As the UFC appears to kick off 2021 with two parts that had been sorely missing for many of 2020 — Conor McGregor and fans in attendance — this transient pause in the calendar gives the highest window to take inventory and glance forward.
So who will have the best 12 months of all? After a 2020 that was once the rest however customary, there will be various alternatives in 2021 for fighters to distance themselves from the pack, and our panel of MMA mavens units out to resolve who will step ahead.
This is not an inventory of the 30 best fighters in the UFC — it is a rating in keeping with alternatives that fighters have already signed on for or that they venture to have in the coming 12 months. It takes under consideration who they are going to be preventing and who else may stand in entrance of them of their respective divisions over the subsequent 12 months.
And whilst there are surely some surprises to be discovered in this checklist, simply because anyone did not make the reduce for this most sensible 30, it doesn’t suggest they are able to’t tremendously toughen their fortunes over the subsequent 12 months. In truth, while you evaluate this 12 months’s most sensible 30 to what was once projected for 2020, the overlap is not as large as chances are you’ll believe.
And so, with all of that rationalization out of the means, it is time to divulge the most sensible 10. If you’ve gotten overlooked the first two entries of the 2021 ESPN MMA Rank, take a look at the ones who ranked from 21-30, as well as 11-20.
Write-u.s.composed by means of Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim.
2020 document: 1-0 (SUB1 over Cory Sandhagen)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: Unranked
Next struggle: March 6 vs. Petr Yan (UFC 259)
2021 outlook: Sterling established himself as the transparent-reduce subsequent challenger for the bantamweight identify with a shocking, first-spherical submission win over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 in June. Sterling was once scheduled to problem champion Petr Yan at UFC 256 in December, however the bout fell via on account of an undisclosed factor with Yan. The identify struggle was once just lately rebooked for March, and it will have to be any other primary show off for 2 most sensible fighters from an overly deep department. Sterling has received 5 directly and greater than merits his probability at the belt. Some already have “Funk Master” pegged as the best in the international at 135 kilos. — Raimondi
2020 document: 1-0 (UD over Jorge Masvidal)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 4
Next struggle: Feb. 13 vs. Gilbert Burns (UFC 258)
2021 outlook: Being the first UFC champion to protect a belt in 2021 is what you name getting the 12 months off to a excellent get started. Usman will be taking up a former teammate, one whom he has been ready a very long time to stand. He and Burns to begin with had been slated to struggle in July, and when that did not occur they had been paired once more for December, which additionally fell via. The 3rd reserving is a chance for Usman to in any case pass any other 170-pound contender off his checklist, and the extend in making it occur permits the department to line up extra demanding situations, will have to he be triumphant. — Wagenheim
2020 document: 1-0 (TKO1 over Donald Cerrone)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 7
Next struggle: Jan. 23 vs. Dustin Poirier (UFC 257)
2021 outlook: The plan for McGregor going into 2020 was once to struggle no less than 3 times, culminating with a 2d shot at the UFC light-weight identify in opposition to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Then COVID-19 got here into play, the thought for a “season” fell aside and Nurmagomedov retired. McGregor even introduced his personal retirement in June out of frustration. The former UFC double champion will be again this month in opposition to previous rival Dustin Poirier, and a win in that struggle will virtually certainly earn McGregor a identify alternative. The attainable is there for a large 12 months. — Raimondi
2020 document: 1-0 (UD over Felicia Spencer)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 8
Next struggle: March 6 vs. Megan Anderson (UFC 259)
2021 outlook: The UFC’s best final champ-champ had an eventful 2020. She fought best as soon as, however she was once lots busy turning into a mother. Try to most sensible that, 2021. Well, a a success featherweight identify protection in two months could be a step in that path. Then Nunes can transfer her consideration again to bantamweight, which by means of then may have produced a identify challenger. If no longer, we will get started listening to pleas for a trilogy struggle in opposition to flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko. Where else is Nunes to head? — Wagenheim
