It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2019. Throughout the the week, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
Fighters in the UFC can often go unnoticed for long stretches of time upon their entry into the league. Not everyone is an Anderson Silva or Conor McGregor, receiving an immediate push to the marquee. Most fighters have to earn their way to the top, but their breakout eventually comes.
The year 2019 was a big one for breakout fighters in the UFC. China’s Weili Zhang joined the ranks of the women’s strawweight elite when she took the next step with victories over Tecia Torres and Jessica Andrade en route to a UFC title reign. Suriname’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik joined the top tier of heavyweights in stunning fashion when he made Alistair Overeem’s lip literally explode at UFC on ESPN 7. Russia’s Petr Yan became a familiar name to fans in a year when he topped UFC bantamweight mainstays John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and Urijah Faber.
Yet, none of these fighters had quite the breakout year of Alexander Volkanovski.
The Australian standout had already joined the ranks of the contenders in the UFC featherweight division with a finish of former perennial contender Chad Mendes at the tail end of 2018. He outdid himself in 2019, however, with a strong showing against featherweight legend José Aldo at UFC 237 in May. The decision victory over the Brazilian put Volkanovski in position to challenge for the title.
The 31-year-old’s title bid finally came to fruition at UFC 245 in December. Volkanovski challenged Hawaii’s Max Holloway, who had established himself over recent years with wins over Anthony Pettis, Aldo (twice), Brian Ortega and Frankie Edgar to become a seemingly unbeatable champion. The Aussie fighter proved that belief to be untrue. Instead, he got the better of Holloway over five tough rounds to secure the title.
Volkanovski’s rise to the top of a very competitive featherweight division probably wasn’t one many people saw coming. The Eugene Bareman disciple delivered, though, and for his rise, he earns our honor as the 2019 “Breakout Fighter of the Year.”
Other finalists: Weili Zhang, Jair Rozenstruik, Petr Yan
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2019 MMA Award winners.