After a truly special 2019, it’s time for a retrospective look at the year that has passed and hand out some awards for the best that MMA had to offer.
From title unifications, even more double champions being made and the cementing of an all-time great in the women’s game; 2019 was filled with special moments.
With great title bouts, shocking upsets and sublime submissions, 2019 was a bumper year for MMA and closed out a decade that saw the sport become mainstream.
With eight awards to dish out, all of the nominees stem from the major MMA promotions barring any truly exceptional piece of brilliance. So, without further ado, here are the 2019 ReadMMA End of Year Awards:
Fight of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi; ’17: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson; ’18: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II)
Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena (UFC on ESPN 1)
Doing their best to replicate ‘Rock em, Sock em Robots’, Vicente Luque and Bryan Barberena landed heavy hook after heavy hook against one another. With Barberena’s iron chin holding tough throughout, Luque’s power would eventually wear him down in the third round for the first KO loss of ‘Bam Bam’s’ career.
Cody Garbrandt vs. Pedro Munhoz (UFC 235)
The shortest fight on this list, Cody Garbrandt and Pedro Munhoz swung for the fences over the 4 minutes and 51 seconds that the fight lasted. With Munhoz quicker on the draw, however, it was the Brazilian who scored the KO win.
Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum (UFC 236)
Fighting for the interim middleweight championship, the undefeated Adesanya stepped up to the toughest fight of his career against Kelvin Gastelum. With two rounds apiece heading into the fifth and final round, it was Adesanya who delved deep within himself to score three knockdowns to secure his first UFC title.
Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway II (UFC 236)
Following on from Adesanya vs. Gastelum looked to be an impossible feat yet Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway may well have matched them. In a closely-contested thriller, it was Poirier’s bigger power at the lightweight limit that paid dividends, ending Holloway’s 13-fight winning streak and capturing an interim title in the process.
Islam Makhachev vs. Arman Tsarukyan (UFC Fight Night 149)
Battled almost exclusively on the mat, Makhachev and the debuting Arman Tsarukyan showcased truly elite scrambling and grappling ability over three rounds. While the more experienced Makhachev left victorious, Tsarukyan gave him a run for his money in one of the most technical grappling bouts in MMA history.
Aspen Ladd vs. Sijara Eubanks (UFC Fight Night 152)
From phonebooth exchanges to submission threats on the mat, Aspen Ladd and Sijara Eubanks fought at a non-stop pace over three rounds before the former was ultimately left with her hand raised via unanimous decision.
Deron Winn vs. Eric Spicely (UFC Fight Night 154)
As the very first fight of the night, Deron Winn and Eric Spicely gave the early viewers a treat. With heavy punches and punishing knees thrown in for good measure over 15 minutes, Deron Winn picked up the win on his UFC debut with the fight itself receiving special praise from UFC president Dana White soon after.
Paulo Costa vs. Yoel Romero (UFC 241)
Two of the most feared men in the middleweight division squared off at UFC 241 and matched the expectations. With knockdowns scored by both men, the freakishly strong Costa and Romero complemented one another to create a classic fight which saw Costa continue his unbeaten record.
Brad Riddell vs. Jamie Mularkey (UFC 243)
An all-Australian barnburner saw Brad Riddell and Jamie Mullarkey completely empty their gas tanks in front of their native crowd. In a back-and-forth battle, it was Riddell who claimed the ‘W’ as the fight ended with both men on their knees throwing punches.
Angela Lee vs. Xiong Jingnan II (ONE: Century, Night 1)
Following an unsuccessful attempt at taking Jingnan’s strawweight title earlier in the year, it was Angela Lee’s turn to defend her atomweight championship in their second match-up. Weathering knockdowns and perillous positions along the way, a late controversial suplex set-up a rear-naked choke for Lee to cap off a sensational fight.
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington (UFC 245)
After the build-up to their welterweight title fight was filled with bad blood, Usman vs. Covington delivered and then some. Producing ridiculous levels of output on the feet and the fight in the balance, Usman’s power secured the victory via a fifth round TKO.
Winner: Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum
As both Adesanya and Gastelum pushed each other to newfound levels for 20 minutes, their complete war of a fight boiled down to the final five minutes of round five.
With two rounds a piece on the judge’s scorecards and Gastelum buoyed by a big head kick at the end of the fourth, the American looked set to hand Adesanya his first MMA loss.
Taking the minute in between rounds to compose himself however and even tell himself that he was prepared to leave it all in the Octagon, ‘The Last Stylebender’ would go on to prove he was a special breed.
Scoring three knockdowns and even pushing for a guillotine choke on the mat, Israel Adesanya put the fight firmly in his favour to claim his first piece of UFC gold and cement his fight with Gastelum as an all-time classic.
