Skip to main content 2021 MMA fight of the year

mma fight of the year

When it came time for The Underground forums to pick what was the 2021 MMA fight of the year the choice was obvious. Justin Gaethje vs Michael Chandler was the undisputed best scrap of the year, and by a landslide.

There were certainly some truly breathtaking acts of gloved violence in 2021 MMA. Brian Ortega and Alexander Volkanovksi showcased the various facets of the sport as they tore into each other for UFC featherweight gold in September. Jiri Prochazka made a grand entrance on the Octagon stage in decimating Dominick Reyes in a wild melee. Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen battled for five rounds in a technical war of elite bantamweight strikers, and Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez took a month off their careers in November.

But for all the savage bliss those scraps brought to fight fans' lives, they still did not compare to the high-level brutality of Gaethje vs Chandler. What made this fight more than just a regular piece of classic cage fighting bedlam was all the added ingredients that made it such a savory final dish.

2021 MMA fight of the year: Justin Gaethje vs Michael Chandler

mma fight of the year

Nov 6, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Justin Gaethje (red gloves) competes against Michael Chandler (blue gloves) during UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler and Gaethje entered the fight as two of the very best talents in the lightweight division. A weight-class long viewed as the deepest in the sport. Also, a possible championship opportunity was on the line for the winner. A chance that some legends never earn during memorable careers in the UFC. Furthermore, the matchup was a booking many fans hoped for when "Iron Mike" finally left the shores of Bellator, where he became a promotion legend and signed with the UFC last year.

On top of all of that, the fight also took place on the grandest stage in all of combat sports in Madison Square Garden. A place the UFC just started playing at a few years ago, and home to some of the most legendary moments in fighting history.

The expectations were so high, it would have been understandable if the fight didn't deliver on its blood-soaked promise. If "The Highlight" went in there and destroyed Chandler in two minutes it would have been memorable, but still, a letdown considering what fans really wanted to see. Yet, despite having such unreal expectations, they gave the MMA world one of the great wars in lightweight history.

I was there in person for and the energy in the building as the fight opened up the UFC 268 main card was intense. New York was clearly in the corner of Gaethje, but there was no doubt a lot of respect shown towards Chandler. From the first minute of the fight, it was an all-out war. And not the kind where it was mindless brawling until one man went down. No this was technical and strategic, but with a healthy dose of I-want-to-knock-this-guy-out dislike where both were taking risks to land their strikes.

Justin Gathje after UFC 268: 'He is a warrior, me and him should have been fighting in an event at the f*cking Coliseum'

Early on it seemed like Chandler might have a speed advantage that could be problematic for his foe, but Gaethje did what he always does. He showed off his cement chin and slowed his opponent down with the Mjolnir hammers he calls hands. Eventually, the punches started to pile up on the native of Missouri and it seemed like Gaethje was going to break this piece of "Iron" when he dropped Chandler midway through.

However, the fight then took one of many narrative turns when Chandler showed he had the durability other Gaethje victims did not and endured the violence. Even at times taking back the momentum as the pair probably took a year off of their careers in brutalizing each other for three rounds. In the end, Gaethje won the fight via unanimous decision but the two will forever be linked by a special moment, in a special place, on a special night in UFC history.

What made it all the more legendary was being part of the group of media excited to eventually talk with the winner, but then disappointed to find out neither would be available for post-fight interviews, after being sent to a New York City hospital immediately after the fight. Chandler and Gaethje pummeled each other and may never be the same after that fight, but MMA fans will forever be grateful for what they saw on November 6. Because they took part in the 2021 MMA fight of the year.