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Best of UFC in 2021: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler earns Fight of the Year in all-time battle

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UFC fighters produced a dizzying array of classic fights in 2021. These remarkable athletes tested the breaking points of their body, mind and spirit in pursuit of fame, fortune and glory.

Dozens of fighters deserve standing ovations for crafting the sort of violence that even the most conditioned fans winced at from the comfort of their couches. The lower end of this year’s top nine was ultra-competitive. One fight, however, knocked out all other contenders for 2021 Fight of the Year honors.

A panel of CBS Sports experts sat down to vote on our picks for fighter, knockout and fight of the year, with some very interesting results. Take a look below at which combatants put on the 2021 Fight of the Year.

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Awards as voted on by Brian Campbell, Brent Brookhouse, Brandon Wise and Shakiel Mahjouri.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a look ahead to what could be to come in the UFC in 2022 below.

Fighter of the Year

Winner: Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler — UFC 268

Terminator vs. Terminator. Gaethje vs. Chandler delivered and exceeded fan expectations in their main card opener in November. Gaethje and Chandler bludgeoned each other repeatedly over the course of 15 minutes, regularly reducing each other’s legs to rubber. Each man’s power was opposed by the other’s chin. Chandler clipped Gaethje early in Round 1; but “The Highlight” won back portions of the round with his combinations. Gaethje rattled off a seismic uppercut in the middle frame that nearly did Chandler in. Chandler threw tactics out the window in Round 3 and squared up to Gaethje with his hands down. It was a terribly misguided approach, but the sheer mettle of Chandler is commendable. Ultimately, the judges submitted a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-29, 30-27) in favor of Gaethje.

Gaethje (22-3) has notched Fight of the Night honors in 66% of his UFC fights, 10 total performance bonuses in his first nine UFC fights and is the first fighter to earn a post-fight bonus in each of their first seven UFC fights. Fights against Dustin Poirier, Eddie Alvarez and Michael Johnson have been lauded as Fight of the Year in past years. UFC 268 marked Chandler’s first UFC Fight of the Night honor; however, he was arguably snubbed by the promotion in a fight you will read about shortly. He also boasts a performance bonus for his debut knockout of Dan Hooker in January.

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A Gaethje or Chandler fight is always worth salivating over. But Gaethje vs. Chandler was decadent.

Second place: Alex Volkanovski def. Brian Ortega — UFC 266

Volkanovski continued to build on his status as king of the UFC featherweight division for the foreseeable future. Ortega showed major improvements since his loss to Max Holloway, paired with his trademark toughness and hazardous submission game. Volkanovski was generally the superior fighter over the course of five rounds; however, “T-City” was a worthy opponent on the feet. A dramatic third round likely secured this fight as No. 2 on the Fight of the Year list.

Ortega dropped Volkanovski and jumped on his neck like a rabid dog. The champion flailed and trashed for his life, barely escaping a guillotine choke that would have severed him from UFC gold on any other night. A subsequent triangle armbar nearly got the job done for Ortega, but Volkanovski replied with a flurry of ground-and-pound punches to close out the round. The Australian looked renewed in the championship rounds, driving the challenger off his territory. Volkanovski mashed Ortega’s face with ground-and-pound for a significant portion of Round 4. The official scorecards read 49–46, 50–45, 50–44 for the defending champion.

Volkanovski had earned his place as the UFC’s top featherweight with consecutive victories over Holloway. What Ortega gifted the champ, however, was a much-needed profile boost in the form of a Fight of the Year contender.

Third place: Charles Oliveira def. Michael Chandler — UFC 262

Oliveira made a strong case for Fighter of the Year in 2021 and also notched himself a potential Fight of the Year against the aforementioned Chandler. It was fun for as long as it lasted with both men nearly being finished over the course of 5:19. Oliveira, MMA’s premier submission artist, and Chandler, a power puncher with iron in his fists, defied expectations early. Chandler snatched a viable guillotine choke and survived a back take. Oliveira then survived a knocked down and extended beating, shockingly dropping Chandler after a brief rest between rounds. Oliveira claimed the vacant UFC lightweight title officially at 0:19 of Round 2 to actualize an 11-year-long journey in the UFC.

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In the aftermath of former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, the division’s title picture has reemerged as one of MMA’s most exciting and competitive.

Others receiving votes:

  • T.J. Dillashaw reminded the world that he is still a top-flight bantamweight in a closely contested split decision win over Cory Sandhagen following a 30-month layoff in July.
  • Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo beat the stuffing out of each other for 15 minutes at UFC 268. The fight, which was scored as a unanimous decision for Burgos, would have been guaranteed Fight of the Night at any other event. Just not the same card as Gaethje vs. Chandler.
  • Holloway maintained his status as the clear second-best active UFC featherweight against a game Yair Rodriguez in November, the latter of whom showed potential as 145’s future champion.
  • Merab Dvalishvili barely survived an early onslaught from bantamweight slugger Marlon Moraes in September. Dvalishvili answered emphatically with his trademark grappling to secure the closing moments of round one and subsequent two rounds.
  • Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2 continued where the first fight left off, further building the legacy of an all-time great UFC welterweight rivalry in November. Usman remained champion at UFC 268, but another competitive outing leaves room for a trilogy fight down the line.
  • Sandhagen looked strong in the opening rounds of his UFC 267 fight against Petr Yan for the interim UFC bantamweight title. It was another case of close but not quite as Yan’s power and timing turned the tide in round three. 



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Paul Goldschmidt launches a deep solo homer vs. Diamondbacks

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Paul Goldschmidt helped the St. Louis Cardinals grab an early 1-0 lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks, thanks to his solo homer in the first inning.



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Patriots’ Mac Jones made his preseason debut against the Panthers. Here’s how it went.

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The last time New England quarterback Mac Jones took the field for a game, the Patriots lost, 47-17, against the Buffalo Bills in the 2021 AFC wild card round. On Friday night, Jones got to see some playing time under the lights, as he started in the home game against the Carolina Panthers

Jones did not play in the team’s preseason premiere against the New York Giants, but he got his chance to kick off his sophomore year during Week 2 of the preseason.

From warmups to the team entrance, Jones was fired up to be in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd, and the home fans reciprocated the love.

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The Patriots offense got off to a slow start, going three-and-out on its first and second offensive drives. Its third drive was a different story, going 10 plays for a touchdown.

The highlight of the series was a beautiful 45-yard completion from Jones to receiver Nelson Agholor that set them up well for the eventual score. 

Jones, who changed his offseason workout routine and has been open about his diet, showed off his athletic ability by rushing in the red zone for seven yards. Then, a two-yard run from Ty Montgomery put the Patriots on the board to give them the lead. Jones was done for the night after that, finishing 4-for-8 for 61 yards.

The second season for a highly drafted quarterback, especially one who starts in his first year, is an integral one, and while Jones’ preseason debut was nothing crazy, he was able to shake the rust off.

Heading into a season where he knows the coaching staff and is familiar with the offense, Jones should improve from his rookie year. Training camp was not too impressive for the offense, which has no official coordinator and instead will be led by a combination of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, two coaches with not much offensive experience.

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However, the connection between Jones and Agholor is what concerned fans can look at for hope as the preseason soon comes to a close.



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Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns finally stepped into the ring face-to-face, leaving The Universal Champion on the ground without his titles. 



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