2020 MMA Awards: Knockout of the Year

Now, for the time you’ve all been waiting for…

If you’re a fan of mixed martial arts, then you have probably already seen most of the knockouts I want to show and tell today. I’m sure a few of these even made Sportscenter, especially our winner.

I don’t care how hardcore of a fan you are. Maybe you’re a black belt in BJJ, have never trained a day of striking in your life, and you cried watching The Notebook. You still love a good knockout!

I will be the first guy to say that some fights, as “awesome” as they were for a lot of people, I don’t enjoy re-watching. When guys are just getting beat up brutally and they are too tough for their own good and the ref respects that about them a little too much.

I’m not talking about that today. We are talking knockouts! These are the moments that save us from having to watch a man beaten to the brink of death.

The UFC has had some truly special knockout artists over the years and I don’t use the term “artists” loosely. Anderson Silva has said on multiple occasions throughout his career that he doesn’t care about being the best or even beating everyone he fights.

His goal every time he steps inside the Octagon is to do what people believe can’t be done or simply something they have never seen before.

This could explain part or all of the reason he is still fighting at the age of 45.

I never thought about that until now, actually. Moving on from the love of my life, the greatest knockout artist of all time, let’s get into our nominees for the 2020 MMA Awards Knockout of the Year.

Joaquin Buckley vs Impa Kasanganay

Just gonna go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room. Joaquin Buckley’s one-legged spinning back kick to the face of Impa Kasanganay was something virtually none of us have seen before.

I think Anderson Silva would be proud.

I have the entire sequence implanted in my memory but let’s see it again, yea?

So, we have seen a jump spinning back kick to the face. Uriah Hall has done that to Gegard Mousasi but it didn’t put him out. Uriah won seconds after, though, as the Dutchman was very hurt and Hall pounced on him like a lion.

This was in Japan too. How rad! Mousasi did rematch Uriah Hall before he left the UFC. He took the knockout artist down immediately and finished him where he knew the likelihood of another spinning kick to the face was nil.

What Hall did was amazing but he didn’t have one of his legs caught AND controlled as well. Impa did exactly what he was supposed to do there covering and scooping the kick off of his shoulder.

If I am Impa’s coach and we are running back the tape on this one, I would ask him what is it that he believes he did wrong that led to this. It is a pretty flukey kick but I will pardon you the setting and story and just come out and say it.

Please Note:

Kasanganay was too passive. That is kind of his way if you watch him fight. He has the physical capabilities to be a Joaquin Buckley and decapitate his opponents but Impa chooses a more measured GSP like approach. More times than not, that mindset puts you in a position to win more than it doesn’t so that’s him but Buckley took full advantage of that weakness. When you catch your opponent’s kick, it is your responsibility to immediately make them as uncomfortable but mostly off-balanced as you can. Kasanganay caught it and scooped it perfectly but he didn’t take a strong step forward or back to let Buckley know who’s boss. Okay, long-winded explanation of how that was all Impa’s fault.

I feel like by doing that I took away from what was something I have never even seen watching as many Thai fights as I have UFC. Joaquin Buckley is a scary dude and it is going to be hard to beat him to the top of the list today but there is one of our nominees that was able to put away Joaquin in 2020.

Kevin Holland vs Jacare Souza

Yes, Kevin Holland, our Fighter of the Year. The Trail Blazer was able to not only defeat the ferocious Joaquin Buckley but TKO’s him with a picturesque straight right hand down the pipe. I think once Kev can consistently show that he can defend the takedown, he can be a top 5 fighter and maybe even contend for a world title fight against Israel Adesanya.

Kevin Holland truly made it a December to remember for fight fans when he knocked out Ronaldo Jacare Souza from his BUTT! I know you guys have probably seen this one too. Kevin and Joaquin’s knockouts are likely the two most viewed KO’s from on Sportscenter or Instagram.

I did something odd with my prediction for this fight. I thought Jacare up at (+130) was great. I saw Darren Stewart take down and control Kevin Holland for an entire round. Souza just fought Jan Blachowicz, the new 205 pound world champion at a weight class 20 pounds up, to a split decision loss.

Man, every year after 40 turns into dog years for fighters. 42?

No, you’re 54. It’s time to hang ‘em up.

So, we picked Jacare because I thought he could get multiple takedowns if needed. He took Kev down twice in the first minute I think but Holland was landing fast crisp strikes from the bottom the entire time.

I think he hurt Jacare a little bit earlier than the final few blows because the Brazilian seemed to be literally stunned sitting on top of Holland. I decided, hey, this might sound silly but let’s add Kevin Holland by TKO on there for (+405) I think it was.

You could put half or a quarter of what you put on Jacare and come out okay as long as Holland didn’t win in any other fashion which I didn’t see happening. Or, you could put a unit on each bet and even if Jacare wins, I profit about .25 units.

The best case scenario hit and we took a 3 unit profit from this fight.

Okay, let’s see it again. MMA gods, forgive me.

Now, I think Jacare was hurt and that is why he was passive but that’s the same thing we were talking about with Impa. He had his guy on one leg and control of the other so he should have been immediately actively putting pressure on him.

