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2019 Year End MMA Awards: Fighter of the Year, Worst Fight, More

January 10, 2020 | Posted by Robert Winfree
Jorge Masvidal

Hello everyone and welcome to my 2019 Year End MMA Awards. I’m Robert Winfree, and since once again this seems like a good idea I’m handing out mostly non-existent awards in the world of MMA. These are the best, and worst, of the year as I see it. Usual disclaimer here: I can only rank what I have seen and I haven’t seen everything.

Ian McCall Memorial Worst Luck Award

Robbie Lawler

There were a few possible fighters to receive this award in 2019, but ultimately I went with Robbie Lawler. Lawler missed all of 2018 recovering from the knee injury he mentioned in his fight with Rafael dos Anjos. His 2019 campaign began with a canceled fight, he was supposed to fight undefeated Ben Askren at UFC 233 but UFC 233 fell apart as an event when the proposed main event between TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo was bumped up to main event the first ever UFC on ESPN+ event and no suitable replacement fight could be found. The fight with Askren was rescheduled for UFC 235, and while Lawler proceeded to slam Askren violently and nearly finish the “Funky” one he found himself in a bulldog choke and the ref waved off the fight when Lawler appeared to fall unconscious. The call itself is a defensible one by the ref, but given that Lawler looked to not have actually passed out in the immediate aftermath of the call one could argue it was incorrect. To Lawler’s eternal credit he made no waves about it, even calling over referee Herb Dean in the immediate aftermath to tell him not to worry about it. Despite the loss Lawler was slated to main event UFC on ESPN 3 in a rematch with Tyron Woodley, the man who took the welterweight title from him. That fight fell through when Woodley sustained a hand injury, presumably from patting himself on the back over his rap album. Lawler would still main event an ESPN card, this time against Colby Covington in a bout that he lost rather badly and drew poorly due to the start time. To close out the year, another canceled fight for Mr. Lawler as his scheduled bout with rising contender Santiago Ponzinibbio for UFC 245 dropped when Ponzinibbio got injured.

Between injuries, promotional decisions, a change of camp, and an unfortunate but ultimately totally understandable ending to the Askren fight, Lawler suffered through a string of really really bad luck this year.

Worst Fight of 2019

2019 was an odd year for fight quality, there were some real boring fights and a surprisingly high number of them took place in high profile situations. There are two different main events on this list, at least one of which was reasonable anticipated. Ultimately here’s what I consider the worst that 2019 had to offer, at least of what I’ve seen.

Honorable Mention: Juan Adams vs. Arjan Bhullar from UFC on ESPN+ 9

5. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Jan Blachowicz from UFC on ESPN+ 22:

A main event fight, somewhat anticipated, featuring a man riding high off of a brutal KO trying to turn back another middleweight looking to come up to light heavy taking on a man who probably should have been middleweight champion at one point. There was a fair bit of excitement around Souza’s debut at 205 lbs as well as seeing of Blachowicz could capitalize on the momentum his knockout of Luke Rockhold had generated. What we got was 25 minutes of circling, a few leg kicks, clinching, and both men ultimately to hesitant to actually pull the trigger. A resounding disappointment on all levels, even in victory Blachowicz probably saw his stock drop.

4. Derek Brunson vs. Elias Theodorou from UFC on ESPN+ 9:

I’ve never been a fan of Elias Theodorou, in fact I’ve complained more than once about commentary praising his conditioning as he visibly gasses in the third round while doing another jog backwards, then a standing back fist and some bizarre side kick that ultimately amounts to very little. I’ve never been a fan of Derek Brunson, a man who’s potential was clear but who could never find the right balance of aggression and technique to really make a run at the top of the division. This fight was a lot of Theodorou moving around, trying bizarre techniques that didn’t work, Brunson landing just enough to win a round, and neither man really finding sustained success. A dull and almost painfully awkward fight to watch.

3. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Liz Carmouche from UFC on ESPN+ 14:

Our second main event fight to make this dubious list. Valentina Shevchenko was riding high, she’d bested Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a technical affair to claim the vacant flyweight title then kicked Jessica Eye so hard she relocated from Ohio to Nevada (more on that later). Liz Carmouche was a respected veteran, a former title challenger at bantamweight, and had pretty clearly earned her crack at the title. What happened was a lot of shadow boxing from Carmouche, she missed a staggering number of strikes, while Shevchenko was content to let her miss and waste energy. Shevchenko scored when openings were there, had takedowns into dominant positions but Carmouche wound up being durable and technical enough to avoid damaging scenarios. Shevchenko ultimately retained her title with lopsided scores (she should have had a 10-8 in round 4 when Carmouche landed 0 strikes) but the whole fight was a lot of staring and shadow boxing for 5 rounds. The icing on the cake was Carmouche’s post fight comments about expecting Shevchenko to be more aggressive, either an outright lie or proof that neither she nor her coaches actually watched any of Shevchenko’s fight film.

