There’s no debate necessary.
While the combat sports team at Bleacher Report went round and round when it came to discussing some of 2020’s other superlatives, the verdict on the year’s best KO was unanimous.
In fact, not only was Joaquin Buckley’s spinning kick victimization of Impa Kasanganay clearly the top stoppage of this year, it’s already got an early leg up on best-of decade and century awards, too.
But as good as it was, even Buckley wasn’t aware of what he’d done that October night in Abu Dhabi until he exited the Octagon and began seeing the reactions of others.
"I got out of the cage, and everybody was like, 'What the f--k? What the hell did I just watch?'" he told ESPN. "That's when I realized what I did was, like, a big deal."
It was a move Buckley had pondered as the fight unfolded, but he couldn’t execute until opportunity—in this case, Kasanganay catching and holding his left leg—knocked again.
The North Carolina-based middleweight had defended kicks by catching the leg a few times in the opening round, and he did so again just over a minute into Round 2. Holding that leg an instant too long, however, enabled Buckley to use leverage and whirl to his right while unleashing a spinning kick with his right leg that landed flush on Kasanganay’s unsuspecting jaw.
He tumbled lights-out to the mat, and that moment made Buckley a social-media sensation.
"I was still able to balance with him grabbing my foot, so I just spun and kicked. I aimed, and I fired, and it got the result we needed," Buckley said in his post-fight interview. "I didn’t know if I knocked him out, though, until he looked up and I said it was 'game over.'"
The UFC’s subsequent tweet of the KO video established its highs for likes, views and retweets on Twitter, and it comes in as Dana White and Co.’s most-watched Instagram video ever.
In fact, combined with Facebook and TikTok, the video has generated better than 60 million views and 80 million impressions for the company.
White said President Trump asked about it after seeing the clip, and even hip-hop star Kanye West got in on the act—playing the footage on a loop in a video with a track released days later.
Providing color commentary on the live broadcast, Paul Felder immediately said it was "one of the craziest knockouts I've ever seen." Blow-by-blow man John Gooden was similarly impressed, labeling Buckley’s technique as "real-life ninja stuff."
Gooden has taken steps to monetize that phrase with T-shirts and donating the proceeds to gyms struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Felder, meanwhile, is still trying to process what he saw on Fight Island.
"I literally wanted to throw my headset as hard as I could on the desk, because I couldn't believe it," he told ESPN. "Like, that was crazy. I wanted to throw something.
"If you watch a clip of the reaction, I stood up with John. I'm grabbing my headset. I take it off for a second almost like I'm gonna slam it on the desk."
Ironically, the closest runner-up to Buckley’s viral entry comes from a guy he knows too well.
Kevin Holland reached rare air with five victories in 2020—including a KO of Buckley in August—but he saved his most memorable work for a Dec. 12 finale against veteran Jacare Souza at UFC 256.
The chatty Californian was flat on his back with a kneeling Souza in control of his legs when he sat up, torqued his body and cracked Souza across the forehead with a right hand.
The Brazilian reeled backward onto his heels as Holland sprang up and followed with four more vicious shots before referee Mark Smith jumped in at 1:45 of Round 1.
"We've watched a lot of fights between the three of us," Joe Rogan said on the pay-per-view broadcast, "and we've never seen anything like that.
"To stagger him that badly with a right hook off his back. Incredible. We've seen Jacare in there with some of the biggest names in the world, and no one's ever done that."