2020 had been…well…not the most normal of years for anything frankly. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world to an unprecedented degree, and we’ve all had to adjust our daily lives drastically, which also goes for the fight game.
From no live crowds, to numerous organisations cutting a great bunch of talent, 2020 was never going to overcome what had hit it, but boy did MMA give it a shot. We’ve seen some of the most sensational of performances, and the most epic of showdowns. Okay, so we might have gone a bit mad about last year, but we certainly won’t sleep on it.
With that being said, it’s time to reflect on some of the most standout individuals that have graced the arena in 2020 just gone. We’ve condensed this list to twelve names from all over the globe.
This isn’t a pound-for-pound ‘best’ list either. Whilst our selection are definitely all elite-level fighters, we’re also taking cultural impact, career progression, and historic significance into account, so don’t expect a countdown entirely full of belt holders! Instead, expect a quick rewind over some of 2020’s greatest moments in fighting, and the warriors involved in making them!
Despite 2020 being marked as one of the craziest years ever, at least let us look back and remember all that was glorious in MMA, so follow on for Top 12 Best Fighters of 2020 Ranked! (in descending order)
- Khamzat Chimaev (UFC)
- Ritu Phogat (ONE Championship)
- Vadim Nemkov (Bellator)
- Stipe Miocic (UFC)
- Kevin Holland (UFC)
- Valentina Shevchenko (UFC)
- Jan Błachowicz (UFC)
- Cris Cyborg (Bellator)
- Reinier de Ridder (ONE Championship)
- Deiveson Figueiredo (UFC)
- Israel Adesanya (UFC)
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC)
Let’s imagine Khamzat Chimaev’s match up with Leon Edwards earlier this month wasn’t cancelled, and he managed to pull it off…We’d be talking about him a lot further down this list!
However, despite his UFC record still consisting entirely of unranked fighters, you can’t deny the impact he’s made this year alone. After all, when you secure a fight with the number three-ranked fighter in the world after just three fights in the promotion, you’re doing something right.
Ten days, two weight classes, two dominant wins…Need we say more? Well he wasn’t done just there. His most recent fight just took one punch in 17 seconds. He lives to fight, and from the confidence his team at Allstars in Stockholm has in him, going further than anyone from that camp, (including the likes of Alexander Gustafsson) we can’t wait to see how far he goes in 2021.
Another breakout star that thrived in 2020, is undefeated Indian prodigy Ritu Phogat, aka ‘The Indian Tigress’. At 5’1”, and not having to cut weight to make the atomweight 115lb limit, Phogat handles her opponents as if she were a heavyweight.
Her wrestling pedigree is so far untouched in her career, and its combination with her ferocious ground-and-pound is only reminiscent of greats like Khabib Nurmagomedov. As competition has gradually become tougher, she’s just gotten better, and she’s easily India’s best hope for world champion right now!
2020 crowned a new Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion in Vadim Nemkov, finishing Ryan Bader and ending his three-year title reign.
He’s riding a perfect five-fight win streak in the promotion, possessing outstanding skills in sambo and at the age of 28, he’s still very young, especially for the heavier divisions.
Our first champ to grace this list is considered perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time, and is thanks to his rubber match with Daniel Cormier this year.
Miocic and Cormier had a score to settle with one stoppage win each, and this time it went the distance.
Cormier’s eye was compromised early on, and It wasn’t without controversy, but Miocic played a smart game against the former champion and cemented himself further as the most successful UFC heavyweight of all time.
With five fights, Kevin Holland has been ridiculously active this year, and has flawlessly ran with it all. He’s only just made it to the rankings, already able to boast three Performance of the Night bonuses and is tied as having the most UFC wins inside a calendar year.
His work inside the octagon is nothing short of spectacular, as are his theatrics outside of the cage.
Just as you thought it couldn’t get crazier with the ‘Trail Blazer’, his most recent victory against Brazilian legend, Ronaldo ‘Jacaré’ Souza, saw Holland score the most unusual of KO wins. Catching Souza with a flush strike from his back and following up with more vicious punches, his opponent quickly slipped out of consciousness.