Knockout of the Year
Johnny Walker (vs. Misha Cirkunov) (UFC 235)
Jorge Masvidal (vs. Darren Till) (UFC Fight Night 147)
Anthony Pettis (vs. Stephen Thompson) (UFC Fight Night 148)
Josh Emmett (vs. Michael Johnson) (UFC on ESPN 2)
Raymond Daniels (vs. Wilker Barros) (Bellator: Birmingham)
Douglas Lima (vs. Michael Page) (Bellator 221)
Jessica Andrade (vs. Rose Namajunas) (UFC 237)
Aleksandar Rakic (vs. Jimi Manuwa) (UFC Fight Night 153)
Valentina Shevchenko (vs. Jessica Eye) (UFC 238)
Jorge Masvidal (vs. Ben Askren) (UFC 239)
Steven Peterson (vs. Martin Bravo) (UFC Fight Night 159)
Niko Price (vs. James Vick) (UFC Fight Night 161)
Kevin Lee (vs. Gregor Gillespie) (UFC 244)
Winner: Jorge Masvidal
Iconic, brutal and record-breakingly quick, Jorge Masvidal’s flying knee knockout of Ben Askren is undoubtedly the best of 2019.
Taking just five seconds to get the job done and hand Askren his first professional loss, Masvidal put himself into superstardom with his self-proclaimed “super necessary” knockout.
Submission of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Mackenzie Dern – Omoplata/RNC; ’17: Demetrious Johnson – Suplex Armbar; ’18: Aljamain Sterling & Zabit Magomedsharipov – Suloev Stretches)
Jack Hermansson – Guillotine Choke (vs. David Branch) (UFC on ESPN 2)
Paul Craig – Triangle Choke (vs.Kennedy Nzechukwu) (UFC on ESPN 2)
Alexander Yakovlev – Guillotine Choke (vs. Alex da Silva) (UFC Fight Night 149)
Brent Primus – Gogoplata (vs. Tim Wilde) (Bellator: Birmingham)
Misha Cirkunov – Peruvian Necktie (vs. Jimmy Crute) (UFC Fight Night 158)
Ovince Saint Preux – Von Flue (vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk) (UFC Fight Night 160)
Charles Rosa – Armbar (vs. Manny Bermudez) (UFC on ESPN 6)
Ciryl Gane – Heel Hook (vs. Don’Tale Mayes) (UFC Fight Night 162)
Bryce Mitchell – Twister (vs. Matt Sayles) (UFC on ESPN 7)
AJ McKee – Armbar (vs. Derek Campos) (Bellator 236)
Winner: Bryce Mitchell - Twister
Just the second submission of its type in UFC history, Bryce Mitchell’s Twister on Matt Sayles is in its own category when it comes to submission of the year.
With each step of the submission increasing the excitement that we may just see the incredibly rare submission, Mitchell’s tying of Sayles’ arm behind his own head was the final measure to sinking in the submission of the year.
Event of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: UFC 205; ’17: UFC 217; ’18: UFC 229)
UFC Fight Night 144 (Assuncao vs. Moraes II)
UFC 235 (Jones vs. Smith / Woodley vs. Usman)
UFC 236 (Poirier vs. Holloway / Gastelum vs. Adesanya)
UFC 238 (Cejudo vs. Moraes / Shevchenko vs. Eye)
UFC on ESPN 3 (Ngannou vs. dos Santos)
UFC 239 (Jones vs. Santos / Nunes vs. Holm)
UFC 244 (Masvidal vs. Diaz)
UFC 245 (Usman vs. Covington / Holloway vs. Volkanovski / Nunes vs. de Randamie)
RIZIN FF 20 (Kape vs. Asakura II)
Winner: UFC 236
While it may not have provided the highest of quality from top to bottom, any event that can claim two of the greatest fights of the year in back-to-back bouts should get the nod for event of the year.
With Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier and Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya providing all-time classics in their respective title fights, UFC 236 stands out thanks to those two special match-ups.
Prospect of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Lando Vannata; ’17: Volkan Oezdemir; ’18: Israel Adesanya)
Kai Asakura (14-2)
Asakura burst onto the wider MMA scene in October as the Japanese fighter brought an end to Kyoji Horiguchi’s 13-fight winning streak via TKO. Another stoppage win against Ulka Sasaki would follow soon after before a failed attempt at the vacant RIZIN bantamweight closed out the year.
Ciryl Gane (6-0)
Combining freakish athleticism with superb technical ability, Ciryl Gane went 4-0 in 2019 including three UFC bouts. The Frenchman now looks all set to become a future star of the heavyweight division.
Manel Kape (15-4)
Struggling for consistency as he was thrown into the deep end of RIZIN’s featherweight division upon his signing, 2019 saw Kape put it all together as three stoppage wins saw the 26-year old claim the Japanese promotion’s vacant title.
