In a year with plenty of thrilling finishes, it was hard to top the fastest knockout in UFC history.
For most of his career, Jorge Masvidal had been considered a fringe top-10 athlete. A fighter with serious potential, and yet one who never quite earned elite status. That all changed in 2019.
The most defining moment of Masvidal’s career happened on July 6 at UFC 239. Standing across from him that night was Ben Askren, a 2008 Olympian who’d won belts in Bellator and ONE Championship before a UFC deal inked through the first trade in the sport’s history.
Askren appeared on the cusp of title contention after a heart-pounding debut where he finished former champion Robbie Lawler with the rarely seen bulldog choke. Masvidal, fresh off a highlight reel finish against Darren Till, didn’t like the idea. Askren’s relentless verbal attacks secured the fight. Masvidal promised to make his curly-haired opponent pay for everything he said.
Consider “Gamebred” a man of his word.
Masvidal stood against the cage, hands behind his back, as Bruce Buffer gave his introductions. He smirked and mouthed a few words at Askren, as if he was about to reveal a secret. Askren shot forward at the fight’s opening bell, looking for a takedown. By the time they collided, Masvidal had already gone airborne with a flying knee.
The impact was immediate. The effect was devastating.
Frozen, Askren slumped over in a heap. Masvidal pounced with two more punches — “super necessary” follow-ups, he famously said later – and let the ref do his job.
“Oh my goodness,” repeated UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, over and over again, as he struggled to process the moment.
Masvidal taunted his fallen opponent by imitating his stiff fall to the canvas. It took in-house replays of the finish to convince Askren he’d been knocked out.
2019 was by far Masvidal’s the best year, with three straight wins and a place at the table of the UFC’s most prolific superstars. But no moment was bigger than when he demolished Askren in just five seconds with a shot heard round the world. The vote was unanimous for Masvidal vs. Askren.
Valentina Shevchenko already had established herself as the UFC’s best flyweight fighter, and she had a strong argument in the pound-for-pound women’s category. So it was no surprise she was a heavy favorite going into her first title defense against veteran contender Jessica Eye at UFC 238 in June.
Shevchenko varied her striking attacks in the opening moments of the fight, including a pair of takedowns that kept the Cleveland, Ohio, native guessing going into round two.
With Eye staying low, readying herself for another potential grappling exchange, Shevchenko launched a head kick, and shin met skull in a violent collision. Eye stiffened up and crashed to the canvas. Shevchenko pranced past her fallen opponent, realizing there was no need for a follow-up.
A walk-off KO is a thing of beauty in MMA, and Shevchenko definitely painted a masterpiece that night.
Former UFC champion Anthony Pettis will see the highlight of his “Showtime” kick until he leaves Earth. But for all the praise he receives for that inventive move, it didn’t actually earn a finish.
Pettis did his best to top that performance when he took on two-time title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in his welterweight debut.
It was a bit of a rough start for Pettis. Thompson relied on his vast striking arsenal to chip away at his opponent’s defense, and his confidence swelled in the second round as he controlled the action and busted up Pettis’ face.
Pettis continued to retreat, but he saw a chance to make Thompson pay for a low guard — a stance that’s benefitted the karate specialist in the past. Pettis bounced off the cage and connected with a lightning quick Superman punch that blasted Thompson and sent him to the ground in a heap.
The end came with five seconds remaining in a round where Thompson had dominated every minute – until that fateful moment. Pettis walked away with the knockout victory, another highlight-reel clip, and a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus to boot.
It’s impossible to forget the night Douglas Lima cemented himself as the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix favorite and simultaneously brought Michael “Venom” Page’s hype train to a crashing halt.
After both fighters secured wins in the tournament’s opening round, they met in a showdown that would determine the first finalist. Lima was dominant through round one, but Page proved a worthy opponent after he momentarily rattled the Brazilian with a quick left hand.
Closing in for the finish, Page got overly aggressive and leapt forward with a punch. Lima countered with a low kick that swept the British striker off his feet. Just as Page looked to regain his balance, Lima uncorked a perfectly timed uppercut that ensured he wouldn’t stand up again.
At that moment, the flashy knockout artist was transformed from the next big thing to another victim of Lima’s daunting power. It was a shocking turn of events, and it reminded the world it only takes one shot to change everything in this sport.
Not every knockout is the a result of a ferocious strike. Jessica Andrade demonstrated that fact with devastating clarity in a title fight against Rose Namajunas at UFC 237.
The heavy-handed Brazilian was well-known for stomping forward with blinding power thrown behind every punch. But Namajunas countered that approach effectively in the first round, using fast footwork and speed to confound Andrade.
It was a grappling exchange where Andrade evened the score. Namajunas locked in a standing kimura to coax a tap or force Andrade to abandon her position.
Instead, Andrade countered with brute force, lifting Namajunas high into the air. The “Ultimate Fighter” finalist made a fatal mistake in holding onto the arm, and when she was brought down to Earth, her head mashed into the canvas.
Referee Marc Goddard quickly swooped into stop the carnage before Namajunas took any further damage. Andrade jumped up and let out a guttural scream, celebrating the UFC strawweight title she’d captured.
Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2019 Fight of the Year played out.
- Jorge Masvidal def. Darren Till — March 16, UFC Fight Night: Till vs. Masvidal
- Raymond Daniels def. Wilker Barros — May 4, Bellator: Birmingham
- Movlid Khaybulaev def. Damon Jackson — May 23, PFL 2
- Amanda Nunes def. Holly Holm — July 6, UFC 239
- Ryan Bader def. Fedor Emelianenko — Jan. 26, Bellator 214
- Niko Price def. James Vick — Oct. 12, UFC Fight Night: Joanna vs. Waterson
- Michel Pereira def. Danny Roberts — May 18, UFC Fight Night: dos Anjos vs. Lee
- Henry Corrales def. Aaron Pico — Jan. 26, Bellator 214
- Kevin Lee def. Gregor Gillespie — Nov. 2, UFC 244
- Justin Gaethje def. Edson Barboza — March 30, UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Gaethje
- Cosmo Alexandre def. Sage Northcutt — May 17, ONE: Enter the Dragon
- A.J. McKee def. Georgi Karakhanyan — Sept. 28, Bellator 228