Top 10 UFC Rookies in 2021

he variety of nationalities debuting in the UFC is always amazing – every year talented and charismatic fighters from New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia and other countries enter the octagon. The constant international influx allows you to be calm about the future of the UFC. But what about the new heroes of 2021? We have selected the brightest and most memorable debutants, and now we are in a hurry to share this list with you.

Be sure to remember these names, because sometimes we talk about the future champions of the organization. 

10 – Pat Sabatini

Pat Sabatini reacts after defeating Tristan Connelly in their featherweight bout during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

It took Pat Sabatini 7 years and 16 professional fights to get into the UFC, and from the very first appearance, the American began to prove that he deserved his place in the world’s best promotion. 

In April, Pat defeated the burly Tristan Connelly, in August consolidated his success in the fight with Jamal Emmers, grabbing an additional 50 thousand dollars for the best performance of the evening, and in November he drew a line under a very successful year for himself in the fight with Tucker Lutz. 

The featherweight division has been overflowing with talent lately, and Pat’s meteoric rise will only make things even more interesting and intense in the division.

9 – Paddy Pimblett

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Paddy Pimblett faced inflated demands and expectations before his first UFC appearance because he was entering the world’s largest organization as a potential star. 

The Briton made a great noise in his homeland, managed to win the belt of a local organization, and was preparing to conquer a new peak. After a little trouble early in his debut fight, Pimblett did a beautiful job – Luigi Vendramini was knocked out late in the first round and Paddy went home with a first win, an extra $50,000 for best performance of the night, and more hype. 

One of the most curious stories in 2022 will be how the Briton’s future career in the UFC will develop. Whatever happens, this guy will definitely be interesting. 

8 – Bruno Silva

Bruno Silva celebrates in the Octagon following his UFC 269 win
Bruno Silva of Brazil  (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

If viewers from the post-Soviet space learned about Bruno Silva back in 2018 and roughly understood what kind of fighter he was, then the American public met the Brazilian as a dark horse and hardly had any idea what to expect from him. 

Due to various issues, “Armored” only debuted in the UFC in 2021, but did everything to be well remembered by local viewers. In just six months, Bruno fought three fights, scored three KO / TKO victories, took two bonuses for the best performances of the evening, and became one of the most spectacular fighters not only in the middleweight category but in the entire UFC.

Aggressive fighting style, constant focus on knockouts, and the ability to finish the opponent at any second of the fight – an excellent set of qualities to instantly turn into a public favorite. So far, Wellington Thurman, Andrew Sanchez, and Jordan Wright have felt the power of the Armored Brazilian’s punches, but it will be extremely interesting to see what happens when the best fighters in their division face Silva.

7 – Terrence McKinney

Terrance McKinney celebrates after knocking out Matt Frevola in their lightweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

If several fighters from our list needed to fight 2-3 fights at once to get into our rating, then only one was enough for Terrence McKinney.

The thing is that the American agreed to urgently replace Frank Camacho and take the fight on short notice against Matt Frevola, who a few months earlier spent a full 15 minutes in the octagon with Arman Tsarukyan. 

Of course, McKinney was considered an underdog in the confrontation with a more experienced compatriot, but the debutant came out without any hesitation and knocked out Frevola with the first blow. 7 seconds – that’s how long it took Terence to become one of the hottest prospects this year.

6 – Lupita Godinez

After signing with the UFC, Lupita Godinez instantly went to work and transformed into the female version of Donald Cerrone. For 7 months, the girl had 4 fights, agreed to speak on short notice, and boldly got involved in the riskiest adventures – for example, for the second fight in seven days, and not in her weight category. 

All this led to a record of 2-2, but you need to understand that this does not matter, because instead of anxiously protecting his record, “Loopy” was ready to risk everything every time. In addition, the defeat from Jessica Penn turned out to be quite controversial, and the duel with Luana Carolina, not in her weight category, initially looked almost like an unbearable task. 

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

5 – Erin Blanchfield

Erin Blanchfield, 22, didn’t make her first UFC fight until September, but she’s done enough in that time to make it onto our list of the year’s best rookies.

At first, the American coolly dismantled Sarah Elpar, and in December she repeated this trick with the talented Miranda Maverick. Each time, Erin showed impressive performances, not losing a single round to her rivals. 

Of course, Blanchfield is a long way from a title fight with Valentina Shevchenko right now, but she’s only 22 and has plenty of time to replace “Bullet” on the flyweight throne. 

