• Andrew Starc

The 5 Best UFC Fights of 2020

Even a global pandemic couldn't stop the UFC from delivering some quality fights in 2020.

While the world was in lock-down in early May, the UFC was already back to business as usual, hosting events months before any other sporting promotion.

Fight Island – the UFC's COVID-free enclave in Abu Dhabi – went from being Dana White's promotional bluster to a reality, and is probably one of the more impressive logistical achievements in recent sporting history.

And unlike other sports, social distancing measures have seemed to add, rather than detract, from the UFC spectacle.

Sure, it'd be great to see crowds again. But being able to hear every blow landed, corner instruction, and instance of trash talk has been an unforeseen perk.

Naturally, Dana White has painted himself and the UFC as martyrs railing against an unjust media, who loudly criticized the decision to host events at the height of a pandemic.

He also made sure to emphasize, with characteristic profanity, the personal adversity he faced during the whole experience.

"What I'm doing right now is probably the hardest thing I've ever done," chortled Dana at a post-fight press conference in June.

"Three times a day I throw my f**king hands up and I'm ready to say 'f**k this sh*t,'"

COVID-19 seems a crisis-turned-opportunity custom made for a gnarled promotional creature such as White, who even milked the social media value of getting a cue-tip shoved down his throat.

Still, credit must be given to White for the way the UFC resumed its regular schedule of fights every weekend, after pausing for only a month and a half at the height of COVID-19 lockdown.

And there were some great ones. Let's take a look at the five best fights of 2020.

5. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

It was billed as the toughest test of Khabib Nurmagomedov's career.

In Justin Gaethje, the Dagestani was facing an opponent many thought had a realistic chance of staging an upset.

Much was made of Gaethje's formidable stand up leading into the fight, which was put on full display in his beatdown of Tony Ferguson six months earlier. His wrestling credentials were also highlighted as a possible neutralizer for Khabib's grappling. However, in the end, none of that mattered.

Khabib put on a masterclass, submitting Gaethje via triangle choke early in the second round, having flustered the American by applying constant pressure.

Perhaps not the greatest fight ever, but worthy of inclusion here for the clinical manner in which Khabib dealt with Gaethje, and the emotional scenes post-fight of the lightweight GOAT prostrate in the octagon, shedding tears for his late father.

In his post-fight interview, Khabib laid down his gloves and announced his retirement from the sport, with a record of 29-0.

Watch the full fight video of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

4. Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje

By the end of the UFC 249 main event on 9 May – the first after COVID-19 lockdown – Tony Ferguson looked like he'd crawled out from under a car wreck.

Fans had never seen him dominated so brutally, which some speculated was due to the weight cut he endured a few weeks earlier.

The bout, initially scheduled for April, was cancelled due to COVID-19. El Cucuy, as only he would, made weight anyway.

"It was for my team and my sponsors and obviously my family. It was just a commitment to myself to follow through with my weight cut. To me, it just made f**king sense, man. It is what it is," Ferguson told ESPN.

Going into the bout, Ferguson was on a 12-fight win streak stretching back to 2013. But he was facing probably his most formidable opponent to date in the heavy-handed Justin Gaethje, who was coming off three first-round T/KO wins.

To many's surprise, Gaethje put an absolute beatdown on Ferguson, landing over 100 head strikes – many of them absolute bombs that echoed around the arena.

So brutalised was El Cucuy that in the fifth round he started making bizarre head movements, appearing as if he was malfunctioning.

The ref stopped the fight, and Gaethje was crowned interim champ.

Watch the full fight video of Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje

3. Dustin Poirier vs Dan Hooker

The main event of UFC Fight Night on 27 June was an instant classic.

For five rounds, lightweights Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker took turns beating the bejesus out of each other, in a fight that swayed back and forth.

It had everything – wild exchanges in the pocket, multiple submission attempts, and two fighters throwing everything at each other but the kitchen sink.

Hooker took the first round, and the second, which was possibly one of the most frantic in the history of the sport. In rounds three and four, however, Poirier got to work, attempting several submissions. In the fifth, the American's experience showed as he controlled proceedings and landed punches up until the final horn.

Poirier landed 153 significant strikes (208 total), while Hooker landed 155 significant strikes (182 total), with the American earning a unanimous decision win (48-47, 48-47, 48-46).

Watch the full fight video of Dustin Poirier vs Dan Hooker

2. Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno

Leading into his third title defence at UFC 256 on 12 December, Deiveson Figueiredo was looking unstoppable atop the flyweight division.

In July, he'd finished Joseph Benavidez in the first round with a rear-naked choke. Then in November, he'd done the same to Alex Perez, this time with a guillotine choke.

Taking the fight on three weeks' notice, Figueiredo was the heavy favorite against Brandon Moreno, who was coming off a three-fight win streak.

It was an exciting back-and-forth fight, with Figueiredo starting in dominant fashion, before Moreno shifted the tie in his favour, sustaining a heavy groin strike in the process. But the champ rallied later in the fight, and probably would have won if not for his low-blow on Moreno.

In the end, the judges returned a scorecard of 48-46, 47-47, 47-47, for a majority draw.

Figueiredo outlanded Moreno 147 strikes to 139, however the challenger had four takedowns compared to the champ's two.

Watch the full fight video of Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno

1. Zhang Weili vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk

It was called the greatest fight in women's MMA history.

In the co-main event of UFC 248 on 7 March, Zhang Weili was defending her strawweight title for the first time against former six-time defending champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

The duo battered each other for 25 minutes, with a combined 783 strikes thrown in a bloody and bruising affair.

While Jedrzejczyk outlanded Zhang in significant strikes, 196-170, the champ landed the only takedown of the fight, earning her a split decision win, 48-47, 47-48, 48-47.

Zhang retained her belt, remaining undefeated in the UFC. And Jedrzejczyk claimed the dubious honour of sporting one of the most grotesque hematomas in combat sports history.

Watch the full fight video of Weili Zhang vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk

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