2. Greg Hardy vs. Ben Sosoli from UFC on ESPN 6:

Spots 2 and 3 on this list flipped a few times, but ultimately I had to go with this fight at number 2. Greg Hardy’s existence in the UFC at this point is becoming more and more bizarre. ESPN seems to really like him and his NFL connection, the UFC likes him due to his notoriety, and the fan base doesn’t like him because of his past. Believe it or not that is usually a set up for success, as long as the fans are tuning in there’s almost no such thing as bad publicity. But Hardy’s fights haven’t really been all that interesting, his first win in the UFC looked like his opponent took a dive. This fight went the distance (almost never a good thing at heavyweight), saw a lot of circling with occasional punches. To Hardy’s credit he seemed to have made a few technical adjustments, but he was fighting a very over matched opponent brought in to make him look good so there’s that. Sosoli, to his credit, kept fighting the whole time and landed a few good punches here and there. But the whole thing was plodding, dull, and ultimately pointless as Hardy’s win was overturned after he used an inhaler between rounds 2 and 3.

1. Blagoy Ivanov:

OK, hear me out. Last year I gave Gian Villante a whole spot to himself after he gave us 3 of the worst fights that year. Using that precedent I’m doing the same here. Ivanov fought three times in 2019 going 2-1 in the process, but man were they awful fights. He started the year “beating” Ben Rothwell via controversial split decision in a boring fight, beat Tai Tuivasa in a dull fight, and went to a split decision with Derrick Lewis that he lost in yet another boring fight. I didn’t want to clutter the full list with all three of those fights, so instead the concentrated boring, mind numbing, lack luster career efforts of Blagoy Ivanov get their own spot. Though his dance partners in all three of those fights deserve their share of the credit as well. Heavyweights. . . just heavyweights.

Breakout Fighter of the Year

Breakout or breakthrough categories are tricky because there’s a variety of criteria to be weighted. For me the big one is distance covered, who went the farthest over the time frame, with level attained being essentially a tie breaker. With that in mind, here’s the fighters I felt made the most headway.

5. Jared Cannonier

Technical turnarounds are always really great to watch, and Cannonier has had one over the last few years. Cannonier began his UFC career at heavyweight but has since moved all the way down to 185 with the help of a good diet, personal discipline, and a new training camp. Cannonier at middleweight has been something to behold, he debuted in the weight class last year with an upset TKO win over David Branch but this year showed much more of what he’s truly capable of. Cannonier’s first win in 2019 was a leg kick TKO win over Anderson Silva, and he capped off the year with a TKO over rising top contender Jack Hermansson. He also announced signing to fight former champion Robert Whittaker, all in all the man launched himself very nearly into the title scene as 2020 gets going.

4. Petr Yan

I put Yan in his same spot last year, and that might have been somewhat erroneous. Or, even giving past me the benefit of the doubt, he’s clearly attained another level as 2019 closes. Yan fought and won three times in 2019, beating John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera, and Urijah Faber in increasingly high profile spots. Yan had begun making waves at bantamweight in 2018, but coming out of 2019 he’s a bonafide contender.

3. Jairzinho Rozenstruik

Heavyweight is an odd division, one that allows for much greater career longevity relative to the smaller and quicker ones. As such you can spend more time with a fighter, but stagnation is a constant threat. I don’t know how many of you reading this remember or were around for the years when the UFC heavyweight scene was just Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, but that kind of stagnation is more likely in heavyweight or light heavyweight than any other. As such a new fighter in that division making waves and prompting some turnover is always welcome. Enter Jairzinho Rozenstruik, a kickboxer turned MMA fighter who fought and won four times in 2019. He debuted against Junior Albini and stopped him, stopped Allen Crowder, stopped Andrei Arlovski with one of the fastest KO’s in heavyweight history, then took on Alistair Overeem. While he struggled in places against the wily and powerful Overeem, a near last second right hand sent the Dutchman to the canvas as well as giving him the worst split lip I’ve seen in the sport. For a guy who only debuted in the UFC this year, Rozenstruik enters 2020 very near the title picture.

