard right hand that was answered by a hook from Poirier, both proceeding to go back and forth until the horn.
Poirier attacked McGregor’s leg to kick off round two, while McGregor’s punch accuracy continued to impress. Poirier took the shots well and stayed busy, and after stunning McGregor with a left hand against the fence, he unloaded with both hands, ultimately dropping the Irishman with a right hand. Another big right hand followed, and referee Herb Dean stepped in, stopping the fight at 2:32 of round two.
“We’re 1-1,” said Poirier. “Maybe we have to do it again.”
9 – Derrick Lewis-Curtis Blaydes
Derrick Lewis took a little while to get into a rhythm in his UFC Fight Night main event against Curtis Blaydes, but once he landed a flush shot in the second round, the fight was over, and the heavyweight contender had his fourth consecutive victory as he tied Vitor Belfort for most knockouts in UFC history.
Houston’s Lewis struck first with a right hand as Blaydes closed the distance in the opening minute, but in a subsequent sequence it was Blaydes getting the better of the exchange. In the second half of the round, Lewis threw a couple kicks to keep Blaydes at bay, but it was “Razor” consistently scoring well in the striking exchanges as his punches and kicks were on target, except for an inadvertent eye poke late that brought a brief halt to the action.
Blaydes came out throwing again in round two, but a subsequent takedown attempt was turned away by Lewis. But just when it seemed like the Illinois native was about to start taking control, he shot in and a single right hand from Lewis froze him and put him on the canvas. Two follow-up shots later and referee Herb Dean had stopped the fight. The official time was 1:26 of the second round.
8 – Chris Barnett-Gian Villante
Chris Barnett blew the roof off of Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, putting Gian Villante on the deck with a spinning wheel kick to the head, swarming the New Yorker with unanswered strikes to earn the finish midway through the second round.
The duo traded kicks at range throughout the opening five minutes and seemed poised to do the same early in the second, until Barnett pivoted, spun, and connected, capping the performance with a celebratory flip. Given the chance to speak with Joe Rogan following the victory, Barnett called on the MSG audience to give it up for the retiring Villante before breaking out a celebratory dance before exiting the Octagon.
Just a terrific performance in the cage and on the mic from “Beast Boy” as he secures his first UFC victory.
7 – Terrance McKinney-Matt Frevola
Eight days after an LFA win, newcomer Terrance McKinney made a spectacular short-notice debut in the Octagon, scoring the fourth fastest finish in UFC history with a seven-second finish of Matt Frevola.
As soon as the two lightweights were waved into battle, they touched gloves and then McKinney landed a quick 1-2 that put Frevola on the canvas. Seconds later, the follow-up barrage brought in referee Jason Herzog to stop the fight at :07 of the opening stanza, making it the fastest finish in UFC lightweight history.
6 – Francis Ngannou-Stipe Miocic 2
It took a little over three years longer than many expected, but Francis Ngannou is now the UFC heavyweight champion of the world after a devastating second-round knockout of Stipe Miocic in a rematch that headlined UFC 260 at the APEX in Las Vegas.
In their first bout in January 2018, Miocic shut Ngannou out over five rounds, but in the five fights since, the Cameroon native has turned from a dangerous knockout artist into a well-rounded mixed martial artist. In the end, though, it was the power of “The Predator” that forced a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division.
Ngannou struck first with an overhand right in the second minute, but Miocic was unbothered by it, and moments later, the champ shot for a takedown. Ngannou defended the takedown and landed some ground strikes, following up with a head kick when the two rose and separated. Miocic’s offense consisted mainly of leg kicks, making it an Ngannou round.
Early in round two, a left hand dropped Miocic, and while the Cleveland native rose and swung back, landing a hard right, as he rushed in to follow up, a short left put him back on the deck, with a follow-up strike bringing in referee Herb Dean to stop the fight at :52 of round two.
5 – Ignacio Bahamondes-Roosevelt Roberts
The towering lightweights got after it right away, trading long jabs and leg kicks in the center of the Octagon early in the opening stanza, each man getting home with quality shots and both working at a steady clip. Bahamondes started controlling the engagement, pressing the action and backing Roberts down, prompting “The Predator” to grab a single leg, forcing the young Chilean to defend. After working back into space, Bahamondes continued to lead the dance, throwing at a steadier clip and with greater variety through to the end of the round.
