MMA 2019 Year in Review: Fighter of the Year

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One fighter surpassed Jorge Masvidal in our Fighter of the Year rankings, while on the ladies’ side, Amanda Nunes was the woman to beat.

When it comes to breakout years for mixed martial artists, 2019 was absolutely booming. A number of names solidified themselves as top stars in MMA, with Jorge Masvidal, Amanda Nunes, Henry Cejudo, Weili Zhang, Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski among them.

Last year, we combined the women’s and men’s sides into a single Fighter of the Year category. We’re going back to our 2017 format this time out, however, awarding both a male and female Fighter of the Year for 2019.

Fighter of the Year: Male

Heath Harshman: Plenty of fighters could’ve topped the list for male FOTY. Henry Cejudo, Jorge Masvidal, Alexander Volkanovski, Cory Sandhagen, and Ciryl Gane all had incredible years. But Israel Adesanya was the best fighter on the planet in 2019. Defeating Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, and Robert Whittaker in just under eight months is nothing short of phenomenal. The fact that he looked better in each successive outing has everyone excited for what the 185-pound champ has in store for 2020.

Jay Anderson: I’ve been bouncing this one around in my head for a few days. And try as I might, I cannot make an argument against Jorge Masvidal. Titles aren’t really necessary for Fighter of the Year to be awarded, but if you choose to count the BMF belt, he has gold anyway. He also went from hardcore fan favorite to mainstream star with three finishes against tough competition. With apologies to Ben Askren, it’s got to be Gamebred.

Michael Lynch: The male fighter of the year is Izzy, a.k.a. Israel Adesanya. He beat the GOAT Anderson Silva, had a fight of the night with Kelvin Gastelum, and then beat Bobby Knuckles (Robert Whittaker) for the title.

Ryan Fortune: Israel Adesanya had a fantastic 2019, where he went from middleweight contender to middleweight champion, remaining undefeated after going 3-0 throughout the year. The 30-year-old defeated former long-standing middleweight champion Anderson Silva via unanimous decision in February. That was followed by the aforementioned spectacular battle with Kelvin Gastelum in April (which was my fight of the year) in which Adesanya won the interim middleweight title via unanimous decision. Finally, Adesanya unified the title, when he defeated middleweight champion Robert Whittaker via second-round knockout to claim the title in front of 57,000 thousand in attendance in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It was Whittaker’s first loss at middleweight and since 2014, while Adesanya extended his MMA winning streak to 18. Oh, and he did a cool dance on his fight walkout.

Joe McDonagh: Israel Adesanya, the most superstar potential we have seen since Conor McGregor. A stunning rise through the ranks, an entertaining star in the making. A Nigerian champion, A fight of the Year contender, plus a KO of a top notch champion.

Josh Evanoff: Male fighter of the year goes to Jorge Masvidal. Israel Adesanya is a great runner up with making his way through the division and winning the title in a year, but Jorge Masvidal is now bigger than the title. The man came back from a year and a half layoff to become one of the biggest stars of the sport, and main-eventing the biggest show of the year. All along the way defeating top competition in Darren Till, Ben Askren, and Nate Diaz.

Gabriel Gonzalez: In the end, the strength of schedule won this one for Israel Adesanya. A fun battle with the legendary Anderson Silva, an epic with top ranked Kelvin Gastelum, and an authoritative finish of middleweight king Robert Whittaker to take the throne just put him ahead. Jorge Masvidal definitely won style points in 2019, but in the end the Fighter of the Year goes to “The Last Stylebender.”

Dan Doherty: Henry Cejudo. This one will make Heath Harshman groan. He kicked off the year by defying the odds and knocking out a juiced-up champ in TJ Dillashaw really quickly. Then he goes up and chases the bantamweight belt against a killer like Marlon Moraes, loses the first round badly, then dominates the remainder of the fight, finishing him in the third of five rounds to win the bantamweight belt. In terms of accomplishments, not many are in the league of Cejudo this year, even if he was just 2-0.

