Tap Ins & Tap Outs 2021 Awards – Breakthrough Fighter of the Year

An amazing year of fights has come to an end and that means it’s time to hand out the annual awards for the fight game.

After 509 fights in 2021 after the global pandemic was worked around, the UFC produced some amazing fights with incredible moments throughout the year. But which were the best? Who was the best?

For our second annual end of year awards, we’ll be handing out the honours for each of the following categories:



BREAKTHROUGH FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

3. Belal Muhammad (3-0-1 in 2021)

Muhammad has the perfect nickname heading into 2022 after the 2021 he had.

‘Remember the Name’ isn’t new to the UFC, but in 2021 he finally became a household name with some impressive victories and memorable moments in the octagon.

He opened the year with a win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258 before stepping in on very short-notice to fight top contender Leon Edwards at UFC Vegas 21. When that fight ended in a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke, Muhammad took the momentum from the buzz of the fight and ran with it.

He called Edwards out all year and with dominant wins over Demian Maia at UFC 263 and then Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson at UFC Vegas 45 he may get his wish early in 2022 after breaking into the top five of the 170-pound rankings. What a year.


2. Erin Blanchfield (2-0 in 2021)

Blanchfield earned herself a big reputation outside of the UFC before finally making her debut with the organisation in September of this year, but she wasted no time making sure she made an impression.

A dominant decision win over Sarah Alpar set her up for a fight against Maycee Barber, who was forced to withdraw injured and was replaced by the equally highly rated Miranda Maverick at UFC 269.

Her performance in that fight was near flawless though as she showed her power, wrestling, composure and technique to waltz to a dominant decision win.

2022 could be a big year for ‘Cold Blooded’ if she continues winning in a division that is always desperate for new contenders with Valentina Shevchenko as dominant as ever.


1. Sean O’Malley (3-0 in 2021)

He’s not a new name and he’s without doubt one of the most popular fighters on the roster, but 2021 will be remembered as the real breakout year for Sean O’Malley in the UFC.

‘Suga’ opened the year with a brilliant knockout win over Thomas Almeida at UFC 260, as he dominated the Brazilian for three rounds before getting the highlight reel finish in the third-round.

He then fought short-notice opponent Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 and absolutely dominated for three rounds in that too. The UFC newcomer refused to go away, taking serious amounts of damage in the fight but O’Malley kept teeing off until the referee said enough was enough with seconds remaining.

He ended the year with a ranking though thanks to arguably the most impressive win of his year at UFC 269, when he stopped talented grappler Raulian Paiva in the first-round with a vicious combination.

Three wins, three knockouts and entering the new year as a ranked fighter – Sean O’Malley is the breakthrough fighter of the year.

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