Changing of the guard: Every new UFC champion crowned in 2021

The UFC promoted a number of memorable title fights over the past 12 months.

From one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport in Julianna Peña’s submission win over former two-division champion Amanda Nunes to Aljamain Sterling becoming champ via disqualification from an illegal knee by Petr Yan, this year had a little bit of everything.

Take a peek inside the numbers and the new champions of 2021 (in order of lightest to heaviest weight class):

Inside the numbers

Titles changed hands nine times (including two interim champions) during 2021, the third most in the history of the promotion. The most in UFC history is 12 in a calendar year, which occurred in 2016. The following year saw the second-most title changes with 11 in 2017.

Out of 12 total weight classes across men and women’s divisions, seven crowned a new champion in 2021, tying for second-most in a year with 2015 and 2018. The most in UFC history is eight, which occurred in 2016 and 2017.

Only two champions defended their newly acquired title in 2021; Charles Oliveira and Rose Namajunas recorded one defense each.

Rose Namajunas – Women’s strawweight

Apr 24, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Rose Namajunas (Blue Gloves) reacts after defeating Zhang Weili (Red Gloves) during UFC 261 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

“Thug” Rose Namajunas reclaimed the strawweight title by defeating Weili Zhang at UFC 261 with a perfectly-placed head kick in the first round. Namajunas first became champion by finishing Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217. She would defend the title once against the same opponent in a rematch at UFC 223, winning by unanimous decision. She started her second reign in a similar fashion, picking up the first defense against Zhang, winning by decision, although the judges were split. Namajunas, the sixth strawweight champ in UFC history, was one of two new champions to defend their title in 2021.

Brandon Moreno – Flyweight

Jun 12, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Brandon Moreno celebrates his championship victory against Deiveson Figueiredo during UFC 263 at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Moreno became flyweight champion at UFC 263 by tapping Deiveson Figueiredo in a rematch from a very late Fight of the Year candidate which took place in December 2020 at UFC 256 that resulted in a majority draw. The rematch took place six months later, but the result was much more definitive, as Moreno showed up in peak form with a perfect game plan to accomplish his championship goal. The fourth to hold the title in his weight class, Moreno made history by becoming the first Mexico-born champ in the UFC.

Julianna Peña – Women’s bantamweight

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 11: Julianna Pena celebrates after defeating Amanda Nunes of Brazil to win the women’s bantamweight title fight during the UFC 269 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Not many upsets in UFC history can compete with what unfolded at UFC 269. Julianna Pena shocked the world by defeating then-two-division champion Amanda Nunes in the second round via submission to become the fifth fighter to hold the women’s bantamweight title. Winner of the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2013, Peña fulfilled her championship dream eight years later. After claiming Nunes was ducking a fight with her for years, Peña proved she had the tools to take out the woman widely considered to be the best to ever do it while creating arguably the most memorable moment of 2021.

Aljamain Sterling – Bantamweight

In one of the most bizarre moments of the year, perhaps even in the history of the division, Aljamain Sterling became the new bantamweight champion by disqualification after Petr Yan landed an illegal knee to the head in the fourth round of their title fight at UFC 259. On the heels of a five-fight win streak, Sterling earned a title shot and completed the goal of becoming champ, albeit in a manner he nor anyone else, wanted or expected. Sterling made a strong showing early in the contest, but began to fade as the fight wore on. Just Yan began to pull away in the championship rounds, he landed a blatantly illegal knee to Sterling’s head, rendering him unable to continue, and as a result, became the ninth bantamweight champion in UFC history.

Petr Yan – Bantamweight (interim)

The aforementioned Petr Yan reclaimed a piece of the bantamweight title he lost to Aljamain Sterling via disqualification at UFC 259. The pair were booked for a rematch at UFC 267, however, the fight fell through due to Sterling needing more time to recover from neck surgery. Yan remained on the card and faced Cory Sandhagen for the interim title, a fight he won via unanimous decision after a high-volume performance. A title unification bout is expected to take place in 2022.

Charles Oliveira – Lightweight

May 15, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Charles Oliveira reacts following his championship victory against Michael Chandler during UFC 262 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-451242 ORIG FILE ID: 20210515_gav_at5_209.jpg

One of the best fighters on the planet for years finally got his opportunity to fight for a title in 2021. Charles Oliveira entered UFC 262 on an eight-fight win streak to face Michael Chandler for the vacant lightweight title. After a wild first round, Oliveira came out strong in the second, finishing Chandler via ground and pound TKO just 19 seconds into the frame to become the 11th lightweight champ in UFC history. Oliveira would go on to defend his title for the first time by defeating Dustin Poirier with a rear-naked choke submission at UFC 269.

Glover Teixeira – Light heavyweight

Glover Teixeira

At 42 years of age, Glover Teixeira pulled off the unthinkable. In the main event of UFC 267, Teixeria defeated Jan Blachowicz via submission in the second round to become the new light heavyweight champion. After fighting professionally for 20 years, the Brazilian accomplished his career-long goal in what was likely his final opportunity to claim UFC gold. Teixeira earned a shot at the title against Jon Jones in 2014, however, things did not go his way. Seven years later, he knocked off Blachowicz to become the 16th light heavyweight champ in UFC history, proving that sometimes it’s never too late to achieve goals.

Francis Ngannou – Heavyweight

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 27: Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 260 event at UFC APEX on March 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

In one of the most violent finishes to a title fight in 2021, Francis Ngannou claimed the heavyweight title by folding Stipe Miocic with a powerful left hand in the second round of their title fight rematch at UFC 260. It was a vastly different performance from Ngannou, who displayed never-before-seen patience and a perfectly-executed game plan, rather than the always-forward wrecking ball approach. Ngannou became the 22nd heavyweight champ as he stretched his win streak to five, with the previous four wins all being lighting-fast first-round knockouts.

Ciryl Gane – Heavyweight (interim)

Aug 7, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Ciryl Gane (blue gloves) receives a Championship Belt from UFC President Dana White after the fight against Derrick Lewis (red gloves) during UFC 265 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Due to negotiation issues with Francis Ngannou, an interim heavyweight title was created for a heavyweight contest between Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265. Gane, a former teammate and training partner of Ngannou, picked apart Lewis en route to a third-round TKO stoppage. In just his 10th professional MMA fight, Gane claimed a piece of the UFC heavyweight title, setting up a unification bout to take place at UFC 270 in January 2022.

Original article: https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/lists/ufc-news-changing-of-the-guard-every-new-ufc-champion-crowned-in-2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *