The UFC for now remains the black sheep of the mainstream sports family yet at times in the crazy year that was 2020 the world’s top mixed martial arts promotion was completely alone in the spotlight.
Dana White and the UFC were the first major sports organization to get back up and running full-time after the COVID-19 pandemic initially shut down basically all sports worldwide in the first half of the year.
Between holding empty-venue events in Florida, at their home base in Las Vegas, or at the newly constructed Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, the UFC managed to consistently give fight fans something to look forward to on weekends – and a few times on weeknights – while much or the world was stuck in some form of lockdown.
Overall, considering the circumstances, it was a hugely successful year for the UFC despite the unfortunate recent and looming roster cuts.
Before we focus solely on what’s to come in 2021, we felt it timely to reflect on some of the more memorable moments in the UFC from the past year.
Defending champions Amanda Nunes, Stipe Miocic, Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski, Valentina Shevchenko and Weili Zhang stayed atop their respective divisions while fellow titleholders Henry Cejudo and Khabib Nurmagomedov retired as champions. Not to mention Jan Blachowicz, Petr Yan and Deiveson Figueiredo all became first-time UFC champs.
With that in mind, here are the best UFC knockouts, submissions and other moments from 2020.
An unusually high percentage of UFC bouts took place in the organization’s smaller 25-foot cage this year – largely because 21 of the final 30 events took place at the UFC APEX – which could be a contributing factor in the number of knockouts we saw in 2020. Smaller cage means less space to move around, which typically means increased action and fights finished inside the distance.
We saw Cody Garbrandt, Jiri Prochazka, Kevin Holland, Khamzat Chimaev and others get the job done with their hands but a dynamic kick from an up-and-comer was the consensus knockout of the year.
Joaquin Buckley made the leap from LFA to the UFC and in October on Fight Island he went viral with his jumping spin-kick KO against Impa Kasanganay.
When a fighter forces a tap, snap or nap it rarely generates the type of fan reaction a wild knockout does, however for those who appreciate the grappling side of MMA there were plenty of fine submissions to admire.
Perhaps none were more impressive than Nurmagomedov’s swansong as he choked Justin Gaethje unconscious with a triangle that he secured after earning the position with some of the finest transitions and submission setups you can possibly see in the sport.
One unique element to having events absent of crowd noise is the competing fighters often hear what’s being said about them and several times this year it led to some cageside levity.
HALL OF FAME
Canadian mixed martial arts legend Georges St-Pierre was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame less than three years after winning a title in a second weight division. GSP, who finished his career 26-2 and avenged both of his losses, is the epitome of a Hall of Famer.
The late Kevin Randleman was inducted as a pioneer, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner received the honour for all his behind the scenes work over the years, and the epic first encounter between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson that took place at UFC 165 in Toronto was enshrined in the fight category.
The UFC’s 2021 calendar begins in mid-January with a return trip to Fight Island that features three events headlined by Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar, Leon Edwards vs. Khamzat Chimaev and Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 2.
Let’s hope a schedule like that sets the stage for another memorable year inside the Octagon.