The UFC has grown in recognition during the pandemic, having been the first to kick star sports back and also acquiring Fight Island. As the year comes to a close, we look at the best moments of 2020 for the UFC.
The UFC started 2020 with a huge pay-per-view headliner, the return of Conor McGregor. Having arguably the biggest star in the company’s return was to set things in the right direction for the year. ‘The Notorious’ one had last fought in 2018, where he was submitted by champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. It was only until 2020 that he would make his return to the octagon, and what a return it was!
McGregor and Donald Cerrone faced off at 170 pounds instead of the 155 lightweight limit. The Irish former champion looked large as ever at welterweight, and the power would end up being too much for Cowboy. The first punch Conor landed bloodied Cerrone’s nose, and they would stop the fight in 40 seconds of the first round as McGregor landed devastating shoulder strikes.
Weili Zhang captured the UFC women’s strawweight title when she finished Jessica Andrade in 2018. In doing so, she became the first-ever Chinese champion in the promotion, a market with huge potential for the UFC. Not only was Weili backed by over a billion people, but she possessed a supreme fighting technique. Her first title defense would be on the UFC 248 card headlined by Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero.
While the fight was anticipated to be an exciting match-up, what came about surpassed every expectation. The two warriors put it all on their line for five rounds with bloodied faces. Although Weili Zang would end up winning the bout, the two strawweights won the hearts of the fans.
A bit of a forgotten memory. Before the lockdown went into full effect on a global level, the UFC hosted their March card in Brazil. This was the first UFC event without fans in attendance, a circumstance that has become a norm that would be followed to this date. With almost no sport sporting events being held across the globe, all eyes were on the UFC.
On March 14, lightweights Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira headlined the Brazil card. ‘Do Bronx’ would beat the odds as he finished Lee in the third round with a Guillotine Choke. However, the best moment came after Renato Moicano scored a first-round submission in his lightweight debut. Michael Bisping was interviewing Moicano, ended by asking an empty arena to “make some noise.”
Between March 21 to May 2, the UFC had canceled no less than five events as the COVID-19 lockdowns took into effect. UFC president Dana White was adamant that the promotion would be the first to be back. He would stay true to his word with UFC 249 being held on May 9.
Tony Ferguson headlined the card facing off against Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title. With Nurmagomedov sidelined in Russia, Ferguson would look to bring joy back to MMA fans across the globe. Things however did not go ‘El Cucuy’s way as Gaethje stopped him in the fifth round.
Masvidal’s star in the UFC has never been higher. Initially, Jorge Masvidal went viral after his unbelievable KO over Ben Askren in 2019. He would then spectacularly close the year as he beat Nate Diaz for the BMF title, even having The Rock put the title on his shoulder in the octagon.
Fast forward to July 2020, and the UFC were scrambling to replace Gilbert Burns for the first-ever Fight Island card as he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. In stepped Masvidal on extremely short notice to save the card with his star power. Kamaru Usman would retain his title as he held Gamebred for a unanimous decision win.
The two heavyweights enter UFC 252, each having one win against each other. The two fought each other in 2018 with Daniel Cormier winning and again in 2019 with Miocic coming out on top. An end to the trilogy was highly anticipated by the MMA fan base to find out who the greatest heavyweight of all time was.
Stipe Miocic would prove that he is undoubtedly the greatest heavyweight of all time, as he masterfully outclassed DC to get the unanimous decision win. Miocic now looks set to face Francis Ngannou for the second time. However, no official date has been provided by UFC. Cormier would go on to retire from the sport.
UFC 253 may have been headlined by Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa, but it was Jan Blachowicz who stole the show. The Polish powerhouse has been in the promotion since 2014 and seems to have now reached his prime. At the same time legend of division, Jon Jones would relinquish his title and move up to heavyweight.
Having put in three wins in a row, Blachowicz would face Dominick Reyes for the vacant UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 253. The Polish powerhouse would shock the oddsmakers and win the 205 prize. What would follow was a beautiful reception given to the newly crowned champion in his country.
UFC 254 would be the biggest fight card of the year for the UFC. The card featured the return of champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who would now face interim champion Justin Gaethje. The two lightweights would headline the show on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
‘The Highlight’, with his wrestling credentials and KO power, was supposed to be the most dangerous opponent for ‘The Eagle’ yet. However, Nurmagomedov would showcase his undisputed dominance as he submitted Gaethje in the second round. The Champion would then let out his emotions, having lost his father during the pandemic and move to retire from the sport.
The most viral moment of the year goes to middleweight Joaquin Buckley. The American had only made his debut in the promotion in 2020, his first fight being a loss to fellow prospect Kevin Holland. Buckley would return two months later to face Impa Kasanganay.
‘New Mansa’ would make sure UFC fans remembered his name as he hit an incredible spinning back kick to KO his opponent. The video would go viral, even going outside MMA circles and should win the KO of the year award.
Deiveson Figueiredo should win the Fighter of the year award. The Brazilian has lit up the flyweight division with his hard-hitting, brash fighting style. ‘Deus da Guerra’ has fought four times in 2020, three being wins and one draw.
Having defended his title against Alex Perez at UFC 255, he would return to face Brandon Moreno, who also fought on the same card. The two would headline UFC 256, which was just two weeks after their fights. This represents the fastest turn around title defense in UFC history. The two flyweights put it all on the line in a fight of the year contender and proving that 2021 has a lot in store for the division.
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