The year 2019 was filled with fighters who pulled off incredible finishes, silenced the critics, and created or extended winning streaks that further elevated their UFC careers going into 2020. However, some of 2019’s best fighters don’t seem to get enough credit or love for what they accomplished. Who are these fighters? Glad you asked…
It is difficult not to be impressed with Gilbert Burns lately and what he has been able to do inside the Octagon.
Burns had an incredible 2019 campaign. He ended the year with victories over Mike Davis, Alexey Kunchenko and Gunnar Nelson. Burns didn’t enter the year as a fighter most fans would be invested in watching on a consistent basis. Well, things have certainly changed. Burns has quickly become one of the top fighters that fans are finally choosing to closely follow in 2020.
Burns capped off a successful 2019 by stepping in as a late replacement to meet Nelson in late September. The three-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion looked like he was having a blast as he punched his way to a 29-28 victory over Nelson. Burns clearly and decisively won two of the three rounds and may have even pulled off a 30-27 or a finish had he had the opportunity to take part in a full training camp.
Fresh off signing his new four-fight contract with the UFC, “Durinho” looks to build off a successful 2019 by meeting Demian Maia on March 14 in Brazil. The 33-year-old is currently ranked No. 12 in the UFC welterweight rankings, while Maia sits at sixth. A win here would propel Burns into the top 10 and extend his winning streak to four fights. It’s a must for all fight fans to follow this man’s career in 2020.
One of the most exciting additions to the UFC middleweight roster came in the form of “The Golden Boy” Edmen Shahbazyan. After overcoming the Octagon jitters in his official UFC debut in November 2018, the Armenian-American fighter appears to now be on a different level.
The 22-year-old rattled off three consecutive finishes in 2019. He began the year by securing a TKO over Charles Byrd. Then, Shahbazyan submitted Jack Marshman in July and scored an impressive head-kick knockout of Brad Tavares at November’s UFC 244.
Shahbazyan’ s performances have landed him in the ninth spot of the UFC’s official middleweight rankings. This young contender is only getting better with every minute he spends in the Octagon. The UFC appears to share this feeling, as evidenced by its recent booking of Shahbazyan against experienced contender and division veteran Derek Brunson for a showdown in Las Vegas at UFC 248.
It’s crazy that this young and developing man is still only 22 years old and is already ranked No. 9 in the division. Knockouts and submissions of veterans like Tavares and Marshman are nothing short of impressive and exciting for MMA fans in a competitive and fast-paced middleweight field. Expect Shahbazyan to rise to the occasion in early March and score yet another impressive finish over an established and dangerous contender to further elevate his career and move him closer to the UFC’s middleweight elite.
Fans always appreciate a good upset. Such a scenario creates newfound excitement and establishes buzz around the unexpected. That is how fans felt on Dec. 16, 2017, when Josh Emmett stepped in as a late replacement and delivered one of the most incredible upsets and knockouts in UFC featherweight history when he took on former top contender Ricardo Lamas and officially announced his arrival.
Emmett went on to fight Jeremy Stephens soon after in a battle of arguably the hardest-hitting featherweights in the UFC. Despite hurting Stephens in the first round, Emmett was knocked out and unfortunately suffered several facial injuries that resulted in a stretch of inactivity that lasted through the remainder of 2018.
In 2019, he returned to the Octagon after a full year off and took on the always-dangerous and experienced Michael Johnson. Emmett returned to form by landing a beautiful punch in the third round that sent Johnson to canvas. Emmett made his next appearance in July against another game opponent in Mirsad Bektic and impressed yet again by delivering another knockout in the first round, earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus.
The Team Alpha Male fighter boasts 1.34 knockdowns per 15 minutes and currently resides at No. 8 in UFC featherweight rankings. He is truly capable of knocking anyone out in the division. The weight class is as exciting as ever with the recent dethroning of Max Holloway by Alexander Volkanovski, and Emmett should be matched up with another top 145-pounder in the near future.
One of the most busy and exciting fighters in the UFC right now, Vicente Luque had an incredible 2019. The Brazilian fought a total of four times and finished the year with a 3-1 record.
Luque fought three of his four 2019 fights in a matter of six months. He finished Bryan Barberena in a “Fight of the Night” performance and stopped Derrick Krantz in the first round. He went on to face Mike Perry in July, which resulted in a “Fight of the Night” and a split decision in favor of Luque. “The Silent Assassin” was able to use his stellar striking background to rearrange Perry’s nose in what is considered one of the worst facial injuries ever seen in the Octagon.
After three consecutive wins, each more exciting than the last, Luque finally got his wish for a top contender. He signed on for a date with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden. Although Luque went on to lose the fight to a very experienced and methodical Thompson, the bout received “Fight of the Night” honors and further slated Luque into the UFC spotlight. He proved his ability to compete with the division’s elite.
Luque is currently No. 14 in the UFC welterweight rankings, but this is probably a bit low for someone who has 10 divisional victories and nine finishes. The 28-year-old will only grow and develop into a more experienced and grounded fighter after his loss to Thompson. The door is wide open for this welterweight contender, who looks to top his impressive 2019 campaign in the new year.