As the UFC appears to be like to kick off 2021 with two parts that have been sorely missing for many of 2020 — Conor McGregor and followers in attendance — this temporary pause within the calendar provides the right window to take inventory and look forward.
So who could have the very best yr of all? After a 2020 that was something however regular, there might be loads of alternatives in 2021 for fighters to distance themselves from the pack, and our panel of MMA specialists units out to find out who will step ahead.
This is not a listing of the 30 finest fighters within the UFC — it is a rating based mostly on alternatives that fighters have already signed on for or that they venture to have within the coming yr. It takes into consideration who they’re going to be preventing and who else may stand in entrance of them of their respective divisions over the subsequent 12 months.
And whereas there are actually some surprises to be discovered on this listing, simply because somebody did not make the lower for this high 30 it does not imply they can not drastically enhance their fortunes over the subsequent 12 months. In truth, if you evaluate this yr’s high 30 to what was projected for 2020, the overlap is not as huge as you may think.
And so, with all of that clarification out of the way in which, it is time to reveal the highest 10. If you have missed the primary two entries of the 2021 ESPN MMA Rank, try these who ranked from 21-30, as nicely as 11-20.
Write-ups composed by Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim.
2020 report: 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 because the clear-cut subsequent challenger for the bantamweight title with a shocking, first-round submission win over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250 in June. Sterling was scheduled to problem champion Petr Yan at UFC 256 in December, however the bout fell via due to an undisclosed subject with Yan. The title struggle was just lately rebooked for March, and it must be one other main showcase for 2 high fighters from a really deep division. Sterling has received 5 straight and greater than deserves his likelihood on the belt. Some have already got “Funk Master” pegged as the very best on the earth at 135 kilos. — Raimondi
2020 report: 1-0 (UD over Jorge Masvidal)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 4
Next struggle: Feb. 13 vs. Gilbert Burns (UFC 258)
2021 outlook: Being the primary UFC champion to defend a belt in 2021 is what you name getting the yr off to an excellent begin. Usman might be taking up a former teammate, one whom he has been ready a very long time to face. He and Burns initially have been slated to struggle in July, and when that did not occur they have been paired once more for December, which additionally fell via. The third reserving is a chance for Usman to lastly cross one other 170-pound contender off his listing, and the delay in making it occur permits the division to line up extra challenges, ought to he succeed. — Wagenheim
2020 report: 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 to struggle at the least thrice, culminating with a second shot on the UFC light-weight title in opposition to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Then COVID-19 got here into play, the concept for a “season” fell aside and Nurmagomedov retired. McGregor even introduced his personal retirement in June out of frustration. The former UFC double champion might be again this month in opposition to outdated rival Dustin Poirier, and a win in that struggle will virtually certainly earn McGregor a title alternative. The potential is there for a large yr. — Raimondi
2020 report: 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 solely remaining champ-champ had an eventful 2020. She fought solely as soon as, however she was lots busy changing into a mother. Try to high that, 2021. Well, a profitable featherweight title protection in two months can be a step in that course. Then Nunes can swap her consideration again to bantamweight, which by then might need produced a title challenger. If not, we’ll begin listening to pleas for a trilogy struggle in opposition to flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko. Where else is Nunes to go? — Wagenheim
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 5
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: More domination, probably. Shevchenko has run roughshod over the ladies’s flyweight division over the previous two years. Her subsequent seemingly challenger is powerhouse Jessica Andrade, the previous UFC girls’s strawweight champion. That might be the hardest take a look at so far for Shevchenko, however Shevchenko will seemingly nonetheless be a heavy favourite. Later within the yr, there’s an opportunity Shevchenko might be thrust right into a superfight, both in opposition to the ladies’s strawweight champion (presently Zhang Weili) or in a trilogy struggle in opposition to girls’s bantamweight and featherweight champ Amanda Nunes. — Raimondi
2020 report: 1-0 (SD over Joanna Jedrzejczyk)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 11
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: She competed solely as soon as in 2020, manner again in March, however it looks as if we have seen Zhang far more than that as a result of highlights of her brawl with Joanna Jedrzejczyk have been proven again and again, with good purpose. It was the struggle of the yr for just about everybody who ranks these issues. Next up could be one other former champion, Rose Namajunas. That is the struggle that is sensible, however the UFC has not but booked it. Why the delay? It’s not fully clear. It can be a duel of high-level abilities, and would get the UFC’s best girls’s division off to an excellent begin to 2021. — Wagenheim
2020 report: 1-0 (KO1 over Jairzinho Rozenstruik)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 6
Next struggle: TBD vs. Stipe Miocic
2021 outlook: Ngannou has been ready three years for a second shot on the UFC heavyweight title. Miocic beat him at UFC 220 in January 2018, however Ngannou has made main enhancements since then, whereas coaching at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. It appears to be like like Ngannou will lastly get one other crack at Miocic someday in both the primary or early second quarter of 2021. The hardest factor for Ngannou over the previous two years is that he has decimated everybody in his path whereas going via lengthy stretches of inactivity as a result of only a few fights make sense for him in a slow-moving heavyweight division. — Raimondi
2020 ESPN MMA rank: Unranked
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: For Figueiredo, 2020 goes to be a tricky act to observe. He turned champion throughout a yr wherein he was busy and dominant — at the least till his most up-to-date outing. He rapidly imposed his will in his first three fights of the yr, together with two in opposition to perennial 125-pound No. 2 Joseph Benavidez. Then got here final month’s flyweight title protection, wherein he traded leather-based with Brandon Moreno for 5 thrilling rounds in a basic that was 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’s changing into an more and more fascinating flyweight division. — Wagenheim
2020 report: 1-0 (UD over Dominick Reyes)
2020 ESPN MMA rank: 2
Next struggle: TBD
2021 outlook: Jones has performed virtually the whole lot there’s to do in MMA. He was the longtime UFC mild heavyweight champion, was by no means crushed for that belt and his lone profession loss was a disqualification 12 years in the past. His subsequent frontier? The UFC heavyweight division. He vacated the sunshine heavyweight belt final August and is primed to struggle for the heavyweight strap subsequent, seemingly in opposition to the Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou winner. Jones’ objective is to depart completely little question he is the best 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 including the sunshine heavyweight belt to his trophy case, as he’s favored to do when he challenges Blachowicz, it will likely be an superior accomplishment. He could have moved up from middleweight — a bounce of 20 kilos, which is big. And who’s doubting Adesanya? Nobody. His mixture of poise and brutality in his knockout win over Costa elevated his stature within the sport — and he got here into the struggle already a champion. This superfight in opposition to Blachowicz is bound to unleash among the efficiency artwork that makes Adesanya must-see from walkout to complete. — Wagenheim