The year 2020 was the ultimate disruptor in the world. Traditions were broken and big changes were made to everyone’s lives. In a year where it became increasingly challenging to rise to the occasion, many MMA fighters put together the best year of their career.
Here are the four nominees for the inaugural Knockdown News “Fighter of the Year” award. While the editorial board has already selected the singular winner which will be revealed on December 26th, it is worth mentioning other athletes who had an outstanding year in this article.
The list is sorted alphabetically by last name.
Israel Adesanya – UFC Middleweight Champion (20-0)
Fights in 2020:
- Def. Yoel Romero via Decision, Unanimous – UFC 248 – 3/7
- Def. Paulo Costa via TKO, Strikes (RD 2, 3:59) – UFC 253 – 9/26
Building off of 2019, a year which saw him become the new king of the middleweight division, Israel Adesanya continued his success in 2020. Continuing his reign as champion, Adesanya won two title bouts in the year, making him one of only three champions to do so in 2020 (others were Valentina Shevchenko and Deiveson Figueiredo).
Defending his belt for the first time, albeit in a fight which developed controversy due to a low output of strikes through five rounds, Adesanya defeated Yoel Romero in March at UFC 248.
After a six-month absence from action, Adesanya picked up a dominating win at UFC 253, defeating Paulo Costa in devastating and quick fashion. The victory for Adesanya resembled his title unification bout against Robert Whittaker in 2019, which is remembered for being an overwhelming performance on Adesanya’s part.
Adesanya cemented himself as the ultimate 185-pound fighter currently. As success continues for the Nigerian-born New Zealander, questions rise about if there is any challengers left for him within his own division.
Deiveson Figueiredo – UFC Flyweight Champion (20-1-1)
Fights in 2020:
- Def. Joseph Benavidez via TKO, Strikes (RD 2, 1:54) – UFC Fight Night – 2/29
- Def. Joseph Benavidez via Submission, Rear Naked Choke (RD 1, 4:48) – UFC Fight Night – 7/18
- Def. Alex Perez via Submission, Guillotine Choke (RD 1, 1:57) – UFC 255 – 11/21
- Vs. Brandon Moreno via Decision, Majority Draw – UFC 256 – 12/12
With the absence of Henry Cejudo in the flyweight division, as the former champ relinquished his belt in late 2019, Deiveson Figueiredo has filled that void. While his year may include a few asterisks, Figueiredo led a division, salvaged fight cards and put on numerous explosive fights.
Figueiredo started his year with a win, although it was a business trip that didn’t entirely go his way. Missing weight for his first fight with Joseph Benavidez, Figueiredo was unable to win a belt in February. In his rematch, however, where he put on an even more undeniably dominating performance over Benavidez, he became champion.
Figueiredo had an unexpectedly busy end of the year, putting his belt on the line twice within a month’s time. After a quick win over Alex Perez which saw him take nearly no damage, Figueiredo was put on a card in December against Brandon Moreno.
The fight took the place of a fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, which was removed due to visa issues. Figueiredo and Moreno became the sole title fight on the card, saving it from being a non-championship pay-per-view event – something which is hard to sell unless a massive name is attached to it.
Figueiredo’s end-of-year performance against Moreno wasn’t what he wanted. It was close, and a foul which deducted him a point made it even closer, resulting in a tie. On top of that, Figueiredo was dealing with medical issues the night before the fight which made hit harder for him to compete.
While his year wasn’t flawless, Figueiredo was the most active champion and put on numerous fights that grabbed the attention of viewers.
Kevin Holland (21-5)
Fights in 2020:
- Def. Anthony Hernandez vs. TKO, Strikes (RD 1, 0:39) – UFC Fight Night – 5/16
- Def. Joaquin Buckley via TKO, Strikes (RD 3, 0:32) – UFC Fight Night – 8/8
- Def. Darren Stewart via Decision, Split – UFC Fight Night – 9/19
- Def. Charlie Ontiveros via TKO, Injury (RD 1, 2:39) – UFC Fight Night – 10/31
- Def. Jacare Souza via TKO, Strikes (RD 1, 1:45) – UFC 256 – 12/12
Kevin Holland is an interesting addition to the list, as he is the only nominee who never fought in a championship fight or even a five-round bout this year. What adds Holland to the list is his output in 2020, which was not matched by anyone else in MMA. Picking up five wins in the year including four via stoppage, Holland was incredibly active and successful in a year that made it tougher than ever to be.
Challenges undoubtedly presented themselves to Holland, including five matchups in the year that fell through due to various reasons – one of those reasons being him testing positive for COVID-19 in November.
Khabib Nurmagomedov – Former UFC Lightweight Champion (29-0)
Fights in 2020:
Khabib Nurmagomedov concluded his MMA career in 2020, defeating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 to defend his UFC Lightweight Championship. While only fighting once in 2020, the year was big for Nurmagomedov as it saw him wrap up a flawless career and overcome unique challenges that 2020 presented.
Nurmagomedov had his quickest championship fight yet in October, submitting Gaethje in the second round with a triangle choke. He defended his belt for the third time with the fight, concluding his championship reign which included previous wins over Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor.
Nurmagomedov’s October fight was not where he was originally scheduled to fight in 2020, and it his opponent was supposed to be different as well. The lightweight was first scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson in April before COVID-19 dramatically changed UFC’s 2020 plans. Even when UFC resumed events, Nurmagomedov was taken out of the picture as travel bans imposed stopped him from entering the United States.
Nurmagomedov faced a tragic loss in the summer, as his father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov passed away after health complications involving COVID-19. The passing for Nurmagomedov’s father was what led to his retirement in the end, as after his last win he said “No way I’m going to come here after my father[‘s passing],” in his post-fight interview.
What Nurmagomedov left behind in the cage was an impressive and flawless career in the sport.