2. Zhang Weili

Zhang only fought twice in 2019, the first an uninspiring win over Teicia Torres that featured a lot of circling, leg kicks, and clinching. But on the back that she got a title shot at newly crowned strawweight champion Jessica Andrade, and that’s really why she’s on this list. In her home country of China, Zhang caught the charging Brazilian champion with punches then battered her to the mat to become the first Asian champion in UFC history. Other outlets have named her as the winner in this category, and that’s certainly understandable but there are a couple of mitigating factors for me. First was the card she won on, it was very clearly designed around the Chinese market and as such got very little coverage or buzz here in the western hemisphere. Also there’s the guy taking the top spot here, and given my established criteria for this category there was only one choice for top spot.

1. Jorge Masvidal

This isn’t the only time you’ll see Masvidal on this list, just a heads up. This is one of those times when, instead of a young up and comer breaking through the malaise of MMA it’s a veteran who finally puts things together. Masvidal stepped in on somewhat short notice to battle Darren Till to kick off 2019, based on a tweet Masvidal himself may or may not have written. Till may have lost a bit of shine after being rushed into a title fight with Tyron Woodley and losing badly, but he was still obviously promising and the most important fighter to the British/UK market that the UFC has. Masvidal proceeded to knock him out in the second round, a KO of the year contender in and of itself. He followed that up with the most viral moment of the year against undefeated Ben Askren, Masvidal scored the fastest KO in UFC history with a flying knee that left Askren stiff as a board. To close he stopped Nate Diaz with cuts in a fairly one sided fight at the biggest PPV of the year. Masvidal didn’t fight at all in 2018 due to injuries and a decision to be on a reality TV show, but on that show he seems to have had a much needed epiphany. He was always the kind of fighter that didn’t do much wrong technically but struggled to compose a full fight. Coming into 2019 Masvidal was a good fighter, but one lost in the shuffle and somewhat derisively noted as the king of split decisions. Exiting 2019 he is among the most popular fighters in the sport. I don’t think anyone broke out of the pack more, or certainly not to the same heights, as Masvidal.

Submission of the Year

This was an odd year for submissions, in the UFC specifically 2019 featured the lowest percentage of wins by submission (16%) since 2011 (18% which a few other years had matched). Though this year featured the highest percentage of submission accuracy at 31%, it featured the lowest submission attempts as well, 0.51 attempts per fight. It made for an interesting list to try and compile. Credit for the stats goes to https://twitter.com/MJCflipdascript .

5. Beneil Dariush’s triangle armbar vs. Drew Dober from UFC Fight Night 146

Beneil Dariush has been an odd character to get a handle on during his UFC run, he’s been near the top of the ladder at times but has also had visible struggles. Here he scored a really nice submission, chaining together attempts and threats before catching the triangle armbar and getting the tap out.

4. Cory Sandhagen’s armbar vs. Mario Bautista from UFC Fight Night 143

Cory Sandhagen is a really interesting fighter to watch, he’s fast paced and action oriented with a propensity to simply overwhelm his opponents with options and pace. In this fight he basically forces Bautista to play submission speed chess, none of the individual moves are technically perfect but the rapidity means that eventually Bautista simply can’t keep up and winds up checkmated.

3. Brent Primus’ gogoplata vs. Tim Wilde from Bellator: Birmingham

If something happens in Bellator, does it really happen? Joking aside, gogoplata’s are rare and while Bellator certainly isn’t shy about match making in such a way that a much better fighter can show off skills like this (you’ll see more of that in a bit) it’s still really cool to see.

2. Marlon Moreaes’ guillotine choke vs. Raphael Assuncao from UFC Fight Night 144

Marlon Moraes had a real up and down year, but this was a nice bit of fighting. Assuncao hadn’t been finished since 2011, and hadn’t been submitted since fighting Urijah Faber in 2010. Moraes battered Assuncao in this rematch, then was able to lock up the guillotine, adjust in a few times as Assuncao tried to escape, and eventually get the tap. This win set up Moraes for an overdue title shot (that he only got in this case because TJ Dillashaw got caught cheating), and was a really nice technical submission over a tough veteran.

1. Bryce Mitchell’s twister vs. Matt Sayles from UFC on ESPN 7

It’s a twister, this was basically a shoe-in for this spot. Matt Sayles and Bryce Mitchell may not represent the highest level of MMA, but this is a really cool submission and just the second time it’s been done in the UFC.

