Bleacher Report 2020 MMA Awards: Best Fighter

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2020

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty

Did anybody have a better year than UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo?

Obviously, that's a rhetorical question. The answer is clearly no, and that's why the 33-year-old Brazilian nabbed Bleacher Report's award for best MMA fighter of 2020.

Figueiredo's incredible run began under inauspicious circumstances in February when "Deus Da Guerra" (which translates to "God of War") thumped Joseph Benavidez in just two rounds of a fight that was supposed to crown the UFC's new 125-pound men's champion.

But Figueiredo fumbled his chance to become the division's new king by missing weight by 2.5 pounds, so his coronation had to be postponed.

It is incredibly difficult for anyone in the UFC to defeat the top contender in a division once, and the result of Figueiredo's folly was that he was forced to do it twice.

Five months later, Figueiredo beat the scale, then proceeded to beat Benavidez even faster in the rematch, nabbing the finish within the first five minutes.

Figueiredo was now king of the flyweights, but he didn't stop there.

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Next, Figueiredo dominated and stopped perennial contender Alex Perez in the main event of UFC 255 in November. Again, he won a big fight against one of the top contenders in the division before the first round was complete.

If there was any more dominant fighter competing in the UFC this year than the Figueiredo of those three fights, they escaped our eyes entirely. That, or they surely weren't anywhere close to competing for a belt.

Following his third epic win of 2020, Figueiredo made the fastest turnaround for a UFC champion in history when he defended his title again in the main event of UFC 256 just 21 days after beating Perez.

This time, Figueiredo fought to a majority draw against top-rated contender Brandon Moreno in one of the best main event scraps of the year.

Figueiredo retained his title in an epic 25-minute war that would have been scored for the champion had he not been deducted a point in the fourth round for an accidental low blow. Regardless, Figueiredo maintained his grasp on UFC gold, and it was revealed afterward that the fighter actually had to be hospitalized the night before that performance with some kind of stomach issue.

So Figueiredo was named Bleacher Report's best fighter in 2020 after having truly lived out the definition of that word: fighter.

Figueiredo wasn't perfect this year. He started 2020 by missing weight in what was to that point the biggest fight of his life, and he didn't even officially win all four of his UFC appearances in 2020.

But he did fight through some remarkable circumstances to establish himself as the best fighter in his division, one of the biggest breakthrough stars in the sport and even perhaps the savior of the entire men's 125-pound weight class.

While several other fighters also enjoyed stellar 2020 campaigns, most notably UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, Figueiredo's impressive performances, busy schedule, fights through various adversities and dominant wins as champion make him our best fighter.

As luck would have it, I happened to chat with Figueiredo before his final fight in 2020.

Two things stick out to me from our conversation.

First, when I expressed to Figueiredo how he appeared to be on his way to securing Fighter of the Year honors, the humble champion told me how grateful he was that what he did with his life provided some measure of joy to people in their lives.

Next, Figueiredo might have enjoyed a remarkable year, but he has even bigger things in mind for 2021. He wants to become the UFC's next two-division champ.

"For me, I'm totally interested in fighting for the belt at bantamweight," Figueiredo said. "That's what I've talked to Dana White about. One hundred percent, I'd like to move up to fight for the belt."

So Figueiredo could well be on his way to being our best fighter next year, too.

                           

Kelsey McCarson covers MMA and boxing for Bleacher Report and Heavy. Watch "Real Talk with Kelsey and Rachel" on YouTube.