There can be no doubt now that Valentina Shevchenko is a distant number one in the women’s flyweight division, and the clear runner-up in the women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
This year, she’s bagged another two impressive title defences, and to this day, has easily come closer than anyone to dethroning the pound-for-pound number one, Amanda Nunes.
If you said this time last year that the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship would be around the waist of Jan Błachowicz, I doubt many people would have believed you.
Now, at 37 years-old, the “Prince of Cieszyn” is on top of the world, having beaten two of the best in the division. Along with those victories came two well-deserved Performance of the Night bonuses, and of course, the coveted UFC title.
He joins Joanna Jędrzejczyk as the second Polish champion in UFC history, and has one hell of a scrap booked with Israel Adesanya coming up this year!
Cyborg is back, and maybe better than ever. After a brutal loss to Amanda Nunes in 2018, many dismissed her as the former baddest woman on the planet.
The decision to sign with Bellator, and subsequently capture the featherweight title has been the ticket to a perfect 2020 for the 35 year-old Brazilian. With the Bellator Women’s Featherweight World Championship now round her waist, Cyborg has now bagged world titles from four elite organisations in her career.
As 2020 began, there wasn’t really anyone who realistically thought ONE Middleweight Champion, Aung La N Sang would be dethroned any time soon. He was one of the most dominant champions the promotion had ever seen, making quick work of all challengers to his gold.
However, after Reinier (‘The Dutch Knight’) de Ridder’s decision win against Leandro Ataides, there was no doubt he’d earned his spot in title contention. He later went on to choke Aung La in the first round of their title fight, collecting the biggest prize in the game, and extending his MMA record to a perfect 13-0.
The most active world champion of 2020, you couldn’t possibly omit Figueiredo from this list as his performances have been nothing short of wild!
He’s finished Joseph Benavidez twice, choked out Alex Perez, and has been a half of one of the craziest fights of the year against Brandon Moreno, which is a rematch we can’t wait for!
After Henry Cejudo’s surprising departure from the sport, the future of the flyweight division was uncertain, with legitimate reports of its dissolution in the UFC nearing. Figueiredo can be credited for spending the year proving that the division is very much alive, and has a long way to go.
‘The Last Stylebender’, and perhaps the next face of the UFC. Few middleweights are calling out Israel Adesanya’s slim body type now, and his work in 2020 is the reason why.
Firstly, he stepped up to a Cuban combat beast that a lot of fighters were fearful of, Yoel Romero. Their contest wasn’t the prettiest. But Adesanya did what he had to technically to avoid the wrath of the ‘Soldier of God’, while tallying up the numbers round by round.
Then came along ‘The Eraser’ Paulo Costa, perhaps the most genetically sound fighter to put on a pair of gloves who was extremely confident in putting aside the champion. It took Adesanya two rounds to completely outclass an overwhelmed Costa, leaving no further doubt about who the best middleweight in the world is.
The UFC’s pound-for-pound number one, the greatest lightweight of all time, 29-0, an undefeated retiree – these are all honours Khabib Nurmagomedov has soaked up in 2020.
He faced a tremendous amount of adversity when he lost his coach, mentor and beloved father, Abdulmanap. Combine that with the fact that he was questioned about this repeatedly in the lead up to his fight with legitimate threat, Justin Gaethje, Nurmagomedov felt no pressure quite like what 2020 served up.
After all that, he dominated Gaethje in their much anticipated title bout, putting him to sleep with the triangle choke after switching from an armlock in an effort to not break his opponent’s arm in front of his mother. After watching him collapse in the octagon, you couldn’t help but feel his gasp of relief. He’d made his father proud, and was able to retire undefeated.
No-one really knows what the future holds for the UFC Lightweight Champion, but if this really is the end, he couldn’t have signed off this chapter any better. In addition to this, Nurmagomedov has since been crowned several honours, including BBC Sports Personality’s World Sport Star of the Year – if that doesn’t tell you anything about his global outreach, there isn’t much that will.