A smaller pool of fights did not produce a commensurate drop in quality tussles this year; in a world more desperate than ever for entertainment, these men and women rose to the occasion. Let’s take a look at 2020’s “Fights of the Year.”
5. Josh Emmett vs. Shane Burgos (UFC on ESPN 11)
We knew from the moment these two put pen to paper that this would be something special. Emmett has never been shy about unleashing those sledgehammers he calls fists and Burgos is a fascinating blend of slickster stylings and fearless brawling.
Sometimes, things work out just how we think they will.
Despite Emmett tweaking his knee in the opening seconds, we got the technical, back-and-forth firefight we expected from beginning to end. Emmett’s explosions of offense clashed with Burgos’ attritional onslaught; while he managed to secure an early lead on the strength of some brutal overhands, Emmett found the momentum slipping away as Burgos consistently punished his body and lead leg, all while easily absorbing the sorts of punches that consistently left elite Featherweights completely unconscious.
Just like in his loss to Calvin Kattar, however, Burgos’ leaky defense caught up to him in the third round. Emmett floored him twice with a power jab and crushing overhand left, but to his credit, “Hurricane” refused to let up. They continued trading until the final bell, with Burgos shrugging off another monster right hand along the way.
Let’s see a lot more of these guys in 2021, please.
4. Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo (UFC 251)
I was not shy about my disdain for this matchmaking. Jose Aldo was on a two-fight losing streak, and even if you scored his controversial defeat to Marlon Moraes in his favor, Aljamain Sterling still boasted a far greater claim to top contender status.
For around three rounds, “Scarface” proved everyone wrong. “Vintage” may be a terribly overused adjective, but he really did look like the bloodthirsty monster that tore through the WEC way back in the day. He kept pace with one of the scariest strikers in the sport, rallying from a nasty first-round body shot to punish the Russian bruiser’s legs and midsection in return. The two were neck-and-neck heading into the championship rounds, a scenario which would have beggared belief if posited beforehand.
Then, despite an incomparable legend’s best efforts, it fell apart. Yan’s inexorable advance took its toll on the aging Aldo, and after ending the fourth with some heavy ground-and-pound, “No Mercy” sent him to the canvas in the opening seconds of the fifth. A too-long mauling ensued, ultimately ending what might have been Jose Aldo’s last chance at gold.
To see Aldo muster up the mixture of brilliant technique and madcap aggression that once made him synonymous with the division, only to fall short once again, was the definition of bittersweet. Tragedy can be beautiful in its own way, however.
3. Dustin Poirier vs. Dan Hooker (UFC on ESPN 12)
Take an indestructible aggressor like Dan Hooker, put him up against a ferociously potent offensive force like Dustin Poirier, and the results will be predictable.
Hooker, who’d already gutted his way through a five-round war with Paul Felder earlier in the year, seized the momentum early with constant body shots and low kicks. Despite Poirier’s massive power, Hooker got the better of their heavy exchanges in the second round, visibly hurting “The Diamond” with late combinations and walking through the return fire without issue.
Once the third round rolled around, however, Poirier managed to dial in. In addition to landing his customary bombs, he came perilously close to ending things with a guillotine. Hooker continued to lean on his wrestling as Poirier found increasing success on the feet, but found himself fighting off multiple submission attempts, and an inability to secure top control left him unable to offset Poirier’s striking efforts.
Poirier ultimately came out victorious, setting up a rematch with Conor McGregor early next year. No matter who Hooker ends up facing in his return to the ring, I’m sure he won’t stay behind for long.
2. Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 248)
When the Strawweight division’s scariest power puncher met its most decorated volume puncher, things got crazy.
Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk essentially spent 25 minutes in a single, prolonged exchange. The pair combined to throw over 750 significant strikes and land 351 of them, and while former division empress Jedrzejczyk sported some of the nastiest facial damage MMA has ever seen by the end, she gave China’s finest everything she could handle.
There were no lulls, no breaks, no breathers; from bell to bell, these two dedicated everything they had to beating the snot out of each other. It’s unlikely that this or any division will ever see many comparable scraps.
1. Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno (UFC 256)
This selection provoked a bit of deja vu; like last year, it came down to two phenomenal title fights. And, like last year, greater volatility and more pronounced momentum shifts carried the wild slugfest over the technical war.
This fight came together on three weeks’ notice when UFC 256 imploded; both Figueiredo and Moreno had scored first-round finishes at UFC 255, the former by guillotine and the latter via injury stoppage. They were ready, they were willing, and as it turned out, they were more than able.
“Deus da Guerra” roared out of the gate with the devil-may-care slugging that carried him to gold, while the iron-tough Moreno gladly met him with heavy combinations of his own. Figueiredo’s blows proved the more telling in the early going as he consistently denied Moreno’s attempts to impose his top-notch ground game. As the rounds wore on and Moreno refused to go down, however, he began to find increasing success; even a swollen eye and a horrendous groin shot weren’t enough to slow the Mexican warrior down. He secured the fourth round with a long stretch of top control and seemed the fresher fighter going into the fifth.
Unfortunately for “The Assassin Baby,” he couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. Figueiredo secured a relatively sedate fifth round, which offset the groin-shot-induced point deduction to secure a majority draw and keep the Flyweight belt around his waist.
Zhang-Jedrzejczyk didn’t have that low blow or the throwaway final round, giving it the edge in consistency, and I won’t deny that recency bias could be playing a part. Still, the utter madness of Figueiredo-Moreno was enough to carry it into the top slot.
Honorable Mentions: Maycon Mendonca vs. Bastumberel Dagvadorj, Brandon Royval vs. Kai Kara-France, Billy Quarantillo vs. Spike Carlyle, Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price II, Kai Kamaka III vs. Tony Kelley, Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder
What Was The Best UFC / MMA Fight Of 2020?
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Josh Emmett vs. Shane Burgos
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
Dustin Poirier vs. Dan Hooker
Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno