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Julianna Pena celebrates her victory over Amanda Nunes of Brazil in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Best Of

The Ten Biggest Upsets Of 2021

The Results Of These Epic Bouts Surprised Just About Everyone This Year

10 – Norma Dumont vs Aspen Ladd

In the UFC Fight Night main event at the UFC APEX, Norma Dumont won a five-round unanimous decision over Aspen Ladd in a featherweight bout.

Scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47 for Dumont, now 7-1. Ladd falls to 9-2.

Dumont controlled the range as the fight began thanks to a consistent jab and the occasional right hand. Ladd stayed patient as she sought an opening to respond, but those opportunities were not presenting themselves to the Californian, who didn’t offer anything offensively to Dumont to worry about in the first frame.

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Two minutes into round two, Ladd finally came alive as she bulled Dumont into the fence, but the Brazilian escaped any danger and got back to pumping her jab, which she did for the rest of the stanza, taking another round. And while Ladd was more active in the third, her offense wasn’t enough to take the round from Dumont, who kept piling up the points.

Late in the fourth, Ladd found daylight on the ground, getting in her patented ground-and-pound attack, showing signs of life before the final frame beckoned.

After getting a talking to from her corner before the fifth round, Ladd raced out of her corner to start the stanza, but Dumont defended well, staying upright as Ladd tried to get her to the mat. The Californian did stay busy in the clinch as she had her best round of the fight, but it wasn’t nearly enough to turn things around and get the win.

Norma Dumont of Brazil reacts after her victory over Aspen Ladd in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 16 2021 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Norma Dumont of Brazil reacts after her victory over Aspen Ladd in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 16 2021 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

9 – Kennedy Nzechukwu vs Carlos Ulberg

Kennedy Nzechukwu and Carlos Ulberg went to war in their light heavyweight bout until Nzechukwu ended matters via TKO in the second round.

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Ulberg took the fight to Nzechukwu immediately, and he rocked him with a left kick to the head. A follow-up barrage kept the Nigeria native on the defensive, and that was just fine with Ulberg, who kept the pace high. Two minutes in, Nzechukwu started to get some shots in, and a fight broke out. With two minutes left, a left by Nzechukwu briefly jarred the New Zealander, and now the two were trading momentum back and forth. But a concerted body attack by Ulberg had referee Herb Dean on the verge of stopping the fight before Nzechukwu roared back with a crisp 1-2 and some more hard shots just before the horn.

Nzechukwu appeared to be the fresher of the two as the second began, and he pressed the action, with only a brief halt to the action after an Ulberg eye poke stopping his forward march. Ulberg wasn’t backing down, though, and while his hands were low, he was still throwing them, along with thudding kicks. But with just under two minutes left, that low guard cost Ulberg, as Nzechukwu landed a flush right hand that dropped the New Zealander hard. A couple follow-up strikes later, and Dean had stopped the fight. The official time was 3:19 of round two.

8 – Montserrat Conejo vs Cheyanne Vlismas

Stepping in for Kay Hansen on less than two weeks’ notice, Montserrat Conejo upset Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Cheyanne Buys via unanimous decision in a battle of debuting strawweight prospects.

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Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 29-27 for Conejo, now 10-1. Buys falls to 5-2.

The 115-pounders got right down to business, with Conejo using her strikes to close the distance against the fence. The Mexico native then put the fight on the mat and landed several strikes as she held Buys in a headlock until the closing seconds of the first round.

Montserrat Conejo of Mexico grapples Cheyanne Buys in their strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Montserrat Conejo of Mexico grapples Cheyanne Buys in their strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Buys started the second round effectively, landing a flurry of strikes. A minute in, Conejo locked up with Buys and moments later, Conejo had the headlock on the mat again. Buys did what she could to escape, and with a little over a minute left she did, only to get thrown back to the canvas. Buys did escape and she got in the mount before the horn but ran out of time.

MORE BEST OF 2021: Submissions | FightersKnockouts | Newcomers 

Buys had success with her striking in the first three minutes of round three, but soon it was back in the headlock and back to the mat with Conejo in control. Buys got free with a little over a minute left, but soon Conejo got into the top position and stayed there until the end of the fight, when the two combatants got into it with a little trash talking.

7 – Beneil Dariush vs Tony Ferguson

Beneil Dariush’s seventh consecutive win was clearly his biggest, as he shut out former UFC interim champion Tony Ferguson over three rounds in the UFC 262 co-main event.

Scores were 30-27 across the board for the No.9-ranked Dariush, now 21-4-1. The No.5-ranked Ferguson, who has lost three in a row, falls to 26-6.

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Dariush put the pressure on Ferguson from the start and after landing several strikes, he put the fight on the mat in the second minute. Both fighters stayed busy there, but Dariush’s control from the top position until the end of the first round was the best visual for the judges.

Beneil Dariush attempts to submit Tony Ferguson in their lightweight bout during the UFC 262 event at Toyota Center on May 15, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Beneil Dariush attempts to submit Tony Ferguson in their lightweight bout during the UFC 262 event at Toyota Center on May 15, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The fight went back to the mat as round two began, this time with Ferguson trying to sink in a D’Arce choke, but eventually “El Cucuy” was forced to release the hold, allowing Dariush to resume his ground attack from the top position. A scramble with two minutes left put Ferguson in trouble as Dariush looked for a heel hook, but he was able to get free. Dariush’s lead was getting bigger, though, putting Ferguson in a position where he needed a third-round finish to win.

A slam by Dariush floored Ferguson once again, and the surging contender wasn’t about to let him back up. And he didn’t, as Dariush controlled the action once more until the final horn sounded.

6 – Dustin Poirier vs 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.

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“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.”

Dustin Poirier points at Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

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.”

