Sergio Pettis continues to rack up on the 2021 honors.

Already the winner of MMA Junkie’s 2021 Knockout of the Year, Pettis (22-5 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) also takes home our Comeback of the Year award for his crazy come-from-behind spinning backfist knockout against Kyoji Horiguchi at Bellator 272.

The knockout was epic, prolific, and an instant classic in the form and flashiness alone. However, the shock factor largely stemmed from the rhythm-breaking nature in which it occurred.

Entering the fourth round of the promotion’s final 2021 bout, Pettis was down on all three judges’ scorecards, 30-27. Horiguchi simply appeared to be one step ahead. He was slightly quicker, slightly more technical, and slightly more successful.

Pettis struggled to gain momentum, but in MMA, it only takes one strike – and that’s all he needed. After a looping high kick missed, Pettis swung around and connected to the temple of Horiguchi. The Japanese fighter toppled to the canvas unconscious and was later carried out of the cage on a stretcher.

Prior to his KO of Kyoji Horiguchi at #Bellator272, @SergioPettis was down 30-27 on all three of the judges’ scorecards.

— Bellator Public Relations (@BellatorPR) December 5, 2021

With the victory, Pettis enters the upcoming Bellator bantamweight grand prix as the titleholder. First round matchups have not yet been announced, but Bellator president Scott Coker has indicated the tournament will start in the first half of 2022.

Comeback of the Year runner-up: Merab Dvalishvili def. Marlon Moraes at UFC 266

Sep 25, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Merab Dvalishvili lands a hit against Marlon Moraes during UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While perhaps not as instantly dramatic as Pettis’ knockout, Merab Dvalishvili perhaps came the furthest distance to win a fight out of any competitor in 2022. After he absorbed an onslaught of big-time punches from Marlon Moraes in their UFC 266 bout, Dvalishvili turned the tables and stunned his opponent with late-first-round ground-and-pound. In Round 2, Dvalisvhili continued to build momentum en route to a TKO win over the former title challenger Moraes.

Honorable Mentions:

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 04: (R-L) Clay Guida punches Leonardo Santos of Brazil in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Spike Carlyle def. Dan Moret, Nate Maness def. Tony Gravely, Jamie Mullarkey def. Devonte Smith, Paul Daley def. Sabah Homasi, Charles Oliveira def. Michael Chandler, Jordan Young def. Omari Akhmedov, Anthony Hernandez def. Rodolfo Vieira, Julian Marquez def. Maki Pitolo, Claressa Shields def. Brittney Elkin, Kai Kara-France def. Rogerio Bontorin, Gerald Meerschaert def. Makhmud Muradov, Clay Guida def. Leonardo Santos, and Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Carlos Ulberg.

The 2021 Comeback of the Year was decided via vote by the MMA Junkie staff. Pettis received seven votes (Matt Wells, Matt Erickson, George Garcia, Simon Samano, Abbey Subhan, Ken Hathaway, and Danny Segura), while Dvalishvili received five (John Morgan, Mike Bohn, Nolan King, Farah Hannoun and Brian “Goze” Garcia).


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