NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 02: Jorge Masvidalstands in his corner prior to his welterweight bout … [+]
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
At the halfway mark of 2019, I picked Henry Cejudo as the best fighter in the UFC. At the time, Cejudo was a two-division champion. He defended the UFC flyweight title in January with a 32-second knockout win over T.J. Dillashaw. Then, in June, Cejudo captured the vacant bantamweight crown with a third-round knockout over Marlon Moraes. Cejudo did not fight for the remainder of 2019 due to injury. With that, he will not finish the year as the top fighter in the UFC.
The fighters who were in the running were Israel Adesanya, Jorge Masvidal and Alexander Volkanovski.
Adesanya fought three times in 2019. In January, he defeated former middleweight champion Anderson Silva by decision in a “Fight of the Night” bonus-winning bout. In April, Adesanya won the interim 185-pound title with a decision win over Kelvin Gastelum that could be in the running for “Fight of the Year.” Then, in October, Adesanya unified the middleweight championship with a second-round knockout win over Robert Whittaker. The title-winning victory moved Adesanya’s record to a perfect 18-0.
When Masvidal set foot in the octagon in March of this year, he was on a two-fight losing skid. His last win had come in January 2017. He hadn’t fought since he dropped a decision to Stephen Thompson in November 2017. When Masvidal faced Darren Till in March 2019, it was his 46th professional fight. Masvidal’s career began in 2003.
Masvidal dispatched Till at the 3:05 mark of the second round via knockout. In July, Masvidal scored the fastest knockout in UFC history when he knocked Ben Askren cold with a flying knee in five seconds. Then, in November, Masvidal earned a doctor stoppage win over Nate Diaz to capture the BMF title.
My pick for UFC Fighter of the Year for 2019 is Masvidal.
I base my pick on the fact that after a long career of being known as a fighter who could get close to but never really take that final step to stardom. Masvidal did just that in 2019. He adjusted his style, amped up his personality on the mic and made himself a star. The fact that Masvidal achieved that after 16 years in the sport is remarkable.
Adesanya was a very close second. The one knock against Adesanya is that we don’t know if he’s reached his full potential yet. He seems to be still growing as a fighter. If he continues to grow, we’ll look at 2019 as the year he began to grow into his own, but not the pinnacle of his career.
Volkanovski would have been more in the running if his December 29, 2018 TKO win over ex-title challenger Chad Mendes had taken place in 2019. The fact that win took place in 2018 hurt Volkanovski in the “Fighter of the Year” running.
Like Adesanya, he’ll be someone to watch in 2020.