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25 Dec, 2021 10:40

Christmas Crackers: The Best MMA KOs of 2021 (VIDEO)

Christmas Crackers: The Best MMA KOs of 2021 (VIDEO)

We've been treated to more than our fair share of earth-shattering knockouts in the UFC and elsewhere in 2021 – so many, in fact, that it has been difficult to pick just 10 from the extensive list of spectacular MMA KOs.

Some, though, stand out from the crowd. One featured the return of a king but who took a previous opponent lightly and fell on his sword, another saw one of MMA's most beolved veterans fall to a fighter leading the way for a new generation, and another saw previous authority well and truly underscored in a rematch.

A few stunning knockouts are unlucky not to make the cut (with a particularly apology due to Sergio Pettis for his fight-ending shot against Kyoji Horiguchi recently) – but the below set a particularly high bar for what was another year of savage finishes inside the cage. 

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor II - UFC 257, January 24

The rematch seven years in the making wasn't supposed to go this way, from Conor McGregor's perspective at least. After previously delivering on his promise to 'bounce' his Dustin Poirier's head off the canvas on his meteoric ascent through the featherweight rankings in 2014, things were different in 2021.

McGregor, by now the sport's biggest star, cut a very different figure to the brash firebrand he had embodied in previous fractious feuds with the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov and others, and had publicly claimed this fight would be little more than a 60-second exhibition in advance of a mooted payday against boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

Reality, though, comes hard and fast, and in this particular example, in the shape of a fearsome flurry unleashed by the Louisiana native against the Irishman who appeared caught cold by his opponent's sheer aggression before he was dropped an summarily finished midway through the second round. The rematch some months later wouldn't go any better either. In fact, it was significantly worse. Not even Mystic Mac could have predicted that.

Cory Sandhagen vs. Frankie Edgar - UFC Fight Night 184, February 6

MMA has, over the years, given us more than a few 'changing of the guard' moments and 2021's iteration came in the shape of Cory Sandhagen's sublime flying knee knockout of fight veteran and former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

The finish to the fight was remarkable for two reasons: the majesty of the technique employed by Sandhagen, and just who he performed it against. Edgar, tough as a New Jersey steak, had developed a reputation throughout his career as being near impossible to finish (just ask Gray Maynard about that).

Brian Ortega finally became the first to do so in 2018 before 'The Korean Zombie' did the same - but none were quite as spectacular as Sandhagen's highlight reel KO.

Derrick Lewis vs. Curtis Blaydes - UFC Fight Night 185, February 20

It's only fitting that the man recently crowned as the UFC's all-time knockout king features on this list. Few men on this planet possess the same type of knockout power in their fist as 'The Black Beast' Derrick Lewis, and almost none of them enjoy using it quite so much as the man from New Orleans.

Blaydes, though, was the heavy betting favorite going into their fight earlier this year after Lewis had previously exhibited difficulties against high level wrestlers – and in this incarnation of the UFC's heavyweight frame, there aren't many better equipped to stifle a man of Lewis' undoubted power.

Every round starts on its feet though, and in the second Blaydes paid a heavy price for a clumsy attempt at closing the distance as he walked headlong into a thunderous right uppercut from Lewis and that was enough to put him down. Lewis repeated his feat this past weekend against Chris Daukaus – and as well earlier this year against an unfortunate man who attempted to break into his car, though we're not sure that one strictly counts towards his record.

Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang - UFC 261, April 24

There aren't many fighters better equipped to upset the odds than 'Thug' Rose Namajunas. After her massive upset win against the then-undefeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk in late 2017, she was asked to do it all over again just six months later. And do it she did.

Then came revenge agaisnt Jessica Andrade, the only woman to defeat her in the past five years – all before what was considered her greatest test to date: Chinese standout Zhang Weili, winner of 21 fights in a row. 

Once again, 'Thug Rose' was the heavy underdog and once again she made a mockery of the Vegas sportsbooks, collapsing the Chinese champion with a slick high kick in one of the first exchanges in the opening round – before doing it all over again last month in their rematch, winning by split decision. Let it be said, only a fool will ever doubt Rose Namajunas again.

Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal II - UFC 261, April 24

It's rare that a losing title challenger will get another opportunity at the gold after a conclusive decision loss the first time round, but that's exactly what was afforded to UFC star Jorge Masvidal after he was defeated by the dominant welterweight champion in their first match. 

