MMAWeekly’s Best of 2020

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, we look back on a year that was like no other year in MMA history.

COVID-19 canceled events, forced fighters out of bouts, and created last-minute fight card changes. Despite the difficulties of operating during a global pandemic, the athletes rose above the noise.

As we look back on 2020, it was difficult to narrow down the best of each category, not because of a lack of bouts, but because so many fighters delivered such strong performances despite the chips stacked against them.

2020 Fighter of the Year:
Deiveson Figueiredo

Deiveson Figueiredo kicks Alex Perez at UFC 255

Many wrote Deiveson Figueiredo off when he missed weight for his flyweight title fight with Joseph Benavidez. But he seemingly came from out of nowhere to defeat Benavidez to capture the belt after Henry Cejudo was stripped.

Not only did he defeat Benavidez twice, but Figueiredo also returned late in the year to defend the belt at UFC 255 and again three weeks later to save the UFC 256 main event.

All said, Figueiredo went 4-0 in 2020 with three finishes.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jan Blachowicz
  • Kevin Holland
  • Charles Oliveira
  • Israel Adesanya
  • Valentina Shevchenko

2020 Breakout Fighter of the Year:
Kevin Holland

Kevin Holland KOs Jacare Souza at UFC 256

While several fighters stepped out of the shadows of the pandemic to make 2020 a stellar year, it would be difficult to overlook Kevin Holland for his emergence into the spotlight.

Holland fought and won five times in 2020, all after the pandemic induced shutdown. He knocked out four of his five opponents, including a Knockout of the Year candidate when he took out Jacare Souza while both were on their knees.

Honorable Mentions

  • Khamzat Chimaev
  • Joaquin Buckley
  • Brandon Moreno
  • Khaos Williams

2020 Fight of the Year:
Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

UFC 248 fight motion - joanna vs zhang

As 2020 was coming to a close, the UFC 248 bout between strawweight champion Zhang Weili and former titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk often got overlooked for Fight of the Year because it happened prior to the shutdown.

For five rounds, the two went to war in the greatest women’s title fight in MMA history. After 25 minutes of back-and-forth battling that left both women battered, Weili retained her title via split decision.

Honorable Mentions

  • Deveison Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno
  • Dustin Poirier vs Dan Hooker
  • Dan Hooker vs Paul Felder
  • Justin Gaethje vs Tony Ferguson
  • Josh Emmett vs Shane Burgos
  • Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier

2020 Knockout of the Year:
Joaquin Buckley vs. Impa Kasanganay

Joaquin Buckley's Knockout of the Year of Impa Kasanganay

There were several stunning knockouts in 2020, but when you say spectacular, most people immediately jump to Joaquin Buckley’s jaw-dropping spinning back kick at UFC Fight Island 5.

Buckley was already looking strong with his stand-up in the fight, but when Impa Kasaganay caught Buckley’s first kick, he simply jumped in the air, spun around, and landed a back kick to the face.

Kasaganay’s eyes rolled and he fell, arms out, crashing to the canvas.

Honorable Mentions

  • Kevin Holland vs. Jacare Souza
  • Cody Garbrandt vs. Raphael Assuncao
  • Francis N’Gannou vs. Rozenstruik
  • Sean O’Malley vs. Eddie Wineland
  • Conor McGregor vs. Cowboy Cerrone

2020 Submission of the Year

Deiveson Figueiredo submits Joe Benavidez at UFC on ESPN+ 30

Deiveson Figueiredo knocked Joseph Benavidez out in their UFC flyweight title fight in February. However, he didn’t walk away with the belt because he missed weight for the fight.

Following the COVID-19 shutdown, Figueiredo got another opportunity to fight for the title, but this time he didn’t blow it at the weigh-in, nor did he knock Benavidez out.

At UFC Fight Island 2 in July, Figueiredo again bloodied Benavidez, but then sank a rear naked choke and locked it out to capture the UFC flyweight championship.

As mentioned, he then went on to defend the belt twice in a three-week span to close out 2020 in impressive fashion.

Honorable Mentions

  • I have Ariane Lipski for her kneebar.
  • I have Khabib for his win over Gaethje
  • Jimmy Flick’s flying triangle
  • Mackenzie Dern’s knee bar.

2020 Story of the Year:
COVID shutdown / UFC restarts sports

Khabib and Justin Gaethje and Dana White UFC 254 beach presser

When the world went into a shutdown, UFC president Dana White was one of the few business leaders that went to the mat to keep his company in business.

White was widely criticized for trying to run fights amid the shutdown, including nearly holding events outside of U.S. jurisdiction on a Native American reservation in California.

He was eventually slowed down, but White never stopped fighting, eventually winning the battle to show that the sports world and many other businesses could be operated safely during the pandemic. He led the UFC to one of its best financial and growth years ever under the shadow of COVID-19.

Honorable Mentions

  • UFC Apex and UFC Fight Island
  • Several big name retirements from Daniel Cormier to Henry Cejudo to Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Jon Jones vacates UFC light heavyweight title to move to heavyweight
  • Conor McGregor returns with quick knockout of Cowboy Cerrone

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Top Knockouts of 2020

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