The past year was one of the UFC’s greatest in history with impressive debuts, eye-watering title battles, intense rivalries, and major upsets. We make an assessment of the fighters who performed below expectation in the last 12 months.
While he enjoyed a financially productive 2021 where he was named the highest-paid athlete, McGregor endured a very disappointing year in the ring.
The 156-pound fighter headed into the year having lost two of his last three fights, the first of which was a domineering show by Floyd Mayweather when the all-time great took on the Irish man in the latter’s Boxing debut.
McGregor began the contest on the front foot as he landed a couple of early shots and even put his hands behind his back at one point, showboating in a slow-paced encounter before he was knocked out in the 10th round. A year later, McGregor took on Khabib Nurmagomedov; a formidable Russian with an unblemished record and widely regarded as the best in his division of all time.
The profile of the two combatants and the rivalry between them resulted in one of the UFC’s greatest combat of all time. Khabib lost his first-ever round in that bout but eventually got McGregor in a choke, forcing the former UFC champion to tap out in the fourth round.
Off the back of these losses, McGregor would go on to engage Dustin Poirier who he had previously taken on in 2014 which ended in a TKO with ‘The Notorious’ delivering just as he promised before the match.
Seven years on and both of them faced off in another thrilling bout which resulted in McGregor losing his first-ever match by TKO which was another disappointing year for the 29-year-old.
“Yeah I’m a happy man, but I’m not surprised, I put in the work,” said Poirier after his victory, which came as a surprise to almost everyone else in the arena.” There was another meeting between the duo at UFC 264 and once again, it ended in defeat for the Irish man as Dustin Poirier, also dubbed as ‘The Diamond’, ran rings around McGregor towards the end of the opening round and landed a punch that forced McGregor backward, twisting his ankle in the process.
The American mixed martial artist who was absent from the UFC since February 2015, made a sensational return to the Octagon in 2021. The 38-year old has not fought since he was defeated in his last bout versus Anderson Silva, although the result was later changed to a no-contest after Silva failed the drug tests.
Diaz, who has a pro-MMA record of 26 wins and 9 losses made a return to the UFC to face Robbie Lawler, a fixture that had the fans excited.
Lawler, an old rival of Diaz, had faced him in a previous encounter at UFC47 in 2004 in a welterweight match which the latter won. A right hand caught Lawler on the chin and floored him bringing the contest to an end just 1 minute and 30 seconds into the second round.
Diaz is one of the most popular MMA fighters of all time and a fan favorite. His aggressive style and never-give-up attitude continue to garner attention and allowed him to become a mainstay on the lips of the fans and the industry over the years despite his retirement. The fans were not expecting anything less in the fight, nor should Lawler have.
Lawler, on the other hand, was also in a slump since he had lost his four previous fights. But with Diaz not in the best shape coming into this fight, it was a lackadaisical performance from the 38-year old as he wasn’t looking as aggressive as he was in his prime, and Lawler eventually dropped him with a right-hand which led to a flurry which brought the match to an end after Diaz waved the fight off.
The former women’s flyweight champion had a horrid year in 2021 to keep in mind.
Although Namajunas had proven to be unfazed by the pressure of knocking down heavy names in her division, her capability in handling the brutality of Zhang Weili was always questioned and she executed that almost perfectly after hitting the former Chinese champion with a leg kick that landed on her head and following it up with several blows till the referee waved the fight off.
An act of instant revenge was programmed in UFC 261 much to the fans’ enthusiasm. Weili the versatile beast traded her training camps in quests for more skills and techniques. The new techniques were exposed while Rose Namajunas chose to wrestle instead.
Zhang Weili’s inability to compete on the floor made her unable to challenge the champion in the fourth and final round, tipping the competition over to Namajunas, who was ultimately crowned the winner.
Weili is still one of the best competitors in the flyweight division and is not a fighter to write off, but 2021 was not her year.
The 40-year-old former UFC lightweight champion suffered several devastating losses in 2021 and should consider retiring as he appears to have surpassed his peak.
Edgar has never suffered a KO loss in the first 14 years of his career but has been finished three times since 2018.
The UFC veteran was stunned in an embarrassing manner by Cory Sandhagen’s flying knee, an incident that made him unconscious for moments and led to the loss of memories for some time.
His intention to fight again in the wake of the embarrassing loss was granted as he confronted Marlon Vera nine months later. With Edgar’s back near the cage, Vera who has always proved to be an outstanding fighter landed a flying kick into the 40-year old’s chin which dropped him.
Edgar finished another fight with a defeat by knockout and clearly shows that he has exceeded his prime and his overall performance nothing to write home about with two victories in seven fights.
Frankie Edgar clearly does not want to make a decision about retiring but has made it clear that he had not thought about his next battle. Don’t expect Edgar to fight in 2022, because that will cause more damage than good to the 40-year-old American.
“I can’t believe people are saying I’m old and I should retire,” Thompson said on his YouTube channel. The 38-year-old nicknamed ‘The Wonderboy’ with a Pro MMA record of 16-6 also enjoyed a scorching year in 2021.
Earlier in his years, he beat some of the best in the welterweight division. His kickboxing and wrestling ability remains the best ever seen in the UFC.
Gilbert Burns, the former contender for the UFC title, beat Stephen Thompson in a unanimous decision in the UFC’s pay-per-view event on Saturday. Gilbert Burns controlled the fight and preferred to wrestle, as Thompson could rarely resist throughout the fight, eventually losing by unanimous decision.
The Wonderboy would then go head-to-head with welterweight ranked number 10, Belal Muhammad, at UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Going into the battle, Thompson had lost three of his last five battles while Belal Mohammed, on the other hand, had gone 8-1-1 in his last 10 fights.
The fight also led to a defeat for the American, who was once again dominated. Visibly exhausted and thrown around the ring for three rounds in his two losses in 2021, Thompson’s record deteriorated further in 2021 and retirement looks the best choice for the 38-year-old veteran.
Will Zhang Weili bounce back next year? Conor McGregor would certainly return to the spotlight next year, but against who is the big question! In your opinion, is retirement the best choice for Nick Diaz, Stephen Thompson, and Frankie Edgar?
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images