Knockout of the Year

Now this was a heck of a category this year. Narrowing this down to just this list was hard, and I’m still sure I missed several awesome KO’s

Honorable Mentions:

Davey Gallon’s rolling thunder kick vs. Ross Pearson from Probellum 1 – This was really cool, look it up if you haven’t seen it.

Ramond Daniels’ 720 right hook vs. Wilker Barros from Bellator: Birmingham – Remember what I said about Bellator’s matchmaking? It strikes again here, but this is still an absurdly entertaining punch.

5. Petr Yan’s head kick vs. Urijah Faber from UFC 245

You can accuse my personal biases of coming to bear here, and I’m not sure I could really disagree with you. Even so, this is my list and my personal quirks and perspective is naturally going to color it a bit. Petr Yan put a beating on Urijah Faber in this fight, probably the worst physical abuse he’s taken since the fight with Jose Aldo, and then flat-lined him with this kick. Yan’s ability to strike while breaking a clinch is something everyone who fights him is going to have to reckon with at some point, and in the third round of this fight Yan tried a knee while breaking a clinch, saw that Faber was too far and converted it to a head kick that dropped Faber badly. This was the first time Faber had really been KO’d since his fight with Mike Brown way back in 2008 and gets No Mercy Yan a spot on this list.

4. Niko Price’s up kick vs. James Vick from UFC Fight Night 161

Up kick finishes are rare in MMA, rarer still at the highest level. This one was nasty, the sound made as Price lands the up kick to Vick is a rather unique one. Price has a habit of finding odd but memorable KO’s, including hammer fists from the bottom a couple of years ago and a punch related one that didn’t quite make the cut this year.

3. Jessica Andrade’s slam vs. Rose Namajunas from UFC 237

The placement of this and the next one went back and forth a bit, ultimately I settled on this one being 3rd but they could easily be swapped. Jessica Andrade has always been an incredibly strong woman, she was out muscling women at bantamweight and once she was able to drop to 115 that differential only increased. She lost the first round of this title fight rather badly, but persevered. Here she secures a head outside high crotch lift, a favorite of Daniel Cormier, but Rose Namajunas doesn’t let go of the kimura grip she has. When Cormier tosses people with this same technique they tend to flip and land on their backs (see his fights vs. Henderson, Gustafsson, Barnett, and so on for examples) because they release any arm traps and just accept the toss rather than risk this. Namajunas doesn’t let go, so as Andrade elevates and slams her she lands on her head and is instantly out cold. Definitely a thing of violent beauty.

2. Valentina Shevchenko’s head kick vs. Jessica Eye from UFC 238

This head kick is a thing of beauty. Shevchenko has been blasting Eye with body kicks throughout the first round, in the second she’s still landed several but the payoff is this. She times Eye’s step, has taken a superior angle relative to Eye’s more square on stance, and then fires another kick. You can see Eye’s hands dip slightly, anticipating another blow to the abdomen, but that just opens up her head. Eye was out before she hit the ground, stiff as a board. It’s a testament to this year in finishes that this one nearly went a spot lower, and also didn’t really come close to taking the top spot.

1. Jorge Masvidal’s flying knee vs. Ben Askren from UFC 239

Was there really any doubt about this one? The fastest KO in UFC history comes via flying knee, to an undefeated fighter, in a marquee spot on a PPV card. Masvidal’s pose against the fence, hands behind his back, quasi malicious grin on his face, is now iconic. This was easily the most viral moment in the sport this year, one of the more violent, and also probably the least expected.

Truly a great year for knockouts, just have a look at this highlight which itself is even incomplete.

Fighter of the Year

5. Kamaru Usman

I went back and forth over this spot, it nearly went to Zhang Weili or Patricio Pitbull. For the record both of those fighters had darn good years as well. But ultimately it goes to Kamaru Usman for not only winning the title, but defending it as well. This was a really tough category this year, others Usman may have well rated higher.

4. Alexander Volkanovski

Volkanovski only had two fights in 2019, but you’d be hard pressed to find a man with a better level of opposition. Volkanovski started 2019 by handing the great Jose Aldo his first loss in a non-title fight since 2005 scoring a unanimous decision win and winning all three rounds along the way. As impressive as that was, he followed it up at the end of the year claiming the featherweight title from Max freaking Holloway. It wasn’t a performance that the casual fan base was cheering for (that would come one fight later at UFC 245) but for those of us who appreciate technique, timing, and the implementation of those in the face of the highest level of opposition it was brilliant. The fact that Volkanovski can beat those two men, win a title, and still be only 4 on this list should tell you something.

