MMA Rank 20-11 – Which fighters have one of the best 2021?

With the UFC looking to start 2021 with two elements that were sorely lacking for most of 2020 – Conor McGregor and the fans in attendance – this brief break in the calendar provides the perfect window to take stock and look ahead .

Who will have the best year of all? After a 2020 that was far from normal, there will be plenty of opportunities for fighters to distance themselves from the pack in 2021, and our panel of MMA experts is setting out to determine who will step forward.

This is not a list of the top 30 fighters in the UFC – it’s a ranking based on opportunities that fighters have already signed up for or that they are planning for the year ahead. It takes into account who they will be fighting and who might be facing them in their respective divisions over the next 12 months.

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And while there are sure to be some surprises on this list, it doesn’t mean someone can’t dramatically improve their net worth in the next 12 months just because someone didn’t make the cut in this top 30. When you compare this year’s top 30 with the ones planned for 2020, the overlap is not as great as you can imagine.

And so, with all of these explanations out of the way, let’s dig in the middle of the list – the ones that range from 11 to 20. If you missed the first part of the list, read 21-30.

Article by Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim.

Record 2020: 1-1 (SUB1 loss to Aljamain Sterling; TKO2 to Marlon Moraes)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: Not rated

Next fight: TBD

Outlook for 2021: The future looks incredibly bright for Sandhagen after a bump against Sterling – a quick, shocking loss on filing. Sandhagen ended the year with a beautiful spinning wheel kick finish from Moraes. He’s as tough on his feet as any other bantamweight. Sandhagen is elusive, has good footwork and carries dangerous strength in all his limbs. In a way, he’s version 2.0 of longtime former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. A fight against the competition will be waiting for us in early 2021, and this year should be a very big one for the native Colorado-American. – Raimondi

Record 2020: 1-0 (UD via Chan Sung Jung)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: Not rated

Next fight: TBD

Outlook for 2021: This “TBD” will soon be replaced by the name Alexander Volkanovski, the men’s featherweight champion, if things go according to the UFC’s plans. And if Ortega looks nearly as fluid and sharp in this fight as he did against “The Korean Zombie” in October, he could end up wearing the belt. Ortega had a long hiatus before the Jung fight, but instead of ring rust, he showed an extra shimmer in his game. It will be interesting to see how much of this carries over to his next fight, which will be played against an opponent who has seen all of the new folds and is probably less likely to be unprepared. – Wagenheim

Record 2020: 3-0 (SUB2 via John Phillips; TKO1 via Rhys McKee; KO1 via Gerald Meerschaert)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: Not rated

Next fight: March 13 against Leon Edwards

Outlook for 2021: Chimaev went from a largely unknown commodity with no UFC fights to one of the hottest fighters in all of MMA in just two months. His first two victories – devastating, dominant performances – came in a modern record of 10 days. Chimaev has the fastest winning streak in three fights in modern UFC history (66 days). He will take a big step up the competition in 2021 when he battles top contender Leon Edwards. This is the third time the fight is on the agenda after postponing two previous cases – the second after Chimaev was forced to withdraw with lung problems related to COVID-19. Chimaev is in the fast lane but with what he’s already done, this really is the only option for the UFC. – Raimondi

Record 2020: 1-1 (TKO5 vs. Tony Ferguson; TechSUB2 loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: 17th

Next fight: TBD

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Outlook for 2021: The last time we saw Gaethje he was subdued by Nurmagomedov in a title fight in which he never seemed to get into a groove. Nurmagomedov seems to do this to everyone. The defeat did not seriously damage Gaethje’s shares. He can still take the credit for his brutalization of Ferguson and the three straight wins to date. It may have landed exactly where it landed on this list in 2000, but it’s probably not far from another title shot. UFC President Dana White tries to measure Gaethje against Charles Oliveira but the bout is not yet fully booked and Oliveira has been reported to shy away from believing he deserves a title fight. Regardless, Gaethje’s next fight will be with a top notch lightweight, and that means opportunity. After Nurmagomedov announced his resignation, the division has a battle-ridden feeling. And in this kind of junk you can never count “The Highlight”. – Wagenheim

