2021 was a fantastic year for Canadian MMA. Not only did we see the return of several promotions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also saw several Canadian fighters find plenty of success outside of Canada.
Throughout the year, there were plenty of noteworthy performances and highlights, so it’s time to recognize those achievements with the very first MMA Empire Canadian MMA Awards.
Male Fighter of the Year: Yohan Lainesse
Could 2021 have gone any better for Lainesse? He kicked the year off with an impressive decision win over fellow undefeated prospect Troy Green, then proceeded to defeat Evan Cutts to become the new CFFC welterweight champion. The title win earned him a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) where he knocked out Justin Burlinson in highlight-reel fashion in the first round and earned himself a UFC contract. 3-0, a championship belt and a UFC contract; that’s pretty tough to top.
Honourable mentions: Caio Machado, Serhiy Sidey, James Clarke, Austin Russell, Adam Assenza
Female Fighter of the Year: Jasmine Jasudavicius
After ending 2020 with a questionable split decision loss to Elise Reed for the CFFC women’s strawweight title, Jasudavicius entered 2021 with a vengeance and never looked back. She kicked off the year with a dominant decision win over Ashley Deen at CFFC 93, which was enough to earn her a shot on DWCS in the fall. Jasudavicius cashed in on that opportunity, defeating Julia Polastri and securing a UFC contract. Jasudavicius already has her UFC debut set for Jan. 22 where she will take on Kay Hansen and look to keep her momentum from 2021 rolling.
Honourable mentions: Lupita Godinez, Julia Budd, Corinne Laframboise, Diana Belbita, Jamey-Lyn Horth Wessels
Fight of the Year: Kyle Prepolec vs. Michael Dufort at Samourai MMA 1
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There were plenty of fantastic fights that took place in 2021, but it’s hard to beat the five-round war Prepolec and Dufort put on in the Samourai MMA 1 main event in November. Not only was it a close fight that could’ve gone to either man, with Prepolec taking the split decision, both men stood toe-to-toe for virtually the entire fight. Prepolec appeared to be in cruise control after the first two rounds, but Dufort stormed back in the final three rounds, making it a tough call for the judges. All in all, Prepolec and Dufort put on a hell of show to close out the inaugural Samourai MMA event.
Honourable mentions: Lucas Neufeld vs. Josh Kwiatkowski at BTC 10, Evan Piercey vs. Mohamad Ali at Unified MMA 40, Albaraa Atmeh vs. Devon Lozej at BTC 11, Mitch Strazzella vs. Glen Cuevas at BFL 68, Josh Kwiatkowski vs. John Nguyen at BFL 68
Upset of the Year: Chad Anheliger defeated Muin Gafurov on DWCS
Heading into the biggest fight of his career, Anheliger was a +370 betting underdog, giving him a 21 per cent chance to defeat Gafurov. None of that outside noise phased Anheliger, however, as he proceeded to earn the split decision win over the heavily-favoured Gafurov. If the betting odds alone weren’t enough to earn Anheliger upset of the year, add on the stage of DWCS and the win resulting in a UFC contract, it’s tough to find a more deserving upset. Tune in for Anheliger’s UFC debut, which is set for Feb. 19 where he will take on Jesse Strader.
Honourable mentions: Alex Martinez defeated Loik Radzhabov at PFL 2021, Dylan Schellenberg defeated Christian Tremayne at BFL 70, Terry Lemaire defeated Isaiah Ferguson at HR MMA 117, Nate Small defeated Amear Bani at BTC 12, Austin Russell defeated Indroop Virk at BFL 69
Comeback of the Year: Maged Hammo defeated Neal Anderson at Unified MMA 40
Hammo’s shocking win over Anderson could’ve been categorized as upset of the year or submission of the year as well, but the circumstances in which he locked in the winning submission make it one hell of a comeback. With the Unified MMA featherweight title on the line, Hammo found himself down three rounds heading into the championship rounds and needing a finish if he wanted to leave as champion. And that’s exactly what he found, taking the back of Anderson late in the fourth round and forcing the tap. Had this been a three-round affair, Hammo would’ve likely lost a 30-27 unanimous decision, but the championship mentality allowed him to complete the most epic comeback of the year.
Honourable mentions: Ariel Zuniga defeated Harley King at BTC 13, Mateo Vogel defeated Garrett Armfield at CFFC 95, Chris Chapman defeated Ali Charkie at Unified MMA 41, Terence Jeffers-Harris defeated James Foster at BFL 68
Professional Debut of the Year: Tyrell Giselbrecht defeated Jerico MacPhee at Unified MMA 40
There was no shortage of professional debuts in 2021, which made this one of the tougher winners to determine. MacPhee was one of the more promising up-and-coming prospects in Canada heading into the bout and was also a big favourite in the matchup. Giselbrecht didn’t care about any of that as he stormed out of the gates with a first round TKO finish of MacPhee. To top it all off, he earned his debut win in front of all of his family and friends in Edmonton.
Honourable mentions: Ali Charkie defeated Lorenzo Celis at Unified MMA 40, Ramil Kamilov defeated Tyrell Giselbrecht at Unified MMA 42, Cody Chovancek defeated Josh Martiniuk at BTC 13, Oguzhan Yalcin defeated Caleb Ermine at BFL 70, Nathan Small defeated Amear Bani at BTC 12
Knockout of the Year: Sean Birmingham defeated Darian McTavish at MFL 19
This was a knockout most fans probably didn’t see but absolutely need to see. Taking place on an all-amateur MFL 19 card that flew under the radar, Birmingham delivered one of the nastiest knockouts of the past several years. And it took him just three seconds to do so. Watch the video and see for yourself.
Honourable mentions: Josh Hill defeated Jared Scoggins at Bellator 272, Yohan Lainesse defeated Justin Burlinson on DWCS, Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz defeated Graham Park at Unified MMA 42, Bobby Poulter defeated Keanan Kellar at BFL 68, Izzudeen Atmeh defeated Isaiah Metituk at BTC 11
Submission of the Year: Serhiy Sidey defeated Gio Platon at BFL 68
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This was another tough one to pick, but given what was at stake and Sidey’s pre-fight visualization of winning the fight via triangle choke, this takes the cake. Platon came out in his usual fast-paced, aggressive manner and secured the takedown, but Sidey remained calm and locked in a tight triangle choke, forcing the tap from Platon and becoming the new BFL bantamweight champion.
Honourable mentions: Tyler VanKill defeated Davis Rapagna at BTC 10 , Christian Larsen defeated Grayson Wells at Unified MMA 41, Kyran Cameron defeated Keanan Kellar at BFL 66, Phil Engeroff defeated Dylan Schellenberg at Unified MMA 41, Frederik Dupras defeated Patrick Connors at Samourai MMA 1
Event of the Year: Unified MMA 42
The best fight card of 2021 in Canada was most definitely saved for last. Not only was the event stacked with great matchups such as Graham Park vs. Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz, Shane Campbell vs. Hubert Geven and KB Bhullar vs. Brandt Dewsbery, it delivered in entertainment value as well with several highlight-reel finishes and crowd-pleasing exchanges. To top it all off, world class kickboxer Simon Marcus made his MMA debut on the card. What a fantastic way it was to close out 2021.
Honourable mentions: Samourai MMA 1, Unified MMA 40, BFL 67, BFL 66, BTC 13