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UFC 2021 Year in Review & Betting Recap

Dec. 28, 2021
by Adam Lykkesteen
VI Combat Sports Betting Expert

Dana White, UFC have reason to celebrate

UFC President Dana White took his momentum from 2020 and carried it into 2021 for all fight fans and bettors.

As the final UFC event of 2021 took place last weekend, we now shift our attention towards the new year ahead which is full of intriguing matchups and new prospects.

2021 housed a total of 43 events, tallying 508 fights. Of those 508 fights, 257 went the distance, and 251 ended with a finish.

2021 favorites went 314-159 for a total winning percentage of 66.3%.

Memorable upsets of 2021

2021 was home to some great upsets in the octagon. In total, nine underdogs priced at +250, or greater, managed to pull off the unthinkable and get the W.

UFC newcomer Chris Curtis managed to get the shovel under hard-hitting Phil Hawes in a wild fight at 185-pounds. Curtis was priced at +250 against Hawes. In his next bout however, Curtis would be an even bigger underdog as he took on Middleweight contender Brendan Allen in a three-round bout. Interestingly enough, Curtis would pull through once again, only this time he was a +275 underdog.

A $100 stake on Curtis in both of his UFC bouts of 2021 would have netted you $525.

Another memorable upset was made by UFC’s own knockout-king, Derrick Lewis, as he managed to catch another KO for the trophy case against heavyweight prospect, Curtis Blaydes, back in February. Lewis was priced at +300 for that fight.

Lewis puts Blaydes to sleep

There was one upset that trumped them all however, and it's one that went down very recently. As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m talking about Julianna Peña mind boggling finish of the GWOAT Amanda Nunes just earlier this month. Peña was priced at +700, meaning if you somehow predicted Peña to get her hand raised, a $100 stake would have earned you a juicy payout of $700.

Only twice in UFC history have underdogs at greater odds than +700 gotten the win - Matt Serra’s legendary win over GSP and Holm’s dethroning of Rousey. Peña’s upset over Amanda Nunes definitely makes the list for top 5 greatest UFC upsets of all time. I can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for Peña and her newly-found rivalry with Nunes.

Biggest favorite to win in 2021

Flipping the coin for a second, let us have a look at the biggest favorites to win in 2021.

Diving into the stats once again, there were a total of five favorites priced higher than -769. Among those were notable performances from big names such as Islam Makhachev as he pulled off an impressive win over Thiago Moises whilst being priced as a -1000 favorite.

Arman Tsarukyan, another highly-touted prospect at 155-pounds, also carried a heavy -833 price tag in his bout against Christos Giagos and got the win.

There was one favorite above them all though, and it’s a fighter in the women’s 125-pound division. Valentina Shevchenko snapped Lauren Murphy’s five-fight win streak and defended her title at UFC 266 in September, all the while being a -1429 favorite. With Nunes dethroned at 135-pounds, it will be interesting to see whether we will ever get to see a third fight between Valentina and Nunes. 2022 has many interesting matchups in store for sure, and women’s MMA seems to be at a turning point with Kayla Harrison being a free agent and Namajunas starting to come into her own as champion.

Most profitable fighter of 2021

The aforementioned Chris Curtis definitely deserves a spot among the honorable mentions of this list, however the most profitable fighter of 2021 has to be Julianna Peña.

On top of her +700 underdog win over Nunes, Peña actually picked up another win over Sara McMann on the first PPV event of the year. The fight was priced at pick’em odds, so Peña was priced at -110. $100 stakes on Peña in both of her 2021 fights would have netted you a total of $790 - you’d have almost quadrupled your money backing Julianna throughout 2021.

It’ll be very interesting to see what 2022 has in store for the “Venezuelan Vixen''. Speaking of which, let’s have a look toward the year ahead of us, and make some predictions for what the year has in store for us.

UFC 269 - Pena Octagon Interview

Bold predictions for 2022

Given the way 2021 has played out in the UFC, 2022 has many interesting things in store for us fans.

Here are our bold predictions for UFC’s 2022 at VegasInsider:

Conor McGregor fights Kamaru Usman at 170-pounds

Conor McGregor may not have the same set of skills yet he's still the largest draw in the UFC.

2021 didn’t end up being the year for Conor McGregor which the Irishman had predicted. His rematch against Poirier saw him lose via knockout for the first time in his career, and a subsequent trilogy bout turned out more unfortunate for the Irish megastar.

That said, McGregor is a big draw because of his risk-seeking fighting style, and I have no doubt he will return and get some wins under his belt in the new year. Will he regain a UFC title? Maybe not, but I have a feeling that Conor will go for the 170-pound title after winning one or two fights at Lightweight.

