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Between the coronavirus pandemic responsible for 335,000 Americans dying up to now, millions of people losing their jobs, a summer filled with civil unrest on the streets, the deaths of a number of important people, and more, 2020 seriously was the worst year ever.
The ramifications of this godforsaken year were felt far and wide, and the sport of mixed martial arts was no different. Within the MMA bubble, certain fighters were struck by the curse of 2020 more than others. Be it self-inflicted, bad luck, or a combination of the two, the point is that bad things happened to a lot of fighters this year.
Here’s a look back – alphabetically – at 20 fighters who felt it the most.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
For the third and fourth time in his career, Benavidez fell short of winning a UFC championship after he was finished on both occasions by Deiveson Figueiredo. If not for Figueiredo being ineligible to win the title in February because he missed weight, Benavidez probably wouldn't have gotten a rematch, but he did. And in July, he was choked out after being TKO'd by Figueiredo in their first fight. I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say this wasn't what we wanted to see happen to one of the truly good guys in our sport.
This year felt like an extension of what's been a run of bad luck for Borg on both personal and professional levels the past few years, which led to his release from the UFC in 2020. Borg won his first fight of the year, but he missed weight, something that has plagued him throughout his career. But he won – and that's positive. From there, though, it was all downhill as Borg lost to Ricky Simon in May, then withdrew from back-to-back fights for personal reasons before the UFC released him in early August. Borg then issued a retirement announcement, only to take it back a month later and admit that "depression and stress got the best of me." From former UFC title challenger to DoorDash delivery person, 2020 hit Borg hard, and we sincerely hope his fortune turns around in the coming year and beyond.
Burns was on a roll for the first half of 2020 by first finishing Demian Maia in March and then dominating Tyron Woodley in late May. And when Jorge Masvidal started a contract dispute with the UFC, Burns gladly took the opportunity to challenge welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Then 2020 happened, and Burns contracted COVID-19 just one week before UFC 251, so there went his title shot. Usman beat Masvidal, though, to ensure Burns remained next in line, and the bout was close to finalized for Dec. 12 – but this time Usman had to withdraw. And that's the tale of two halves to Burns' 2020 that finished on a down note. The good news is that he's expected to still get his title shot in the first quarter of 2021.
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The story of Calderwood's 2020 is painful, because it's the story of an opportunity squandered when it didn't have to be that way. Coming off a 2019 win over Andrea Lee, Calderwood was next in line to challenge women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko in June, but the event was scrapped because of the pandemic. On top of that, Shevchenko then had to withdraw because of a knee injury. Knowing it would be more than a year since her last fight before she could face Shevchenko, Calderwood opted to forego her title shot and took a fight with Jennifer Maia on short notice in August. It was a huge risk that backfired after Calderwood was submitted in the first round and lost not only the fight, but her title shot, which went to Maia.
If not for the pandemic, Edwards could be UFC welterweight champion right now instead of having to fight Khamzat Chimaev. Follow along: Edwards had been scheduled to headline a UFC Fight Night event against Tyron Woodley in London, but in sticking with the theme of this list, 2020 happened, the pandemic shut down the event, and ensuing travel bans prevented Edwards from leaving the U.K. So what happens? Woodley gets paired up with Gilbert Burns instead, who dominates and earns a title shot based on that performance after Jorge Masvidal sits out because of a contract dispute. If you're of the opinion that Edwards also would've beat Woodley (likely), and with Masvidal sitting out, it's fair to say that Edwards would've received the title shot given to Burns. Instead, Edwards remained on the shelf even longer, couldn't get Masvidal or Colby Covington to fight him, then had his ranking yanked temporarily for inactivity, only to settle for a fight with Chimaev to close out the year ... but it got postponed to January on "Fight Island." And just for good measure, Chimaev was ruled out right before this post went live. Sheesh. An overall tough break for Edwards, who hasn't even fought since July 2019. Here's hoping he is much more active in 2021 and gets the title shot he deserves after what would then be a nine-fight winning streak.
