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Unknown MMA’s Awards for 2019

To celebrate the ringing in of 2020, Unknown MMA’s staff has voted for our favorites of 2019. Check out our votes and winners below!



  1. Israel Adesanya (Castro, Acevedo, Chica)

  2. Henry Cejudo (Wade, Marlowe)

  3. Patricio Friere

  4. Jorge Masvidal (Foreman, Dueñes, Martinez, Dimas) 

  5. Kamaru Usman

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Aug 6, 2019 at 10:02am PDT

Fighter of the year is attained through wins and performances. To narrow down who impacted the fans and themselves the most ask who they beat, how they beat them and how they capitalized on their own merits. The fighter of the year is often a paragon of martial artists, and this year it was a treat to watch each candidate. Each of our winner’s victories quelled a large about of doubt his ability and he has had the best performances and built the biggest fanbase this year. Jorge Masvidal is our 2019 fighter of the year.   Thurman Foreman



  1. Julia Budd

  2. Ilima-Lei MacFarlane (Martinez)

  3. Amanda Nunes (Foreman, Dueñes, Acevedo, Dimas, Chica)

  4. Valentina Shevchenko (Marlowe)

  5. Zhang Weili (Castro, Wade)

A post shared by ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Amanda Nunes🦁 (@amanda_leoa) on Dec 19, 2019 at 10:58am PST

Amanda Nunes’ two bouts were impressive enough to make her the 2019 Women’s fighter of the year (she closed the previous year defeating Cris Cyborg to become the Featherweight Champion.) With a shallow 145-pound division, Nunes proceeded to demolish previous title holders Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie. “The Lioness” has solidified her place not only as the “GOAT” of all women’s MMA but made a strong case to be in the conversation as the greatest pound-for-pound champion of all time. First round KO of Holly Holm, five round grappling clinic with Germaine de Randamie, Amanda Nunes is Unknown MMA’s fighter of the year. Daniel Dueñes



  1. Jared Cannonier

  2. AJ McKee (Foreman, Wade, Acevedo, Martinez, Dimas, Chica)

  3. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (Marlowe)

  4. Cory Sandhagen

  5. Alexander Volkanovski (Castro, Dueñes) 

A post shared by AJ McKee (@ajmckee101) on Nov 4, 2019 at 5:13pm PST

At just 24 years of age, 2019 was a breakthrough year for Bellator’s homegrown prospect, AJ “The Mercenary” McKee. Undefeated coming into the year, he had mowed through his competition. Enter Pat Curran, the former two time Bellator featherweight champion. McKee was able to pass his stiffest test to date by securing a unanimous decision win in May. Instead of getting the title shot he felt he deserved versus Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, what followed was Bellator’s announcement of a 16-man Featherweight World Grand Prix tournament. McKee’s opening bout versus Bellator vet Georgi Karakhanyan quickly ended as he secured the fastest KO in Bellator history at 8 seconds in round 1. McKee closed out his year in dominating fashion at Bellator 236 in the quarterfinals of the Featherweight World Grand Prix versus Derek Campos by securing an armbar victory in round 2. The mixed martial arts prodigy showcased his lightning speed and quickness, power, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu in 2019. At 16-0 heading into 2020, he continues to grow as a martial artist looking to become the winner of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix tournament, $1 million, and featherweight champion all at the young age of 25 years old. This time next year, he may be 2020 Fighter of the Year and Bellator’s first pay-per-view star. Today, he is Unknown MMA’s 2019 Breakthrough Fighter of the Year. Beto Acevedo



  1. Irene Aldaña

  2. Maycee Barber (Wade)

  3. Melissa Martinez

  4. Marina Rodriguez

  5. Zhang Weili (Castro, Foreman, Dueñes, Acevedo, Martinez, Marlowe, Dimas, Chica)

A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Dec 18, 2019 at 5:38am PST

Four fights in the UFC and a huge scheduling break was apparently all Zhang Weili needed to capture UFC gold in emphatic fashion back in August in Shenzhen, when she knocked out the previously unfinished Jessica Andrade in under a minute. Combine the quick and amazing finish with her raw athleticism, strength and speed, as well as her crisp technique infused with a traditional martial arts base, and it’s not hard to see how Zhang has since become a cult favorite amongst most MMA fan circles and has become the promotional face of a massive region rich in untapped MMA talent. Zhang has her first title defense booked for March 8, when she will face former divisional queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248. A win over Jedrzejczyk would put Zhang in the driver’s seat, not only in the strawweight division of course but also in negotiations for a super fight with flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko sometime later in 2020. Simply put, there’s a hurricane, or perhaps more aptly a typhoon, in the strawweight division and her name is Zhang Weili. Johann Castro