5 – Jan Blachowicz vs Israel Adesanya

UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz cemented his place atop the 205-pound division in the main event of UFC 259 with an impressive, workmanlike effort in defeating middleweight champ Israel Adesanya via unanimous decision.

In the process, he handed Adesanya his first pro loss and spoiled the Nigeria native’s attempt to become the fifth simultaneous two-division champ in UFC history.

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Scores were 49-46, 49-45, 49-45 for Blachowicz, who made his first successful title defense in improving to 28-8. Adesanya falls to 20-1.

Adesanya was the busier of the two as the fight began, Blachowicz marching forward and knowing that he only needed to be right once in order to end the fight against the 185-pound boss. Adesanya was giving him enough to think about, though, as he was leading the action and not waiting to counter.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Jan Blachowicz of Poland punches Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in their UFC light heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 259

The fight heated up in the second, with Blachowicz getting more aggressive with his attacks. Adesanya kept mixing up his strikes, and coupled with his feints, he was keeping Blachowicz off balance. Midway through the round, Blachowicz locked up for the first time with the challenger, but Adesanya broke free quickly and resumed his steady stream of kicks with the occasional punch tossed in. A low kick by Adesanya brought a brief halt to the bout with a little under 90 seconds left, but the fight resumed quickly, Adesanya remaining the busier fighter.

Blachowicz got off to a fast start in round three, landing some hard punches before scoring a brief takedown. That sequence seemed to fire up the challenger, who began scoring with more telling blows. With a little over three minutes left, Blachowicz clinched with Adesanya against the fence, but “The Last Stylebender” stayed busy and broke loose. Down the stretch, each fighter got in solid blows before a late clinch by the champion.

As the fourth began, Blachowicz clinched briefly before landing with a hard right followed by a stiff jab. In the second minute, Adesanya got flat-footed and fired away, but that opened him up for a Blachowicz takedown. Using his size effectively, Blachowicz leaned on Adesanya and got into side control with a little over a minute left. Strikes followed from the Poland native, who kept Adesanya grounded until the horn.

Blachowicz’ jab was sharp early in the fifth round, and Adesanya responded in kind, seemingly the fresher of the two fighters. But midway through the frame, the champion got a much-needed takedown. Adesanya tried to scramble his way free, but Blachowicz wasn’t having it, and he stayed busy, finishing the round on top.

4 – Terrance McKinney vs 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.

Terrance McKinney Notches One Of The Fastest KOs In UFC History | UFC 263
Terrance McKinney Notches One Of The Fastest KOs In UFC History | UFC 263
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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.

3 – Gerald Meerschaert vs Makhmud Muradov

Gerald Meerschaert scored a big victory in middleweight action, as he snapped Makhmud Muradov’s 14-fight winning streak via second-round submission.

Muradov rocked Meerschaert twice in the opening minute, letting his foe up both times as he wisely preferred to keep the fight standing. Meerschaert looked to get the takedown, but Muradov wasn’t having it. An inadvertent low kick by the Wisconsin native slowed Muradov’s momentum, though, bringing a halt to the action. When the bout resumed, Meerschaert had his legs back under him and he landed some hard shots to keep Muradov at bay before scoring a takedown in the final minute.

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The fast-paced action continued into round two, and when Meerschaert got the fight to the mat a second time, he locked in the rear naked choke that forced a tap at 1:49 of the second frame.

2 – Anthony Hernandez vs Rodolfo Vieira

Anthony Hernandez delivered a shocker in middleweight action as he submitted the previously unbeaten Rodolfo Vieira in the second round.

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Vieira dropped Hernandez to the mat within 20 seconds, and moments later he had Hernandez in deep trouble as he moved into the mount. Hernandez hung tough, forcing Vieira to look for an arm before the two rose to their feet. Vieira kept the pressure on against the fence, and once they broke with under two minutes left, Hernandez fired off strikes, rocking Vieira before attempting a choke. Again, they separated, and Hernandez had Vieira hurt and on the verge of a stoppage before the horn saved the Brazilian.

Anthony Hernandez: "I knew I was gonna do it" | UFC 258: Usman vs Burns
Anthony Hernandez: "I knew I was gonna do it" | UFC 258: Usman vs Burns
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Hernandez kept the heat on in round two, and he continued to rock the exhausted Vieira, cutting him with an elbow before getting him to the mat and stunning the MMA world by submitting the decorated jiu-jitsu black belt with a guillotine choke at 1:53 of the second frame.

1 – Julianna Peña vs Amanda Nunes

 

In the weeks leading up to her first title fight, Julianna Pena told anyone within earshot that she was going to become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion in the co-main event of UFC 269. And she did it, submitting Amanda Nunes in the second round of a shocker at T-Mobile Arena.

“I told you,” the 32-year-old Pena said. “Don’t ever doubt me again.”

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“We’re going back to the gym, train hard and come back strong,” said a gracious Nunes.

Julianna Pena UFC 269 bonos

A calf kick by Nunes opened the action and put Pena on the deck, and the champion kept chopping at it once the challenger was back on her feet. In the second minute, a jab floored Pena a second time, but she was not hurt, and the two grappled against the fence briefly before Nunes put the fight on the mat and took her opponent’s back with 2:30 to go. Pena escaped and got into half-guard, soon locking up Nunes’ arm just before the end of the round.

Pena had no fear of trading with Nunes, and she rattled the champion a few times early in the second round. Nunes fired back, but then came a reply from Pena, and “The Lioness” was in a fight. And though Pena’s left eye was closing, she kept pressing, and with two minutes left, she rattled Nunes and took her to the mat. Immediately, she took Nunes’ back and sunk in the rear naked choke that produced the tap out at 3:23 of round two.

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