Right, Charles Oliveira defeated Michael Chandler in an exciting fight at UFC 262 for the UFC lightweight title. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Champion performances were dominating, as well as title-fight upsets. There was also a surprising phenomenon that seems to be growing in popularity. The only thing missing from the MMA scene in the first half 2021 was a Las Vegas card.
This will change when Conor McGregor & Dustin Poirier finish their trilogy at UFC 264 at T-Mobile Arena.
In the meantime, we can look back on the past six months and see many performances and moments that are worthy of being recognized. Our panel of 13 members voted for the best fight, best male fighters and female fighters, and the most surprising finish and prospect.
You can watch the fight here
This fight is undoubtedly the best of the first half 2021, not just because it ended with an exciting stoppage that saw Khabib Nurmagomedov become the UFC lightweight champion. This fight is also notable for the fact that it almost crowned another champ.
Conor McGregor will finish their trilogy with Dustin Poirier on July 10. A lightweight title shot will also be up for grabs in front of a large crowd in Las Vegas. UFC 264: McGregor vs. Poirier 3.
Saturday, July 10, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
Main card: 10 pm. ET on ESPN+ TV
Prelims: 8 pm ET on ESPN/ESPN+
Preliminaries: 6 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ Subscribe ESPN+ to receive exclusive live UFC events and weigh-ins; Dana White's Contender Series and other exclusive MMA content.
After Chandler dropped with a left hook in Round 2, Oliveira got his belt around his waist. This was only the end of a long story with many twists and turns. Chandler knocked Oliveira down twice in the first round. At one point, he had Oliveira in a tight guillotine choke.
It appeared that the UFC was about to have a new champion by the end of Round 1. But it was a different man than the one who ended Round 1. Round 1 looked like he was ready for the fight. Surprise ending. The most important stakes. We could not ask for more.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
These fights also got votes: Jiri prochazka vs. Dominick Remez; Beneil dariush vs. Diego Ferreira, Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar; Santiago Ponzinibbio against Miguel Baeza
Rose Namajunas is the best female fighter
Watch Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili.
play 1:43 Chael describes 'Thug Rose' as 'one the greatest of all times' Chael Sonnen admires Rose Namajunas incredible knockout of Zhang Weili, and apologizes for not having previously recognized her as one the greatest.
In the pound-for pound conversation, this is not a case against Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko. Their rsums can be criticized. Both defended their titles in 2021 as favorites and looked great on fight night. If narrative and trajectory were not factors, the "Fighter of the year" awards would be just P4P snapshots.
Namajunas became the first woman to hold multiple UFC titles in a weight category by knocking out Zhang Weili. She was almost a 2-to-1 underdog to the perceived buzzsaw, who had been unbeaten in nearly 20 fights over nearly eight years. Namajunas used speed, power, dexterity, and power to win the strawweight title and change the face of the women's division. Namajunas' win opens up a world of possibilities, even as other women's champions struggle for challengers. Each of the three top contenders is a dream opponent, whether they are a storyline or stylist. Namajunas will be preferred in all of these pairings.
The theme of redemption was weaved into Namajunas’ decision to win the title shot over Jessica Andrade last season. This could be the beginning of a long reign, as Zhang's April knockout was a sign of things to come.
-- Phil Murphy
Votes also received by Nunes and Shevchenko
Kamaru Usman is the best male fighter
Watch Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal.
Play 0:56 Usman unveils his Mount Rushmore Kamaru Welterweight.
Usman is the clear winner in this category. He's more than just winning fights. He's also defending his title. He passed Jon Jones to become ESPN's No. 1 fighter in 2021. He is the #1 ranked fighter pound-for pound in the world. He is leading a debate between Georges St-Pierre and himself about who is the greatest welterweight fighter of all time. He is resolving his differences.
He not only defeated Gilbert Burns in the third round, but also added a highlight-reel walk-off knockout of Jorge Masvidal, one of his most formidable rivals, on April 24. He has been active and has increased the distance between himself and the rest in the division.
If Usman's 2021 second half looks like his first, it will be right up there with the best one-year campaigns of all time. He is undoubtedly the "Fighter Of The Year" at this point. -- Brett Okamoto
Brandon Moreno and Francis Ngannou also received votes.
Best finish: May 1, Jiri prochazka's spinning elbow win over Dominick Reyes
You can watch the fight here
Dominick Reyes' spinning elbow was just one of many Prochazka performances that were bursting with bold flavors.
