By Shawn Dennis
What Dana White was able to accomplish this year given the COVID circumstances is nothing shy of total brilliance and determination, providing the fans entertainment and the fighters a chance to make some cash in these difficult times.
The Flash Forum on Abu Dhab’s Yas Island, coined the nickname “Fight Island” was truly a spectacular setup, bringing in millions of virtual viewers. Having six fight cards and several title bouts on Fight Island, it certainly lived up to the hype and should have plans of returning for years to come.
As hectic and unforgettable as 2020 has been, there’s a few fights that’ll be remembered along with it. Let’s take a look back at the Top 5 MMA fights from all of this year’s cards and determine who deserves Fight of the Year.
5. Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo, UFC 251 Bantamweight Championship: The Brazilian future Hall of Famer Jose “Junior” Aldo had come off back-to-back losses in 2019 prior to his chance of having another belt around his waist. His first one since winning the first ever UFC Featherweight belt. On the other hand, Petr Yan had been on an absolute tear having won 7-straight UFC fights. Yan lived up to his nickname “No Mercy” throughout the entire fight as Aldo managed to reach the fifth round before referee Leon Edwards decided enough was enough. After rewatching the fight, Edwards continuously asked Aldo to “show him something” and to “keep going” while Yan hammered away with punches as Aldo covered helplessly on the ground.
What gives this fight the fifth-spot on the list is a combination of Yan’s dominance mixed with Aldo’s sheer demeanour to still put up a fight. Yan landed nearly 70% of his strikes thrown and landed one of his two takedown attempts as he looked like the more fit-fighter in every round. This bout proved how legitimate of a fighter Yan is and that Aldo still has a chance to prove more than he already has as a fighter, especially with his recent victory over Marlon Vera, who just came off a TKO over the fiery Sean O’Malley.
4. Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes, UFC 247 Light Heavyweight Championship: Love him or hate him, Jon Jones always delivers when necessary. Although this has been arguably the most controversial fight of 2020, with even Dana White giving the 3-2 round advantage to Reyes, you can’t argue how entertaining it was. These two powerhouses put on a damn show right before the world went wild. On paper, you’d think that Reyes is basically the clear winner, however, when you watch the fight over again it would be more realistic to have called it a no contest than to have Jones be the true winner, as much as nobody enjoys that outcome for a belt.
Aside from the controversy that lands this fight at the fourth spot, it’s simply an instant classic. It’s a battle between two giants who throw everything they’ve got into every strike and you’re anticipating one of the trees to fall. Regardless of the winner, it might have been Jones’ last fight as a light heavyweight, as he vacated the belt to fight the winner of the heavyweight championship between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. The controversial victory of this bout is what adds fuel to the fire on Jones’ momentous career.
3. Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno, UFC 256 Flyweight Championship: Speaking of controversial fights, Figuieredo and Moreno’s draw gave ample reason to why the judge’s make the money they do. With the scorecards panning out as 48-46, 47-47, 47-47, you can concur with the fight coming to that result. But when there’s a belt on the line, it’s difficult to call it a no contest. Likewise, one judge giving Moreno the fifth round and the ref deducting a point for the third foul on Figueiredo were the two contributing factors to the decision being a draw.
From being the Fight of the Night for UFC 256, the ridiculous pace and tenacity shown by both fighters, Moreno’s ability to stay on his feet after Figueredo was still on a high from his previous fight against Alex Perez with that nasty submission, and the back-and-forth brawl that it was, it’s no wonder Dana White said post fight that “you absolutely positively do that rematch.” Aside from the fight itself, rumours were confirmed by Dana post-fight when asked about Figueiredo being in the hospital until 2 a.m. the night before the fight for stomach issues makes it that more surreal. He has the heart of a champion and from this fight on, Deivieson Figueiredo’s legacy is in the making.
2. Justin Gaehtje vs. Tony Ferguson, UFC 249 Lightweight Interim Championship: A fight that was never supposed to happen turned into the highlight reel of a lifetime for Justin Gaehtje. After training and being well prepared for Khabib Nurmagomdeov, Tony Furgeson was denied yet another opportunity to fight the champ as it seemed this bout was cursed to occur. As much as it was a one-sided affair in Gaethje’s favor, Ferguson’s ability to eat haymakers and stay on his feet is what gives this fight the second spot. Blow after blow and Tony managed to keep things interesting in a way that made you question if he was going to start hitting Justin with shots of his own or be put to sleep.
It’s nearly impossible to depict what was more impressive: Gaethje having the strength and endurance to throw bombs with every strike or Ferguson having the capability to shake them off and stay standing. While watching that fight, you’re just waiting for the moment when Ferguson was going to get knocked out, but it simply never came. In the fifth round, you really validate Ferguson’s nickname of the “Boogeyman” as blood poured down from his face and he is literally shaking his head after another blow lands from Gathje. That instinctive shaking movement made referee Herb Dean call the contest as a strong jab caused Ferguson to stumble back up against the octagon.
When someone asks you why you watch the UFC and what it’s all about, this is one of the fights you’d want to show them.
1. Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Zhang Weili, UFC 248 Strawweight Championship: What. A. Fight. This had “fight to the death” written all over it. When you see both of these brute and beautiful women after the fight, you’d think they just went to war (probably because they did). Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s hematoma made her look like a character out of Alien vs. Predator and Zhang Weili’s right eye socket appeared as if she got hit by a 100 mph fastball. What makes this fight so exhilarating is going into the final round, neither fighter had the real advantage and when that happens, they both give it all they got left.
This is what a back-and-forth contest is defined as and both of these fighters deserve a ton of recognition for their resilience to lay it all on the line. The respect and emotion shown after the fight was top-class and when Weili got the win, she made sure to provide awareness and show love for her home country of China as the fight happened right at the beginning of COVID before everything in the U.S. shut down.
When you look up the highlights of the fight, you’re better off watching the whole thing. Both fighters landed a miraculous 96 strikes to the head and shared the same leg hits with 58. What was most impressive aside from their abilities to strike and stay up was how close the distance was fought between the two. There was simply no margin of breaks or rounds taken off between either of them and like the Jones vs. Reyes bout, an argument can certainly be made of Joanna deserving the win.
Not only is this fight the best Women’s Championship bout of all time, it’s up there for the greatest fight of all time for both men and women. As much as we’d like to move on from 2020 and leave it behind, we can’t forget about the sheer excellence and entertainment that Weili and Joanna put on.