Everybody who has ever fought in the UFC has been a rookie at some time or another.
Even Royce Gracie was a UFC rookie. Well, the deck was kinda stacked in his favor seeing as it was his family who was putting on the show for the sole reason to promote their art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the rest of the world.
Last year, it was Cyril Gane, Casey Kenney, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and Amanda Ribas who all broke out as stars in their first year fighting inside of the Octagon.
Out of those four fighters, we might have 2 world champions. No kidding. Amanda Ribas can definitely do it.
She is the real deal having literally grown up on the mats as her father was a Judo and Jiu Jitsu teacher in Brazil.
I don’t think Casey Kenney will ever get there. He could challenge for a world title but he seems more like a top ten staple than a top five guy but I could be wrong.
Cyril Gane, though, could be heavyweight champion of the world one day. He has the skills, the size, and the youth to go all the way one day.
Now, when I say rookie, I mean just that. Their first fight must have been in 2020.
How many future world champions will we talk about today? 1? 2? 3?!
Here is some of the early work on the regional scene for Ilia.
And now in his UFC debut against the surging smiling Moroccan sensation Yousuf Zalal.
Then, most recently when he demolished Damon Jackson.
Ilia Topuria is a force! The only weakness this guy seems to have is his height but he packs so much freaking power that almost any lanky guy is going to fold from those shots over the top or to the body.
You saw what happened to Damon Jackson and that guy is legit! He is a long, strong, game, well conditioned, durable, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and was 18-3 when he fought Topuria.
We picked Topuria to get the win straight up at (-220) I think it was. We normally never bet anyone straight over (-200) but I felt great about him here. We also got him to finish inside the distance for (+375) on our Fighter Focus x3 article
Ilia is the total package and I don’t see anyone stopping him in 2021 to be honest with you.
Cheers to this guy for getting all of Chimaev’s fight highlights into one video.
The MMA hardcore community’s new precious darling, Khamzat Chimaev, is the talk of the UFC now. A year ago, nobody outside of Sweden knew who in the world this guy was but now he was being argued for fighter of the year although I thought his competition level was too weak.
Khamzat went 3-0 in 2020 but 2 of those fighters aren’t UFC level and the other, Gerald Meerschaert, was coming off of a knockout loss and had dropped 4 of his previous 6 fights overall.
Everybody loves this guy and I get it. Much like our Fighter of the Year, Kevin Holland, Khamzat Chimaev is a gamer, a fighter’s fighter who will fight anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Khamzat was a Russian wrestling champion who then became the Swedish wrestling champion when he moved there but couldn’t compete for the European championship because he wasn’t born in Europe.
Darn Russians taking everybody’s wrestling trophies. That’s how it goes, man. These Dagestani fighters are a different breed. I’m telling you.
Chimaev looks like he will be able to take down and control most of the fighters at 170 pounds while he may struggle a bit at Middleweight. He, of course, has Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington at the top of the division who are takedown specialists themselves.
It will be very very interesting to see how Khamzat competes with these guys should he make his way to a #1 contender fight or title shot. Before then, though, he must tangle with British striker, Leon Edwards.
Sounds like a walk in the park for a Russian National Champion wrestler to be quite frank but Leon has exceptional takedown defense, great range with his punches and kicks, and proper conditioning to boot.
I’m just not buying British anything over Russian wrestling. Music? Sure. Tea? Whatever. I like coffee. But wrestling is for Russians like dreary day drinking is for the Brits. I love you guys but I call it like I see it.
While Chimaev may become the biggest star out of everyone we talk about today, the rookie of the year award is going to who had the best rookie year and fighting at the level Khamzat did, I can’t hand him the trophy.
Brandon Raw Dawg Royval is MAD MAN!!!
This guy fights recklessly. You know, I have never understood that word. The cop told me he was citing me for reckless driving and I said isn’t that better than wreck-full driving?
Turns out, they don’t really like smart ashes like me but I thought it was funny enough. Thankfully, those 6 points are off my license now and my car insurance is affordable again.
I was on Brandon Royval to beat Brandon Moreno when they fought about a month ago. Royval was bigger as far as his frame goes but he might just be too long for the division.
Look at Sean O’Malley, for example. There is such a thing as too skinny because, sure, your bones are sharper and you’re taller and longer than most of your opponents but you have less padding in your joints, less thickness to take shots.
You aren’t as durable being that long, lanky, and wafer like thin. This was Royval’s weakness that was exposed by Brandon Moreno who put his opponent in a funky position in their fight and Raw dawg’s shoulder popped out of place.
I’m a tall skinny guy so I feel his pain. I have had my shoulder separated in a grappling match. I’m thankful it wasn’t MMA because I would have just had to take some licks because I wasn’t going to tap from my shoulder but it’s pretty debilitating, at least until someone pops it back in but even then a live recovery in the middle of a fight is asking a lot.
I love Royval. He came in and subbed Tim Elliott then towered over Kai Kara France in a dominant win where he finished him with a guillotine in the second round. Having lost a fight, even though it was against title challenger Brandon Moreno, I have to take Raw Dawg Royval out of the running for UFC rookie of the year.