It was more of the same to start the second, with Bahamondes coming forward behind a quality mix of punches and kicks, attacking from different stances and to different levels. While Roberts fired back steadily and opened Bahamondes up with his jab, the 23-year-old UFC sophomore was undeterred, staying in Roberts’ face, continuing to fire off a high volume of attacks. Though he finished the round wearing a crimson mask courtesy of cuts at both ends of his brow line, Bahamondes was in control heading into the final round.
Early in the third, Bahamondes hurt Roberts with a straight right hand to the body, prompting a panicked takedown attempt. After defending and calling Roberts back to his feet, Bahamondes hurt him again, the sequence repeating itself. After continuing to pepper Roberts throughout the round, Bahamondes heard the “10-second clappers” and let fly with a spinning wheel kick, catching Roberts clean on the jaw, knocking him out cold.
Just an incredible way to close out an impressive performance by the recent Dana White’s Contender Series graduate and a memorable way for Bahamondes to earn his first UFC victory.
4 – Rose Namajunas-Zhang Weili 1
While being introduced by Bruce Buffer, Rose Namajunas chanted “I’m the best,” to herself, and in 78 seconds, she proved it, as she knocked out Zhang Weili to regain the UFC strawweight title.
After the two fighters moved around the Octagon to get acclimated to the Octagon, Namajunas landed a flush left kick to the head that dropped Zhang hard to the mat. Namjunas went in for the finish and after a couple hammerfists, she got it, with referee Keith Peterson stepping in at 1:18 of round one.
3 – Cory Sandhagen-Frankie Edgar
In the UFC Fight Night co-main event, Cory Sandhagen delivered a statement to the top of the bantamweight division, as he knocked out Frankie Edgar in the first round.
Edgar’s trademark pressure was in evidence as the bout opened, but with perfect timing, a jumping right knee caught Edgar flush on the jaw, sending him down to the canvas face first. There was no need for any follow-up from Sandhagen, with referee Keith Peterson halting the bout at 28 seconds of the opening round.
2 – Jiri Prochazka-Dominick Reyes
Czech light heavyweight contender Jiri Prochazka made it two UFC wins and two UFC knockouts, as he ended a main event slugfest against two-time title challenger Dominick Reyes with a devastating second-round knockout.
Reyes started strong out of the southpaw stance, seemingly unbothered by the unorthodox stylings of Prochazka, but once the Czech Republic native began finding his range, he was tagging Reyes with hard shots. Reyes slowed his foe’s momentum briefly with a takedown, but once standing, Prochazka continued landing bombs that Reyes had no problem responding to, with each fighter taking bombs in an action-packed first frame.
Bloodied after taking several hard shots, Reyes didn’t back down in the second round, and just when it seemed like Prochazka was going to pull away, Reyes drilled him with return fire that kept “Denisa” honest. Midway through the round, Reyes hurt Prochazka with a left hand, prompting a takedown attempt that nearly ended the fight when Reyes caught him in a guillotine choke. Prochazka escaped and landed some ground strikes before the two rose, and this time, Prochazka wouldn’t be denied, as he pursued Reyes and landed a right elbow followed by a spinning left elbow that put Reyes down and out, with referee Herb Dean halting the bout at 4:29 of round two.
1 – Kamaru Usman-Jorge Masvidal 2
After a decision win over Jorge Masvidal last year, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman ran it back with “Gamebred” in the main event of UFC 261, and this time, he didn’t need the judges to get involved, as a second-round knockout emphatically ended their rivalry.
Masvidal fired off leg kicks to start the bout, but Usman got the first big shot off, drilling the challenger with a right hand. Masvidal shook off the blow but after a missed knee, he was taken down by the champion. Masvidal stayed busy with elbows from the bottom and he mae it back to his feet with a little over a minute to go. Usman landed a couple more flush shots, answered by a knee at the end of the round.
And while Masvidal was smiling and confident as the second round began, Usman closed the show in devastating fashion, with a crushing right hand that dropped Masvidal to the canvas. A couple follow-up shots later, the bout was over, as referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at the 1:02 mark of round two.
HONORABLE MENTION – Oliveira-Chandler, Ige-Tucker, DiChirico-Buckley, Barboza-Burgos
VOTERS – Juan Cardenas, Thomas Gerbasi, Christoph Goessing, Cory Kamerschak, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Zac Pacleb, McKenzie Pavacich
Additional reporting by E. Spencer Kyte