Record 2020: 2-0 (SUB3 vs. Kevin Lee; UD vs. Tony Ferguson)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: Not rated

Next fight: TBD

Outlook for 2021: Oliveira left one of the best and most lasting impressions of any fighters in the world in 2020. At UFC 256, Oliveira completely dominated former UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson – a one-sided performance few have ever shown against Ferguson. Oliveira is absolutely prepared for a huge year 2021. The only thing left to him at this point is a title eliminator against another top candidate. Oliveira has won eight straight wins in one of the UFC’s most heavily stacked divisions. Seeing him in a title shot – or holding a belt – by the end of this year wouldn’t be out of the question. – Raimondi

Record 2020: 1: 0 (TKO5 against Tyron Woodley)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: 16

Next fight: TBD

Outlook for 2021: Its noise and smack may not be any better than the D-class, but as a fighter, Covington is the second best welterweight in the world. The problem is that the champ, Kamaru Usman, knocked him out only 13 months ago and Covington is in a very similar position to what it was at the start of 2020 – hence its similar spot on this year’s list. To get another shot at the title, Covington must weather at least one top contender. White has said the fight that makes sense for Covington is a grudge game against his former teammate and roommate, Jorge Masvidal. This heated junk that pits the two youngest £ 170 title challengers against each other would serve as a stepping stone for one of them into 2021. – Wagenheim

Record 2020: 1: 0 (SUB1 against Darrion Caldwell)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: 19th

Next fight: TBD versus Patricio Freire-Emmanuel Sanchez winner

Outlook for 2021: McKee is the brightest potential star on Bellator’s roster. He is 17-0 as a professional and only 25 years old. This year could be his massive breakout campaign. McKee’s next fight will be for the Bellator Featherweight Title in the final of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix. If Freire beats Sanchez, a fight between Freire, the multiple champion, and McKee would be one of the most relevant Bellator title fights ever in terms of mainstream attention. McKee only fought once in 2020, but his rarely seen submission to Caldwell was a highlight. – Raimondi

Record 2020: 1-0 (SD via Max Holloway)

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: 9

Next fight: TBD

Outlook for 2021: This year the mental acuity of the UFC featherweight champion will be tested. Volkanovski has had two fights with Holloway that couldn’t be more different. In the first case, Volkanovski performed masterfully to conquer the belt, and in the second, he held that belt in a close fight, which many believe the champion lost. The next time Volkanovski fights, presumably against No. 1 contender Brian Ortega, a big question arises: will the champion strain himself to put the ship back in order in the most impressive way, or will he just keep winning? – Wagenheim

Record 2020: 0-0

2020 ESPN MMA Rank: 15th

Next fight: March 13 against Khamzat Chimaev

Outlook for 2021: Edwards is MMA’s Rodney Dangerfield: the man gets no respect. It doesn’t matter that he has won eight times in a row in one of the UFC’s best divisions. He is rarely mentioned as a potential welterweight title contender by opponents or fans. Part of the story is that Edwards was unlucky. He was scheduled to fight ex-champ Tyron Woodley in March, but the card was canceled due to COVID-19. Then in December and January he stood before Chimaev, the glowing prospect. Both times the fight was postponed. The first time Edwards had the coronavirus and the last was canceled because Chimaev was recovering from COVID-19 symptoms. It seems Edwards is finally ready to step back into the cage for the first time since July 2019, and he will have a chance to bolster his status as a title contender. – Raimondi

Record 2020: 1: 0 (TKO5 against Jose Aldo)

ESPN Rank 2020: 26th

Next fight: March 6 against Aljamain Sterling (UFC 259)

Outlook for 2021: For Yan, the year begins with a matchup that could and should have been booked last July when the UFC bantamweight title was vacant. But Yan was instead compared to Aldo, who suffered two defeats in a row. Yan’s victory celebration was drowned out to some extent by Sterling seething on the sidelines. Now they meet. If Yan can keep the belt, another new challenger will be waiting for him as the £ 135 division is relentless. If Yan can run Sterling’s gantlet and at least one other challenger, he could be a real star by the end of the year. – Wagenheim

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