The narrative was that Masvidal, who up to that point had been on a dominant streak with wins against Ben Askren, Darren Till and Nate Diaz, wasn't given adequate time to prepare when he stepped in for Gilbert Burns against Usman, and that things would be different if he could have a full training camp before tangling with 'The Nigerian Nightmare' once more. 

Well, this proved to not be the case. Usman, the latest in a line of dominant wrestlers to show vast improvements in their hands, showed off his newfound power as he walked Masvidal into a crushing overhand early in the second round, spectacularly exploding a cloud of perspiration into the air while doing so.

There were no excuses this time, nor could there be after the evidence in the cage last April.

Jiri Prochazka vs. Dominick Reyes -  UFC Vegas 25, May 1

If you don't know the name yet, you will soon. Czech kickboxer Prochazka is one of the biggest rising stars in a UFC light heavyweight division still finding its feet after Jon Jones relinquished his title to (eventually) move to heavyweight, and signaled exactly what he can do with arguably the best UFC knockout of 2021 against Dominick Reyes - a man many thought may well have eked out a decision win against Jones a year prior.

Prochazka is one of those fighters who finds comfort in chaos and threw every trick in the book against Reyes, the former collegiate American Football star many had earmarked as a legitimate title threat in Jones' absence.

But with one spin of his elbow, Prochazka transplanted Reyes' hype onto him and the 28-3-1 rising star is poised to take the UFC's 205lbs division by the scruff of the neck in 2022. 

Edson Barboza vs. Shane Burgos - UFC 262, May 16

This is one of the more bizarre knockouts of this, or any other year. What's not unusual about this is that it was Barboza, a regular feature on these types of lists, who authored it - more-so the manner in which it occurred.

The Brazilian connected with a one-two in what had been a pulsating battle to that point but after a full three seconds had elapsed, Burgos poker face defied him and he stumbled backwards towards the cage after his legs refused to follow directions.

Barboza followed him and, well, you know the rest.

Chris Barnett vs. Gian Villante - UFC 268, November 6

Men of this size just aren't supposed to move this way, but most men don't have the unique capabilities of Chris Barnett, a man who has two nicknames: 'Beast Boy' and 'Huggy Bear'.

Frankly, both are appropriate. Barnett, who had become a viral sensation online after some of his more astonishing skills in the cage whirled around Twitter, was invited to the UFC to see if he could replicate his eye-catching finishes or if they were best left to regional shows against lesser opponents.

Villante will be wishing that this particular phone call hadn't been made. Barnett showed off every bit of the unusual dexterity which had been discussed in fight forums for months, unfurling a wheel kick which connected flush to Villante and sent him sprawling to the mat. A few follow up shots on the ground later and it was all over, and the UFC's heavyweight division has a new 'must watch' fighter.

Medhi Dakaev vs. Makkasharip Zaynukov - EFC 43, December 10

A recent title fight from Khabib Nurmagomedov's Eagle FC exhibited one of the more dramatic finishes seen to a fight in recent times when Russian fighter Dakaev collapsed his opponent with what is, to our eyes at least, the first-ever diving left hook seen in high level MMA.

Sure, we've seen spectacular techniques in the cage before but how many of them have happened in mid-air? 

One can only imagine that Nurmagomedov, watching with interest from cageside, more than liked what he saw.

Roberto Solidic vs. Mamed Khalidov - KSW 65, December 18

The most anticipated fight European MMA has seen this year, or most other years for that matter, certainly didn't disappoint. It depends who you ask but many fight fans will attest that Croatia's Roberto Soldic is the finest fighter not currently employed by the UFC and his handiwork against European MMA legend Khalidov last weekend showed exactly why.

The fight, which featured KSW's welterweight champion (Soldic) against its middleweight king (Khalidov), had been the subject of huge anticipation from those in the know - and when it came, it certainly didn't let anyone down.

Soldic is as aggressive a striker as exists in mixed martial arts today, with his left hook known for being a particularly concussive weapon - and it proved to be the fight ending shot when it connected flush on Khalidov's chin in the second round of what was a hugely entertaining fight.

It was the first time since 2004 that 45-fight veteran Khalidov had been finished by strikes, but few men have this type of dynamite in their hands.

READ MORE: The biggest UFC fights in store for 2022 (VIDEO)

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