Prochazka displayed unorthodox persistence, striking from unusual angles and awkward positions for nearly two rounds of the light heavyweight bout. Prochazka was able to absorb some strikes, but mostly he displayed paradoxical defensive prowess, being difficult to find and constantly in the face Reyes.
Prochazka had Reyes retreat halfway through Round 2. He continued to land punches while following his opponent along the fencing and to the cage. Prochazka gave a new twist to his attack after Reyes was unable to fight back.
Prochazka won his 12th consecutive win with a picking-up steam torso twist. This delivered a quick elbow to the Reyes Cranium. Prochazka, a 28-year-old Czech woman, was able to win the title at 205 pounds with a stunning and memorable finish.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
These finishes also got votes: Cory Sandhagen defeats Frankie Edgar, Kamaru Uman defeats Jorge Masvidal, Rose Namajunas defeats Zhang Weili, Francis Ngannou defeats Stipe Mihail; Terrance McKinney defeats Matt Frevola
Gimmick boxing invades MMA space: This is the biggest surprise
Play 2:20 Askren recollects Jake Paul's defeat, but insists the fight wasn't rigged Ben Askren shares his view on Jake Paul's fight and is clear that it was not rigged.
The emergence of novelty boxing in MMA is not only the biggest surprise in six months, but it is also one of the most popular sports currently. On April 17, a huge draw was the boxing match between Jake Paul, a YouTube star and prizefighter, and Ben Askren, a former Bellator welterweight champion and ONE Championship welterweight champion.
UFC 264 Pick Em Enter your UFC 264 picks to compete for a chance at $25,000 Choose Your Picks
After beating Askren, Paul went to UFC 261 in Jacksonville. He was booed by MMA fans who chanted "F--- Jake Paul!" While actual UFC fights of high-level were taking place. It was the first card to be presented in front of a large crowd since the outbreak of the pandemic. The focus of a three-championship fight card was on a Paul-Daniel Cormier encounter near the stands.
UFC president Dana White began to get annoyed by the frequency with which he was asked about recent calls from his fighters towards Paul or vice versa. White stated that he will not allow any current fighter to box Jake, or Logan Paul.
Jake will next face Tyron Woodley, former UFC welterweight champion.
Anderson Silva, 46, a former UFC middleweight champion and former champion of the UFC, performed an impressive fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (a former boxing champion who was 11 years younger than him with 60 pro-boxing matches) earlier this month in Mexico. Eight years after losing the UFC belt, Silva will undoubtedly get a big money boxing match.
Votes also went to: The creation of an interim UFC heavyweight champion bout was second.
Movsar Evloev is the best prospect
Here is the video of Evloev against Hakeem Dawodu
Movsar Evloev (left) has two wins so far for 2021. He also won a split victory over Nik Lentz in UFC 257 in January. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Prospect is a difficult label. Evloev is a pro fighter with 15 fights, five of which were in the UFC. The Russian featherweight is only 27 years old, and has not yet reached a "contender" rank. However, he is likely to do so soon.
Evloev was impressive in his unanimous win over Hakeem Dawodu, a fellow newcomer at UFC 262 this June. Evloev is a dominant wrestler. With his style of brutal wrestling and grappling, he's going be a serious threat to anyone in the featherweight category.
His second win of the year was over Dawodu. Evloev defeated Nik Lentz in a split decision at UFC 257 on January. It was a significant win over Lentz, who is a seasoned gatekeeper and a strong wrestler-grappler.
Evloev has one thing that he can improve upon: finishing fights. Evloev has not been able to win a stoppage in the UFC. However, he was a regular M-1 bantamweight champion. He may still be adjusting to the UFC's switch from bantamweight fighter to featherweight in 2019, even though he was the M-1 bantamweight champion.
Evloev, in any case has been a great athlete and clearly there is room for improvement. This is a frightening proposition for fighters of 145 pounds in the UFC.
Votes also received by Brendan Allen and Phil Hawes, Brendan Loughnane; Miranda Maverick; Sean O'Malley; Aaron Pico; Claressa Shields.
Panel: Kel Dansby. Andrew Davis. Andrew Feldman. Andres Ferrari. Tim Fiorvanti. Eric Jackman. Roman Modrowski. Morgan Mularski. Arda Ocal. Marc Raimondi. Eric Tamiso. Jeff Wagenheim.