A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2021. In the coming days, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
If anything shined brightest in MMA in 2021, it was the female athletes.
In the Professional Fighters League, fans watched two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison continue her streak of domination, as she won her second million-dollar prize in a row. She added four more finishes to her unblemished record, bringing her pro MMA record to 12-0.
In the UFC flyweight division, Valentina Shevchenko also continued her winning ways. The Kyrgyzstani striking legend adding two more TKO victories to her hit list, which now sits at 15 finishes in 22 wins. She still sits as the longest, and arguably only, reigning women’s UFC flyweight champion with six title defenses after picking up the vacant strap in 2018.
Outside of Harrison and Shevchenko, there are many stories of women making huge waves in the sport, including one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, when Julianna Pena submitted Amanda Nunes in December. However, the best female fighter in 2021 was, hands-down, “Thug” Rose Namajunas.
Namajunas first picked up the UFC strawweight title in 2017 by upsetting Joanna Jędrzejczyk. After one title defense in a rematch, she lost the title with a scary slam by Jéssica Andrade in 2019. Andrade subsequently lost the belt to Weili Zhang, Namajunas avenged her loss to Andrade in 2020, and Thug Rose first faced Zhang in Apr. 2021.
At UFC 261, it took Namajunas all of one minute and 18 seconds to land a head kick on the previously unbeaten champ to reclaim gold. Then, at UFC 268 in Nov. 2021, she faced Zhang in a rematch and picked up the split decision victory. Namajunas is still the only fighter to have beaten Zhang in 24 fights, and she did it twice in one year.
2021 was a huge comeback year for Namajunas, as she seemed quite rattled after being slammed by Andrade two years prior. She was able to keep her emotions in check, put on two dominant performances, and recapture the UFC strawweight gold. For that, Rose Namajunas is the 2021 Combat Press Female Fighter of the Year.
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