  1. Demian Maia

  2. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

  3. Jorge Masvidal (Castro, Foreman, Dueñes, Wade, Acevedo, Marlowe, Dimas, Chica)

  4. Nate Diaz (Martinez)

  5. Urijah Faber

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Sep 5, 2017 at 12:36pm PDT

Masvidal started 2019 after taking all 2018 off from fighting. 2017 was a rough year where he went 1-2, including a close split decision loss to Damien Maia and a unanimous decision loss to Stephen Thompson. Fortunately the #11 ranked Masvidal was able to land a high ranked opponent immediately after his layoff, #3 Darren Till, who’d just come off a loss in a title fight against Tyron Woodley. The catch? He had to fight Till in his hometown. Then BAM, one perfect counter left and Till was knocked out for the first time in his career. Jorge ends up with the undefeated Ben Askren next, another seemingly tough match up. Then BAM, 3 seconds into the fight a flying knee knocks out Askren on impact. Jorge then gets the attention of Nate Diaz, who proceeds to callout Masvidal for the “BMF Belt” after his comeback win over Pettis. Because of the hype of Jorge’s back to back KO’s & Nate’s solid comeback win, the UFC followed the hype train and made a BMF Belt for the main event of UFC 244. Jorge proceeded to defeat Diaz via TKO (due to cuts), where none other than The Rock wrapped the belt around his waist. Masvidal finishes 2019 ranked #3, on a 3 fight KO/TKO streak and is likely next in line for Kamaru Usman. Can he continue his hot streak in 2020 and earn true UFC gold? It appears we’ll get to find out, likely sooner than later. Regardless, Jorge Masvidal is a landslide winner for “Comeback Fighter of the Year” in 2019.  Jason Marlowe



  1. Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena, UFC on ESPN 1

  2. Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya, UFC 236 (Castro, Foreman, Acevedo, Marlowe, Dimas)

  3. Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier 2, UFC 236 (Wade)

  4. Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa, UFC 241 (Martinez, Chica)

  5. Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington, UFC 245 (Dueñes)

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Mar 1, 2019 at 5:25pm PST

UFC 236 was tabbed as one of the more interesting events in recent memory, due to the presence of two interim title fights alone on the marquee. Given that both finished as nominees for fight of the year, it should go without saying that everything turned out far better than potentially expected. The interim lightweight title bout main event between featherweight king Max Holloway and lightweight divisional staple Dustin Poirier was a back and forth war that garnered Poirier, the victor, with his first ever taste of UFC gold. However, it was co-main event, the interim middleweight championship bout between top contender Kelvin Gastelum and rising star Israel Adesanya, that stole the spotlight in Atlanta. The undefeated Adesanya had seen his UFC career go on without a hitch up to that point, and entered as a nearly 2-1 favorite against the much more seasoned Gastelum. For the first time in his career, Adesanya was staggered, pushed to the brink of finish on multiple occasions. Adesanya was able to rebound and gave Gastelum power shots right back in the middle rounds. Round five saw each man entering with two rounds under his belt thus far, and that was when the championship grit of Adesanya came to the forefront, as he was able to stagger and nearly finish the dangerous Gastelum numerous times throughout the fifth round, and thereby garnering himself a 48-46 unanimous decision across the board. Some would consider the absolute war a potential “fight of the decade” nominee, and it’s certainly deserving of a fight of the year honor. Johann Castro



  1. Douglas Lima, vs. Michael Page, Bellator 221 (Acevedo)

  2. Aleksandar Rakic, vs. Jimi Manuwa, UFC on ESPN+ 11

  3. Valentina Shevchenko, vs. Jessica Eye, UFC 238

  4. Jorge Masvidal, vs. Ben Askren, UFC 239 (Castro, Foreman, Dueñes, Wade, Martinez, Marlowe, Dimas)

  5. Kevin Lee, vs. Gregor Gillespie, UFC 244 (Chica)

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Jul 7, 2019 at 6:57am PDT

Some fight endings you can see coming from a mile away, but some will catch you by surprise. KO of the year is always a fun one with plenty of nominations especially when at times there are multiple MMA fights on any given night. However, there’s one KO that set itself apart. The fight had the right amount of star power, was a featured bout on a major card and didn’t lack the hype. Jorge Masvidal’s record breaking, 4-second; KO of Ben Askren is undoubtedly this year’s KO of the Year.  Brandon Dimas



