Another year is in the books, and Bellator provided a number of memorable moments in 2021.
Numerous prospects and highly touted fighters brought in from other promotions made their Bellator debuts in 2021 – but some were more memorable than others.
Here are the 10 Bellator debut performances that stood out above the rest.
Note: Factors in determining the ranking included skills displayed, flare, by how much expectations were exceeded, potential ceiling of athlete, and level of statement made.
Hannah Guy def. Valerie Loureda via unanimous decision
Since she burst into the national spotlight in her pro debut for Bellator, Valerie Loureda has had all eyes on her. But at Bellator 259, it was then-relative unknown [autotag]Hannah Guy[/autotag] who stole the show when she handily gave Loureda her first career loss.
Jose Augusto def. Jonathan Wilson via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 1, 4:58
Visa issues stalled [autotag]Jose Augusto[/autotag] as he lobbied for a shot in Bellator or the UFC. However, when the offer officially came, and it was time for his major promotional debut, Augusto quickly picked up his first career win at Bellator 255. Against UFC alum Jonathan Wilson, Augusto patiently inched his way toward a submission and secured an arm-triangle choke with two seconds left in Round 1.
Nick Browne def. Bobby Lee via submission (heel hook) – Round 1, 1:38
[autotag]Nick Browne[/autotag] was the LFA lightweight champion when Bellator picked him up. As if that accolade didn’t already prove his worth, Browne utilized his funky style and slick grappling to make quick work of Bobby Lee and win by heel hook at Bellator 268.
Diana Avsaragova def. Tara Graff via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:29
One of Bellator’s breakthrough rising stars of 2021, [autotag]Diana Avsaragova[/autotag] caught the MMA audience’s attention with a massive knockout in her promotional debut. Against Tara Gaff at Bellator 256, Avsaragova delivered a vicious, highlight-reel knockout in 29 seconds.
Spike Carlyle def. Dan Moret via technical submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 3, 2:58
Some fans thought “The Alpha Ginger” was released from the UFC prematurely. Since then, he’s perhaps proved them correct. After three straight wins outside the UFC, [autotag]Spike Carlyle[/autotag] signed with Bellator for a short-notice fight. It turned out to be one of Bellator’s best of the year, as he came back from the brink of defeat to submit Dan Moret at Bellator 272.
Usman Nurmagomedov def. Mike Hamel via unanimous decision
Entering Bellator with a weight-baring surname, [autotag]Usman Nurmagomedov[/autotag] lived up to the hype in his promotional debut at Bellator 255. Despite his age and experience level, Nurmagomedov displayed a high-level arsenal of attack when he defeated a gritty Mike Hamel for his first major promotional victory.
Gadzhi Rabadanov def. Daniel Carey via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 3:57
If you like violence, look no further than [autotag]Gadzhi Rabadanov[/autotag]’s borderline disturbing knockout victory against Daniel Carey at Bellator 263. The Khabib Nurmagomedov training partner landed one of the most devastating striking sequences of 2021 when he parted Carey from consciousness in Round 1. Carey was out cold for a lengthy amount of time before he was carried off on a stretcher.
Anthony Johnson def. Jose Augusto via knockout (punch) – Round 2, 1:30
Up there with Yoel Romero for the most high-profile promotional debut Bellator put on in 2021, [autotag]Anthony Johnson[/autotag] delivered the excitement – and drama – at Bellator 258. Against tournament alternate Jose Augusto, “Rumble” survived being dropped for the first time in his career before he put away the Brazilian in devastating fashion with a single punch in Round 2.
Danny Sabatello def. Brett Johns via unanimous decision
It wasn’t the most exciting debut of 2021, but [autotag]Danny Sabatello[/autotag] doesn’t care. He’s there to show up and do what he says he’ll do: win. Sabatello stepped in on short notice and played spoiler to Brett Johns’ promotional debut when he defeated the former UFC bantamweight with a dominant unanimous decision at Bellator 259.
Ben Parrish def. Christian Edwards via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 0:38
Out of all of the debuts in 2021, one man reigned supreme – and that’s “Big Tuna.” Counted out by fans around the world, and ridiculed by others, [autotag]Ben Parrish[/autotag] proved that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or by the betting odds. Going against a fighter Bellator pegged as potentially being the next Jon Jones in Christian Edwards, Parrish shocked the world when he flattened the rising fighter in 38 seconds at Bellator 266 and instantly became a fan-favorite in the process.
Honorable mentions: Justin Gonzales def. Tywan Claxton, Corey Samuels def. Isaiah Hokitt, Dan Moret def. Goiti Yamauchi, Khasan Magomedsharipov def. Jonathan Quiroz, Islam Mamedov def. Brent Primus, Khadzi Bestaev def. Ty Gwerder, Marcelo Golm def. Billy Swanson, Anthony Adams def. Khalid Murtazaliev, Alexey Shurkevich def. Grachik Bozinyan, Ethan Hughes def. Mahmoud Sebie, and Waldo Cortes-Acosta def. Mo DeReese.