Even in the most bizarre years amid the constant battle with the coronavirus, the UFC has managed to stick to a schedule that has spawned a plethora of exciting fights – and RT Sport has picked some of the best of 2020.
UFC Fight Night Aukland – Dan Hooker versus Paul Felder
In the weeks before the UFC calendar was decimated by the onset of the coronavirus that would soon destroy the UFC’s 2020 plans, a major light event between top competitors Dan Hooker and Paul Felder suggested that the world’s greatest mixed martial be Arts PhD was scheduled for a peak year.
After Conor McGregor returned to play for the Irishman a month earlier against Donald Cerrone in the first of three bouts, New Zealander Hooker announced himself as a bona fide player with £ 155 (and potential future opponent for McGregor) when he was in an extremely entertaining encounter with the perennial light threat fields popped up at the top.
But it wasn’t easy. The notoriously gritty fields seldom stepped backwards during the 25-minute battle – his puffy face bore the damage of a punishing opening for hostilities. If Hooker defeated the early exchange, it was Felder who seemed to have more in his gas tank in the later rounds than he was pushing forward to sway the fight in his favor.
In the end, however, it was Hooker who received the nod from the three Cageside judges – but this was one of those fights where the “There’s no loser here” prize fight cliché applies, and probably little for “The Irish Dragon” Consolation was’, the fans who witnessed the exciting fight will certainly agree.
UFC 248 – Zhang Weili (c) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Once upon a time, when the Polish queen of battle Jedrzejczyk struck precisely, so that she was considered unsurpassed in the women’s straw weight. Her invincibility, however, was shattered when she suffered two direct world title defeats to Rose Namajunas (first by TKO, then by decision), leading many observers to say that Jedrzejczyk’s time in the spotlight had passed.
As the story of the Pole’s reign was unfolding, an unannounced Chinese fighter made her way to the top of the division. Zhang Weili made his UFC debut in mid-2018 with a 16-1 record and began fighting as a serious threat in the division.
It took the Chinese a little over 40 seconds to win the world title in a whitewash against Jessica Andrade to take on a fight with Jedrzejczyk, who was still tied to allegations of being a spent force in the division they were over once ruled.
Not so. While Jedrzejczyk would ultimately emerge from the fight with Weili at the bad end of a split decision, she was lauded for her energetic, never-undone performance during the five-round main event – and similar to the aforementioned Paul Felder, she came up with a grotesque swell left on the fighting side of her face.
Zhang Weili has proven that at 115 pounds she is the clear pacemaker. And Jedrzejczyk? Despite these losses in her record, the UFC 248 headliner has proven that she is a long way from the depleted power some had predicted.
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UFC Fight Night Las Vegas – Dustin Poirier versus Dan Hooker
This was a crucial battle for both men. Poirier, a longtime lightweight construction standout, returned to the cage for the first time since his third-round loss to UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov a few months earlier. For Hooker, the fight was a reward for his strong performance against Paul Felder earlier in the year and an opportunity to usurp the American fighter’s position at the top of the rankings.
And both men fought as if they knew they had something to prove. Hooker put out the same blueprint that got him so much success against Felder, but they say pressure creates diamonds and Poirier was in the exact kind of gun battle he shines in.
As the fight continued, Poirier prevailed in the later rounds and consolidated his position as one of the outstanding features of the lightweight division. It also exorcized the demons of his defeat at Nurmagomedov months earlier and resulted in him being re-paired with Conor McGregor in the first high profile fight of 2021.
And maybe no fighter at 155 pounds more deserves a second “red panty night” than the never-saying Dustin Poirier.
UFC 249 – Justin Gaethje versus Tony Ferguson
After being deprived again (for the fifth time, by the way) of a fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the disappointment of the fight fans was somewhat mitigated when the UFC introduced Justin Gaethje to replace the Russian champions against Ferguson The Time Was an unbeaten streak of 12 fights and eight years.
However, it quickly emerged that this was another type of challenge that Ferguson had recently faced. Gaethje was always a challenging fighter and brought out a much more moderate performance that highlighted his talents and decisively limited his limits. Gone were the days of Gaethje’s pull-up style, which was instead replaced with a disciplined performance in which he picked and selected his moments to engage.
Ferguson just couldn’t get started. Every time he advanced his chin got a stiff crack and towards the end of the fight the damage began to take its toll. A late volley of strikes from Gaethje sent a dazed Ferguson toward the cage, prompting the referee to step in and declare the fight over – along with the mystique associated with Ferguson’s undefeated streak.
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UFC 256 – Deiveson Figueiredo (c) vs. Brandon Moreno
A late contestant and perhaps even the front runner for the best fight of 2020 came in the UFC 256 headliner between flyweight champion Figueiredo and Mexican Moreno last weekend.
Brazilian Figueiredo started the fight just three weeks after his last title defense against Alex Perez – a UFC record – but if that fight was relatively easy for the once-beaten Figueiredo, Saturday was anything but. During 25 intense minutes, both fighters exchanged all sorts of (sometimes illegal) shots on the way to a fight that was ultimately considered a tie and which Dana White announced a sequel to early next year.
This was kind of a turn in the direction of the UFC president, who previously nearly closed the UFC’s 125-pound fold after realizing fans were slow to get behind the weight class and their fighters. But if that ever changes, last Saturday’s fight will likely be crucial.
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