In the world of mixed martial arts, one league stands above the rest: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Even people who don’t follow MMA know about the UFC, and the star power of fighters like Conor McGregor and Jon Jones now extends well beyond the Octagon. Premium streaming services — ESPN+ in particular — have also made it easier than ever for UFC fans to stream all the action online, from live fights and pay-per-view events to replays, commentary, interviews, press conferences, and more.
The UFC usually hosts fights every Saturday with at least one big pay-per-view event each month. The promotion hit the ground running in the early part of 2020 with some awesome events, but the subsequent public health crisis led to the postponement of UFC 249 as well as other scheduled fights in April. With that announcement, UFC CEO Dana White promised that he would do everything he could to get the fighters back in the Octagon as soon as possible, and even worked with the United Arab Emirates to develop a “fight island” in Abu Dhabi as a safe and private venue for future matches.
White quickly made good on that promise: The first major event to take place on Fight Island was UFC 251 on July 11, and the bloody action of UFC has been going strong since then. Below, we’ve put together a rundown of what to expect for the UFC 2021 schedule as well as a list of which fighters to keep your eyes on, along with a quick guide on how you can watch UFC online with ESPN+. We’ll keep adding new information as it becomes available so be sure to keep checking back for the latest scheduling updates.
You can watch most UFC events with any service (cable, satellite, or streaming) that includes ESPN channels, but ESPN+ is by far the best way to get access to everything – and it’s the only way to watch UFC pay-per-view events. These PPVs are the ones you don’t want to miss: So far for 2021, we’ve already seen MMA legend Conor McGregor step back into the Octagon, and more great stuff is coming down the pipe as the year progresses.
ESPN+ is a premium streaming service which the sports broadcaster launched in early 2018. Sports content tends to have stricter regional restrictions than other types of media, which is part of the reason why ESPN was slower than others to join the streaming revolution; now that ESPN+ is here, though, it has grown into a must-have app for fans of MMA, boxing, and all kinds of other sports like Major League Soccer.
Your ESPN+ subscription gives you access to live games and matches, pre- and post-event on-demand content, exclusive shows like Dana White’s Contender Series, and more, which you can enjoy on your computer web browser, your mobile device via the ESPN app, or smart TV. It’s pretty cheap, too, at just $6 per month or $60 per year (a better deal), but if you’re looking for a bigger streaming package, the best value is easily this bundle which nets you ESPN+, Disney+, and Hulu for just $13 per month.
UFC Fight Night: Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar
On Saturday, January 16, the first big UFC event of 2021 took place. This UFC Fight Night was headlined by a featherweight bout between former champion Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar and was hosted at the new Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It was the first time since March 2020 that a limited audience will be allowed to attend in person. Both fighters in the main event went the distance, with Holloway claiming the victory via unanimous decision.
UFC Fight Night: Michael Chiesa vs. Neil Magny
Only a few days after the January 16 event, another UFC Fight Night happened — this one on Wednesday, January 20, with Etihad Arena again serving as the venue. The headliner was a welterweight fight between Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny, with Chiesa claiming the victory via unanimous decision. The co-main event was another welterweight matchup, pitting Warlley Alves against Mounir Lazzez. Alves stopped his opponent in the second round with a combination of body kicks and punches to secure the win.
UFC 257: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
UFC started last year with a bang, with its first pay-per-view event of the year featuring MMA all-star Conor McGregor finally stepping back into the Octagon after a 15-month hiatus for UFC 246, on January 18. Despite McGregor announcing his retirement shortly thereafter, MMA fans got to see “The Notorious” returning to the ring yet again this year in a rematch with Dustin Poirier on January 23. Although McGregor was the favorite to win, Poirier pulled off an upset when he cornered and stopped his opponent with a barrage of punches halfway into the second round, avenging his 2014 defeat and positioning himself for a shot at the lightweight title. This was the first knockout loss of McGregor’s professional career.
UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Volkov
On February 6 at the UFC Apex arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, two of the league’s most seasoned heavyweights went at it. Alistair Overeem (47-19) went fist-to-fist with Alexander Volkov (33-8). Both men are veteran fighters who, despite having never won UFC championships, have held titles in their former leagues before signing on with the UFC. Volkov took the day here, and this bout undoubtedly got him that much closer to a future shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
UFC 258: Usman vs. Burns
With his most recent victory at UFC 258 on February 13, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has successfully defended his belt three times now. There, Usman faced title challenger Gilbert Burns, the UFC’s second-ranked welterweight and a three-time World Jiu-Jitsu Champion, in a high-stakes contest for the welterweight belt. Usman won handily with a third-round knockout.
