MMA 2020 Year in Review: Fighter of the Year

Kevin Holland and Joaquin Buckley, UFC Vegas 6
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 08: (R-L) Kevin Holland punches Joaquin Buckley in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

2020 saw some exceptional performances under the harshest of circumstances, and two fighters stood out ahead of the rest.

Given the restrictions on training during the coronavirus pandemic, with athletes shifting in some cases to home gyms and working out outdoors, competing at all in 2020 deserves a pat on the back. Putting together unbeaten streaks at the highest level of the sport? That’s some next-level stuff. Below, our staff gives their pick for Fighter of the Year, on both the men’s and women’s side of MMA. One fighter stood out above the rest for the males, while the women had a much more closely contested race.

Fighter of the Year: Male

Gabriel Gonzalez: Deiveson Figueiredo’s odyssey to reach Fight Island and outdo his own performance against Joseph Benavidez to not only win the belt but vindicate himself from his weight miss months earlier really stood out for me. Considering that there were strong performances for Israel Adesanya and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the fact that it’s a flyweight who had the best campaign says all you need to know about how great a year he had. That’s not even mentioning the fact that he closed out 2020 with a Fight of the Year candidate against Brandon Moreno.

Jay Anderson: Had Deiveson Figueiredo defeated Brandon Moreno at UFC 256, I would have firmly sided with the newly crowned “God of War.” But despite retaining his title at the final PPV of 2020, he didn’t win, with the bout ending in a draw. That has me looking to Khamzat Chimaev, Kevin Holland, and Israel Adesanya. A lackluster showing against Yoel Romero nixes “The Last Stylebender” for me (as much Romero’s fault as his own, to be fair), and while Khamzat got the hype, Holland picked up five wins, with four finishes and three post-fight bonuses. It’s all in the numbers.

Joe McDonagh: Kevin Holland. 5-0 in 2020 is insanity. Most fighters didn’t even fight in 2020 during the pandemic, this man took it upon himself to become a fan favorite with star potential. Figgy is the other correct answer, but I’m going Holland.

Daniel Vreeland: Deiveson Figueiredo. People may try to discredit the year he had by pointing out the missed weight and the draw (which he would have won outright if not for the point deductions), but at the end of the day he joined Dominick Cruz and Demetrius Johnson as the only men to beat Joseph Benavidez twice and he did it in one year. Tack on two title defenses and there is really nobody who had a year close to this.

Josh Evanoff: Kevin Holland. Five wins in seven months is one of the most insane runs we will see in the UFC, ever. And two of those wins were over another rising star in Joaquin Buckley, and a knockout of the year contender against Jacare Souza. Kevin Holland went from that dude who most people just saw as a “meme” fighter who talks a lot at 185, to a legitimate top five contender in just a few months. That is an incredible rise.

Michael Lynch: Kevin Holland. Five fights in eight months is insane. Two of them winning Performance of the Night bonuses. Top that with four of those fights being finishes and his last one a KO over Jacare Souza. That’s as impressive of a year as I’ve ever seen.

Heath Harshman: My male Fighter of the Year is Kevin Holland. Anyone that goes 5-0 over the course of a year, skyrocketing up the ranks while racking up POTN bonuses, deserves this award. The fact that he did the majority of that over the final half of the year seals the deal.

Justin Gibbons: Gilbert Burns made sure that 2020 was his year and with his dominant performance over the former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and being the second man to ever KO Demian Maia. Burns left no doubt, earning his opportunities at a shot at UFC gold. With his momentum, it’s hard not to give him my Fighter of the Year award.

Bryson Hester: 2020 was Kevin Holland’s year. Holland made the walk to the octagon five times in 2020, and he didn’t begin his year till May, because of the pandemic. Four finishes in five fights and three Performance of the Night bonuses make Holland the clear choice in my mind, as well as his during/post fight antics and charm.

Ryan Fortune: What a breakout year for Kevin Holland. The 28-year-old has transformed his career from coming off a loss to end 2019 to going to 5-0 in 2020, the most wins of any male fighter within 2020 inside the UFC. Holland’s recent win streak includes highlight reel knockouts over viral sensation Joaquin Buckley and perennial contender Jacare Souza. 2020 has been a bad year for most, but Holland enters 2021 coming off a career best year and is a contender in the wide-open middleweight division.

Dan Doherty: Kevin Holland. A few fighters took advantage of the high frequency of events during the pandemic and Kevin Holland did it best. He became the third UFC fighter ever to win five fights in a calendar year and it was all since May! Capping it off with a seated knockout of Jacare Souza was icing on the cake.

Mike McClory: Khamzat Chimaev. Since joining the UFC in July this man has three very impressive fights with strong finishes over John Phillips, Rhys McKee and his most recent win taking just 17 seconds over Gerald Meerschaert (definitely check these out). Is the hype real? It’s certainly looking that way and I cant wait to see what Chimaev has for us in the new year

Dave Noseworthy: A year ago, nobody would have predicted that the Fighter of the Year for 2020 would be the flyweight champion, but here we are. Deiveson Figueiredo is an absolute terror, just the type of scary and polarizing individual the flyweight division has needed for so long. After rattling off four fights this year, two of which were title defenses, and taking into account that all four performances were incredible, it’s the fashionable renaissance man Figueriedo who is the most deserving fighter of the year.

Shawn Bitter: Deiveson Figueiredo. A close one here but Figueiredo has three wins and an incredible fight that went to a draw. After a controversial first fight with Joseph Benavidez early in 2020, in the rematch he took care of business. A few months later he defended his title against Alex Perez in under two minutes. Just a few weeks after that he fought Brandon Moreno which was a fantastic fight. A fight that went to a draw but arguably he should have won.

End Result: Kevin Holland comes out on top for the men, thanks to an impressive 5-0 run in 2020, with four finishes and three Performance of the Night bonuses. Honorable mention goes to UFC flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo.

Head on over to the next page to see our Female Fighter of the Year.