The 2021 Irish and International Severe MMA Awards

An ever-so-slight semblance of normality returned to mixed martial arts this year as promotions worldwide began to find ways around the dreadful pandemic which has altered all our lives in the last two years. The UFC went on as normal, Bellator and PFL returned to regularity, Cage Warriors excited us with their trilogies and even local shows North and South of the Irish border were thankfully able to return and showcase the best of the amateur talent on the Island today.

For the last eight years we have voted on the best in their fields of MMA for our awards, and this year is no different. We have an expanded voting panel of nine this year who painstakingly watched all of our nominations to bring the eventual winners. The panel consisted of SevereMMA founder Graeme McDonnell, MMA podcaster and journalist Sean Sheehan, former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred, the most well versed man on worldwide MMA Caposa, as well as our SevereMMA staff members Ian O’Neill, Caoilte De Barra, Harry Powell, Jake Smith and Andy Stevenson. Huge thanks to the Severe crew and Caposa for helping to get the nominations together, as well as Jake Smith on graphics duty. There was only one tie this year and the winner was decided on a second vote from the SevereMMA crew with only the two tied fighters as choices.

Sean and Graeme recorded a podcast discussing the winners which you can listen to below. For the full winners, please scroll down below, or don’t if you wish to avoid podcast spoilers.

Fighter of the Year:

Kamaru Usman

Another banner year for the UFC welterweight champion. The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ won all three fights in 2021, finishing Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal before beating bitter rival Colby Covington for the second time.

Fight of the Year

Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler at UFC 268

When two of the most exciting fighters in the history of our young sport were to meet, expectations were high. The fact they exceeded those expectations says all you need to know about how amazing this 15-minute affair really was.

Submission of the Year

AJ McKee vs. Patricio Freire – Guillotine – Bellator 263

For a long time AJ McKee has been called one of the best prospects on earth. Stepping up and submitting Patricio Pitbull in the first round fulfilled all of those claims and earns him the best submission in 2021.

Knockout of the Year

Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi – Spinning Back Fist – Bellator 272

Even without the context of this KO (which we will get to later) Sergio Pettis’ step-over headkick into an un-defendable spinning backfist was one of the prettiest and most jaw-dropping jaw crackers we’ve seen in mixed martial arts in a long time.

Female Fighter of the Year

Julianna Peña

To be the woman, you have to beat the woman. The second the greatest female fighter we have ever seen tapped to Peña’s rear-naked choke, this award was hers.

Underdog of the Year

Julianna Peña

Nobody gave Julianna Peña a shot against Amanda Nunes, apart from Julianna Peña. Many are calling this the biggest upset in MMA history and, with the context of what Amanda Nunes has done in the past, it’s very hard to argue.

Emerging Worldwide Prospect Of The Year:

Aaron Pico

After a rocky start to his professional career, Aaron Pico is finally coming into his own. Two flawless wins in 2021 win him this award over Khamzat Chimaev on count-back in the only tie of our voting.

Irish Pro Fighter Of The Year

Ian Garry

The 2019 and 2020 emerging Irish prospect of the year, has now fully emerged. In a banner year for the next wave of Irish professionals, Garry stood above the pack as he won Cage Warriors gold before signing for the UFC and knocking out Jordan Williams in his Octagon debut.

Emerging Irish Prospect Of The Year

Pa Lehane

In 2021, Lehane had three cancelled match-ups and didn’t manage to make his pro debut until August, but still won 4 of 5 fights in Combate Global to become the third Munster man to win this award after Will Fleury and Peter Queally.

Irish Amateur Fighter Of The Year:

Shauna Bannon

What a story Shauna Bannon has. After giving birth to her son Jayce at the end of 2020, Bannon went on ferocious 5-0 run in 2021, fighting all comers on any notice and at any weight class. Bannon is turning pro in 2022 and is undoubtedly one of the hottest prospects on the scene.

Irish Female Fighter Of The Year

Leah McCourt

Female fighter of the year is always one of the closest run categories, and this year was no different after a great twelve months for the fighting Irish ladies. Amazingly, this is Leah McCourt’s first time winning the award – and it’s long overdue. The #4 ranked Bellator featherweight had two big wins in 2021, the highlight of which was a fantastic come-from-behind triangle choke against Janay Harding.

Irish gym of the year

Fight Academy Ireland

It’s not often we see a gym crown two Cage Warriors champions in a year and that’s exactly what FAI had with Joe McColgan and Paul Hughes both picking up gold. Along with an undefeated year for the likes of Ciaran Mulholland, Matthew Elliott and Paddy McCorry, 2021 was a fantastic year all around for Belfast’s FAI.

Coach of the Year

Trevor Wittman

Trevor Wittman doesn’t coach many fighters, but the ones he does are always top level. Usman, Gaethje and Rose Namajunas all had big years under the tuteladge of one of the finest minds our sport has ever seen.

Upset of the Year

Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes – UFC 269

Whenever the consensus greatest of all time loses in any sport, it’s a shock. When that person loses to someone completely unfancied and seemingly out-matched, it’s an upset of massive consequence. That’s exactly what the fantastic Julianna Peña did here.

Comeback Of The Year:

Sergio Pettis vs. Kyoji Horiguchi – Spinning Back Fist – Bellator 272

Pettis entered the fight as the underdog and was three rounds down on everyone’s scorecard. To win from that position is miraculous. To do it with the knockout of the year makes it a comeback of epic proportions.

Worst Fight of the Year:

Kaitlin Young vs. Cindy Dandois – PFL 2021 #3

Two women forced up in weight classes to fill up the Kayla Harrison division was always a recipe for disaster.

Underperformer Of The Year:

Darren Till

After moving to middleweight, many people thought Darren Till would see more success – but that hasn’t materalised. 2021 saw the former welterweight title challenger have two cancelled fights, one submission loss and no wins.

Worst decision Of The Year

Gleison Tibau vs. Rory MacDonald

In another fantastic year for judging, this one really stood out. At the end of the three rounds it looked certain Rory MacDonald had done enough to get his hand raised, but the judges didn’t agree.

Non-UFC Fighter of the Year

Ray Cooper III

Four fights and four wins this year for one of the most underrated fighters in the history of the sport. Cooper ended the year with another million dollar PFL cheque in his pocket after back-to-back wins over Rory MacDonald and Magomed Magomedkerimov

Event of the Year

UFC 268

This card featured two closely contested UFC title fights, the fight of the year, the fighter of the year and the Irish fighter of the year, and that’s before we even get to Alex Pereira’s flying knee. A phenomenal card from top to bottom.

Shocking Moment Of The Year

Herb wins ref of Year

Once the gold standard, now often a disaster waiting to happen. A bizarre selection as the best ref after a litany of mistakes, especially with the emergence of top refs like Jason Herzog and Marc Goddard.

Commentator Of The Year

Brad Wharton

The first commentator from outside of the UFC to win the award. The Cage Warriors play-by-play man has been consitently brilliant, but has really come into his own with the trilogy series. No ego, great knowledge and a fantastic judge of the moment. A worthy winner.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook

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