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The year started off so promising for Ferguson. We were finally going to see him fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, no way a fifth booking would get canceled, but 2020 struck in the worst way for fans who'd been longing to see that fight for years. Instead of Khabib, Ferguson ended up fighting Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight title in May at UFC 249 and was battered for nearly the entire fight before a fifth-round TKO ended it. As a follow-up, Ferguson was dominated by Charles Oliveira at UFC 256, dropping a unanimous decision that suddenly puts "El Cucuy" on a two-fight skid after he'd been on a 12-fight winning streak. It's brutal how quickly things can change in this sport, and suddenly we're having conversations about whether the soon-to-be 37-year-old Ferguson is on a decline and seemingly nobody is longing for the Khabib fight anymore. Suffice to say, 2021 will be a pivotal year in Ferguson's career.
We're guessing Johnson never imagined being completely healthy but having to sit out an entire year with ONE Championship and yet, here we are. "Mighty Mouse" closed out 2019 by winning the promotion's flyweight grand prix and was all set to fight for the promotion's 135-pound championship – until COVID happened. Yes, ONE has resumed events, but all the travel restrictions for U.S.-based fighters have prevented him from competing. Johnson told MMA Junkie Radio he had a moment where he wasn't sure he'd fight again. All I know is that I'm glad DJ will be back in February to challenge champ Adriano Moraes and continue building his legacy as one of the sport's all-time greatest.
2020 came at Jones hard both in and out of the cage. For starters, in his only fight at UFC 247, he escaped with his light heavyweight championship after eking out a decision win over Dominick Reyes, which many scored in favor of Reyes. After that, the year got weird for Jones. He was arrested for aggravated DWI and negligent use of a firearm in late March. An intoxicated Jones went out in public during stay-at-home orders and shot a gun in downtown Albuquerque, N.M., and bodycam video showed him having an emotional breakdown while being arrested by police. Two months later, Jones engaged in a public contract dispute with UFC president Dana White, which resulted in Jones vacating his 205-pound title to pursue heavyweight. 2020 was also filled with Jones trying to maintain order on the streets of his hometown during George Floyd protests, and a bitter and personal feud with Israel Adesanya, but we never saw him fight a second time – and it's looking like we might have to wait until the second quarter of 2021, at the earliest, for his heavyweight debut.
Magomedsharipov might be one of the most talented and exciting fighters in the UFC, but he's nowhere to be found? He was booked once in 2020, against Yair Rodriguez, but that fight fell off for a second time after Rodriguez injured his ankle injury. And thus, no fights for Zabit in 2020, and we're left waiting for him to return.
2019 was unquestionably Masvidal's year, filled with big wins, a historic knockout, and a "BMF" championship belt. He promised an even bigger 2020, and, well, that just never came to fruition. Perhaps without the pandemic, Masvidal would've continued where he left off the year before. With the pandemic, though, Masvidal fought just once, stepping in on six days' notice to challenge Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title at UFC 251. This happened only after Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw, and it was the perfect leverage opportunity for "Gamebred," who'd been in a contract dispute with the UFC. To his credit, Masvidal lasted all five rounds but lost rather convincingly to Usman. Apparently in no hurry to get back in the cage, Masvidal spent much of the second half of 2020 pushing conspiracy theories on social media and campaigning for President Donald Trump's reelection, which didn't happen – but Masvidal continues to question. Here's hoping Masvidal is more interested in getting back to being a "BMF" and fighting Colby Covington early in 2021 rather than stealing his gimmick.
McGregor's expressed desire to have a "season" and possibly fight four times this year sounded good, but 2020 had other plans. The global coronavirus pandemic squashed all hopes of that happening, especially with the early talk centering around the UFC not wanting to do a McGregor fight without the opportunity of a lucrative live gate. So what happened? Nothing. UFC 246 and a 40-second win over Donald Cerrone was all we saw of McGregor inside the cage. When it became clear that he wouldn't be fighting during the pandemic, McGregor "retired" and along the way peeled back the curtain on talks with Dana White, which the UFC boss didn't appreciate. On the bright side, McGregor stayed out of legal trouble in 2020 after a tumultuous 2019, and he's set to kick off 2021 headlining UFC 257 in a rematch with Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23.
