Now that 2016 is in the books, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best that the sport of kickboxing had to offer. Over the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the ring to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.

Fighter of the Year – Cédric Doumbé

The race for “Fighter of the Year” was certainly up for grabs all the way up until December. Last year’s winner, Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, was pulling away from the pack following his big victory over Robin van Roosmalen at GLORY 31. Earlier in the year, he stopped Superbon Banchamek and Enriko Gogokhia to win the 2015 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram tournament at Kunlun Fight 37. Then, just two months later, he toppled former GLORY champion Davit Kiria and K-1 champion Marat Grigorian in a one-night, four-man tournament at GLORY 28. He capped off those tournament performances with another stellar tournament outing against Walid Hamid and a come-from-behind victory over Mohamed Mezouari at Kunlun Fight 43. Sittichai was sitting atop the rankings, and rightly so. The master southpaw technician has one of the best resumes in the sport with an incredible run of 49 wins and only three losses in the past five years.

It seemed nearly impossible for Sittichai to be knocked off of his throne with only four months remaining in the year. That is, until he faced this year’s breakout star, Superbon Banchamek, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 70-kilogram tournament at Kunlun Fight 53. Superbon’s technical performance over the course of three closely contested rounds was enough to knock off the world’s pound-for-pound king. The loss opened the door for one of the hungry world-class fighters jockeying for position behind the former leader to take hold of the award.

There were a couple of kickboxers whose records remained unblemished in 2016. K-1 champions Kaew Weerasakreck and Takeru earned five wins apiece while staying on top of their respective weight divisions. Japanese phenom Tenshin “Teppei” Nasukawa won the ISKA and R.I.S.E. bantamweight titles in a year where he capped off his seventh victory in seven fights with a spinning back kick knockout of the reigning Lumpinee stadium champion Wanchalong PKSaenchaimuaythaigym to earn “Knockout of the Year” honors. Heavyweight prospect Roman Kryklia moved into the top 10 after remaining unbeaten in nine fights, including a big upset over top-five heavyweight Jahfarr Wilnis and three knockout wins to take home the K-1 Europe 95-kilogram grand prix title. Kunlun Fight veterans Wei Ninghui and Wang Kehan took home tournament titles in their undefeated 2016 campaigns.

The list of unbeaten kickboxers in 2016 was long. However, the fighter who took home the award did take a loss in 2016, although that loss was certainly a controversial one. Cédric Doumbé lost to top-10 middleweight Fang Bian according to the record books, but the Cameroonian-French kickboxer could definitely make a claim that he won the bout. He fought one of China’s biggest stars in one of the biggest promotions in the country. He fought to an extra-round decision that ended in a split judgement. To say Doumbé was fighting against the odds to get a judges’ decision in a close fight would be a serious understatement. Moving past how we feel about the decision, Doumbé’s resume doesn’t take a huge hit, because Bian is a top-ranked fighter on a ridiculous winning streak of his own — although, all wins aren’t created equally.

Doumbé put forth an incredible record in 2016 that flew completely under the radar until his crowning achievement in his final fight of the year. Despite picking up wins over two of the best fighters in his division, Doumbé’s body of work largely features fighters outside the mainstream, but that’s not to say fighters like Brad Riddell, Ben Hodge and Djibril Ehouo aren’t top fighters. All three have big wins against top competition in Muay Thai.

The 24-year-old Doumbé racked up 12 wins in 2016, the best of any of the candidates for this award. Doumbé won two four-man, one-night tournaments under the Partouche kickboxing banner with victories over the aforementioned Hodge and Ehouo, Belgium’s Said Zahdi and Turkey’s Vedat Hoduk. Doumbé scored victories over Australia’s Riddell and China’s Chen Yawei in upstart promotion Glory of Heroes. He added to those victories with a knockout win over Afghan fighter Maseh Nuristani and a decision over Serbian kickboxer Ljubo Jalovi at Monte Carlo Fighting Masters. Doumbé’s marquee wins in 2016 are the victories over Murthel Groenhart at GLORY 28 and Nieky Holzken at GLORY: Collision.

Doumbé shocked a few people when he defeated the surging former title challenger Groenhart in March. The win was the best of Doumbé’s career in what would become a trend for the young prospect as the year closed. Doumbé fought tooth and nail with GLORY welterweight champion Holzken at GLORY: Collison to become the new champion following the five-round technical battle. The judges gave Doumbé the win with control of four of the five rounds. Doumbé was able to damage the legs and body of Holzken with an excellent kicking offense and sharp striking exchanges. Doumbé raised the welterweight title to cap off his incredible 2016 campaign, but there is still work to do for the newly crowned champion. He is set to defend his title for the first time against Yoann Kongolo, a man who has defeated Doumbé twice before, at GLORY 39 in Brussels.

Other finalists: Sittichai Sitsongpeenong (9-1), Roman Kryklia (9-0), Tenshin Nasukawa (7-0), Superbon Banchamek (8-1), Kaew Weerasakreck,(5-0), Takeru (5-0), Jason Wilnis (4-0), Wei Ninghui (7-0), Wang Kehan (5-0), Chingiz Allazov (4-0), and Benjamin Adegbuyi (5-0)

Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 Kickboxing Award winners.