With 22 events in the books, the first half of 2021 is complete for the UFC, and as we await the beginning of the second half of the year to begin with UFC 264 on July 10, we’ll take a look back at the best fighters and performances to grace the Octagon thus far.
Today, it’s the best fights of the first half of 2021 and how we saw them on fight night:
2021 Mid-Year Standouts | Fighters You Should Know
2021 Mid-Year Standouts | Fighters You Should Know
5 – Brad Riddell vs Drew Dober
New Zealand’s Brad Riddell scored the biggest win of his career, winning an exciting three-round unanimous decision over lightweight contender Drew Dober.
Scores were 29-28 across the board for Riddell, now 10-1. The No.13-ranked Dober falls to 23-11, 1 NC
There was no feeling-out process here, as Dober and Riddell were throwing thunder from the start. A minute in, Dober staggered Riddell, forcing the New Zealander to go all-in in search of a takedown. He got it briefly, but Dober rose to his feet quickly. The time grappling did allow Riddell to clear his head, and when they resumed striking, “Quake” got in some solid shots before he got rocked again, albeit not as badly as earlier. And getting the last big shots in was Riddell, who landed three right hands before the horn.
Neither fighter backed off as round two began, and they kept taking turns rocking each other before a takedown by Dober a minute in. Riddell reversed and grappled from the dominant position and soon the two separated before a takedown by the Auckland product. With under two minutes to go, the fighters were standing and swinging, Riddell taking a slight edge.
Riddell’s right hand was on target in the third round, forcing Dober to seek a takedown. He didn’t get it, but he was able to buy the time to reset his offense. The two were then cagey around each other, but Riddell finished strong, rocking Dober again and slamming him to the mat just before the final horn.
4 – Santiago Ponzinibbio vs Miguel Baeza
Fight fans were expecting a war from welterweights Santiago Ponzinibbio and Miguel Baeza, and they gave it to them for 15 minutes, with Ponzinibbio emerging with the unanimous decision victory in a thrilling Fight of the Year candidate.
Scores were 29-28 across the board for Ponzinibbio, now 29-4. Baeza falls to 10-1.
Baeza went after Ponzinibbio’s legs from the start, and it momentarily slowed the forward progress of the Argentina native. Baeza then moved his attacks upstairs, bruising his foe’s face, but it was Ponzinibbio ending the round strong.
The leg kicks kept coming in the second stanza, and when he followed up with a right hand a minute in, he staggered his foe. Ponzinibbio wasn’t going away, though, and he kept pressing and throwing, refusing to back down from the Floridian as he pumped out a stiff jab while landing his own leg kicks in a late surge that had Baeza on the defensive.
Momentum was clearly on Pozinibbio’s side as the final round began, but Baeza got back down to business until a right kick to the leg staggered “Caramel Thunder.” Now in a battle of wills, both fighters were leaving it all in the Octagon in search of victory, and with two minutes left, Ponzinibbio went looking for the finish. Baeza shook off the blows and fired back, making you wish there was a packed house cheering the two welterweights on as they went back and forth, slugging it out until the final horn.
3 – Edson Barboza vs Shane Burgos
In a bout that lived up to its advance billing, featherweight contenders Edson Barboza and Shane Burgos went to war until Barboza outlasted his foe and stopped him in the third round.
Barboza went after Burgos’ legs from the start, and he got in several before Burgos started making him miss. The New Yorker kept marching forward, and his jab was sharp, marking up Barboza’s eye. And as the round progressed, Burgos’ body attack was paying off. A spinning back kick by Barboza rattled Burgos, though, and a couple right hands forced Burgos to reset and gather himself.
The back-and-forth action continued in round two, each shot wince-inducing and designed to end the fight. Soon, Barboza was bleeding from a cut on his shin, but he kept throwing kicks to Burgos’ leg and body, while Burgos mixed up his attacks nicely and his opponent’s face was showing it.
There was more of the same in the third, but a right hand by Barboza landed flush, and a couple moments later, it was a delayed reaction as Burgos staggered to the fence and fell to the mat. A follow-up by Barboza was next and the fight was stopped by referee Mike Beltran at 1:16 of the final round.
With the win, the No.13-ranked Barboza moves to 22-9. The No.9-ranked Burgos falls to 13-3.
2 – Pedro Munhoz vs Jimmie Rivera 2
Nearly six years after their first bout in 2015, bantamweight contenders Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera continued to be perfect for each other in the Octagon. And this time it was Munhoz leaving victorious, with a unanimous decision allowing “The Young Punisher” to even the score with “El Terror” in an action-packed three-rounder.
Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for the No. 8-ranked Munhoz, now 19-5, 1 NC. The No. 9-ranked Rivera falls to 23-5.
Both fighters were throwing to end it early as the fight began, but each fighter took the incoming heat without blinking. And there was heat, as the lack of a crowd in the APEX made the sound of every landed punch or kick audible throughout the venue. With 90 seconds left, Munhoz’ kicks had Rivera’s left leg compromised, but the New Jersey product kept pressing, looking for the bomb that would turn things around.
Rivera got the fight to the mat as the second opened, but Munhoz scrambled his way out of trouble and back to the feet. While there the pace was a bit more measured, but the shots were continuing to be thrown with bad intentions by both men. Each kick to the leg by Munhoz was still drawing a visible reaction, though, even as Rivera continued to keep it close with his haymakers upstairs.
A couple inadvertent low kicks by Munhoz rattled Rivera in the third round, but in between, he kept chasing the fight-changing punch, even with his leg getting worse and worse with each shot. Munhoz’s chin didn’t let him down, though, allowing him to get the end of the fight and a decision win.
1 – Dominick Reyes vs Jiri Prochazka
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.
With the win, the No.5-ranked Prochazka moves to 28-3-1. The No.3-ranked Reyes falls to 12-3.
Also receiving votes – Luque-Woodley, Holloway-Kattar, Oliveira-Chandler, Gillespie-Ferreira, Davis-Jones, Vera-Grant 2, Dariush-Ferreira 2, Jourdain-Rojo
VOTERS – Thomas Gerbasi, Christoph Goessing, Cory Kamerschak, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Zac Pacleb, Gavin Porter