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 5
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: More domination, perhaps. Shevchenko has run roughshod over the girls’s flyweight department over the previous two years. Her subsequent most probably challenger is powerhouse Jessica Andrade, the former UFC girls’s strawweight champion. That might be the hardest check up to now for Shevchenko, however Shevchenko will most probably nonetheless be a heavy favourite. Later in the 12 months, there is a probability Shevchenko might be thrust right into a superfight, both in opposition to the girls’s strawweight champion (lately Zhang Weili) or in a trilogy struggle in opposition to girls’s bantamweight and featherweight champ Amanda Nunes. — Raimondi
2020 document: 1-0 (SD over Joanna Jedrzejczyk)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 11
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: She competed best as soon as in 2020, long ago in March, however it kind of feels like now we have observed Zhang far more than that as a result of highlights of her brawl with Jedrzejczyk have been proven time and again, with excellent explanation why. It was once the fight of the year for just about everybody who ranks the ones issues. Next up could be any other former champion, Rose Namajunas. That is the struggle that is sensible, however the UFC has no longer but booked it. Why the extend? It’s no longer fully transparent. It could be a duel of top-stage talents, and would get the UFC’s best girls’s department off to a excellent begin to 2021. — Wagenheim
2020 document: 1-0 (KO1 over Jairzinho Rozenstruik)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 6
Next struggle: TBD vs. Stipe Miocic
2021 outlook: Ngannou has been ready 3 years for a 2d shot at the UFC heavyweight identify. Miocic beat him at UFC 220 in January 2018, however Ngannou has made primary enhancements since then, whilst coaching at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. It looks as if Ngannou will in any case get any other crack at Miocic someday in both the first or early 2d quarter of 2021. The hardest factor for Ngannou over the previous two years is that he has decimated everybody in his trail whilst going via lengthy stretches of state of no activity as a result of only a few fights make sense for him in a gradual-shifting heavyweight department. — Raimondi
2020 ESPN MMA rank: Unranked
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: For Figueiredo, 2020 goes to be a difficult act to practice. He turned into champion throughout a 12 months by which he was once busy and dominant — no less than till his most up-to-date time out. He briefly imposed his will in his first 3 fights of the 12 months, together with two in opposition to perennial 125-pound No. 2 Benavidez. Then got here remaining month’s flyweight identify protection, by which he traded leather-based with Moreno for 5 exciting rounds in a vintage that was once scored a draw. Now what? UFC president Dana White has assured that Figueiredo-Moreno 2 is subsequent. If Figueiredo stays champ after that one, he may reign for some time in what is turning into an more and more fascinating flyweight department. — Wagenheim
2020 document: 1-0 (UD over Dominick Reyes)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 2
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: Jones has achieved virtually the whole lot there’s to do in MMA. He was once the longtime UFC gentle heavyweight champion, was once by no means overwhelmed for that belt and his lone profession loss was once a disqualification 12 years in the past. His subsequent frontier? The UFC heavyweight department. He vacated the gentle heavyweight belt remaining August and is primed to struggle for the heavyweight strap subsequent, most probably in opposition to the Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou winner. Jones’ function is to depart completely certainly he is the biggest of all time. — Raimondi
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 3
Next struggle: March 6 vs. Jan Blachowicz (UFC 259)
2021 outlook: If Adesanya turns into a champ-champ by means of including the gentle heavyweight belt to his trophy case, as he’s preferred to do when he demanding situations Blachowicz, it will be an amazing accomplishment. He will have moved up from middleweight — a leap of 20 kilos, which is massive. And who is doubting Adesanya? Nobody. His aggregate of poise and brutality in his knockout win over Costa increased his stature in the recreation — and he got here into the struggle already a champion. This superfight in opposition to Blachowicz is bound to unharness a few of the efficiency artwork that makes Adesanya should-see from walkout to complete. — Wagenheim