  1. Charles Oliveira, vs. David Teymur, UFC on ESPN+ 2 (Dueñes)

  2. Brent Primus, vs. Tim Wilde, Bellator Birmingham

  3. Aviv Gozali, vs. Eduard Muravitskiy, Bellator 225 (Wade)

  4. Misha Cirkunov, vs. Jimmy Crute, UFC on ESPN+ 14 (Foreman, Acevedo, Chica)

  5. Bryce Mitchell, vs. Matt Sayles, UFC on ESPN 7 (Castro, Marlowe, Dimas)

A post shared by Bryce Mitchell (@thugnasty_ufc) on Dec 29, 2019 at 9:34am PST

For Unknown MMA’s submission of the year, we had a decision that was decided by a very slim margin. Ultimately, our winner for 2019 belongs to Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell and his twister side-choke submission victory over Matt Sayles. After taking the offensive and securing a takedown, Mitchell eventually worked to Sayles back, locked a legs into position and applied the choke seconds before the first round ended. Thug Nasty’s twister side-choke wins out votes over Misha Cirkunov’s first-round Peruvian necktie and Aviv Gonzali’s amazing 11-second Imanari roll to heel hook. Mitchell also wins against Brent Primus’s hard-fought gogoplata in the first round and Charles Oliveira’s Anaconda choke that contributes to his record of the most submissions victories inside of the UFC.Jason Wade



  1. Anthony Pettis, vs. Stephen Thompson, UFC on ESPN+ 8 (Marlowe)

  2. Rafael Lovato Jr., vs. Gegard Mousasi, Bellator 223 (Castro, Wade, Acevedo)

  3. Kai Asakura, vs. Kyoji Horiguchi, RIZIN 18

  4. Zhang Weili, vs. Jessica Andrade, UFC on ESPN+ 15 (Dueñes, Martinez, Dimas, Foreman, Chica)

  5. Tristan Connelly, vs. Michel Pereira, UFC on ESPN+ 14

A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Aug 31, 2019 at 6:49am PDT

With a list like the above, the choice for upset of the year was not an easy one to make. With the majority of votes, Zhang Weili vs. Jessica Andrade wins Unknown MMA’s Upset of the Year. Prior to this fight, Jessica Andrade was on a winning streak, defeating then-champ, Rose Namajunas, and defeating some of the most recognizable names in the division in Tecia Torres, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha. Zhang was a competitor that many were unsure of deserving of the fight at all. Many felt that she was given the fight simply due to the UFC’s promotional effort for the China-based fight card. But Zhang came out and made a statement against Andrade, finishing her in the first round with a flurry of technically executed punches and kicks at only 42 seconds into the round. The TKO was a shock that pushed Zhang to the position she is in now, defending her belt against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in early 2020. Chica (Amanda Sanchez)



  1. UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2

  2. UFC 238: Cejudo vs. Moraes

  3. UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2 (Acevedo)

  4. UFC 244: Masvidal vs. Diaz (Foreman, Wade, Martinez, Marlowe, Dimas)

  5. UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington (Castro, Dueñes, Chica)

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:39pm PST

Why is the BMF card the event of the year? For starters, it was created from a call out we didn’t know we needed. This is the fight Nate asked for after his dominant return vs Anthony Pettis. What makes this fight the event of the year is that it was truly 1 of a kind, no other UFC fight has had a belt created for one specific fight like UFC 244. Not only was there a belt, but the winner would have it wrapped around their waist by the people’s champ Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Let’s also not forget that this main event almost didn’t happen. Just days before the fight Nate Diaz had the MMA universe shook after he had tested positive for elevated SARM levels. The Stockton native took to social media saying he was not going to fight until this issue was fixed. Ultimately the vegan fighter’s name was cleared and on November 2nd 2019, in New York city at Madison Square Garden, it was all gas no breaks for the Miami fighter, Jorge Masvidal. The fight only went to the 3rd round round due to doctor’s stoppage. Once again Nates eyebrow scar tissue had been cut open, however Nate made it very clear that he wanted to run it back. Not many fighters could avoid getting knocked out by Masvidal but Nate’s got a chin. Jazz Martinez



  1. American Top Team (Coconut Creek, FL) (Foreman, Martinez)

  2. City Kickboxing (Auckland, New Zealand) (Castro, Dueñes, Wade, Marlowe)

  3. Fortis MMA (Dallas) (Acevedo, Dimas, Chica)

  4. Hard Knocks 365 (Boca Raton, FL)

  5. Tristar (Montreal)

A post shared by City Kickboxing (@citykickboxing) on Dec 22, 2019 at 6:59pm PST

Every few years a wave of fighters emerge with a unique winning style that seems to come out of nowhere. When those fighters start winning titles is when everyone seems to take note of where those fighters are coming from. Some of the star pupils that put their gyms on the map are GSP, Cain Velasquez, Anthony Pettis, Jon Jones and Benson Henderson. All of these athletes fought for Tristar, AKA, Roufusport, Jackson Wink and MMA Lab respectively. This year’s star pupil is Stylebender: a Yoruba talent fighting out Auckland New Zealand for his team City Kickboxing. Along with other standouts like Alexander Volkanovski, City Kickboxing had their big break this year in 2019. City Kickboxing is our team of the year for 2019. Thurman Foreman