Erin Blanchfield exits the cage after her unanimous decision victory over Miranda Maverick in their women's flyweight fight during the UFC 269 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

4 – Chris Curtis

Chris Curtis’ long, hard road to the UFC has become another great “never give up” motivational story.

The American could get into the best fighting organization in the middle of 2018. A month before his 31st birthday, Chris issued an early victory in the Dana White Candidates Series but never received a contract with the UFC. 

After that, there were 10 fights, two attempts to end his career, and a triumphant return, which allowed the fighter to realize his old dream. As usual, chance decided everything – in November of this year, Curtis received an offer to take the fight on short notice against the near-top Philip Hawes, and Chris could not miss the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Then there was almost a Christmas tale about how a hopeless underdog sensationally finishes the favorite in a numbered tournament, and after a few moments emotionally tells his difficult story to the legendary Joe Rogan. 

This plot would have been enough to get into our rating, but a month after the first fight, Curtis won a second victory. And he did it again in extremely unfavorable conditions – the American agreed to replace Roman Dolidze in the fight with Brendan Allen, and he hardly had any sane training camp behind him.

Chris was considered an even bigger underdog than the first time, but again he neglected all hands and finished his opponent in the second round. And we got a wonderfully inspiring story about how to get to your dreams if you do not lose faith in the most difficult times. 

Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

3 – Michael Chandler

For a long time, Michael Chandler has been one of the best fighters outside of the UFC, and it is for this reason that his debut was a particularly interesting event. As a result, the American was able not only not to disappoint, but also to exceed expectations – in the very first fight, Michael dealt with the top Dan Hooker in just 2.5 minutes, and this was especially cool, given that seven months earlier, the New Zealander steadfastly held the best blows of Dustin Poirier for 25 minutes. 

Immediately after the victory, Chandler consolidated his success in the media, mentioning in an interview with Joe Rogan the main fighters of the lightweight division – Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, and all the same Poirier. 

Already in May, “Iron” Michael went to the title fight with Charles Oliveira and was very close to victory, but could not finish the Brazilian in the first round, and in the second he himself missed a heavy blow and was finished. Yes, Chandler could not win the belt, but he gave the audience a spectacular and dramatic fight. 

In November, the American faced Justin Gaethje and made one of the best fights of the year. Michael focused on a brilliant performance and quite consciously accepted the cutting with one of the most dangerous punchers in the UFC, agreeing to pay a rather high price for this in the form of his own health and a second defeat in the UFC. 

Michael Chandler reacts after his knockout victory over Dan Hooker of New Zealand in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

2 – Manon Firoth

In that fight, Michael pretty clearly demonstrated his current priorities, where entertainment prevails over achieving the desired result. Of course, this approach won the hearts of many fans, and at the same time opened the way for the Americans to other fights that also risk becoming modern MMA classics – for example, with Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.

Manon Fiorot training for UFC 266

Manon Firoth burst into the UFC in January of this year and during this time managed to hold three fights, win three victories and show outstanding skills in the rack. The Frenchwoman alternately finished Victoria Leonardo and Tabata Ricci, and in October she went the full three rounds with the uncompromising Maira Buena Silva. 

Each time, Firoth demonstrated amazing performance and a prohibitive number of kicks. But this is hardly surprising because Manon is a black belt in karate.

With three victories, the girl got into the top 15 flyweight rankings, and it will be very interesting to watch her compete with other talented athletes, for example, Erin Blanchfield mentioned above, or Casey O’Neill, the main discovery of this year, located at the first place of our list. 

1 – Casey O’Neill

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Casey O’Neill came to the UFC with the status of an undefeated athlete, and a year later the girl still does not know defeats, but three early victories appeared in her professional record at once. 

The Scottish native, representing Australia, alternately finished Shana Dobson (TKO), and Lara Procopio (choke), and in October consolidated her success with a bright performance in a fight with Antonina Shevchenko (TKO).

Casey is absolutely comfortable both on the stand and on the ground, and this is understandable. Already at the age of four, O’Neill’s father took her to the kickboxing section, at 15 she already had her first amateur fight, and before the pandemic, she managed to train at the famous Tiger Muay Thai gym in Thailand. We add to this a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and understand that we are dealing with an absolute universal fighter without frank gaps. 

Interestingly, Casey becomes the third female flyweight fighter in our rankings, which means that Valentina Shevchenko will have a lot of work in the next couple of years. And it will be interesting to see how the best female fighter in the UFC will deal with a new generation of rivals.

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