The summer of 2021 spelled many remarkable moments within combat sports. Multiple UFC titles were defended, while some changed hands to the sound of Bruce Buffer’s signature “And new.” Legends of the fight game retired, while new stars rose. It was an awesome summer for fans. Below, I recap the most noteworthy moments from the Octagon since April.
UFC 262: Oliveira vs. Chandler, May 15
Speaking of “And new,” the UFC kicked off the summer with an excellent card in a sold-out Toyota Center on May 15. In the wake of former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s (29-0) unexpected retirement in October 2020, the UFC put forward the all-time submission record holder, Charles Oliveira (31-8), and former Bellator lightweight royalty Michael Chandler (22-6).
After a raucous first round that saw Chandler rock Oliveira with a right, Oliveira flipped the script in round two and scored a surprise knockout of Chandler. Oliveira claimed UFC gold in his 39th professional fight and currently sits atop the division. His first defense could have been a summer match with Dustin Poirier (28-6), but “The Diamond” had other plans. More on that later.
UFC 263: Adesanya vs. Vettori 2, June 12
Israel Adesanya (21-1) returned to middleweight to defend his belt against familiar foe Marvin Vettori (17-5-1). The fight was a foregone conclusion and yet another installment in Adesanya’s dominant title reign. The bigger headline from this card came from its co-main when Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) rematched then flyweight champion, Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1)
The first time the two met, they put on a five-round banger that ended in an extremely rare majority draw. The second time, Moreno caught “Figgy” in a rear-naked choke and took the belt from the flyweight king. Another “And new,” and another feel-good victory.
UFC 264: Poirier vs. McGregor 3, July 10
The biggest event of the summer in terms of pay-per-view buys was the conclusion to the Poirier-McGregor trilogy — and likely, the end to any future title contention for Conor McGregor (22-6). McGregor’s fight-week trash talk was unnecessary and vicious. He promised Poirier would leave the Octagon “on a stretcher” and made claims about his opponent’s wife.
Poirier, as with the second fight these two had back in January, was better than McGregor in every way. In the last 10 seconds of the fight, McGregor’s ankle gruesomely crumbled, and Poirier got his hand raised. Also, the irony that McGregor was the one to leave the arena on a stretcher is worth noting.
The game had changed while McGregor was off becoming the wealthiest athlete of all time. To give credit where it is due, McGregor is the most important person to have ever stepped foot in the Octagon. Without him, the sport wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is today. He will always be able to sell pay-per-views and sell out stadiums. But I strongly doubt he will ever sniff title contention again. Poirier, meanwhile, is likely now practicing his grappling for “Charlie Olives.”
UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw, July 24
The snake returns. The only free fight to earn a mention in this column was a world-class scrap between two amazing bantamweights. Former bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw (18-4) returned from his two-year suspension for EPO use to face top bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen (14-3). The fight was a razor-thin split decision and a shoo-in for the fight of the year in my book. Dillashaw is back, and I think it’s clear he will get the next title shot after Aljamain Sterling (20-3) and Petr Yan (15-2) have their rematch.
UFC 265: Lewis vs. Gane, Aug. 7
As an avid UFC viewer, this manufactured interim title shot was annoying. As a self-proclaimed Francis Ngannou (16-3) superfan, everything about this fight’s existence was infuriating. The UFC needed a flashy main event for their return to Houston in August, so they created an interim belt fight between Houston’s son, Derrick Lewis (25-8) and French heavyweight Ciryl Gane (10-0).
The UFC offered Ngannou, the current heavyweight champion, the scrap with Lewis in Houston first. Ngannou, who had won the belt in March, requested not to fight in August, but in September. UFC president Dana White went with Gane and an interim belt instead.
Obviously, I understand that the UFC is a company and needs to make money. Selling out a stadium in Houston is a great way to do that. However, it is an extremely dangerous precedent to manufacture title fights out of thin air. Ngannou vs. Gane is being targeted for early January, so all this really amounts to is an inevitable fight.
All in all, the UFC put on some fantastic cards this summer. With many great fights scheduled on the horizon (Volkanovski vs. Ortega, Gaethje vs. Chandler, Usman vs. Covington 2), make sure you keep up with the Red Corner all year and follow @TheRedCornerDFP on Twitter.