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Ten Best UFC Fighters to Watch in 2021 – From Conor McGregor to Jack Shore

| January 8, 2021 10:08 am PDT
The Ten Best UFC Fighters to Watch in 2021

We did it. We navigated through the choppy waters of what was a crazy year for the UFC.

We’re merely days into the new year and I already feel optimistic. Part of that optimism, as you will soon find out, is my excitement at seeing how the ten best UFC fighters to watch in 2021 go about their business.

Not everyone can say that the last twelve months have been difficult, however. Take Deiveson Figueiredo or Israel Adesanya, for example. Both fighters enjoyed their very own annus mirabilis and will be looking to do even better by the end of December.

But for fighters like Conor McGregor or Dominick Reyes, it’s hard to see how things might go. Especially since, well, there is a lot of work to be done.

Anyway, it’s always fun to speculate, especially when it comes to MMA. So, if you feel the same way, you should absolutely check out the following list of UFC fighters to watch in 2021. 

Mason Jones

The first of two Welshmen on this list, Jones (10-0) is one of the top UFC fighters to watch in 2021.

The Blaenavon welterweight is set to make his promotional debut against Mike Davis at UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs. Magny on January 20. If all goes according to plan, Jones should leave the Octagon with a smile on his face.

The 25-year-old has a similar background to Irish legend Conor McGregor. Jones, like McGregor, held two titles simultaneously in the Cage Warriors promotion.

But can he go one step further, and become Wales’ first UFC champion? Or, Britain’s first-ever UFC two-weight king?

The kickboxer, known as “The Dragon,” will back himself to shine in the UFC this year. I do, too.

Shavkat Rakhmonov

I told anyone within earshot about a Kazakh killer by the name of Shavkat Rakhmonov.

I even recommended betting on Rakhmonov to submit Alex Oliveira in his promotional debut, at odds of +900. So, you can imagine how impressed I was to see the 26-year-old take out the tough UFC veteran in just one round, right?

Rakhmonov will have a big 2021, in my opinion. He hits like a truck, has an excellent submission game, a solid chin, and has stopped all 13 of his opponents no later than the second round. 

If there is to be a surprise package in the UFC in 2021, this guy has a big chance of being it. The UFC welterweight division is on notice…

Jack Shore

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack a few years ago, and the Welshman was a humble gent. 

But once the cage door closes, the laid-back and upbeat bantamweight might as well be a different person.

Shore, like his compatriot Jones, is a former Cage Warriors champion. He held the 135-pound title before taking out Nohelin Hernandez and Aaron Phillips in his first two UFC fights. He ended both by submission, sustaining an impressive run of 13 straight fights all of which have ended by stoppage.

For me, Jack Shore is the best British prospect in the UFC in 2021. This will be his breakout year, and what a danger he will be to the bantamweight hierarchy over the next twelve months.

Cyril Gane

The best heavyweight prospect in the UFC is Cyril Gane, right?

Despite standing at 6’5″ and weighing in at close to 250 pounds, Gane’s movement, dexterity, and technique stand him apart from almost every other fighter in his division.

A future contender for the heavyweight crown, the Frenchman could realistically be fighting for the title by the end of the year. If things go his way, and Gane continues to register performances like the one he put in on Junior dos Santos at the end of 2020, he could even be a champion by the end of December.

Alright, I might be getting a little ahead of myself there. But never say never…

Bryce Mitchell

The next big thing at featherweight? I’d say so.

Mitchell is a star in the making and will continue to demonstrate why he has the backing of so many fans, despite having just four UFC wins under his belt.

The native of Arkansas has put together an impressive record of 14-0 in MMA and will be looking to crack the top five of the 145-pound class by the end of 2021.

Mitchell is a fighter to keep your eye on this year.

Zabit Magomedsharipov

He might look like Abraham Lincoln, but Zabit is certainly not as interested in diplomacy as the esteemed 16th President of the United States.

The Russian is an absolute nightmare of a prospect for any featherweight, given he stands at just under 6’2″ and with a reach of 73″. More than this, “Honest Zabe” is an awkward, unpredictable monster on the feet, with solid grappling skills to boot.

At this point, the 18-1 Dagestani is probably one big win away from a shot at the featherweight title. And if he gets his hands on the strap, it’ll feel like prizing an alligator’s jaw open with a toothpick when trying to take that title away from him.

Will Zabit be a champion in 2021?

Jiri Prochazka

Prochazka is enjoying an incredible 11-fight win streak that has seen him knock out ten of his previous eleven opponents. 

The Czech is regarded by many as the man to dethrone UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, but he has competition from another fighter on this page.

Regardless, we can expect Prochazka to be in the mix for a title shot in 2021. Could he be the next fighter to rule 205-pounds?

I can say with absolute honesty that I cannot wait to find out.

Deiveson Figueiredo

I named Deiveson Figueiredo as my UFC fighter of the year for 2020. Would I be surprised to see him have an even better year in 2021? Nope.

The Brazilian took the UFC flyweight title in the summer following two absolute maulings of elite-level 125-pounder, Joseph Benavidez. Then, he followed that up by smashing Alex Perez and duking it out to a draw against Brandon Moreno just a few weeks later.

The former hairdresser is an animal, and I can see him furthering his case for pound-for-pound supremacy over the next six months.

But he’s not the only UFC champion to watch in 2021…

Israel Adesanya

What can you say about “The Last Stylebender” that hasn’t already been said a million times?

An incredible striker, we all know the strengths and weaknesses of Adesanya by now. Well, I guess when it comes to his weaknesses, they haven’t exactly been exposed.

Is 2021 the year when the UFC middleweight king is dethroned? Or, will we see the Nigerian-born Kiwi get his hands on the light heavyweight title? There will be plenty of chances to bet on Israel Adesanya doing both. 

I believe Adesanya — who was recently named as the Fighter of the Year for the second year running at the World MMA Awards — will light the UFC up in 2021.

He has the tools to go on to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time, and if that’s not exciting, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Conor McGregor

The most polarizing mixed martial artist of all time, Conor McGregor is also synonymous with the sport.

The Irishman is still the face of the UFC and attracts global attention like fewer sportspeople alive today. Whether you love him or hate him, he is big business. And his return to the cage in January could be the catalyst for a rebirth in the sport of MMA.

Whether you are betting on McGregor vs. Poirier 2, or simply tuning in to see “The Notorious” lose, this is a fighter that no one will take their eyes off in 2020.

McGregor’s next fight goes down at UFC 257 in January. If he beats Poirier, he will be back among royalty at 155-pounds. If he loses, well, who knows? Perhaps he could retire from the sport, and choose to scrimp by on his tens of millions of dollars.

It’s going to be a very interesting year, with McGregor’s next UFC fight setting the bar for what is to come. That applies to the Dubliner and every other fighter in the promotion, of course.

Let’s not forget that whether things go north or south against Poirier, McGregor vs. Pacquiao might happen earlier than we think.

Personally, I’d like to see McGregor stick to the promotion that made him a household name. But is all this talk about a “motivated Conor” just babble?

We’ll soon find out.

More UFC Projections for 2021

So that covers the ten best UFC fighters to watch in 2021.

From prospects like Jack Shore and Shavkat Rakhmonov to superstars like Conor McGregor and Israel Adesanya, the next twelve months should be absolute dynamite. Providing these guys are involved, of course.

If you feel I have left out a fighter that deserves to be among the ten best fighters to watch in the UFC in 2021, drop me a line in the comments section. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and check out some bold predictions for the UFC this year, including a possible Khabib vs. Georges St-Pierre fight…

Adam Haynes
Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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