Why? Because winning the 170-pound belt would make him the first fighter ever to hold three belts in three different weight classes, although not at the same time.

At this point in his career McGregor is looking to solidify his name in the record books more than anything else. He knows that fighting Charles Oliveira isn’t as big a draw as fighting Nate Diaz or Usman, so why go for the 155-pound belt?

The Kamaru Usman fight is not good matchup-wise for Conor, but given the fact that he would probably be a big underdog, he really doesn’t have much to lose fighting the 170-pound champion.

After losing to Nate the first time, Conor had a little bit of a built-in excuse given the change in weight and short-notice opponent. Something similar applies to this matchup, and I think Conor will go for it, granted he gets one or two highlight reel wins under his belt.

I imagine he starts off by fighting either Diaz or Tony Ferguson, and then moves on to a fourth bout with Dustin Poirier. Should he get his hand raised in both of those bouts, I see him going for the Welterweight title.

Israel Adesanya fights his former rival Alex Pereira for the title

Israel Adesanya hasn't been tested in the middleweight division but that could change in 2022 for the champion.

As of right now, Israel Adesanya has a fight scheduled with former 185-pound champion Robert Whittaker. Should Israel retain his title in that fight, I expect Alex Pereira to be the next challenger in line.

Pereira burst onto the UFC scene in November of this year when the newly-signed striker nearly decapitated Andreas Michailidis with a flying-knee knockout in round two. Obviously strength of schedule is not in favor of Pereira getting a title shot anytime soon, but knowing the UFC as an organisation, and knowing Mr. White’s preferences, the fan-friendly finishing fighters tend to have a far shorter path to the title than most. Just look at Ji?í Procházka in the 205-pound division. The guy has fought twice and is already in the limelight for a title shot due to his style.

The Pereira fight is also a far easier sell than a Vettori trilogy or a Cannonier/Brunson fight (whoever wins that bout), given the fact that Pereira has beaten “Stylebender” twice in the past.

Adesanya has actually cleaned out the 185-pound division more than one would think, given he has only defended his title thrice. Some new blood, and a new rivalry, could be great for the UFC’s middleweight division.

Pereira fights once or twice and continues his highlight reel streak, which should be enough to grant him a shot at Adesanya.

Francis Ngannou is dethroned and leaves the UFC for good

Bettors haven't shown a strong lean to champion Francis Ngannou for his upcoming fight at UFC 270.

As of right now, Francis Ngannou, the current heavyweight champion, is scheduled to take on his former teammate, Ciryl Gane, in the first PPV event of 2022.

After knocking out Stipe Miocic to finally get his hands on UFC gold, and avenging a devastating loss in the process, Ngannou looked like he would be untouchable for the longest time at heavyweight.

The thing is, we all, myself included, seemed to forget about the unbeaten prospect in Ciryl Gane dominating everyone put in front of him. Gane finally got his big moment at UFC 265 when he beat Derrick Lewis handily to win the interim title.

Matchup-wise, Gane is a nightmare for Ngannou.

I can’t see how the champion wins this fight. Outside of Stipe, who is getting up there in age, Francis has only fought one technical kickboxer in the UFC - Jairzinho Rosentruik.

Ngannou blitzed forward and quickly ended that fight, but he won’t be able to do that against Gane. The guy is too slick.

If you break down the metrics of Gane’s domination, the only reason he isn’t being put in the GOAT conversation is simply because he hasn’t won the title yet. Gane has never lost a round, nor has he ever been knocked down or out. At the same time, he has outstruck his opponents at a ratio greater than 2:1 throughout his eight UFC fights.

On top of this, in light of recent information from Dana White himself, it appears that Francis’ last fight on his contract is his upcoming one against Ciryl Gane. Now, there’s a catch: Heavyweight champions are contractually obliged to another one or two fights if they defend their title. Therefore, Francis could very well leave the UFC for good if he loses to Gane.

To take that narrative even further, Francis might almost have an incentive to lose his fight against Gane, as personal feuds between him and the UFC, more specifically Dana White, have been brewing ever since his first fight against Stipe Miocic years back.

That feud hit its boiling point when Francis felt he was snubbed out of a title fight against Gane. The UFC went with an interim title bout between Derrick Lewis and Ciryl instead.

If Francis doesn’t want to work with the UFC, his easiest path toward that goal is losing to Ciryl Gane.

I’m not saying that he will go out there and sandbag this fight though, don’t get me wrong - this prediction is mainly based on the fact that Gane is an unbeaten stud on a meteoric rise towards stardom and GOAT status.

UFC 270 to kick off 2022 with Heavyweight Championship Showdown

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