Mike McClory: I want to say Masvidal but Adesanya won the gold, twice. He also walked out with two Fight of the Night bonuses, and a Performance of the Night in the three fights he had in 2019. I don’t think you can have much better of a year than this.

Keith Shillan: Israel Adesanya. He went 3-0 on the season. He started the year off with beating the GOAT in his weight class, Anderson Silva, in a pay-per-view main event. He followed that up with a Fight of the Year candidate win over Kelvin Gastelum. Finally he caps it off by starching Robert Whittaker to win the title.

Fighter of the Year: Female

Heath Harshman: Amanda Nunes is the GOAT. Despite dominating two divisions bereft of legitimate contenders, Nunes still managed to add to her collection of title-defenses in 2019. Adding fellow Ronda Rousey conqueror Holly Holm, and inaugural featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie (for the second time) to her list of fallen foes. Nobody knows when the ride will end, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.

Jay Anderson: This was a bit of a three-horse race for me, with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane an outlier in fourth place. It’s hard to look past Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko, and Weili Zhang however. The UFC’s trio of women’s champs all had big years. Nunes shocked with a knockout of Holly Holm, then won a fight many expected her to win against Germaine de Randamie. Shevchenko decimated Jessica Eye, then defended the belt a second time against Liz Carmouche. It’s Weili Zhang who gets the nod however. A decision win against Tecia Torres set her up for a title shot, and she shocked the world by stopping Jessica Andrade in under a minute to win the UFC strawweight championship. Becoming the first Chinese UFC champ in the process.

Michael Lynch: Amanda Nunes is the female Fighter of the Year, because it would be between her and Valentina Shevchenko. Shevchenko defended her belt against Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye., while Nunes beat Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie. Nunes gets it.

Ryan Fortune: Not too much competition with this one, but Amanda Nunes again proves she is the best female fighter in the UFC, defending her bantamweight title against former champions Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie in July and December respectively to continue her reign as champion in the bantamweight and featherweight division. She also holds two wins over the flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. She has finished every UFC bantamweight champion via first-round knockout, alongside defeating both UFC featherweight champions too. It’s hard to see anyone who can beat her currently.

Joe McDonagh: Amanda Nunes. Why? This really needs no explanation.

Josh Evanoff: Female fighter of the year is Weili Zhang. At the start of the year she was a relatively unknown Chinese fighter, with some thinking she had the talent to be a top tier talent somewhere down the line. Instead, she ended the year as the strawweight champion, dominating Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres in 2019. Amanda Nunes had a great year, but Zhang’s emergence as a star was something nobody saw coming.

Gabriel Gonzalez: No exaggeration, Amanda Nunes won the game and swept the board in 2019. She has defeated every former champion at both 135 and 145 pounds. The next potential challengers, by all accounts, still need more seasoning. Valentina Shevchenko will look to take the title next year and Weilli Zhang will be looking to continue her run, but 2019 was owned by Nunes.

Dan Doherty: Weili Zhang. This pick has to do with expectations. Amanda Nunes is the greatest ever, knocked out Holm and used her strengths to defeat a difficult challenger in Germaine De Randamie. Zhang passed the Tecia Torres test and accomplished something very difficult in looking good against her. She followed that up by overwhelming Jessica Andrade, which should be impossible to do, in front of her home country. She came into the year 2-0 in the UFC and left with the belt. An excellent year for Zhang.

Mike McClory: Lets call this a draw with both Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko defending their respective belts, and both women picked up a Performance of the Night in doing so.

Keith Shillan: Weili Zhang. She went 2-0 on the year. Went from being unranked on the year to winning the UFC title in her home country of China. She also got shout outs from Tom Brady and The Rock.

End result: Israel Adesanya takes Fighter of the Year honors for the men, while on the women’s side, Amanda Nunes takes it despite fierce competition from Weili Zhang.


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