As the end of 2021 approaches, the UFC is looking to build on an already incredible year with a series of exciting fights to close things out. From big championship fights on pay-per-view to thrilling battles between contenders on Fight Night cards, there's a lot for mixed martial arts fans to look forward to in the final 10 weeks of 2021.
Pairing down more than 100 fights to just a top 10 was a big task, and one that forced some great fights (Jose Aldo vs. Rob Font) and title clashes (Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena) to be pushed to the side. But even without those fights, there's a lot to get excited about.
Let's take a look at the 10 most exciting fights remaining on the UFC's 2021 calendar, presented in chronological order.
Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori (Fight Night - Oct. 23)
A pair of former middleweight title challengers will meet in a battle to attempt to work their way back into contention one fight after failing to capture the belt. Both Costa and Vettori made a lot of noise ahead of their opportunities to face Israel Adesanya for the title and both men came up woefully short, Costa by knockout and Vettori via wide decision. Both men have pressure styles, with Vettori wanting to wear opponents down through aggressive grappling and Costa looking for the knockout shot on the feet. This is a huge fight for the 185-pound division and the loser will be facing an extremely long climb if they have any hope of getting back into title contention.
Islam Makhachev vs. Dan Hooker (UFC 267 - Oct. 30)
Makhachev is riding an eight-fight winning streak since his lone career loss in October 2015. A win over Hooker would put Makhachev right into the title mix in a deep and crowded lightweight division. Hooker was on the verge of getting into the title mix himself after a blood and guts war with Dustin Poirier but was knocked out by Michael Chandler in his next fight. After a win over Nasrat Haqparast, Hooker could edge his way back into contention with a huge win over a dangerous opponent.
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Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen (UFC 267 - Oct. 30)
Yan was originally scheduled to rematch Aljamain Sterling for the full bantamweight championship after dropping the belt to Sterling by disqualification. Instead, Sterling was again forced to the sidelines by continuing issues related to a neck injury, leading Sandhagen to step in for an interim title fight. Yan has been dominant in the UFC, including looking great against Sterling before throwing a blatantly illegal knee that ended his title reign. Sandhagen rebounded from an ugly loss to Sterling with back-to-back highlight-reel knockouts of Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar before a controversial split decision loss to TJ Dillashaw in his most recent outing. Despite both men coming into the interim title fight off a loss, Yan vs. Sandhagen should be high-level mixed martial arts at its best.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira (UFC 267 - Oct. 30)
As unlikely as Blachowicz seemed to become a dominant light heavyweight champion, it certainly seemed more unlikely Teixeira would become a legitimate title challenger at 41 years old. Blachowicz stepped in to fill the void when Jon Jones vacated the 205-pound title, capturing the belt with a knockout of Dominick Reyes and retaining against middleweight champ Adesanya. He's looked the part so far and will look to continue that run against Teixeira, who enters the fight on a five-fight winning streak. Teixeira's two most recent wins were stoppages of former title challengers, submitting Thiago Santos and scoring a TKO over Anthony Smith. Light heavyweight still feels a little unsettled in the post-Jones era, but this is a compelling clash of veterans who have gotten to the top of the sport the hard way.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler (UFC 268 - Nov. 6)
When Chandler signed with the UFC, a potential fight with Gaethje was immediately on most MMA fans' minds. Chandler knocked out Hooker to end up with a shot at the lightweight championship against Charles Oliveira, a fight where Chandler was on the verge of winning the title before Oliveira scored a comeback knockout. Gaethje held the interim lightweight title after dominating Tony Ferguson but lost his chance to unify the title when he was submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov. That all led to the stars aligning for a can't-miss all-action war between two of the most exciting fighters in the sport. It may not go all three rounds, but it should be a great ride while it lasts.
Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang 2 (UFC 268 - Nov. 6)
Namajunas is on her second reign as champion after knocking out Zhang with a brutal head kick in April. Zhang will get an opportunity to win the title back in a fight that promises more action than the 78 seconds fans were treated to the first time around. Namajunas is a true fan favorite and someone who has proven staying power through setbacks both inside and out of the Octagon. Zhang has been terrific in her UFC career before that nightmare moment against Namajunas, setting up this big rematch and possibly with even deeper meaning for the UFC in the Asian market where Zhang's championship victory in August 2019 was major news.
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2 (UFC 268 - Nov. 6)
Usman and Covington had a horribly contentious build to their first fight in December 2019. While that build was filled with cringe-worthy moments, the fight delivered great action before Usman scored the fifth-round TKO, breaking Covington's jaw in the process. Usman has continued to improve, especially as a striker, winning more three fights and knocking out Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal since that meeting. Covington has been far less active, getting his rematch with a single TKO win over a badly faded Tyron Woodley in September 2020. Whatever the build looks like this time around, the action in the cage should remain thrilling.
Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez (Fight Night - Nov. 13)
The UFC has done a great job of booking action fights down the stretch of 2021, and Holloway vs. Rodriguez is no exception. Holloway is trying to battle his way back to a third fight with featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski after losing the first two fights of their rivalry. He took a big step toward that goal with a showy performance in battering Calvin Kattar in January. Rodriguez has been out of action since October 2019, a combination of a USADA violation and injuries. He'll be looking to run his winning streak to three against Holloway in a fight that will likely set the winner up for a date with Volkanovski.
Leon Edwards vs. Jorge Masvidal (UFC 269 - Dec. 11)
A rivalry that has built since March 2019 when Masvidal blasted Edwards with the now-infamous "three-piece and a soda" backstage at a UFC Fight Night event in London. Masvidal isn't likely to see another welterweight title shot as long as Usman is champion, having lost a decision and a brutal knockout in their two previous meetings. Despite that, Masvidal can have a big impact on the title picture when he takes on Edwards, who is riding a nine-fight winning streak dating back to a December 2015 loss to Usman. A win for Edwards all but guarantees he will be next in line for a championship opportunity. A loss and Edwards drifts him back toward the end of the line.
Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier (UFC 269 - Dec. 11)
The lightweight championship picture has been a bit muddy since Khabib Nurmagomedov retired on top of the sport. Poirier has been generally accepted as the best lightweight fighter in the world but has been involved in big-money fights with Conor McGregor rather than title bouts. He now gets a shot at the belt against the man who took advantage of the opening and knocked out Chandler to win the belt. Oliveira may hold the title, and he has an incredible nine-fight winning streak to back up his status, but it feels like Oliveira vs. Poirier is the fight that determines the division's true champion.