Here is a cool look inside the training camp at Team Kaobon focusing on Darren Till as well as 2020 UFC rookie, Tom Aspinall.
This mammoth of a man moves so well that you forget he is as big as he really is. Standing 6’5” tall with a reach of nearly 80 inches, Liverpool’s Tom Aspinall feels like he has what it takes to become UFC World Heavyweight Champion one day and I can see it.
His hands are very sharp. Okay, so another British mixed martial artist with good striking?
You don’t say! Englishmen can strike. We know this.
It isn’t just this guy’s hands, though, that should have some of the UFC’s Heavyweight Division worried. He grew up on the mats! He is a Jiu Jitsu kid masquerading as a knockout artist who spars with The Gypsy King.
AspinallBJJ.com. That is his father’s school.
I spoke of Amanda Ribas earlier and I can’t stress this enough. Those who were more or less born on the mats, are going to be able to get to a higher level than most. It’s like Conor McGregor trying to catch up with Khabib’s wrestling.
Come on, man. He was wrestling bears while you were telling your 4 year old self in the mirror that you were the man even though you still peed the bed at night.
If you started grappling at 4 years old like the coaches’ sons and daughters, then you possibly have a high enough ceiling to one day be world champion.
There is no reason Tom Aspinall can’t be world champ. He has the size, the technique, the power, and apparently the grappling as well. They are still bringing him along slowly so I would look for another spot in a method of victory bet to get him to win by stoppage.
Nothing on the docket yet for the Scouser and his level of competition has been pretty weak so we can’t give him the trophy either.
Everyone is talking about Kevin Holland and rightfully so but no one seems to notice Jamahal Hill went 3-0 defeating 3 completely different opponents in 2020.
The Michigan native was just 6-0 in his professional mixed martial arts career coming off of his win and contract grab on Dana White’s Contender Series in late 2019 when he made his UFC debut.
He fought the scary strong and pugilistically powerful Darko Stosic who also has an outstanding takedown game. That’s a tough spot for a tall lanky striker making his Octagon debut.
Even though Jamahal was taken down, he kept getting back up, frustrating, and eventually slowing the highly explosive Stosic. This is when Hill began to take over and he won a unanimous decision.
Next up was Klidson Abreu. I picked Abreu and this was one of those fights where I was dead wrong. It didn’t happen much in 2020 but this was one of those times.
Jamahal Hill dominated this fight and finished the stocky Brazilian with a knee to the body in the first round.
Most recently, he dispatched the long long time light heavyweight gatekeeper in the UFC and former title challenger, Ovince St Preux. Hill made him look bad and put him away with punches with a standing TKO in round two.
That is just the second time in the career of the former Tennessee Volunteer footballer that he was stopped via strikes. That is saying a lot too, especially competing at the highest level in possibly the most dangerous weight class.
Hill is actually my runner up for Rookie of the Year. He came in and stole the spot in the final month of the year.
Whoop whoop, that’s the sound of the police.
Chris Daukaus? Who? I asked myself the same thing but you only have to listen to Chris and his brother Kyle talk about mixed martial arts to see how knowledgeable, confident, and intelligent they are.
The brothers from Philly are now both in the UFC and I actually think Kyle is more skilled but he lost a tough debut to Brendan Allen so I couldn’t put him on here.
Chris is a small heavyweight who has a bit of fat to lose but performs quite well up there because of the speed advantage he holds. His hands are great, very technical, and then he lets them go against these mammoth men and they’re getting cleaned up.
The two men he beat aren’t exactly UFC level but Chris did it in style and I think we will see him climb the ranks of the division in the next couple of years.
Here is a look at Chris’s life on the mat training as a mixed martial artist alongside his brother Kyle.
MMA Rookie of the Year
Sorry, Khamzat lovers!
I think he is great too and could very well go on to be a world champion in the UFC but I don’t think he had a better year than Ilia Topuria. Stepping in on extremely short notice to make your UFC debut as an undefeated highly touted prospect is a big risk.
Most fans don’t even realize the fight is short notice so you could gas in 7 minutes and look like a fool. He was fighting Yousuff Zalal also who definitely would be our rookie of the year pick if he had beaten Topuria.
It wasn’t even close, though. Topuria beat two very solid featherweights and most of the opponents of our other nominees were not UFC level fighters.
This was a fun one! Rookie of the Year is a tough one because it’s not like this is a fighter’s first year as a professional and they’re in the UFC.
One look at that guy and you think, wow, I thought pro wrestlers had muscles. I thought it was the strangest thing that he wanted to fight in MMA.
His attitude just bugged the crap out of me. That guy has always had a chip on his shoulder even when he was WWE champ and his body looked like dog poop compared to his peers.
So, CM Punk was the Rookie of the Decade, Millenia, etc.
Our Rookie of the Year for 2020 is Ilia Topuria.
Remember the name, y’all. He is the total package that can do anything. He does duck his head a little much when he throws to gain power on his punches.
I was worried Damon Jackson was going to catch him with a patented knee up the middle but the Jackson exited said kitchen rather quickly due to the extreme heat.