Top Five British UFC Performances of 2021

Though Covid-19 curtailed much of the UFC’s 2020 calendar, 2021 offered no shortage of opportunity for Britain’s brightest MMA lights.

 

With poster boy Darren Till failing to triumph in September’s main event matchup with Derrick Brunson, the door was left wide open for one of the UK’s rising talents to steal the 2021 limelight.

 

MMA UK’s LOUIS EVANS reflects on 2021’s best British performances.

 

Note: Factors in determining this list include the level of statement made, the quality/skill of the performance, how far expectations were exceeded and the magnitude of the event.

 

5. Davey Grant def. Jonathan Martinez via KO (overhand left) – Round 2, 3:03

 

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

 

Durham’s ‘Dangerous’ Davey opened 2021’s account by rising from a first-round knockdown to deliver a highlight reel KO of the -300 favourite Martinez.

 

In a harrowing opener, the 5’8” contender had to show steel to tie up the Californian and survive to the bell before dramatically turning the fight in his favour with a corked right to the body and stunning overhand left combo which left Martinez debilitated. 

 

Sadly, there would be no glory for Grant in his two subsequent fights this year, falling short in two Fight of the Night performances – including June’s rematch loss to Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera (unanimous decision) and a narrow split with Adrian Yanez.

 

Nevertheless, three fights, three 50k cheques. Money!

 

 

4. Molly McCann def. Ji Yeon Kim via unanimous decision

 

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

 

Entering the final bout of her four-fight UFC contract on a two-fight skid, failure here spelt DOOM for Merseyside’s McCann, 31. 

 

The 125lb Evertonian conceded natural size and whopping ten-inch reach advantage and was further compromised when an overlooked head clash sent her to the canvas. But with the heat on, the girl they call ‘Meatball’ showed her mustard to relentlessly outpace the technical Kim to land a unanimous decision win, a £50,000 Fight of the Night bounty and a life-changing new four-fight deal from the UFC hierarchy.

 

3. Tom Aspinall Sergey Spivak via TKO (elbow to ground strikes) – Round 1, 2:30

 

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

 

February’s second-round rear-naked choke of former UFC Heavyweight Champ Andrei Arlovski might have done more to bolster his stature but Aspinall’s disposal of Spivak was an even cleaner execution; ending the Moldovan’s three-fight win streak and firmly cementing the Kaobon warrior in the UFC’s heavyweight top 15.

 

Done in one. Flawless victory.

 

 

2. Paddy Pimblett def. Luigi Vendramini via TKO (hooks) – Round 1, 4:25

 

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Noticing a pattern here?

 

Once again, our British victor overcame early turbulence to get the job done. Shaken by a cracking right hand from the Brazilian, the ensuing takedown forced Pimblett to the mat, where strikes reigned down on his trademark blonde mop.

 

Yet the former Cage Warriors Featherweight Champion appeared utterly unfazed by the calamitous start to his UFC career. 

 

With 50 seconds of the round remaining, the cocky contender clipped Vendramini with a lethal right and, smelling blood, swarmed with a flying knee and bombarding hooks to send the Brazilian for an early shower.

 

This bout highlighted Paddy ‘The Baddy’s elevated conditioning, demonstrating his iron chin and astonishing recuperative powers, not to mention potent punching from his previously injury-laden hands.

 

1. Paul Craig def. Jamahal Hill via R1 TKO (arm injury and strikes from guard) – Round 1, 1:59

 

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

 

“He either taps, naps or it snaps. Tonight it happened to snap”

 

Entering this bout a +220 underdog against the undefeated Hill did little to unnerve Scotland’s Paul ‘the Bearjew’ Craig. Within moments of the first round, the BJJ blackbelt tied up his opponent’s arm and pulled guard, where an armbar transitioning into a triangle caused a clear fracture to Hill’s arm.

 

With the breakage unnoticed by the referee, the subsequent strikes from the guard were enough to prompt referee Al Guinee to call a halt after just 119 seconds.

 

The platform of UFC 263’s main card provided spectacular exposure for the father-of-two Caledonian after being labelled a ‘journeyman’ for much of his time in the UFC. Not only breaking arms but finally breaking the mould.

 

In 2022, we’ll see how defining this moment will be for the former vocational skills teacher. For now, it gets our nod for 2021’s best showing.

 

 

Honourable mentions: Jack Shore def. Liudvik Sholinian, Arnold Allen def. Sodiq Yusuff, Joanne Calderwood def. Jessica Eye, Jai Herbert def. Khama Worthy

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