Jacare is a world class 10x world champion in top control BJJ but he is just sitting up there on his knees covering his face like a prime George Foreman has him on the ropes. That’s why I think he was already hurt but you can’t take anything away from Holland.

I love strikes from the bottom. With that being said, I never thought we would see a punch from open guard knock out a legend but that’s one of the many reasons that make fighting as entertaining as it is.

Conor Mcgregor vs Cowboy Cerrone

Okay, a lot of people might hate on me for this one but how many people were on social media and even the gyms and bars saying that this fight was fixed?

It clearly wasn’t.

It’s like if someone asks you if you’re on steroids, whether it be from your athletic performance in a sport, the gym, or simply your appearance. Is that an insult or a compliment? I say it’s a compliment. I have trained with many many fighters that were on something and after a while in Las Vegas, it just became normal. I didn’t mind it because I knew it was just going to make me better. I love being skinny in the gym. I get to be taller than most of my sparring partners and my strength disadvantage just forces my technique to evolve. In life, though, I would take the muscles in an instant.

Back to Conor’s TKO of Cowboy. If they think it’s fake, if they ask to see under your hood, then it must be good. I am a bit of a conspiracy guy sometimes but I keep it out of my fight fandom and even further from handicapping.

I have to admit that I was questioning why Cerrone slipped into the kick. I didn’t see Conor fake or feint anything before he threw it so…

Was it FIXED?!

NO! Slow motion is your friend and I use it breaking down fights as much as possible. Yes, it can double the time you’re putting in but it’s worth it, and the higher your bankroll grows, the more important these details become.

Conor did, in fact, feint his left hand which Cerrone tried to slip to the outside and any Thai boxer will tell you that they like it when their opponents slip their punches. You hear the MMA commentators mention too often that a lot of Muay Thai stylists don’t move their head very much.

While this can be true for some, don’t think they are just being lazy or that somehow their style that is over 1,000 years old is unevolved. They are staying in their frame for a reason. I got a little triggered there for a minute, sorry.

Please Note

There was so much that went into this TKO and it all happened in less than a minute! The first time McGregor threw his death touch of a left hand, Cerrone, who adamantly said he wouldn’t try to take the fight to the mat, shot a double leg under the punch.

It looked like great timing and that possibly the element of surprise was going to work…half a second later, though, Conor’s hip crashed down hard onto Cerrone’s head that he simply could not follow through with his takedown attempt.

The timing of McGregor is just out of this world. The shoulder strikes he followed up with busted up that nose and got Cowboy thinking and that’s when the sleight of hand, that magic, the feint that was that wasn’t that was, and then the head kick.

Just magnificent work.

Jordan Leavitt vs Matt Wiman

This one was pretty recent and it made its way around the social media world pretty rapidly.

Jordan The Monkey King Leavitt is all the rage now after his dominant submission win on Dana White’s Contender Series and now a bodyslam knockout of a long time UFC veteran in Matt Wiman.

We picked him to get that win and you know we had him to beat Matt Wiman. The only problem is that the secret about Jordan Leavitt got out a little early and he was a 4 to 1 favorite for his UFC debut.

We couldn’t lay that kind of juice with an experience gap so far and wide as this one.

So, what did we do?

We took him to win by decision because Wiman has never been submitted. Makes sense, I thought.

Ugh, I was just happy to see a long time training partner who was not only a unique guy but as a Mormon, he was very very different than a lot of the crew at Syndicate MMA. Hey, Roxanne Modafferi is there too. You have to love a gym like that with so many different personalities.

I knew from Jordan’s first amateur fight that he was special and at the age of 25, I believe he is ready to handle this unexpected immediate surge in popularity after just one fight inside the Octagon under the UFC banner.

If you turn the volume up, you can hear coach John Wood say to bring him over here as Jordan has Matt in the air and Leavitt responds with: “where are you” as he is walking the groceries over to the kitchen table.

Calvin Kattar vs Jeremy Stephens

I’m not hearing much love about this one for knockout of the year. Everyone is, of course, on the Buckley and Holland bandwagons, and rightfully so.

I thought Calvin Kattar, a guy known primarily for his excellent hands, pulls an elbow out of his proverbial pocket and POW! He explodes it all over the face of Jeremy Stephens who took it right in the mouth.

I remember when Chris Weidman changed his right hand into an elbow mid flight against Mark Munoz. That was incredible! What happened to that Chris Weidman. I know, obviously Chris was a “victim” of USADA coming to town and ramping up the drug testing protocols to epic proportions.

That one was pretty sick but Mark Munoz almost always seemed to be on the wrong end of it.

I like this one better, though! Calvin Kattar is a problem.

Whew, volume up! You can hear it CRACK! I love stuff like this because it is next level! 10 years from now, there will be 100 more knockouts just like this. It’s not that hard to switch and land a devastating elbow if you have one of the best right hands in the division.

The beginning of most of your techniques should all look the same, assuming you want to be competitive or just not get beat up in sparring all the time. Make the beginning of your right hand, right elbow, even your right kick and knee-make them all similar in the beginning.

This means that your partner is going to have to wait a split second to get a proper read and you, of course, steal that time from them and use it to your advantage if you can.