We could talk about how Nurmagomedov missed out on fighting Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 and how folks seemingly blamed him for that happening because he traveled back to Dagestan to be with his family in the middle of a pandemic, but that all pales in comparison to what Khabib truly lost: his father, Abdulmanap, to complications related to COVID-19 this summer. It must've taken Khabib great strength to eventually fight at UFC 254 without his father and coach. His retirement after beating Justin Gaethje, while shocking in the moment, isn't all that surprising when you consider just how much his father meant to him. Whatever Khabib decides for his future, we wish him well.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Coming off a bad 2019 inside the cage, Perry got off to a good start in 2020 by defeating Mickey Gall in late June and, in the process, proved doubters wrong who questioned his choice to have his new girlfriend at the time as his lone corner person. After that win, though, is when things started to spiral out of control with Perry being caught on video knocking out an elderly man outside of a restaurant in Texas. In response to this ugly incident, the UFC ordered that Perry receive treatment for alcohol dependency, which he reportedly did. As if that wasn't enough, Perry's ex-wife, Danielle Nickerson, went public with serious allegations of domestic violence during their marriage, which Perry has denied. Perry eventually got back in the cage but lost a unanimous decision to Tim Means. With fatherhood right around the corner, here's hoping things turn around for Perry in 2021.
Reyes was *this close* to claiming the light heavyweight title from Jon Jones at UFC 247, but three judges saw it differently. And just when it seemed like a rematch was in order, Jones left the division. That wasn't the worst thing in the world for Reyes, who got a shot at the vacant title against Jan Blachowicz seven months later at UFC 253. Unfortunately for Reyes, Blachowicz entered that fight in top form and blasted his way to a second-round TKO victory, leaving Reyes on a two a two-fight losing streak that arguably is the result of equal parts bad luck and bad performance heading into 2021.
Everything I wrote above about Zabit Magomedsharipov, whom Rodriguez was supposed to fight this year but didn't, it all applies to "El Pantera." One of the most exciting fighters in the UFC, a promising young prospect, and yet he's been nowhere to be found. No, seriously, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency hasn't been able to find him. We can only hope USADA does, gets him tested, and Rodriguez makes his way back into the octagon as soon as possible.
Well, the year ultimately ended on sort of a high note for Romero since he signed with Bellator, but that wasn't how he envisioned 2020 playing out. Romero, 43, was halfway responsible for one of the most boring title fights in UFC history when he lost to Israel Adesanya back in March at UFC 248. It was all downhill from there, as Romero was scheduled to fight Uriah Hall in August but then withdrew for undisclosed reasons before ultimately being released by the UFC in early December. While 2020 was definitely a down year, the future could still be bright for Romero over in Bellator in the coming year.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
And so Silva's legendary UFC career ended with a TKO loss to Uriah Hall on Halloween night. Silva, 45, wasn't ready to retire, even though he said he was, and the build-up to the UFC Fight Night 181 headliner was awkward because it was billed as a retirement fight. While I'm not typically one to say when a fighter should retire, I think 2020 was trying to tell "The Spider" something. Hopefully he listens.
Well, "Jacare" was the first fighter to contract the coronavirus during a UFC fight week when he tested positive on weigh-ins day at UFC 249, thus setting off what would become our new normal in 2020 of having fights fall off at the last minute because of the virus. So he fell out of that fight, and then when he did return by year's end at UFC 256, Souza was on the receiving end of a "Knockout of the Year" candidate from Kevin Holland, who finished the veteran with punches from his knees. At 41, you wonder what Souza has left and whether or not he'll be part of the UFC's roster purge.
It might've been a decent year – and even a fun year – for Till outside the octagon, but inside was a rough go. The pandemic prevented him from being active, as he fought just once and lost to Robert Whittaker in July. Till was booked for a second fight against Jack Hermansson to take place in early December, but an injury forced him out. So now we wait and see what 2021 brings us from Till. Hopefully it's something good.
In 2019, Woodley lost his welterweight title to Kamaru Usman, and it was pretty decisive, but we thought maybe it was just an off night for "The Chosen One." That doesn't appear to be the case, with Woodley going 0-2 in 2020 after losses to Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington in which he didn't win a single round. Does Woodley have it in him to bounce back in 2021? He certainly hasn't received a ringing endorsement from UFC president Dana White.