A new year is on the horizon, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2020. In the coming days, 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.
Comeback Fighter of the Year
It was only three years ago that Robert Whittaker was racking up Fighter of the Year accolades left and right. The New Zealander was on a seven-fight winning streak before he was able to pick up the UFC middleweight title with a decision win over Yoel Romero. While it was an interim title initially, he was later promoted to undisputed champion when Georges St-Pierre vacated the belt. Whittaker was then on the bench for nearly a year with an injury, before again besting Romero in a five-round war. However, in October 2019, he lost the belt to Israel Adesanya.
In the lead-up to a scheduled March battle with Jared Cannonier, Whittaker pulled out of the fight and training altogether, citing personal reasons. Back in the saddle in late July, the former champ picked up a five-round decision win over Darren Till. Three months later, he added a nod over Cannonier. Now, Whittaker is likely looking at another title shot in the near future. While 2020 went from the skids to glory for Whittaker in only six months, another fighter had an even better comeback story.
There was once a time when Glover Teixeira was widely considered the best light heavyweight in the world, even though he was not fighting in the UFC. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his mid-30s that he finally was able to compete in the Octagon. After compiling a 22-2 record in pro MMA, Teixeira got his chance at Jon Jones’ light-heavyweight title. The Brazilian lost the title bid after five rounds, and his record in the four years that followed, beginning with that loss, was a lackluster 5-5. Any hopes of a UFC title were rapidly fading, as he was quickly approaching his 40s. Teixeira’s comeback, however, started almost two years ago.
In January 2019, the Brazilian got back in the win column with a first-round submission of Karl Roberson. He added a second-round submission of Ion Cutelaba a few months later. He would go on to pick up a split-decision win over Nikita Krylov in September of that year. His next scheduled bout was against Anthony Smith in mid-April, but that event was postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In May, Teixeira finally faced Smith. It was an absolute drubbing. Smith was the higher-ranked fighter, but the Brazilian destroyed his fellow former title challenger before the referee stopped the fight in the fifth round. To many, it seemed like a late stoppage. The dominant win over Smith put Teixeira in a No. 1 contender battle with Thiago Santos. Teixeira picked up a third-round submission, putting on a comeback fight for the ages. The 41-year-old finished the year as the top light-heavyweight contender and will likely challenge Jan Błachowicz for the belt.
While Whittaker had a hell of a comeback in 2020, Teixeira put on two impressive stoppages to climb back in line for his second shot at the UFC light-heavyweight title. This makes him the Combat Press selection for the 2020 Comeback Fighter of the Year.
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