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Lewis
The third event of February, UFC Fight Night 185, pitted heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis against each other at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Lewis defeated Blaydes with a KO in the second round, and it’s not unlikely that he’ll soon have to face Volkov. Then, if he wins, perhaps he’ll get a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship (currently held by Stipe Miocic and on the line at UFC 260).
UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs. Gane
The final UFC show for February was supposed to be headlined by Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka, but this meetup was canceled and replaced with a bout between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Cyril Gane, two of the league’s top-ranked heavyweights. Both fighters went the distance, with the judges ultimately declaring Gane the winner via unanimous decision.
UFC 259: Blachowicz vs. Adesanya
UFC 259 features three championship bouts on the main card, making this a particularly high-stakes event. The headliner is a light heavyweight bout between defending champion Jan Blachowicz and Israel Adesanya. Adesanya currently holds the UFC Middleweight Championship, and if he wins, he will hold belts in two divisions. Also on the main card is a women’s featherweight title contest with champion Amanda Nunes defending her belt against Megan Anderson, and bantamweight champion Petr Yan defending his title against Aljamain Sterling.
UFC Fight Night: Edwards vs. Muhammad
At UFC Fight Night 187 on March 13, a welterweight matchup between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad, both with a record of 18-3, is slated to serve as the main event. Muhammad, who sits at the 13th spot on the UFC welterweight roster, is the underdog in this fight, but as a seasoned fighter (he signed with the league in 2016) and with a similar fight record as his opponent, he may be poised to pull off an upset.
UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Holland
This Fight Night is a rather small event with only five matchups currently scheduled (although this is subject to change). The headliner is a middleweight fight between Derek Brunson (21-7) and Kevin Holland (21-5). The co-main event is a heavyweight bout between Tai Tuivasa and Don’Tale Mayes.
UFC 260: Miocic vs. Ngannou 2
At the end of March, reigning UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will face Francis Ngannou in a rematch for the title. These two met each other once before in 2018 where Miocic won the day via unanimous decision. He most recently defended his belt in a trilogy rematch against Daniel Cormier, from whom Miocic claimed the championship in 2019 after losing it to Cormier the year prior. The co-main event is another title contest, with featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski defending against Brian Ortega.
UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Costa
So far, the only event on the schedule following UFC 260 is a Fight Night set for April 17. The only fight on the card right now is the headliner, a matchup between former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (22-5) and Paulo Costa (11-1). These men are the two top-ranked fighters on the UFC middleweight roster — Whittaker holds the first spot, Costa the second — making this a contentious meeting. Costa most recently challenged current champ Israel Adesanya for the title belt at UFC 253, suffering his first defeat.
UFC 2021 schedule for upcoming fights
|March 6||10 p.m. ET||UFC 258||Blachowicz vs. Adesanya|
|March 13||8 p.m. ET||UFC Fight Night||Edwards vs. Muhammad|
|March 20||10 p.m. ET||UFC Fight Night||Brunson vs. Holland|
|March 27||10 p.m. ET||UFC 259||Miocic vs. Ngannou|
|April 17||8 p.m. ET||UFC Fight Night||Whittaker vs. Costa|
Conor McGregor — Lightweight/Welterweight
Conor McGregor should need no introduction among UFC fans. The boisterous Irish fighter, with a record of 22 wins and five losses, defeated Donald Cerrone last January at UFC 246 after a 15-month hiatus following his loss to Khabib at UFC 229. Fans were looking forward to seeing how he’d fare at this heavier weight class against a talent like Kamaru Usman, but on June 6, “The Notorious” announced that he was retiring. McGregor had made a similar announcement in 2019 before returning to the ring, so it was no surprise when it was revealed that he was coming out of his second “retirement” and returning to lightweight to face Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 in January 2021 — a fight which McGregor lost via TKO in the second round and the first knockout defeat of his career.
Israel Adesanya — Middleweight Champion
Israel Adesanya is a rising star in the world of MMA. The Nigerian-born kickboxer (now fighting out of New Zealand) boasts an undefeated professional record of 20 wins, and with 15 of those being KOs, it’s safe to say that Adesanya is one of the UFC’s premier knockout artists. Adesanya most recently won his September bout defending the middleweight title against Paulo Costa at UFC 253. He’s next slated to face Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight belt at UFC 259. If he wins, Adesanya will hold belts in two weight classes.
