2021 MMA Awards: Best of the rest including top prospect, coach, submission and KO of the year

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·Combat columnist
·4-min read
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Miranda Maverick is one of the top prospects in MMA. The UFC flyweight won her first two bouts in the promotion, and probably deserved a decision over Maycee Barber when they met in July.

But when Maverick met Erin Blanchfield at UFC 269 in November, she was never in the fight.

Blanchfield didn’t enter the UFC as highly regarded as some, but she’s looked every bit the part of a future star in her two bouts. In MMA, I consider fighters who are 25 or younger and who have fewer than 15 fights total and fewer than five in a major promotion as prospects.

Blanchfield, 22, fills the bill and edges UFC welterweight Ian Garry for the honor as Yahoo Sports MMA Prospect of the Year for 2021.

She’s 8-1 and while she’s not shown much finishing ability yet, she is solid in all areas and is mature beyond her years.

Garry is a former Cage Warriors champion who is now 8-0 after a KO of Jordan Williams at UFC 268 in his UFC debut.

Coach of the Year a cinch

There have been several great coaching jobs in MMA in 2021, but given what Trevor Wittman has accomplished, does it make sense to run down the other names?

Oh, Javier Mendez is always a contender for a Coach of the Year award, and Eugene Bareman has become one of the sport’s finest. James Krause may wind up being the best in the business by the time he’s 40. Eric Nicksick remade Francis Ngannou and turned the scariest fighter in the sport into an even scarier version of himself.

But Wittman coached Rose Namajunas to a title-victory over Zhang Weili, helped Kamaru Usman become No. 1 pound-for-pound in the world and Fighter of the Year, and put Justin Gaethje in position for a lightweight title shot in the Fight of the Year win over Michael Chandler.

Wittman takes this one in a landslide with all due respect to the great work done by others.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 6: (L-R) Chris Barnett roundhouse kicks Gian Villante in their heavyweight fight during UFC 268 on November 06, 2021, at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
No one could have predicted Chris Barnett knocking out Gian Villante with a roundhouse kick at UFC 268. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Knockout of the Year

There are candidates aplenty for KO of the Year. Usman starching Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 comes to mind given the stakes and the skills of the two fighters.

Sergio Pettis’ spinning backfist KO of Kyoji Horiguchi at Bellator 272 was amazing, pulling a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Cory Sandhagen’s head kick KO of Frankie Edgar blew many minds, and Jiri Prochazka’s KO of Dominick Reyes is why we love this sport.

But in that vein, how about a roly-poly 5-9 heavyweight who blasts his much larger opponent with a wheel kick and quickly finishes him? Yeah, Chris Barnett’s KO of Gian Villante at UFC 268 has to be the KO of the Year for me. Tell me you saw that coming. You’re a bold-faced liar if you said you did.

Submission of the Year

Along the lines of things you didn’t expect to see, how about the widely acclaimed greatest women’s MMA fighter of all-time getting submitted? Think that deserves to be the Submission of the Year for 2021?

I do. Few gave Julianna Peña a shot at lasting more than a round or two in her bantamweight title fight with Amanda Nunes at UFC 269.

But after standing toe-to-toe with Nunes in an insane firefight in Round 2, Peña submitted her with a rear naked choke. Nothing can top tapping the GOAT, so Julianna Peña runs away with the Yahoo Sports Submission of the Year award for 2021.

The Jon Anik Award goes to …

If I gave out a best broadcaster award in MMA, it would go to Jon Anik by default every year. So I’ll recognize Anik here as the greatest broadcaster in MMA, name the award after him and pick someone else.

The UFC has a slew of talent on its broadcast crew but I think the broadcaster who impressed me the most (and has come the farthest) is Michael Bisping.

Bisping is insightful, anticipates what’s going to happen and explains things clearly to the audience. He clearly loves what he’s doing and uses his great sense of humor to make the shows fun. And he’s also a terrific interviewer.

When Bisping asked Belal Muhammad who he wanted next after Muhammad defeated Stephen Thompson in December, Muhammad said Usman. Bisping and everyone watching that broadcast knew there was zero chance of Muhammad being Usman’s next opponent.

Bisping got a better answer by prodding Muhammad, saying, “Assuming you don’t get Usman next, who else would you want?”

That’s doing the job, and Bisping did it well all year.

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