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Bellator MMA’s year-end awards for 2020

In a year in which a pandemic upended daily life and pro sports, there were still some moments worth remembering.

Bellator 238 Media Day
Juan Archuleta
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Without further adieu ...

Fighter of the Year: Juan Archuleta

Picking anyone who had at least two fights in 2020 given the number of shows that were canceled, reshuffled or had last-minute changes was quite the challenge. After a disappointing world title loss at Bellator 228 last year, though, Juan “The Spaniard” Archuleta reinvented himself in a big way. He bounced back in January with a hard-fought decision against Henry Corrales, and parlayed that Featherweight victory into a move down to 135 pounds for another title shot. Despite Patrick “Patchy” Mix being a superior wrestler going into their bout, he didn’t have the all around skill set or long distance cardio of Archuleta. The man who once held multiple belts at the same time in King of the Cage finally had Bellator gold around his waist ... and he did it the hard way. You have to respect the work.

Fight of the Year: Gegard Mousasi vs. Douglas Lima

The long-awaited “super” fight between Gegard Mousasi and Douglas Lima finally happened at Bellator 250 on Oct. 29, 2020. The last time Mousasi had a bout of this nature it was very one-sided, so it was refreshing to watch a competitive five-round Middleweight bout where both men gave the other their all. Mousasi appeared to be building a lead going into the championship rounds, but “The Phenom” Lima was always just one punch away from changing the fight, and his leg kicks late slowed down Mousasi’s normally fluid footwork and disrupted his power strikes. It wound up being 48-47 on one judge’s card, 49-46 on the other two, but by unanimous decision Mousasi was once again the 185-pound champion.

Knockout of the Year: Denise Kielholtz at Bellator 247

“Miss Dynamite” Denise Kielholtz was never in doubt as a sensational kickboxer, but even after three straight MMA wins, some wondered if she had met her match against former Flyweight title contender Kate Jackson. Kielholtz only needed 43 seconds to prove them all wrong and set herself up for a future title shot down the line. The way Jackson face planted after a hard left is even more stunning in slow motion.

Submission of the Year: Cris Cyborg

Having stopped “The Jewel” Julia Budd to take the Featherweight title at Bellator 238, you’d have to wonder how Cris Cyborg could top that performance. How about getting her first submission ever in a career spanning three decades? It’s hard to believe she had never tapped out anyone before her first title defense against Arlene Blencowe, but the rear-naked choke she put on “Angerfist” in round two was textbook and a brilliant finish to the fight.

Biggest Robbery of the Year: Tyrell Fortune vs. Said Sowma

After a previous fight ended in a contest one would think Tyrell Fortune would be anxious to reassert himself in a main card bout against Said Sowma at Bellator 251. Instead it was the promotional newcomer Sowma who arguably got the better of the blue chip prospect in the second and third round, exposing Fortune as remarkably sluggish when he goes into deeper waters. Despite that Fortune still got a unanimous 29-28 decision win, with not even one judge seeing two rounds for Sowma. That still mystifies me to this day.

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