Sports Strength

A Look Back At The Defining Moments for the UFC in 2020

Let’s rewind the clock for a second. 

At the start of 2020, UFC fans were looking forward to the return of Conor McGregor. The company’s biggest draw was set to battle against the legendary, “Cowboy” Cerrone. 

McGregor had ambitious plans for 2020. He intended to fight three times and reclaim the lightweight belt. In the matchup, McGregor dominated. He finished off the UFC veteran less than a minute into the first round.

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In regards to the middleweight division, there was a clear champion. Israel Adesanya was tearing through opponents and proved his confidence by asking for a fight with the “boogeyman” of the division, Yoel Romero. It is no secret that opponents tend to suffer damage in bouts with Romero, and he was often ducked or avoided. That was not the case with Adesanya. 

The matchup turned into a total dud. Actually, it might have been one of the more lackluster fights of the year. Adesanya edged Romero out in a decision. Luckily, the same card was gifted with, what I consider to be, the fight of the year.

In the co-main event, Weili Zhang defended her belt against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Generally speaking, when people recall their favorite fights of the year, there is always a recency bias that impacts their decision. Fights that occur in the later months of the year always get a stronger push because the fight is more fresh in your mind. However, every time an excellent scrap would take place, I would still find myself saying, “I still think Zhang vs Jedrzejczyk was better.” If this fight wasn’t for a belt, it would still be held in incredibly high regard. When you throw in that it was for UFC gold, there was no better fight. For all of our new fight fans, this bout is a must watch.

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Then, the world stopped. 

The NBA suspended play; the MLB shutdown Spring Training; March Madness was canceled; The Masters were delayed. 

But the UFC kept going. 

Plenty of people saw Dana White’s response to criticisms from the media. And I’m not here to pick sides or to say what is right, and what is wrong. All I know is that the UFC provided some much-needed entertainment during a very dark time. 

Less than two months after the NBA was shut down, the UFC found solace in Jacksonville, Florida, and hosted their first pay per view event since the pandemic began, UFC 248. 

It was an outstanding night of fights. Henry Cejudo defeated Dominick Cruz (and then “retired”). Francis Ngannou knocked out Jair Rozenstruik in 20 seconds. Anthony Pettis defeated Cowboy Cerrone. And the night finished in delightful fashion as Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson competed for the UFC interim lightweight title. 

Gaethje looked spectacular. It all came together for him that night. He was, as always, tough as nails, he always had wicked cardio, and we all knew he could throw bombs. 

What we didn’t know was how well he could devise and execute a game plan. 

It was a damn-near perfect showing and my selection for the performance of the year.

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The following months continued to deliver on great Saturday nights. It became one of the few constants that sports fans could look forward to every week: Saturday nights were fight night.

On June 6th, Amanda Nunes’ reign continued. Her well-rounded performance further proved her dominance in both the 135 lb. and 145 lb. divisions. Is there anyone who can beat her? 

UFC 250 also brought a few other incredible fights. Sean O’Malley delivered one of his best KOs to date. Aljamain Sterling earned himself a title shot with a killer first-round finish of Cory Sandhagen. And Cody Garbrandt placed a submission for KO of the year with his buzzer-beater, one-punch, walk-off knockout of Raphael Assuncao. 

This was when Dana White became even more ambitious. May I present to you: Fight Island. 

At first, it sounded ridiculous. 

“I have secured an island.”

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But then, it got serious. Fight Island became real. 

Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. 

Kamara Usman was supposed to defend his belt against Gilbert Burns, but like many other fights this year, it was canceled after Burns tested positive for COVID-19. 

Enter Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal. The reigning “BMF” in the game. 

UFC 251 was a loaded card. Three title fights, in addition to numerous other great matches. Alex Volkanovski squeaked out a split-decision win over Max Holloway in their rematch. Petr Yan asserted himself as the top dog in the nasty bantamweight division with his performance over Jose Aldo. The main event actually ended up being a little dull. Usman’s strength was, once again, too much for his opponent. He controlled Masvidal for all five rounds. However, Masvidal proved his worth to the company by not only stepping up on short notice but by leading the way to 1.3 million PPV buys. 

Over the summer, Stipe Miocic completed the trilogy with a win over Daniel Cormier in their third bout. Cormier retired following the loss. It seems that people continue to count Stipe Miocic out, but he delivers with exciting fights every time he steps in the octagon. IF Stipe wanted to run his mouth and go all-in on a stupid gimmick, I have no doubt he could make more money and get more traction as a brand. But that’s not Stipe. He is staying true to his character and letting his hands do the talking. And those hands seem plenty loud to me. 2021 should be a bright year for the heavyweight division. 

UFC fans said farewell to some of the greatest to enter the cage.

It would be hard to think about the 2020 year for the UFC and not acknowledge the retirements of some of the sport’s greatest legends. 

Not enough people give Daniel Cormier the credit he deserves. More than being a great fighter and being an elite competitor, Daniel Cormier is a great person. He’s been a joy to listen to during commentary and has such a bright future with the company. As we look back on 2020, we must give DC his roses. 

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2020 also gave us the departure of an undeniable “Mt. Rushmore” figure for the sport of MMA, Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Sure, he lost a few fights in recent years. But at his age, and considering the level of competition he was facing, I think it would be a shame to hold these years against him.

When I first started watching the sport, he was invincible in my eyes. He pulled off comic book moves in real life title fights. After getting finished by Uriah Hall, the UFC and Anderson Silva parted ways. His post-fight interview was flooded with emotion, and for the first time in a long time, the MMA community was one. We all said goodbye to a legend.

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And of course, fight fans said goodbye to, maybe, the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen. However, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement was not the most difficult obstacle of a tumultuous 2020 campaign. Nurmagomedov’s father passed in the first half of the year and it was heartbreaking. The two were so close, with Khabib’s father playing a major role in his life and his career. After all, he was the one who ordered young Khabib to wrestle with a bear.

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When Nurmagomedov returned to the ring to fight Justin Gaethje, it did feel different. On the one hand, some doubters thought Gaethje possessed a skill set that could give Nurmagomedov problems in the ring. On the other hand, fight fans were unsure of Khabib’s mental state heading into the fight. Would the weight of his father’s death be too much? 

The answer was no. Khabib took a few minutes in the first round before he finally gained some momentum. Then in the second round, it was time. In a matter of seconds, the two fighters went from standing in front of each other to Khabib securing a full mount position. It was vintage Nurmagomedov. 

Moments later, Justin Gaethje was asleep. Nurmagomedov transitioned to a triangle choke faster than you can say, “tap.”

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Now, the question that everyone is asking is, “will he come back?”

My guess is no. Khabib takes his words seriously and if he told his mother that he was done, then I think he is done.

However… if he was to come back, there is one fight out there that would interest him: Georges St. Pierre. It was Numagomedov’s father’s dream fight. His dad always wanted him to get to 30-0. So with those two things in the air, never say never. 

The UFC’s increased roster in 2020 also led to some unknown figures to turn into overnight superstars. Look at Joaquin Buckley, who secured a LOT of bonuses, but also an entirely new wave of fandom. 

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With the abundance of new fighters, there was bound to be one or two that snagged the center-stage spotlight. It seems pretty universal across MMA fans that your choices come down to either Kevin Holland of Khamzat Chimaev. For Chimaev, you saw some dominant finishes in the first round. Not to mention, he did it in multiple weight classes. On the other hand, Holland went an absurd 5-0 in 2020. That is ridiculous. Unfathomable. And he wanted more… by calling out Chimaev after his 5th win of the year in December. These two are, without a doubt, two of the most interesting fighters heading into 2021. 

As great as Chimaev was, Holland’s 5-0 record against the quality competition is astounding. He is my selection for breakout fighter of the year. 

If you are a fan of blood, guts, and violence, well, 2020 had plenty of that. Look no further than Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker. This was one of those fights that were so damn violent; I had to ask questions.

Back and forth, barbaric, and brilliant all in one. It just fell short in my fight of the year category but was a noteworthy fight when looking back on the year.

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Israel Adesanya reclaimed his status as one of the company’s most exhilarating and dominant fights when he went out and picked apart the Brazilian contender, Paulo Costa. Before the fight, there was a significant contingency of people who believed Costa would give Adesanya trouble. 

Not me.

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In the second round, Adesanya dropped Costa with a brilliant left hook that grazed the side of Costa’s head.

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What does Adesanya’s future hold? That is a question I am highly invested in for the 2021 year.

The end of the year brought an onslaught of action in the men’s flyweight division. What is most fascinating to think about is that this was a division on the verge of being eliminated because the fights were “too boring” and didn’t sell well. And of course, in 2020 fashion, the year was capped off with two very fun but different fights. 

Deiveson Figueiredo polished off Alex Perez in the first round of their November matchup. 

Then he turned around and put on a show with Brandon Moreno. The fight was a late entry to the fight of the year category and resulted in a majority draw. That decision allowed Figueiredo to keep his belt, but it seems quite clear that an immediate rematch is in order. 

When you look back on this year and consider everything that went down, this was as fun of a year as I’ve ever had with this company: new names, new maneuvers, different styles, and a whole helluva lot of action. I can’t wait for the first event of 2021 when we get to hear, “It’s time” once again. 

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