MMA 2020 Year in Review: Knockout of the Year

UFC Fight Island 5 Joaquin Buckley Impa Kasanganay
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 11: (L-R) Joaquin Buckley punches Impa Kasanganay in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on October 11, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Knockout of the Year for 2020 was never in doubt — really, it was a given from the moment it transpired.

Was there ever any question? Knockout of the Year can often be a heated category, with plenty of big finishes in any given twelve month stretch. But one fighter made things easy on us this year, giving us a highlight reel finish for the ages. In fact, the kick Joaquin Buckley landed on Impa Kasangany at UFC Fight Island 5 on October 11, 2020 may turn out to be the most iconic finish in MMA since the “Showtime Kick” a decade ago.

Below, our writers give their picks, with a couple of dissenting opinions, but the winner of this one shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

Gabriel Gonzalez: Joaquin Buckley vs Impa Kasanganay. The lightning in a bottle nature of this knockout stole the show despite some of the more violent knockouts in the running this year.  Everything about it from the awareness, timing, and athleticism to pull off this one makes it an easy one to award.  Had the same move been pulled off in a higher stakes bout by say, Israel Adesanya against Paulo Costa, I have no doubt that it would go down as one of the greatest combat sports knockout of all-time.  It was that good.

Jay Anderson: Joaquin Buckley made us all question whether or not we’re in the goddamn Matrix. There’s only one correct answer here (to knockout of the year, not the Matrix question), and it’s Buckley’s two touch spinning back kick against Impa Kasanganay.

Joe McDonagh: Joaquin Buckley. Don’t think this needs much of an explanation. 

Daniel Vreeland: Joaquin Buckley’s KO of Impa Kasanganay. There were other spectacular KOs in the year that are definitely worth mentioning. However, the ability to generate that much power standing on one foot stands out as one of the most impressive things I saw all year. It’s one that will dot highlight reels until the end of time.

Josh Evanoff: Joaquin Buckley’s knockout of Impa Kasanganay is not only the knockout of the year for 2020, it’s arguably the best knockout ever. It was such a good knockout that if you saw it in a movie you’d say it was not physically possible. That is how good of a knockout it was, it was absurd, nothing else comes close.

Michael Lynch: Kevin Holland’s KO of Jacare. Very few times have we seen a KO off someone’s back. Let alone via a punch.

Heath Harshman: The only real answer is Joaquin Buckley’s video game KO. But I want to give some love to Jordan Leavitt’s slam KO, too. Was it the best KO of the year? No. But slam KOs are always as entertaining as they are brutal, and Leavitt’s was no exception.

Justin Gibbons: As soon as this fight was announced, I knew it was not going to disappoint and wasn’t going past the first round. Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik is my knockout of the year because you have really got to appreciate the blitzing power of Francis Ngannou. Ngannou took a left and a right from Jairzinho Rozenstruik but kept coming forward and once he connected, the end result was very scary as Jairzinho was left unconscious against the cage.

Bryson Hester: Cody Garbrandt entered 2020 on a three-fight KO losing streak, and unfortunately he’s exiting the year with extreme COVID-19 complications. But Cody’s amazing one-punch KO of Raphael Assuncao with one second left in the second round, of their co-main event bout at UFC 250, was just picture perfect. Amazing solo appearance on the year for Garbrandt and it sparked new title shot conversations at flyweight.

Ryan Fortune: Joaquin Buckley vs. Impa Kasanganay. Is there really any other contender for this award? Buckley’s viral, brutal knockout against the previously-undefeated Kasanganay easily takes my choice for knockout of the year in 2020, with an absolutely stunning counter. I had never seen a knockout like that before and I doubt I’ll see another one like that in the UFC for a very long time.

Dan Doherty: Joaquin Buckley vs. Impa Kasanganay. This blew my mind. Right when you think you’ve seen it all in MMA, something new happens. A caught kick turns into a spinning head kick walk-off KO. That was something that could happen in a movie and it would make you say, “nah, that would never happen in real life.” Buckley has proven the impossible is possible.

Mike McClory: This has to be Joaquin Buckley’s earth moving KO kick of Impa Kasanganay at UFC Fight Island 5. The power, creativity and impressive result doesn’t leave much room for other challengers to this one. If you somehow haven’t seen this finish, look it up.

Dave Noseworthy: The specialness of being the first to do something in this game cannot be understated. When Joaquin Buckley had his kick caught, leapt into the air and jumping spin kicked Impa Kasanganay into oblivion, it set the MMA world on fire. A technique unlike anything we’ve yet to see in the octagon, the picture-perfect kick was devastating. What’s more is that even though Kasanganay had a high guard and perfect striking defense, he still got put away brutally. Iconic and unforgettable, and without a doubt the best knockout of 2020.

Shawn Bitter: Nothing competes with Joaquin Buckley knocking out Impa Kasanganay. From stopping the momentum of Impa to the finish in general, it was nothing short of astonishing.

End result: It’s a landslide! Joaquin Buckley earns the Knockout of the Year, to the surprise of absolutely no one.