Marvin Vettori (Dan Kuhl/Combat Press)

Monthly Fighter Focus: December 2020

The year 2020 has undoubtedly been a wild ride for the UFC. The promotion has found unique ways to continue operations by putting on numerous events throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic while practicing consistent safety measures, strict testing guidelines, and various other precautions. As we had into the final month of the year, let’s look at the top names in the game who are poised for a big month.

Kevin Holland

The middleweight fighter deserves to be here for several reasons. First and foremost, Holland has already turned in an illustrious 2020 campaign. He has compiled a 4-0 record for the year, with wins over Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley, Darren Stewart and Charlie Ontiveros. The “Trailblazer” joined the UFC in August 2018 after tallying an impressive 13-3 record and turning in a unanimous-decision victory over Will Santiago Jr. on Dana White’s Contender Series. As a result, Holland was rewarded with a contract that led to a UFC 227 showdown with UFC roster staple Thiago Santos. Holland suffered a unanimous-decision loss despite a persistent performance. He rebounded with a submission victory over John Phillips several months later and added decision victories over Gerald Meerschaert and Alessio Di Chirico to put together a three-fight winning streak and a 3-1 UFC record. His notable streak led to a clash with fellow prospective contender Brendan Allen in October 2019, but Holland again came up short and suffered a submission defeat in the second round. He was undeterred and committed to constantly improving himself in pursuit of becoming a top middleweight contender and eventual title challenger.

Holland returned to the Octagon in May with a stellar knockout victory of the aforementioned Hernandez and then added three more wins in a matter of three months over Buckley, Stewart and Ontiveros. This extended his overall UFC record to 7-2 and positioned him for a top-15 opponent in his next UFC appearance.


His wish was granted when he was tasked with replacing the injured Darren Till against Jack Hermansson, the UFC’s current No. 4 middleweight, in the main event of the Dec. 5 fight card. However, Holland was unfortunately pulled from the bout when he tested positive for COVID-19. In a bizarre turn of events, Holland and fellow rising middleweight Marvin Vettori switched opponents. Vettori is now scheduled to face Hermansson, while Holland will meet Brazilian legend Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza on Dec. 12.

This will be Holland’s fifth UFC appearance in a matter of seven months. Despite losing out on a huge opportunity against Hermansson, Holland can solidify himself as a middleweight contender if he can defeat Jacare in impressive fashion.

Holland, who stands 6-foot-3 and boasts an 81-inch reach, is a tall and lengthy middleweight who is incredibly well rounded and has shown vast improvement since his UFC debut. With a win over Jacare, Holland could become a “Fighter of the Year” candidate and set himself up with a top-10 middleweight clash.

Marvin Vettori

It is impossible to discuss future middleweight contenders and not include Vettori’s name. “The Italian Dream” amassed an impressive 10-2 mark prior to signing with the UFC and successfully submitting Alberto Uda in his promotional debut. Since then, he has compiled a 5-2-1 UFC record that includes wins over Vitor Miranda, Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira, Andrew Sanchez and Karl Roberson. However, the most impressive aspect of Vettori’s UFC career may just be the fact that he is the only fighter to ever face Israel Adesanya and win a scorecard against the current UFC middleweight champion.

Vettori battled Adesanya in his fourth UFC appearance and lost a closely contested split decision, but he impressed fans and UFC executives by constantly pressuring Adesanya and moving forward for three straight rounds. Vettori has gone on to rattle off three dominant victories.

The Italian was scheduled to face longtime middleweight contender Jacare on Dec. 12 before being given the opportunity to step up and face Hermansson a week earlier. Not surprisingly, the always game Vettori took the fight with no hesitation and graciously welcomed the chance to leapfrog his way into the top five of the UFC middleweight rankings.

A victory over Hermansson will signal Vettori’s readiness for the top 10 of the division as he looks to rightfully earn a rematch with the champ in the future.

Khamzat Chimaev

Chimaev is a special fighter, plain and simple. The Russian-born resident of Sweden has taken the MMA world by storm after turning in three dominant UFC victories within two months and extending his undefeated streak to nine fights.

“Borz” made his UFC debut at middleweight on July 16 when he submitted John Phillips in the second round to earn himself a performance bonus. Despite a successful debut, Chimaev was nowhere near finished for the month. He stunned everyone when he took a short-notice welterweight bout against Rhys Mckee and delivered a “Performance of the Night” with a first-round knockout. Chimaev broke the record for quickest turnaround time between UFC wins in the modern era at 10 days and gave birth to the UFC’s most highly touted prospect.

Chimaev returned to action two months later. He was tasked with facing 44-fight veteran Gerald Meerschaert in a middleweight contest. Yet again, Chimaev left the MMA community speechless when he delivered a 17-second knockout over the longtime UFCer. He came out aggressively yet composed before landing a precision straight right that sent Meerschaert to the canvas. It was another “Performance of the Night” effort for the Stockholm-based fighter. After compiling the most impressive start to a UFC career in recent memory, what would be next for the undefeated prospect?

After much speculation, that question was answered in late October when the UFC announced that Chimaev would face No. 3-ranked UFC welterweight Leon Edwards in the main event for the UFC’s Dec. 19 show. Chimaev has been lobbying for a top-ranked opponent and garnered much attention by calling out numerous fighters, including the Diaz brothers and Edwards.

Chimaev, like his fellow middleweight Holland, has been given a path to a top-five ranking. All he has to do is defeat the incredibly well-rounded Edwards, who is currently on an eight-fight winning streak and has defeated a plethora of notable UFC welterweights. If Chimaev is successful, then the highly touted prospect will in all likelihood end up fighting for the UFC welterweight crown sometime in 2021.

Deiveson Figueiredo

While many would look to grant Chimaev the “Fighter of the Year” honors due to his unprecedented rise in the UFC, the distinction will undoubtedly go to the UFC’s flyweight king if he is successful in defending his belt for the second time this year.

Figueiredo has done what no flyweight champion has been able to do before: make the division universally exciting and engaging. While Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Henry Cejudo were among the greatest champions in recent history, neither man was able to captivate viewers and garner a widespread following to bring worldwide attention to the division. Figueiredo is certainly close to succeeding where his predecessors failed.

After suffering his lone defeat at the hands of longtime flyweight contender Jussier “Formiga” da Silva in March 2019, “Daico” has been on a warpath. He rattled off five straight wins in a matter of 16 months while claiming the vacant UFC flyweight championship in the aftermath of Cejudo’s retirement. His winning streak includes a dominant decision victory over Alexander Pantoja, a submission of scrappy veteran Tim Elliott, a pair of devastating finishes over Joseph Benavidez, and a slick first-round tapout of Alex Perez in the main event of UFC 255.

After UFC 256 suffered various title-bout losses, it was Figueiredo who was tasked with saving the card by accepting a short-notice title defense against current top contender Brandon Moreno, who also fought at UFC 255. Despite the exceptional fearlessness and boldness of both men, it is Figueiredo who enters the bout with everything to lose.

At just 21 days, Figueiredo’s UFC 256 bout with Moreno will mark the fastest championship turnaround in the promotion’s history. If he is successful in defending his crown, then not only does “Daico” deserve to be called the “Fighter of the Year,” but he will also elevate his stardom to a level that no UFC flyweight has been able to realize thus far.