MMA 2020 Year in Review: Fighter of the Year

Valentina Shevchenko UFC
LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 21: Valentina Shevchenko backstage during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Fighter of the Year: Female

Gabriel Gonzalez: Valentina had a ton of competition from Cris Cyborg if I’m being honest. Both fought twice, and both were in full control of their opponents for the majority of their bouts. I gave this one to Shevchenko for the style points. She has taken Ben Askren’s off the cuff comments about being a spy and taken it in full stride by leaning more into the idea of being the most interesting woman on the UFC roster.

Jay Anderson: This was a little tougher for me than the men’s side if I’m being honest. Weili Zhang wasn’t active enough, despite a stellar showing at UFC 248. Cris Cyborg made her presence felt in Bellator, stopping both Julia Budd and Arlene Blencowe. Valentina Shevchenko picked up two title defenses against Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia. I’m siding with Cyborg, for two reasons: In Budd, she defeated the best featherweight in the world outside herself and Amanda Nunes. Against Blencowe, Cyborg earned the first submission win of her storied 15-year career.

Joe McDonagh: Weili Zhang. Although only 1-0 in 2020, she went toe to toe with the Queen of Violence (Jedrzejczyk, not Lipski) herself in one of the greatest fights we have ever seen. Zhang is special and has a ton of options that will only bolster her career.

Daniel Vreeland: Yan Xiaonan. When the year started, Yan was unranked in the women’s flyweight division. She proceeded to pick up two clear-cut wins against Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Claudia Gadelha and is now sitting at #3. You can argue that there are women who won three fights or ones who fought better competition, but nobody made bigger strides for their career than her.

Josh Evanoff: Valentina Shevchenko wins by virtue of it being a bit of a down year for women’s MMA. Nunes fought once, Cyborg fought twice, Weili fought once, and etc. Shevchenko went undefeated in 2020 and once again barely got tested, defeating Jennifer Maia and Katlyn Chookagian with ease. Another great year for the Bullet.

Michael Lynch: Mackenzie Dern. Three wins and two finishes says it all. Dern also had extremely impressive performance in her last fight.

Heath Harshman: My female Fighter of the Year is Lauren Murphy. The 37-year-old, 10-fight UFC veteran is on the best run of her career. She’s won four straight, three of which came in 2020. She now finds herself in the thick of the flyweight title picture, somewhere nobody expected her to be 12 months ago.

Justin Gibbons: She may not have won a championship this year or defended a title, but my female fighter of the year goes to Angela Hill. Angela fought four times this year and with staying active during COVID and going 50% with wins to losses is commendable. Her two losses are debatable but one thing is for sure, she has improved from her 2019 year and came back stronger in 2020.

Bryson Hester: Mackenzie Dern was another fighter that began her fighting year in May thanks to the pandemic. Dern tallied three wins this year and 2 finishes each earning her a performance of the night bonus. Dern became the first woman to finish a fight by any form of leg lock in UFC history with her win over Hannah Cifers.

Ryan Fortune: Amanda Ribas. Ribas went 2-0 in 2020, with dominant victories over Randa Markos and Paige VanZant, and is now booked to be on the main card of the Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier UFC 257 PPV in January. The 27-year-old has become a fan favorite with her all-action fight style and easy-going personality. 2020 was a great year for Ribas and she enters 2021 with a massive opportunity on her hands.

Dan Doherty: Lauren Murphy. If you told me at the beginning of the year that Lauren Murphy would be a top contender, I would have laughed. But here we are. From what I can tell, no other woman in the UFC had three wins in 2020 and Murphy continues to keep her name at the top of the list in the flyweight division. This is quite the career arc for Murphy who started her UFC run at 2-4.

Mike McClory: My first thought was to go with Valentina Shevchenko with her title defenses this year, but after thinking on it for a minute I have to go with Zhang Weili. Her fight with Joanna Jędrzejczyk was an instant classic and if anyone had any doubts about her title win over Jéssica Andrade in 42 seconds they didn’t after this fight. I wont say 2020 was a coming out party for Zhang but it woke up a lot of people who might have been sleeping on her.

Dave Noseworthy: Valentina Shevchenko is the female Fighter of the Year by virtue of being the most active female champion in 2020. She extended her reign as the flyweight champion for another year, with not many viable contenders in sight. The consistency in which she competes and wins is admirable. Shevchenko has done more than any other female champion can say for this calendar year.

Shawn Bitter: Valentina Shevchenko. It’s between her and Nunes, but Shevchenko has fought more and beating Chookagian and Maia are two credible wins in the division. She has still not slowed down in the slightest.

End result: Valentina Shevchenko takes it in a close race, with Bellator’s Cris Cyborg and fellow UFC champ Weili Zhang also in the running.


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