Tap Ins & Tap Outs 2020 MMA Awards – Breakthrough Fighter of the Year

The UFC have finally completed their set of fights for the year of 2020 and what a crazy year it was.

456 fights total in a year that saw a global pandemic bring a close to all live sports for almost two months at least before Dana White and co. became the leaders of getting the show back on the road.

Among those 456 fights we saw some incredible fights, some incredible knockouts and some incredible submission wins across the weight divisions. But which ones were the best?

We’re going to rank our personal top five of the year, before handing out the award for each of the following categories:


BREAKTHROUGH FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

5. Marvin Vettori (2-0 in 2020)

It was a huge year for the Italian stallion as Marvin Vettori broke into the top five of the middleweight rankings and settled a grudge in the octagon.

Vettori started the year scheduled to face Darren Stewart, but COVID-19 struck and the event got cancelled. He was their paired with Karl Roberson but the fight fell through twice, once due to COVID then a second time because Roberson had issues relating to his weight cut (after he missed weight). They finally met in June at UFC Vegas 2, where Roberson missed weight again. Vettori ended up getting a first-round submission and performance of the night to settle their beef.

Later in the year, Vettori stepped in on short-notice when Kevin Holland had to withdraw from his fight with Jack Hermansson due to COVID-19. He dominated the fight entirely and took home a unanimous decision win, including another performance of the night bonus. He ends the year as a genuine contender at 185lbs and with two wins and two performance bonuses. What a year.

4. Joaquin Buckley (2-1 in 2020)

It’s not often that a fighter makes a losing debut in August and still manages to make it onto a list like this. That’s what Joaquin Buckley has done though.

After winning in the LFA, Buckley made a one week turnaround to make a short-notice debut against Kevin Holland at UFC Vegas 6 but got knocked out cold in the third round. He made a good enough impression to get a second chance though and returned two months later against Contender Series graduate Impa Kasanganay, who had won his UFC debut in August. The fight produced arguably the greatest knockout of all-time, with a jumping spinning back kick from Buckley starching Kasanganay. That knockout went viral and shot Buckley into a new stratosphere of recognition, but he didn’t stop there.

He returned to the octagon again the following month to take on the undefeated Jordan Wright, blasting through him with his powerful striking and excellent conditioning. He seems to be pushing for a fight with a personal rival next in James Krause, but a win in that should see him pushing himself into rankings contention in 2021.

3. Taila Santos (2-0 in 2020)

The future of women’s MMA looks bright and the inclusion of Taila Santos into the flyweight division does nothing to harm that.

The Brazilian returned after over a year out of the cage to fight on Fight Island in July and absolutely walked through Molly McCann in the bout, using her range and excellent striking well while also dominating the ground exchanges too.

She then matched up with Gillian Robertson on short notice when her fight with Montana De La Rosa was cancelled just hours before the event due to COVID-19. Against Robertson, she played into her opponents strengths and still dominated the fight, taking the fight to the ground and stayed in top position dishing out plenty of damage.

The performances have shown that she can mix it up wherever the fight takes place and that makes her a dangerous prospect in a division not overflowing with quality. A couple more wins in 2021 could see her climb the rankings and start looking towards Valentina Shevchenko for a title fight.

2. Kevin Holland (5-0 in 2020)

Five fights in seven months is a hectic schedule, but five wins and four finishes to go with it make Kevin Holland a stand-out fighter for this year.

He started with a first-round TKO of Anthony Hernandez in May, before starching Joaquin Buckley in August. Then followed a close-fought split decision win over Darren Stewart, as both men swung for the bleachers and attacked on the ground too. He called for an immediate rematch because he wanted to prove to everyone he was the better man and while he didn’t get that, he did get Charlie Ontiveros in October whom he defeated via first-round verbal submission following a slam.

Holland stepped up to the plate for a short-notice fight with Jack Hermansson in December to try and get ranked but unfortunately had to withdraw from that fight after testing positive for COVID-19. He refused to end the year 4-0 though and instead fought Jacare Souza the following week at UFC 256. In a fight where it was widely expected that he needed to keep the fight standing to have a chance of victory, Holland managed to finish Souza from his back with strikes. He was aggressive, powerful and active and was able to land a vicious knockout blow before standing and finishing the job.

‘Trailblazer’ is finally in the rankings now to end the year and another win or two will have him knocking on the door of Dana White for a fight with champion Israel Adesanya sooner rather than later.

1. Khamzat Chimaev (3-0 in 2020)

There was only one winner in this category for 2020 and it had to be Khamzat Chimaev.

From the realms of the unknown, Chimaev entered the UFC octagon for the first time in July on Fight Island to take on middleweight veteran John Phillips. What followed was the most one-sided fight in UFC history as Chimaev took him down immediately and just beat him to a pulp for the entire first round. In the second, it was exactly the same until he decided enough was enough and scored a submission win.

He then made UFC history by making his second UFC appearance just ten days later, this time at welterweight, to take on young British prospect Rhys McKee. What followed was the new most one-sided fight in UFC history as Chimaev took him down too and pummelled him until the referee stepped in just over three minutes into the fight. Across both fights, Chimaev only absorbed two total strikes which shows the dominance.

He then took on Gerald Meerschaert at UFC Vegas 11, where he was expected to be tested thoroughly against someone with UFC wins on his CV. Instead, he landed a single strike that put Meerschaert out cold in just 17 seconds to make it 3-0 in just 66 days – another record.

He was supposed to see 2020 out with a fight against number three ranked welterweight Leon Edwards, but because of COVID-19 that will now be part of the triple-header on Fight Island to open 2021. A win could see him compete for a title after less than a year in the organisation. What a year.

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