The five best UFC fights of 2021, including Gaethje’s war with Chandler and Max Holloway’s beating of Kattar

The UFC has provided some truly unforgettable fights this year – many of which are still on the lips of combat sports fans.

MMA fans were treated to a plethora of iconic fights that will live long in the memory.

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2021 has provided some truly spectacular moments inside the octagonCredit: Reuters
There have been some stunning upsets in the title fights

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There have been some stunning upsets in the title fightsCredit: GETTY
And there were sensational stops to boot

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And there were sensational stops to boot

So SunSport thought it would be fair to recap the top five fights from what turned out to be another stellar year for the MMA leader.

SUNSPORT’S FIVE BEST UFC FIGHTS IN 2021

Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler

As soon as the battle of fan favorites Gaethje and Chandler was announced, fireworks were expected. And boy did the pair deliver.

The former lightweight title challengers collided on the main card of UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden.

And their confrontation was like two hurricanes crashing into each other.

Both men went broke from the start and rocked each other several times in the first lap. Gaethje, however, took control in the second when he dropped Chandler with a perfect uppercut.

Chandler, to his credit, managed to weather the storm and kept going like a maniac.

Both men ended the fight battered and bruised and had to be taken to hospital after their centuries-long war.

Chandler vs. Gaethje was a war of the ages

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Chandler vs. Gaethje was a war of the agesCredit: GETTY
Neither man backed down from the Madison Square Garden barn burner

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Neither man backed down from the Madison Square Garden barn burnerCredit: GETTY

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega

The long-awaited meeting of featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and former title challenger Brian Ortega was well worth the wait.

Ultimate Fighter’s final trainers faced off in the main event of UFC 266 in Las Vegas and delivered one of the best fights in the history of the 145-pound division.

Australia’s second UFC champion was separating Ortega until he was dropped in the third and trapped in a guillotine – T-City’s signature move.

The end of Volkanovski’s reign as featherweight king seemed imminent, but he fought through the vise-like choke and triangle attempt that followed.

Le Grand came roaring back in the fourth and nearly finished the fight with a brutal barrage of ground and pound that left Ortega bloodied.

Ortega somehow survived the onslaught and made it to round five, despite having nothing left to give in his bid to dethrone the imperious Volko.

Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega went to war at UFC 266

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Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega went to war at UFC 266Credit: Reuters
Ortega was left in a bloody mess by the dominant champ

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Ortega was left in a bloody mess by the dominant champCredit: Reuters

Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar

Max Holloway closed out the first UFC card of the year with an absolutely stunning individual performance in his featherweight clash with Calvin Kattar.

Many fight fans advised skilled boxer Kattar to give the Hawaiian one of his toughest tests outside of champion Volkanovski, but they were wrong.

Blessed staged an absolute clinic against the Bostonian, whom he bloodied with a UFC record 445 strikes.

The 29-year-old pieced together Kattar with his skillful boxing and use of elbows at close range.

And he provided a sensational viral moment when he watched the commentary team mid-fight and declared himself the ‘best boxer in the UFC’ as he surprisingly dodged six punches.

Although the fight was a one-sided beatdown, Holloway’s masterclass on Fight Island was undoubtedly one of the standout moments of the year.

Holloway gave a boxing masterclass against Calvin Kattar

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Holloway gave a boxing masterclass against Calvin KattarCredit: GETTY
Former featherweight champ Holloway was sure to let Kattar know who's boss

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Former featherweight champ Holloway was sure to let Kattar know who’s bossCredit: GETTY

Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen

Following an injury to bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, former titleholder Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen ended up vying for the interim belt in the co-main event of UFC 267 in October.

Fans were drooling over the stylistic match as soon as the fight was announced. And the two men did deliver their dust to Abu Dhabi.

Russian wrecking machine Yan showcased his wide range of strikes with several unorthodox combinations – many of which made the rounds on Twitter the following day.

But the Sandman Sandhagen didn’t let the former champion have his own way and gave No Mercy the toughest test of his UFC time.

The judges ultimately preferred Yan’s work, although Sandhagen’s stock rose hugely thanks to his valiant display – which he returned on just five weeks’ notice.

Petr Yan lands a head kick to Cory Sandhagen

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Petr Yan lands a head kick to Cory SandhagenCredit: GETTY
The sandman tries to land an elbow

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The sandman tries to land an elbowCredit: GETTY

Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena

The penultimate title fight of 2021 between reigning women’s bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes and underdog Julianna Pena provided the biggest upset in UFC history.

After being outplayed in the first round, Ultimate Fighter Season 18 winner Pena rallied in the second and went to war with the dominating champion.

Pandemonium ensued as the Venezuelan Vixen began marking Nunes with stiff jabs and finding a home for her right hand.

Nunes came back roaring like the lioness that she is and stung the challenger with her own heavy punches.

Julianna Pena stings Amanda Nunes with a hard kick on her way to victory

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Julianna Pena stings Amanda Nunes with a hard kick on her way to victoryCredit: GETTY
The Venezuelan vixen celebrates her stunning upset victory

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The Venezuelan vixen celebrates her stunning upset victoryCredit: GETTY

But determined to get her hands on the UFC gold, Pena dug deep and stayed in the fire.

A cracking right hand just after the three minute mark sent a tired and shaken Nunes into desperation mode, so much so that she fired for a takedown.

Pena fended off the attempt and quickly moved to the back before blasting off the roof of the T-Mobile Arena by driving into a rear-end choke and forcing the seemingly unstoppable Brazilian into reluctant submission to her will.

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