Ranking the 10 best MMA fights still to come in 2021

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Four UFC events and one Bellator card remain in 2021. Several important fights - including three title bouts - are set to take place before the calendar flips.

Which fights you should watch over the next six weeks? We've ranked the 10 best:

10. Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena

Event: UFC 269, co-main event
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Women's bantamweight title fight

Nunes is the greatest women's fighter of all time, and her legacy isn't even complete yet. Anytime she fights, it's a big deal. But her bantamweight title defense against Pena isn't shaping up to be very competitive. That's usually the case with Nunes' fights. "The Lioness" has been significantly better than almost all of her challengers so far, and there's no one left who would, on paper, threaten her reign - including Pena. It wouldn't be fair to rank this matchup any higher than 10th.

9. Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus

Event: UFC Fight Night, main event
Date: Dec. 18
Division: Heavyweight

The UFC is ending its 2021 campaign with a bang. Daukaus' impressive 4-0 start earned him his first main event against a notable name in Lewis, a former title challenger looking to bounce back from a one-sided August beating against interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane. Daukaus - along with Tom Aspinall - is the fresh blood the division needed, and he'll look to maintain his momentum. But Lewis has the power to beat Daukaus and is his stiffest test so far.

8. Kai Kara-France vs. Cody Garbrandt

Event: UFC 269, main card
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Flyweight

Garbrandt, a former bantamweight champion, is following in the footsteps of his old friend and fellow ex-champ TJ Dillashaw by dropping down to the flyweight division. "No Love" was supposed to make the move in 2020 and was scheduled to challenge then-flyweight titleholder Deiveson Figueiredo, but an injury and COVID-19 issues forced Garbrandt to withdraw. A victory over the No. 6-ranked flyweight in Kara-France would immediately make Garbrandt a top contender - and potentially secure him a title shot.

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

7. Pedro Munhoz vs. Dominick Cruz

Event: UFC 269, preliminary card
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Bantamweight

Cruz earned his first win in over four years in his last bout against Casey Kenney, and now the former bantamweight champion will try to build on that momentum in a pivotal clash with Munhoz. He's ranked No. 10 going in, while Munhoz sits at No. 8. A win for Cruz would put him back in the mix and potentially open the door for one more title run. Munhoz, meanwhile, badly needs to bounce back from his recent 1-3 slump if he still wants to be considered one of the division's contenders.

6. Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio

Event: UFC 269, main card
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Welterweight

Neal and Ponzinibbio are never in boring bouts, so this pair of top-15 welterweights has a good chance of producing one of the most exciting fights of the year. Neal was once a rising contender who many thought would eventually challenge for UFC gold. But he finds himself in a precarious position after losing his last two fights against Neil Magny and Stephen Thompson. Ponzinibbio, meanwhile, is looking to put together a winning streak - and return to the top 10 - after beating Miguel Baeza in a back-and-forth brawl in June.

5. Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige

Event: UFC 269, preliminary card
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Featherweight

Emmett is finally set to return to the Octagon after suffering a severe knee injury in a June 2020 win over Shane Burgos that was also a "Fight of the Year" candidate. His recovery took longer than anticipated, but the No. 7-ranked featherweight is back - and jumping right into the deep end of the division. No. 9 Ige, who's looking to bounce back from a June loss to Chan Sung Jung, is a tough out for almost anyone. The winner of this contest - which has fireworks written all over it - will move one step closer to a title shot.

4. Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev

Event: UFC Fight Night, co-main event
Date: Dec. 4
Division: Lightweight

Riddell and Fiziev are easily the least popular names on this list, but don't let that fool you: This is one of the best matchups remaining in 2021. Riddell and Fiziev are arguably the two hottest, most promising, and most intriguing prospects in a stacked lightweight division. They also happen to be two of the most exciting 155-pound fighters, period. Fiziev seems to be a UFC champion in the making, but Riddell has a good shot at playing spoiler in a contest that might be a late addition to everyone's "Fight of the Year" lists.

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

3. Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi

Event: Bellator 272, main event
Date: Dec. 3
Division: Bantamweight title fight

Bellator's final main event of 2021 is a good one - so good it's a better offering than all but two of the fights the UFC has scheduled before 2022. After dethroning Juan Archuleta in May, Pettis gets an extremely tough test in his first bantamweight title defense. Horiguchi is a fellow UFC veteran who held the Bellator title before vacating it in 2019 due to an injury. He's returning to Bellator after two fights with Rizin FF, and the winner of this matchup will have a solid case as one of the best 135-pound fighters on the planet.

2. Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo

Event: UFC Fight Night, main event
Date: Dec. 4
Division: Bantamweight

Font is one of the most underappreciated contenders in the bantamweight division, and Aldo has looked terrific of late, especially considering he's 35 and was thought by many to be done not long ago. This is a huge fight for 135 pounds and should be very entertaining. Depending on how long Dillashaw is sidelined with a knee injury, the winner between No. 4 Font and No. 5 Aldo could overtake him and face the winner of the impending title rematch between champion Aljamain Sterling and interim champ Petr Yan.

1. Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier

Event: UFC 269, main event
Date: Dec. 11
Division: Lightweight

Several factors and storylines make Poirier-Oliveira a must-watch fight. Poirier - whom many consider the top lightweight with Khabib Nurmagomedov out of the picture - gets another chance to become undisputed UFC champion after forgoing a title shot in favor of a trilogy bout with Conor McGregor in July. Oliveira, who captured the vacant belt in May as one of the unlikeliest champions in UFC history, has an opportunity to prove once and for all that he's the best in the world.

The fight itself should be a fascinating clash of styles: Oliveira is one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the sport, but Poirier holds an advantage in the striking department. On paper, this bout is highly competitive - and undeniably the best fight still to come in 2021.

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Ranking the 10 best MMA fights still to come in 2021
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