Riley Wilcosh ’22
It’s been a crazy year. Sports have been feverishly trying to start up again, yet many failed to. Luckily for me, MMA was the first sport to go back to full events. For hardcore and casual fans alike, this year has been fantastic for MMA. So to wrap up this school year, I have gone over all 24 events and over 250 fights to give you Riley’s lovingly cultivated MMA year in review.
STORIES OF THE YEAR
Figgy Saves Flyweight
Since Flyweight’s conception, this often overlooked division was constantly in danger of being disbanded. Worries of a lack of high level talent and knockouts were constant. Enter Deiveson “Figgy” Figueiredo. After Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo retired to ‘call-out’ fighters from Twitter, Figgy won the vacant title twice, both with a stoppage (he couldn’t claim the belt originally because he missed weight). Since then, Figueiredo and flyweight contender Brandon Moreno, engaged in my honourable mention of ‘Fight of the Year.’ These two had a rematch at the start of June, and though resulting in a draw, Figgy remains the Flyweight Champion. Over the past year, Figgy has permanently saved the Flyweight division, and even casuals should begin to cherish the future of the Flyweights.
Bantamweight: A Gauntlet of Killers
For quite a while, Bantamweight has been a confusing division. With a revolving door of champions and no clear ‘best of the best,’ fans hoped to get some closure when the ‘tough-as-nails’ Petr Yan defeated former Featherweight king, Jose Aldo, claiming another belt left vacant by Henry Cejudo. But in his first defence, while dominating the unorthodox Aljamain Sterling, Yan was disqualified after an illegal knee hit, handing Sterling a paper crown. After throwing in the surging Cory Sandhagen (fresh off two electrifying knockouts), and two rebounding former champions Cody Garbrandt and (the no longer suspended) TJ Dillashaw, you wouldn’t be blamed for being a little confused about the mess at Bantamweight. But this mess means that Bantamweight is a powderkeg, ready to explode with a whole cadre of amazing fights for 2022.
Lightweight: A Do Bronx Tale
For another division that was almost dissolved, Lightweight has become the most popular division in the sport, mostly due to its den of killers. And champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, the most dominant fighter of all time, started off the year by beating human wrecking ball Justin Gaethje and then fulfilling the wishes of his late father and coach by retiring. Megastar Conor McGregor fell to an all-time low, losing to fan-favourite boxer Dustin Poirier. However, despite Conor and Khabib, the story of the year goes to Charles Oliviera. Born and raised in the favelas of Sao Paulo, Oliveira had to persevere through arthritis and a heart murmur before he entered the UFC in 2010. Since then, “Do Bronx” (meaning “of the ghetto”) has become a hardcore fan favourite by having the most finishes and submissions in UFC history. After dominating Lightweight boogeyman, Tony Ferguson, Charles was slated to fight Michael Chandler, a dangerous power-puncher with a D1 wrestling background. After a first round where he was nearly KO’ed, Charles came back to win by knockout, completing a decade long quest to bring the belt back to his namesake. Charles’s victory brought joy to fans of every flavour, and with the den of killers at Lightweight, Oliveira’s reign is sure to be an exciting era for all watching.
Patented Polish Power™
Jan Blachowicz is the new king at Light Heavyweight, and boy is he exciting. After gaining a hanged man’s noose which he now carries for good luck (no I am not making that up), Blachowicz went on an eight fight streak, which awarded him a title shot against frontrunner Dominick Reyes. Despite being the underdog, Blachowicz battered Reyes, giving him a nasty hematoma on his torso and knocking him out with his “Legendary Polish Power.” In a quick turn around, the UFC threw Blachowicz to the kickboxing savant Middleweight Champion, Israel Adesanya. Once again, the megastar was predicted to pick Blachowicz apart. Yet the threat of his Polish power and own effective wrestling handed Adesanya his first MMA loss in 20 fights. With much respect behind him, Blachowicz is now slated to fight ageless wonder Glover Teixiera, and his Legendary Polish Power remains a treat to watch for all fans of MMA.
Out of Africa: Ngannou is Champion, and Jones awaits
You gotta love Francis Ngannou. Ngannou grew up in Cameroon, where he’d fight off rats for food and worked in a sand mine at only twelve-years-old to pay for schooling. At age 26, he journeyed to France, running across the Sahara and ferrying dinghies of ten people meant for three from Algeria to Spain, where he was jailed for two months. After living on the streets of Paris, his 6’4’’ specimen physique was noticed and picked up by a boxing coach. And now, after only eight years of training, Ngannou has defeated Heavyweight great, Stipe Miocic, becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World, completing his epic journey. With Jon Jones, the most decorated fighter ever moving up to heavyweight, and the ‘Knockout King,’ Derrick Lewis waiting in the wings, Ngannou’s future is looking bright.
Fighter of the Year: Kamaru Usman
After beating superstar Jorge Masvidal in a poor showing, champion Kamaru Usman was matched with the jiu jitsu ace, Gilbert Burns. Using almost exclusively jabs, Kamaru knocked out the heavy favourite. Rematched with Masvidal, Usman was predicted to once again smother-wrestle his way to a decision. But in defiance of the odds, Usman knocked out Masvidal, who had only been finished once in his career. Usman went from underappreciated to a one to watch in only a year, and his 2021 is only a hint of his potential.
Knockout of the Year: Cory Sandhagen
This award technically goes to two knockouts. After losing a #1 contender match to Aljamain Sterling, Sandhagen’s spinning wheel kick KO of Marlon Moraes and flying knee on Frankie Edgar placed him right back into title contention.
Submission of the Year: Jimmy Flick
Despite not being seen (or appreciated) by many, Flick’s flying triangle in round one pleased the more grappling inclined fans (like me) and punctuated the UFC’s phenomenal 2020.
Fight of the Year: Reyes vs. Kattar
There was a whole horde of candidates, but this number one contender in Light Heavyweight takes the cake. A whole two rounds of mayhem and violence led to the Polish warrior-philosopher (that’s his description, not mine) ending the fight with a spinning elbow.
Photo Credit: https://www.tapology.com/fightcenter/