After the coronavirus pandemic hit the world back in March, a series of forced cancelled events caused a huge question of concern for the future of the company going forward. Two months later and the UFC was the trailblazer for successful behind closed doors events in sports which helped create a year of unforgettable moments, emphatic performances and historical bouts that will never be forgotten in MMA. Many critics laughed at UFC president Dana White when he shared his idea to the world just weeks into the pandemic of creating a ‘Fight Island’ that would be a safe environment for fighters to compete whilst giving the fans the fights they wanted to see. It was a gamble that reaped the highest rewards with a plethora of unmissable UFC action.
Fight Of The Year
In what was the last UFC event prior to the Covid-19 shutdown, UFC 248 saw Zhang Weili defeat Joanna Jedrzejczyk by split decision (48-47×2, 47-48) to defend her Women’s Strawweight title in the most tight and entertaining bout of the year.
Both women landed a combined 351 significant strikes during the fight, the third most landed in a bout in UFC history. An incredible array of back and forth exchanges lasted the entire 25 minutes on the feet, inflicting damage on both competitors and causing a hematoma to appear on the forehead of Jedrzejczyk from the punishment taken. From hooks, to jabs, to leg kicks and elbows, the challenger did manage to land more significant strikes between the two throughout the contest, but the judges decided that Chinese sensation Weili was worthy of the overall win by the slightest of margins in her first title defence.
Polish fighter Jedrzejczyk is a former champion herself and is widely regarded as one of the best Strawweight’s in history, making Weili’s performance and result even more impressive. Just moment’s after the contest, it was already being talked about as the greatest fight in women’s MMA history.
KO Of The Year
Every year in the UFC we see fighters that have true one-punch knockout power and can change a fight in a matter of seconds, but this year we saw a KO like no other at UFC Fight Night 179 in October. Joaquin Buckley beat Impa Kasanganay via an incredible spinning back kick that caught Kasanganay straight in the face out cold, sending his head bouncing off the canvas in what was a remarkable piece of improvisation from Buckley.
It was midway into the second round when Kasanganay managed to catch a left leg kick from Buckley that he held on to before the young American fighter was able to twist his body and use his right leg to connect cleanly on his opponent and earn a sensational knockout on his resume. The KO went viral all around the sports world after the event, whilst co-commentator Paul Felder at the time described it as “the greatest knockout he’s ever seen”.
Submission Of The Year
As we saw with Joaquin Buckley’s impressive KO that happened so late in the year, Jimmy Flick’s flying triangle choke to defeat Cody Durden was also executed just in time to win the greatest submission in 2020. It was Flick’s first-ever UFC bout and what an entrance it was, showcasing his crafty skill set to perform a sensational move.
The Flyweight transitioned from stand up to triangle position in the blink of an eye, leaping on to Durden to take him down and apply pressure to the neck. Durden tried to resist to tap for several seconds but gave in once Flick was able to lock it in fully. Daniel Cormier, who was octagon side commentating on the fight, mentioned how Flick was “insane for even attempting something like that” and commended his bravery for it.
Breakout Fighter Of The Year
Plenty of fighters have been left frustrated this year due to Covid restrictions and unprecedented training environments, but one person who has taken advantage of the circumstances has been UFC Middleweight Kevin Holland who went 5-0 through 2020 with four of those coming by way of stoppage.
Holland is only the third UFC fighter ever to go 5-0 in a calendar year and has now emerged as a top contender in his division with his eyes set on a title shot in 2021. His most impressive victory came most recently at UFC 256, where the 28-year-old was awarded ‘Performance of the Night’ for his stunning first-round KO against Brazilian veteran Ronaldo Souza.
An honourable mention in this category also goes to 26-year-old Khamzat Chimaev who won three times in 2020 and created huge fan hype surrounding him with his style of performances.
He broke the record for quickest turnaround between UFC wins at 10 days in July, whilst also needing only 19 seconds to knock out Gerald Meerschaert at UFC Fight Night 178 in September. His breathtaking victories earned him a match up with third-ranked Welterweight Leon Edwards due to take place in mid-January next month.
The Eagle Retires
With what was perhaps the most emotional event of the year, Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated interim champion Justin Gaethje via triangle choke at UFC 254, before announcing to the world that he would retire from the sport with a perfect record of 29-0.
It had been a dreadful year for the Russian with the passing of his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, in early July which shocked the MMA community. His father was Khabib’s long time trainer and had one of the closest bonds a father and son could have. In his post-fight interview at UFC 254, he expressed that his mother insisted Khabib should stop fighting now that his dad is no longer here.
After the event, hundreds of fighters and fans took to social media to congratulate Khabib on a legendary career and to offer their condolences once more on his father’s death. Dana White has hinted since the fight that he thinks he could convince the Russian to fight again as it was always his father’s dream to reach 30-0, with talks set to be held in January. Could we potentially see The Eagle in one last dance in 2021?
Biggest Selling PPV Of The Year
The very first Pay Per View of the decade ended up being the most-watched of 2020 at UFC 246 when the biggest star in MMA history, Conor McGregor, announced his return to the octagon with a 40 second TKO win over UFC legend Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. The PPV gained well over a million buys and was supposed to be the start of McGregor’s fighting ‘season’ which was cut short by the pandemic.
The fight was held at Welterweight and was dubbed a tune-up fight for the Irishman after being inactive in 2019, whilst the American Cerrone was coming into the bout with a two-fight losing streak. Conor McGregor’s early shoulder strikes in the clinch were enough to break Cerrone’s nose, before landing a head kick that stunned Cowboy and led to the quick finish.
Conor McGregor’s next bout will now be against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 next month, where he again plans to be active throughout the year should any complications be avoided.