Salahdine Parnasse (14-0-1)
At just 22-years of age, Salahdine Parnasse has already claimed gold for KSW. The rangy Frenchman is well-rounded in his skillset and beaten two former featherweight champions before picking up an interim belt in 2019.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0)
Already a massive star in his native Suriname, Jairzinho Rozenstruik has proven to be a wrecking ball in the heavyweight division. With four stoppage wins in 2019, Rozenstruik capped off his impressive year with a fifth-round KO of Alistair Overeem in December.
Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0)
Fighting out of the same gym as Ronda Rousey, Edmen Shahbazyan has single-handedly rebuilt the reputation of Glendale Fighting Club. Chalking off three stoppage wins, Shahbazyan closed out 2019 as a top 10 middleweight contender.
Jack Shore (12-0)
Making his UFC debut in September, Wales’ Jack Shore extended his undefeated bantamweight record to 12-0 to continue his career ascendancy as a former Cage Warriors 135 lbs champion.
Felicia Spencer (7-1)
After claiming the Invicta featherweight championship in late 2018, Felicia Spencer made the move over to the UFC in 2019 and rapidly won plaudits. First defeating Megan Anderson via first-round submission, Spencer pushed all-time great Cris Cyborg into a memorable bout at UFC 240 which saw the ‘Feenom’ ultimately fall just short.
Arman Tsarukyan (14-2)
Tasked with one of the toughest debuts in recent history, Arman Tsarukyan put on a fight of the year contender with grappling supremo Islam Makhachev in April. Bouncing back soon after, Tsarukyan defeated Olivier Aubin-Mercier on the Canadian’s home turf.
Song Yadong (15-4-1)
The latest in a long line of Team Alpha Male prospects, Song Yadong scored a monstrous KO of Alejandro Perez before a majority draw with long-time top contender Cody Stamann in December.
Winner: Edmen Shahbazyan
In a stacked field of nominees, Edmen Shahbazyan’s final performance of 2019 edged him ahead of the pack to win prospect of the year.
With two first-round finishes already in the bag, a big step-up in competition awaited Shahbazyan at UFC 244.
Matched up with top 15 contender Brad Tavares, the 22-year old looked in a different league to the durable and rejuvenated Hawaiian.
With just two losses to his name since 2015, and those defeats coming to the two best 185 lbers in Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya, Shahbazyan would bulldoze Tavares in just under two and a half minutes before a gorgeous left hand to left high kick finished the job.
Upset of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold; ’17: Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk; ’18: Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg)
Henry Corrales vs. Aaron Pico (Bellator 214)
Coming off of a spectacular performance against former champion Leandro Higo, Aaron Pico looked primed for another impressive victory as he stunned Henry Corrales early in their fight. Within the space of a minute, however, one right hook put Pico out cold.
Anthony Pettis vs. Stephen Thompson (UFC Fight Night 148)
Moving up in weight class to take on former welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson, Anthony Pettis landed one of the knockout’s of the year as the once featherweight hit a flush superman punch.
John Howard vs. Ray Cooper III (PFL 4)
As one of the brightest rising stars in the sport, Ray Cooper III was widely expected to best ageing veteran John Howard. ‘Doomsday’ had other ideas however as he showcased that he can still pack a punch with a first-round KO.
Khama Worthy vs. Devonte Smith (UFC 241)
As a very late notice opponent, Khama Worthy scored a massive first-round KO on highly-touted prospect Devonte Smith.
Kai Asakura vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (RIZIN FF 18)
Holding onto a 13-fight undefeated run as well as two major promotion’s bantamweight title, Kyoji Horiguchi was shocked by Kai Asakura as the underdog pulled off a blitzing 68-second knock out win.
Daniel Carey vs. Gaston Bolanos (Bellator 226)
Entering the fight as a sizeable underdog, Daniel Carey flipped the script on Gaston Bolanos as a tight guillotine put an end to a four-fight finishing streak.
Tristan Connelly vs. Michel Pereira (UFC Fight Night 158)
Taking the fight on short notice at a higher weight class and against a fighter who missed the 170 lbs mark himself, Tristan Connelly was predicted as a lamb being thrown to slaughter. What followed was the most bizarre fight of the year as Pereira backflipped, cage walked and break-danced his way to exhaustion allowing Connelly to score the upset.
Winner: Tristan Connelly vs. Michel Pereira
With Michel Pereira looking sensational in his UFC debut, the context of Tristan Connelly’s late notice arrival as Pereira’s next opponent makes this fight the upset of 2019.
Taking the fight on less than a weeks notice, at a higher weight class and with Pereira missing weight himself, Connelly didn’t stand a chance in hell.