3. Henry Cejudo

Henry Cejudo came into 2019 on the heels of a controversial split decision win over Demetrious Johnson to become just the second flyweight champion in UFC history. Setting aside that I think that decision was wrong, Cejudo accepted a fight with bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw when Dillashaw moved down to flyweight hoping to become the first dual champion to win his second title by moving down in weight. The weight cut for Dillashaw was disastrous, while he hit the weight mark he looked like death and had to cheat to get there. It was all for naught though as Cejudo smashed him with strikes in the first round. This prompted Cejudo moving up to bantamweight and trying to become a dual champion (so much for saving flyweight), but Dillashaw’s failed drug test tossed a wrinkle into that. Instead of fighting the champion Cejudo met the true number one contender, Marlon Moraes, for the vacant belt. Cejudo dropped the first round in nearly tragic fashion, but to his credit rebounded and started pressuring Moraes. Constantly getting inside of the kicks that had torn him up in the first round, Cejudo forced more pocket exchanges and used his prodigious wrestling skill to wear down Moraes and eventually finish him in the third round. That would be Cejudo’s last fight of the year, and only having two fights is part of the reason he’s only 3 on this list. But besting Dillashaw and Moraes back to back, and becoming a dual champion? That’s a heck of a thing to accomplish.

1. Tie: Israel Adesanya and Jorge Masvidal

I’m leaving this one up to you guys to decide. Which of these two you give the top spot to comes down to how you weight a couple of criteria. In the case of Israel Adesanya he fought and won three times, besting Anderson Silva, having a fight you’ll hear more about in a bit with Kelvin Gastelum, and capping it off by knocking out Robert Whittaker to become the middleweight champion. Basically since his debut in the UFC Adesanya has built momentum, the ability, the flash, the personality, everything about how he presented himself and how he fought screamed champion. In 2019 he took out his idol Anderson Silva, proved his mettle in a crazy fight with Kelvin Gastelum, and dethroned a champion who’d never lost at middleweight in Whittaker. If your primary criteria for this category is level of opposition and accomplishment, Adesanya gets the top spot.

For Masvidal it’s less about in cage accolades, though he earned a few of those. Masvidal very nearly transcended the sport in 2019, blasting through two much hyped fighters and then taking out one of the more popular figures in the sport. Rather than just re-hash what I said about Masvidal earlier I’d like to point something out, a situation that came about largely because of Masvidal and Nate Diaz. I remember watching Anderson Silva’s debut against Chris Leben in 2006, it took place at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in front of a whopping 954 people. 13 years later, UFC 244 would happen. An event that takes place in Madison Square Garden, in the state that took the longest to legalize the sport and for a while seemed intractable on that front. An event large enough to force the biggest star in the world of boxing, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, to have his fight with Sergey Kovalev postponed 90 some odd minutes so it wouldn’t conflict with the UFC card. An event that saw the President of the United States attend live. For someone who’s been around the sport as long as I have, and plenty of people have been around longer, it was surreal. It’s still surreal. And Masvidal along with Diaz created that bit of surrealistic magic. Masvidal didn’t fight the same level of competition that Adesanya did, but if your criteria for this category is more along the lines of who owned the year, the answer is Jorge Masvidal.

Fight of the Year

While not quite as many contenders as KO of the year, this was a solid category to try and whittle down.

Honorable Mention: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington from UFC 245 – I’m putting this here as a way of acknowledging that I might be wrong. I’m not afraid to hold unpopular opinions or perspectives, so believe me when I tell you that watching this fight live it did nothing for me. It struck me as just another example of wrestlers engaged in slightly above remedial level striking. However, if I’m this much in the minority opinion I’m willing to concede I might change my opinion in the future, and I haven’t yet had a chance to really watch this fight again. But as my mind currently lies on this fight, it wasn’t even in my top ten, Volkanovski vs. Holloway from the same card was much more my cup of tea.

5. Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza from UFC on ESPN 2

The only thing I wanted from this fight that I didn’t get was time, I wanted it to go around 7 minutes but didn’t get that. I did get these two maniacs actually just trading leg kicks for a bit of time. They both landed punches, both landed leg kicks, but Gaethje’s defense and more selective approach to engaging seemed to off balance Barboza a bit. Gaethje’s trademark pressure and wide variance in strikes was there as well, and he wobbled Barboza a few times before hitting a lovely right hook off of a stance switch as Barboza tried to circle away along the fence. When they made this fight on paper I was salivating, and it largely gave me everything I wanted.

4. Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa from UFC 241

I can’t remember who said it, so apologies, but in the wake of this fight it was noted that this was about as close as we’ll ever get to comic book characters fighting in real life. These two engaged in a wild slug fest, both men got rocked at points, both men were visibly the worse for wear coming out of it, but we got a wildly entertaining bout.

3. Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena from UFC on ESPN 1

This fight happened early in the year, and surprisingly held up in terms of this category. This was a wild brawl, both men showing tons of grit and determination, both adjusting and finding success, momentum swings, just about everything you could want from a three round fight.

2. Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway from UFC 236

I was really looking forward to this fight when it was announced. Featherweight champion Max Holloway testing things at lightweight against the first man to beat him in Dustin Poirier. Poirier had been on a real tear up at lightweight, leading into this fight he’d bested Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, and Anthony Pettis finishing all of them. Holloway hadn’t lost since battling Conor McGregor in 2013, had twice bested Jose Aldo and looked like an absolute machine when he dismantled Brian Ortega. The fight itself was a glorious one, Poirier’s punching power making the difference in the early rounds as he stunned the nearly unflappable Holloway more than once. Holloway made some adjustments and found success as time wore on, but Poirier’s ability to sneak through a blow that halted his momentum remained, and Poirier’s ability to force clinches and run a bit of clock as time wore on helped secure him the victory. Both men were battered and bloody after this fight, and this could have been the number one spot in this category. Were it not for the fight they had to follow at UFC 236.

1. Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum from UFC 236

When previewing UFC 236 I was more excited about the main event between Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway, those two had proven track records of exciting fights and seemed tailor made to put on a great fight. That largely panned out. This fight I was interested in, Kelvin Gastelum could ask some very real questions of Adesanya, and there was still a real sense of inevitability around Adesanya’s climb towards the top. This fight was magic almost from the word go. Adesanya’s striking game is incredible, he has one of the most sophisticated feinting games in the sport and great accuracy as well as variety to his offense. Gastelum is more fundamental but is very sound with those tools, has thudding power, and a good wrestling game to fall back on if necessary. Gastelum was able to off balance Adesanya with a punch early, but Adesanya recovered and you could almost see him gain information as the round wore on. Rounds two and three were all Adesanya, he feinted to draw out Gastelum and punished him with long punches, kicks, and constantly changing angles. Round four was going much the same way, but Adesanya was relying on his reads and reflexes for much of his defense by this point and Gastelum had a surprise waiting for him. I can’t remember the last time I saw Gastelum land a head kick, and if I had to guess neither could Adesanya during his tape study because the one Gastelum lands in the waning seconds of the fourth round caught him almost cold. Adesanya’s reaction to the kick was to absolutely stop moving, remain upright but stationary so as not to give away how hurt he was. The trick worked for a second, before Gastelum resumed coming at him and Adesanya found himself on the fence looking to just wait out the round. Gastelum’s decision to try a takedown with only a handful of seconds to go is one that might wind up haunting him, as things stalled and the round came to an end.

There’s a truism in combat sports, that you don’t really know who you are until you come up against adversity. Adesanya sat on the stool between rounds 4 and 5 with the score most likely tied up at 2-2, just having been kicked in the head, bloodied, bruised, and trying to re-orient himself. You can see him talking to himself as they prepare for the final round, in a position where the vast majority of humanity would shrink he rose. Adesanya came from the most physical adversity he’d faced in his UFC run thus far and responded by hanging a unanimous 10-8 round on Gastelum. To Gastelum’s credit most opponents would have wilted and been finished by half of what Adesanya hit him with in the fifth round. Adesanya dropped Gastelum multiple times, battered him with a stunning variety of offense, there’s a very real argument to be made that Gastelum was saved by that final bell but saved he was. This fight has everything, technique, violence, momentum swings, and a crowning final round for the winner. Adesanya would go on to capture the middleweight title later in the year, knocking out Robert Whittaker in the second round, but it was this fight that forced him to look into the depths of his soul and figure out who he is. It was a gloriously violent masterpiece and both men should hold their heads high when discussing or thinking of it.

Do you disagree? Please leave a comment, just please be civil about it.

As we move into 2021, what are you most curious about in the world of MMA? What stories are you most aware of? I’ll be here most weekends covering all the action and I hope you’ll join me.

Robert Winfree is a libra, longtime host of the 411 Ground and Pound Radio Show, and current live coverage guru for the MMA zone of 411mania