  1. Eric Albarracin, Fight Ready (Foreman, Acevedo, Marlowe, Dimas, Chica)

  2. Eugene Bareman, City Kickboxing (Castro, Dueñes)

  3. Mike Brown, American Top Team (Wade, Martinez) 

  4. Henri Hooft, Hard Knocks 365 

  5. Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy 

A post shared by Eric Albarracin (@cptamericas) on Oct 14, 2019 at 11:07pm PDT

2019 comes around and Eric Albarracin, coach of the relatively unknown Fight Ready Gym in Scottsdale, Arizona, finds himself in that illustrious position; a position that no other coach in the sport of MMA has been able to claim in major promotions. As if coaching “Triple C” himself, Henry Cejudo, in his two knockouts over TJ Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes wasn’t enough to garner coach of the year attention, coach Albarracin also coached Bellator legend Patricio “Pitbull” Friere to his second title capture over fellow Bellator legend Michael Chandler back in May. Even though he didn’t get my vote, I can’t argue with the results. Captain America certainly deserves every honor levied upon his name for his phenomenal work in 2019. Johann Castro



  1. Michael Bisping, UFC

  2. Dominick Cruz, UFC (Foreman, Wade, Acevedo, Chica, Castro)

  3. Daniel Cormier, UFC (Dueñes, Martinez, Marlowe, Dimas)

  4. John McCarthy, Bellator

  5. Joe Rogan, UFC

A post shared by Dominick Cruz (@dominickcruz) on Dec 30, 2019 at 6:29pm PST

This one, as you can see, came down to two men. For what it’s worth, my original vote was for Michael Bisping but I flipped to break the tie. Nonetheless, both Dominick Cruz and Daniel Cormier have proven ever since becoming a regular part of the UFC’s commentary rotation that, even though blokes like us may think we understand MMA at an intricate level, we don’t understand it nearly to the level as two of the most genius minds the sport has ever had clearly do. Cruz technically gets the win here, so congratulations to him, but let’s not take anything away from any of the guys mentioned below. I personally wasn’t a fan of Michael Bisping’s commentary early on, but damn it he grew on me, and I came to find out he really is one of the most genius minds in the sport. John McCarthy understands MMA at a level that nobody else really even does, given that he not only refereed it but was also essentially one of the few men to see its true art form before the rest of the world did. And Joe Rogan, even though he gets criticized for his commentary now, is still a legend, and his name is synonymous with the UFC brand. He’s still one of, if not the, very best commentators in the sport. His contributions to putting MMA into the mainstream are second only to maybe Dana White. And they went unmentioned, but Paul Felder, Dan Hardy, Pat Miletich, Mitch Chilson, and Jimmy Smith are also f-ing phenomenal at what the craft as well. There really are some amazing minds in the sport today. Johann Castro



  1. Mike Beltran (Wade, Acevedo, Marlowe, Dimas)

  2. Herb Dean (Foreman, Martinez, Chica)

  3. Marc Goddard (Dueñes)

  4. Jason Herzog

  5. Keith Peterson (Castro)

A post shared by mike_beltran (@referee_mike_beltran) on Dec 23, 2019 at 8:11am PST

Oh, the man with the handlebars pulls it out! Truthfully, I questioned whether or not to include this category because this is one that only real nutcase addicts like myself really pay attention to. But, alas, I’m happy that one of the best in the game got it. Mike Beltran is a veteran amongst MMA referees and is a staple for massive events in California and throughout the West Coast. A good rule for referees is simply the rule of being unnoticeable; if you don’t recognize a ref, that usually means they do a near flawless job. Hell, the only reason Beltran is noticed is because of his awesome moustache that the vast majority of men can only wish to groom to the extent of his. But I digress, Beltran is really fantastic, and he is a rightfully chosen winner of this award. As for others, Herb Dean and Marc Goddard are the most recognizable and usually do an amazing job, but when you’re in the spotlight as much as they are, folks will micro analyze every aspect of what you do. They don’t make many mistakes, but when they do they get blown way out of proportion. Jason Herzog got no votes to my dismay, because I’ve literally never seen him make a single mistake inside the Octagon, Bellator Cage, RIZIN ring, or anywhere else he’s officiated. No nonsense Keith Peterson is just a personal favorite, not gonna lie, but don’t kid yourself, he’s practically flawless at his job as well. Johann Castro

Congratulations to all nominees and winners. This year would not have been the amazing year it was without any of them. We look forward to the next decade with these professionals. Happy new year from Unknown MMA!

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