Kamaru Usman — Welterweight Champion
Nigerian-American Kamaru Usman is something of a sleeper star on the UFC roster who has flown under the radars of many fight fans. Yet despite the fact that he’s not as well-known as personalities like Conor McGregor, Usman (18-1) has more than proven that he’s got it where it counts. He claimed the UFC Welterweight Championship at UFC 235 in March of 2019 and has successfully defended it three times since then, most recently against Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 in February.
Amanda Nunes — Double Bantamweight/Flyweight Champion
Hailing from Brazil, Amanda Nunes is a reigning double champion who currently holds both the women’s bantamweight and featherweight title belts – something that should suit the fighter who sits at the number one spot on the UFC woman’s pound-for-pound rankings. She has a professional record of 20 wins and four losses, although she hasn’t lost a single fight since 2014 and has enjoyed three years of successful title defenses so far. Upon defeating Felicia Spencer at UFC 250, Nunes became the first fighter to successfully hold and defend two title belts simultaneously. Her next fight, a featherweight title bout against Megan Anderson, is the co-main event at UFC 259.
Stipe Miocic — Heavyweight Champion
Currently the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic is one of only two fighters to have the distinction of beating Daniel Cormier, a victory he won at UFC 241 in 2019 which earned him the title belt (although he lost their first bout at UFC 226 a year earlier). Unfortunately, during his second fight against Cormier, Miocic suffered retinal damage due to multiple eye pokes and was out of action for a while. He faced Cormier again in their third and final trilogy bout at UFC 252 and successfully defended his title, and will be defending it again in his upcoming rematch with Francis Ngannou at UFC 260.
Jon Jones — Light Heavyweight
Jon Jones is one of the few fighters who is considered to be truly undefeated, even though his official record counts one loss along with his 26 wins. That “loss” came via disqualification due to an illegal move, and Jones’ run has not been without other controversies as well: He was stripped of his light heavyweight title after testing positive for an illegal performance-enhancing substance in 2017, but he reclaimed the belt at UFC 232 and has defended it since – most recently against the formerly undefeated Dominick Reyes at UFC 247. However, Jones vacated the title last August, citing his desire to move up to heavyweight.
Francis Ngannou — Heavyweight
Sitting at number one in the UFC’s heavyweight rankings, Cameroonian-French fighter Francis Ngannou is another talent that has flown somewhat under the radar. His record of 15 wins (11 by knockout) and three losses is impressive, and he’s scored notable victories including a win against Junior dos Santos in June 2019 where he was awarded Performance of the Night. Ngannou is soon going to face heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in a rematch for the title. The two fought before in 2018, where Miocic won via unanimous decision.
Tony Ferguson — Lightweight
Tony Ferguson has been fighting professionally since 2008 and has since enjoyed one of the most successful MMA careers. The American formerly held the interim lightweight championship which he won at UFC 216 in 2017 but was stripped of the title due to an injury that kept him out of the Octagon for a while. Ferguson almost had another shot at the title, as he was going to be challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov for the belt at UFC 249 on April 18. Khabib had to withdraw from the event, however. Justin Gaethje took his place and defeated Ferguson on May 9 in a TKO win — Ferguson’s first defeat in almost seven years and an end to his 12-win streak. He most recently suffered another defeat at the hands of Charles Oliveira at UFC 256.
Jorge Masvidal — Welterweight
American welterweight Jorge Masvidal could be said to have had one of the longest and most impressive runs in MMA history – without having ever held a championship belt. Not an official belt, anyway; in 2019, UFC President Dana White held a special match for a “BMF” belt, which Masvidal won via decision against Nate Diaz. Masvidal most recently squared off against defending welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 251 in July, losing the bout via unanimous decision.
Dustin Poirier — Lightweight
At number two on the lightweight roster, Dustin Poirier is one of the UFC’s top talents. The American fighter, born in Louisiana and of Cajun descent, has been fighting in the UFC since 2011 and briefly held the interim lightweight championship which he won at UFC 236 in April 2019. He then challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov for the unified lightweight title at UFC 242 that September, but lost via submission. Poirier won his subsequent fight against Dan Hooker in June 2020 and went on to face Conor McGregor at UFC 257 on January 23 — the first big pay-per-view event of 2021 — where he won when he cornered and stopped McGregor with a flurry of punches in the second round.
Justin Gaethje — Lightweight
Justin Gaethje is another top lightweight contender and, despite being a hall of fame collegiate wrestler, is known for his aggressive stand-up fighting style with 19 of his 22 wins achieved via knockout. Gaethje most recently challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 254 last October but was defeated via technical submission. However, Khabib announced his retirement from professional MMA immediately after the match, and Gaethje now sits at the number one spot on the UFC lightweight rankings.
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