That’s what Cal did here. He landed the straight right over and over so that when he came with the same initial movement, he only needed to make sure the range was correct and let it go.

I can’t give this one to Cal because there was just more impressive KO’s but I am backing him against Max Holloway! His betting odds rose as high as (+170) and are now down around (+130) so I am happy with the (+155) where I got him.

Please Note:

I think he is a better boxer than Max and that is Holloway’s strength. Plus, we haven’t seen much evolution from the mixed martial arts game of the Hawaiin. Normally, he is longer and has better hands to beat guys and his takedown defense helps him tremendously.

The wrestling will likely be a moot point here and I think Kattar is a better boxer and I know he has 3 inches of reach on Holloway. In my opinion, Cal should be the (-150) favorite here. His losses in the past have been to guys who were tall like him and that worries me but trajectory…

He is going up and now using many more kicks in his fights and knocking legit strikers out with elbows and what is Max doing? Same stuff.

Honorable Mention

Chito Vera vs Sean O’Malley

I couldn’t let you get out of 2020 without this Salty Sean O’Malley. I loved you for a minute, man. I’m 6’1 with curly hair and fought at 145 and you’re 5’11 with a massive fro’ who fights at 35. We both love to kick and strike and have good timing.

I was digging the kid until I heard his reaction to losing to Marlon Chito Vera. Let me set the stage for you if you don’t know the whole story.

Sean has shown to be one of the most talented young stars in the UFC’s stacked Bantamweight Division but his durability has come into question more than once.

He fought Andre Soukhamthath and the Thai landed a great calf kick that was severely affecting O’Malley. He couldn’t put any weight on it and if Andre would have continued his attack on the lower leg while the two were standing, he likely would have won the fight. He did not, though, and took O’Malley down and gave the kid’s nerve time to return to normal. O’Malley went on to win the fight but had to get surgery after the fight because of the secondary damage to his foot from it just flopping and rolling over on itself because the nerve was shut off.

Then he fights Chito Vera, a very durable guy with a long win streak who can potentially match O’Malley’s kicks with his incredibly long legs. Chito is ALL legs. Sean looked decent early on but Marlon is a slow starter.

Vera landed a crispy kick just above the knee but precisely where the peroneal nerve inserts above the calf. O’Malley’s foot doesn’t work again and Vera jumps on him and smashes him out for a TKO win.

O’Malley is STILL saying that he didn’t lose that fight and he wouldn’t GIVE Chito a rematch. I don’t know if he missed it but a couple of weeks ago Marlon Vera fought Jose Aldo and the Brazilian had to take Chito down and hold on for dear life in the 3rd round to get the win.

O’Malley is delusional and I can’t imagine he has many fans left that are over the age of 15.

I became a huge fan of Chito Vera that night mostly because of this interview.

Knockout of the Year

Joaquin Buckley vs Impa Kasanganay

Was there really any question? I know what Kevin Holland did was against Jacare and it was off his butt. That was incredible but Buckley did this off of one leg and Impa was out on contact.

I just hope that we see even more knockouts that must be seen to believe in 2021.

In Conclusion

That’s a lot of knockouts! And a lot of me rambling on about why and how but I want to give you guys a perspective you may not get from someone who just knows this game from the outside-in.

I have been in there with a lot of these guys that we talk about every week and I pay attention to what works at the low and mid-levels to what works at the highest level.

As far as our knockout of the year winners and their next fights from a betting perspective goes, I really really like Calvin Kattar even where he is now at (+130). I think he is 60/40 to beat Max and I don’t think that is going out on this lengthy dangerous lonely limb.

Max is primarily a volume boxer. We don’t talk about him much in this way but he is a specialist. I mean, how is he not? He wins decisions boxing shorter guys up from range and defending the takedown at a world-class level.

Those takedown defense points are likely for nothing on January 16th. Then you have Kattar who is technically better in my opinion with his hands and owns a 3-inch reach advantage.

Max is getting the respect from the books because of who he is and I get that he is still young but I do not expect him to come out here as a reinvented version of himself. If he outboxes Kattar, then I will be wrong but I really don’t see any other way of him winning.

Of the other nominees, Conor, of course, will be in the main event a week after Calvin at UFC 257 when he rematches Dustin Poirier for a #1 contender spot in the UFC’s Lightweight Division.

PLACE YOUR BETS NOW!

I am on the Irishman here, all the way. His betting odds, though, are all the way up at (-240). I loved him and tipped him as soon as they opened at (-170). I think he is still good to get a stoppage.

(-175) now, though, for Conor to win inside the distance. That is not what I wanted to see at all, my goodness. I did have Conor parlayed with Khamzat and Ottman Azaitar but we are down to just two fighters now.

Finally, Kevin Holland, our Fighter of the Year in 2020, is scheduled to fight Derek Brunson.  Derek opened as a (-120) favorite in this fight which I think is about right but all the recency bias for the Trail Blazer has shifted the line for Derek to (+145).

Cha-ching!

I hope you liked the article, guys. I rambled on a bit but really wanted to give the how and why some of these exciting knockouts came to be.