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.
2019 brought a great deal of exciting contests to fight fans worldwide. At UFC 241 in August, Paul Costa and Yoel Romero put on a muscle-bound slugfest that saw two chiseled monsters try to take each other’s heads off with no attrition. A few months prior, Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier faced off in the main event of UFC 236 for the interim lightweight championship. It was a rematch for the ages, and both men showed up in a five-round affair with no quit. However, for our 2019 “Fight of the Year,” it was that night’s co-main event that stole the show.
Leading up to UFC 236 in April, undefeated Israel Adesanya was already on a five-fight winning streak in the Octagon, which had culminated with a decision win over former middleweight champ Anderson Silva. He was rapidly climbing the ranks and already had 13 career knockouts under his belt. Four of those UFC fights had garnered him “Performance of the Night” accolades. With middleweight champion Robert Whittaker on the bench, Adesanya had earned a chance for the interim belt.
While the former kickboxing champion was on his meteoric rise, The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum was staking his claim for a shot at the title. Gastelum first entered the Octagon in April 2013. In five years, he had gone 11-3 in the UFC – although his win over Vitor Belfort was overturned when he tested positive for marijuana. He had also earned five performance bonuses, scored a handful of knockouts, and claimed his most recent win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in May 2018. After the Jacare fight, it was announced that Gastelum and Whittaker would be the opposing coaches on TUF 28 and would then meet in February 2019 for the middleweight belt. However, when Whittaker had to pull out at the last minute, Gastelum was scheduled to face Adesanya for the interim title at UFC 236.
The co-main event of UFC 236 could have served as the main event for just about any card. With a ton of hype already surrounding the Holloway-Poirier rematch, the buzz in the air could have been cut with a knife. While the Romero-Costa affair was simply a brutal exchange of punches, the battle between Gastelum and Adesanya was a display of skill, grittiness, and raw talent.
Early on, Adesanya tagged Gastelum in a display of power, but, much to the surprise of those watching, Gastelum showed a ton of boxing skill over the accomplished striker. When Izzy landed a counter right in the second round, he turned up the gas and connected consistently with a variety of creative strikes. However, going into the fifth round, the fight was close.
Round five of this epic war tilted heavily in favor of Adesanya. Gastelum started out a bit quicker, but Adesanya came out of a scramble in much better shape and finished out the round by absolutely battering Gastelum on the ground to pick up a 10-8 score, sealing the win, as well as the interim strap.
The pair’s encounter at UFC 236 will forever live in infamy as one of the greatest back-and-forth battles in history, and it easily won the vote for our 2019 “Fight of the Year.”
Other finalists: Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway (UFC 236), Paulo Costa vs. Yoel Romero (UFC 241)
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2019 MMA Award winners.