What followed was a sensational fight with Connelly lasting the better of the two over three rounds and ensuring one of the most memorable UFC debuts of all time.
Female Fighter of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Joanna Jedrzejczyk; ’17: Rose Namajunas; ’18: Amanda Nunes)
Seo Hee Ham (23-8; 3-0 in 2019)
Since returning to atomweight upon leaving the UFC, Seo Hee Ham has gone undefeated and 2019 was no different for ‘Hamderlei Silva’. Chalking off two stoppage wins in her first RIZIN appearances, Ham closed out the year by becoming the promotion’s atomweight champion after a barn-burning fight against Ayaka Hamasaki.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-0; 2-0 in 2019)
Continuing her role as Bellator’s stand-out female fighter, Hawaii’s own Ilima-Lei Macfarlane extended her unbeaten record into the double-digits. Adding two more title defences to her name, Macfarlane is struggling to find competitive challengers for her 125 lbs crown.
Amanda Nunes (19-4; 2-0 in 2019)
As the first female dual-champion in UFC history, Amanda Nunes has put together an incomparable resume in the women’s game. With a KO win over Holly Holm and a unanimous decision win over Germaine de Randamie, Nunes has now defeated every ex feather and bantamweight champion in UFC history.
Valentina Shevchenko (18-3; 2-0 in 2019)
After claiming the vacant UFC flyweight title in late 2018, Valentina Shevchenko went into the new year looking to cement her position as the best 125 lbs fighter on the roster. With two title defences to her name come the end of 2019, one of which a KO of the year contender, Shevchenko has looked untouchable in the flyweight division.
Zhang Weili (20-1; 2-0 in 2019)
Picking up her third UFC career win in early 2019, Zhang Weili was awarded with a strawweight title shot in her native China. What followed was a demolition job on Jessica Andrade as a 42-second KO ensured that ‘Magnum’ was the first East-Asian champion in UFC history.
Winner: Amanda Nunes
‘The Lioness’ continues to stand out in women’s MMA and 2019 rubber-stamped that Amanda Nunes will go down as the G.O.A.T.
With a thunderous head kick KO of Holly Holm before a more cautious and well game-planned fight against Germaine de Randamie, Nunes recorded two title defences in 2019 and has now defeated every former feather and bantamweight champion in UFC history.
Male Fighter of the Year
(Previous Winners: ’16: Stipe Miocic; ’17: Robert Whittaker; ’18: Daniel Cormier)
Israel Adesanya (18-0; 3-0 in 2019)
Going from bright prospect to unified champion, Israel Adesanya had a 2019 that few would have imagined. Starting out the year with a dominant win over former middleweight king Anderson Silva, Adesanya would go on to pick up an interim UFC title in the fight of the year against Kelvin Gastelum. Six months later, Adesanya unified the 185 lbs division in phenomenal fashion against Robert Whittaker.
Henry Cejudo (15-2; 2-0 in 2019)
2019 would see Henry Cejudo become ‘Triple C’ as the former Olympic champion added himself to the ‘double champion’ club in the UFC. Defeating then bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw in a flyweight title defence in the first UFC event of the year, Cejudo would go on to claim the vacant 135 lbs title in the summer in a great fight against Marlon Moraes.
Jorge Masvidal (35-13; 3-0 in 2019)
Operating the majority of his career as a fans favourite, 2019 was the year Jorge Masvidal burst into superstardom. Firstly answering the call to fight Darren Till in his home country, Masvidal scored a big knock out of the Scouser in March. Next time out, the history books were written as a five-second flying knee on Ben Askren broke the internet. Finally, a ‘BMF’ title fight with Nate Diaz was created in which Masvidal battered his way to a doctor’s stoppage.
Kamaru Usman (16-1; 2-0 in 2019)
Producing record-breaking levels of output, Kamaru Usman would both claim and defend the welterweight title in 2019. With a truly dominant performance against Tyron Woodley to become the 170 lbs king, Usman closed out the year with a fight of the year contender against rival Colby Covington, emerging victorious via fifth-round TKO.
Alexander Volkanovski (21-1; 2-0 in 2019)
Taking on the two best featherweights in MMA history in 2019, Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski proved his nickname is extremely apt. First defeating Jose Aldo in his own Brazilian backyard, Vokanovski would go on to produce one of the performances of the year against Max Holloway to become the new UFC 145 lbs champion.
Winner: Israel Adesanya
With a flawless 18-0 professional record and a nigh-on flawless performance to unify the UFC middleweight division, Israel Adesanya is the 2019 male fighter of the year.
Recording wins over Anderson Silva in a dream-fight, Kelvin Gastelum in an all-time classic before handing Robert Whittaker his first loss at 185 lbs, Israel Adesanya had one of the greatest ever years from an MMA fighter.