Triple Take: What’s the ‘Knockout of the Year’ in 2021 so far?

The 2021 MMA schedule hasn’t even hit its midway point, but already the race for “Knockout of the Year” is getting insanely competitive, with ridiculous and brutal finishes happening seemingly every week.

Not only are these highlight-reel finishes taking place, but they are happening in the highest of high-profile fights, which is going to mean a lot of debate for the best striking-related finish of the year.

In this latest edition of Triple Take, MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn, Matt Erickson and Danny Segura give their picks for 2021 “Knockout of the Year” as of the first week of May.

Mike Bohn: Cory Sandhagen’s flying knee

Let’s not allow recency bias to skew our perception: Cory Sandhagen’s knockout of Frankie Edgar in the co-main event of UFC Fight Fight 184 on Feb. 6 was the top knockout of the year thus far.

I’ll always repeat this when making this type of subjective analysis on what’s “best” in a given category: My criteria comes down to a trio of style points, stakes and skill of opposition.

It was aces for Sandhagen in the style points column. A 28-second flying knee that cut through Edgar’s consciousness smoother than a hot knife through butter? Come on. It was perfectly timed, perfectly placed, and left “The Answer” snoring inside a crowd-free UFC Apex where the few in attendance were left stunned.

Stakes? This win would’ve 100 percent put Sandhagen in a title fight had Petr Yan not passed over his bantamweight belt to Aljamain Sterling due to a foolish illegal knee, forcing a necessary immediate rematch. Sandhagen got the next best thing aside from that, though, in the form of a main event booking against former champ T.J. Dillashaw, who will have the eyes of the MMA world locked on him after his PED suspension.

Skill of opposition barely needs to be addressed. We know what Edgar has achieved. Former champion, multi-division title contender, octagon fight time leader, and a shoo-in future UFC Hall of Famer. Is Edgar still in his prime? No, but he was fresh off a win over an established contender in Pedro Munhoz, and two fights removed from a title bout with Max Holloway.

Don’t let being a prisoner of the moment change your vision of reality: Sandhagen’s knockout was collectively the most beautiful, violent and significant we’ve seen this year. And if something holds up over it, then God help whichever fighter is on the receiving end.

Matt Erickson: Kamaru Usman’s right hand

All my due and propers to the other two choices on this list – Cory Sandhagen’s flying knee KO of Frankie Edgar was great. And recency bias helps give a big nod to Jiri Prochazka. (Plus, it’s not like spinning elbow KOs are a dime a dozen.)

But if we’re looking big picture here, the best knockout of the year so far was Kamaru Usman (19-1 MMA, 14-0 UFC) and his KO of Jorge Masvidal (35-15 MMA, 12-8 UFC) at UFC 261. End of story.

Usman’s finish of Masvidal, if looked at from a simple highlight standpoint, might come up just short against Prochazka. But when you factor everything else into the Usman KO, it simply elevates above the rest of the pack a third of the way into the year.

Let’s start with the drama factor. Usman was fighting one of his two hated arch rivals. To not get caught up in the extracurriculars and instead deliver the way he did is a huge statement. Prochazka had so such distracting backstory before his fight with Reyes.

Then we have the fact Usman stayed perfect in the UFC – 14-0. Every time out, the pressure of that unbeaten UFC record elevates. So to deliver with the kind of right hand he came through with is next-level status.

And don’t overlook the fact Usman beat an opponent who hadn’t been knocked out since 2008 and hadn’t been finished since 2009. It’s not like Masvidal hasn’t been fighting much since then, or been fighting chumps.

Plus, the stage Usman delivered on was historic – the UFC’s return to full arenas for the first time in more than a year, and the third of three title fights on the card. After two great finishes ahead of him, he came through with the biggest one of the night.

Add up all the peripheral evidence, and Usman’s knockout should take top billing through the first four months.

Danny Segura: Jiri Prochazka’s spinning back elbow

Well, 2021 has been filled with great knockouts, so this year’s race for “Knockout of the Year” will be a tough one.

However, already on the top of my list sits Jiri Prochazka’s spinning back elbow on Dominick Reyes in the UFC on ESPN 23 main event.

It was a wild ending to a wild fight. The two light heavyweight contenders went toe-to-toe for the first five minutes, providing fans with a high-paced fight. And to cap it off, Prochazka delivered a spinning elbow that seemed to come out of nowhere. The elbow connected flush and sent Reyes face first to the canvas. It was as vicious as they come in MMA.

Prochazka’s knockout was so great, that with just two wins in the UFC, the fans, media and UFC broadcast team were already pegging him as the next title challenger at 205 pounds. Prochazka’s finish will have a lengthy life in the UFC’s highlight reel.

Original article: https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/lists/ufc-news-knockout-of-the-year-cory-sandhagen-derrick-lewis-jiri-prochazka

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