UFC 243 would mark the company’s highest ever attendance record when over 57,000 fans packed into the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. They had turned up to see their champion, Robert Whittaker, defend his belt against the Nigerian-New Zealander, Israel Adesanya.
Adesanya had won the interim title in his “Fight of the Year” contender with Kelvin Gastelum earlier in 2019. The former kickboxer was a perfect 17-0 heading into the fight and had won six straight in just over a year since signing with the UFC. Yet, people weren’t sure that he was ready for skillset and outright savagery possessed by Whittaker.
Whittaker had gone through the meat-grinder at middleweight. He waged chaotic brawls with Derek Brunson and Ronaldo Souza before spending 50 minutes across two fights with the brutish Yoel Romero.
The champion was the aggressor against Adesanya. He ducked low and tried to throw his shots over the top. He had some success, but as the round went on, it became clear that “The Last Stylebender” was getting the timing down.
Adesanya began landing counters when Whittaker rushed in. In the waning seconds of the opening round, Adesanya caught Whittaker with a hook that dropped him. The bell sounded and Whittaker was noticeably hurt walking back to his corner.
It was more of the same in the second round except Whittaker was throwing more volume this time. But it appeared the challenger had figured out the puzzle. Lean back and return fire with hooks while his opponent on the inside was Adesanya’s gameplan this round. After landing the sequence multiple times, Adesanya again dropped Whittaker. With no bell near to save the Aussie fighter, Adesanya followed him to ground and landed a couple of follow-up shots on a dazed man.
It took Adesanya just a round and a half to make the read and employ his counter game against one of the better strikers in the sport. That is why Israel Adesanya’s win over Robert Whittaker is The Body Lock’s best performance of 2019.
Alexander Volkanovski def. Max Holloway
In 2019, Max Holloway lost for the first time in six years not once, but twice. His first defeat came at the hands of Dustin Poirier at UFC 236. Holloway had gone up to challenge for the interim lightweight title in that bout, so the loss wasn’t a hard knock on the Hawaiian.
After defeating Frankie Edgar in his first trip back down to featherweight, it seemed as though “Blessed” was back on his rightful throne. But just five months later, the division would be flipped on its head.
At UFC 245, Holloway met Alexander Volkanovski. Volkanovski was vocal heading into the title-fight that he was the worst stylistic matchup for the then-champion and come fight night, that turned out to be the case.
“The Great” walked through Holloway’s flurries with no regard for his power. Volkanovksi battered Holloway’s legs with thunderous kicks and went over the top with his punches when the champion tried to get his patented rhythm going.
Holloway couldn’t adjust to the disruptions caused by the Aussie powerhouse and his 14-fight winning streak at 145 pounds came to an end.
Kamaru Usman def. Tyron Woodley
Israel Adesanya wasn’t the only Nigerian-born mixed martial artist to churn out a performance worthy of recognition in 2019. At UFC 235, Kamaru Usman—riding a nine-fight winning streak—became the man to end Tyron Woodley’s three-year reign as welterweight champion.
Usman set the pace for the bout from the onset. He shoved Woodley into the fence and took the dominant champ down just 30 seconds in. The next five rounds saw Usman threaten with takedowns and use his clinch to work his opponent against the cage. Woodley appeared baffled as the fight went on and Usman’s smothering game never allowed him to get an offense of any sort going.
When it was all said and done, “The Nigerian Nightmare” had out-landed his adversary by 270 strikes and taken multiple 10-8 rounds on most media members scorecards.
Henry Cejudo def. Marlon Moraes
Marlon Moraes had finished Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, and Raphael Assuncao in highlight-reel fashion en-route to UFC 238.
“The Magician” continued to look impressive in the first round of his bout with bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo. Moraes’s striking was on point and he pummeled Cejudo through the opening stanza. In the second, Cejudo bit down on his mouthpiece, dropped his head and marched into peril; giving us a much more even round. Come the third, Moraes was noticeably slowing. Cejudo, though, had plenty left in the tank as he stormed the challenger.
Moraes would eventually succumb to the barrage. The contest ended with the Brazilian on his back and Cejudo raining down ground and pound for the referee stoppage.
Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier
After winning the interim lightweight title against Max Holloway earlier in the year, Dustin Poirier cemented himself a unification bout with the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The champions collided at the promotion’s third trip to Abu Dhabi at UFC 242.
Nurmagomedov came out as relentless as ever; maybe more so. He wasted no time imposing his cage-wrestling on Poirier. Minus Poirier landing a couple of good punches in the second and almost locking up a guillotine in the third, that would be the story of the fight; Nurmagomedov’s pressure and suffocating top game stifling, corroding the challenger.
“The Eagle” eventually wore down Porier enough to secure a rear-naked choke in the third and improve his ever-impressive record to 28-0.
Voting Results for Performance of the Year
- Israel Adesanya def. Robert Whittaker (23)
- Alex Volkanovski def. Max Holloway (18)
- Kamaru Usman def. Tyron Woodley (18)
- Henry Cejudo def. Marlon Moraes (11)
- Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier (4)
Brandon is a long-time fan of combat sports who has covered them for various outlets since 2017.