Written by Jack Zampillo (@Jack_Zampillo15) —April 8th, 2020
The first months of 2020 have brought about a chaotic, unfortunate set of circumstances for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, the company has struggled to find venues for events, along with many other barriers that seem to arise daily. I can’t speak for other fans, but I am itching in anticipation for Saturday night fights to return.
In the state of panic the world is currently in, I began to reminisce on the fights we have been blessed with so far this year. From the return of the sport’s biggest star to the greatest women’s title fight in history, the first quarter of the year did not disappoint. As we anxiously await the return of live action, I have decided to conduct an in-depth look into my favorite fights of 2020 so far. Let’s get to it.
Two words to describe the greatest women’s fight in UFC history: Constant. Violence. Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk waged a 25 minute war in which both women overcame adversity. In my breakdown of UFC 248, I predicted that Zhang Weili would fight with the intent of knocking Joanna cold whereas Joanna would produce a volume approach that would bode well against Weili’s aggressive nature. That’s essentially what happened. From the second the fight began to the final horn, my eyes were glued. Here were two women, competing at the highest of level under a great amount of pressure for 5 grueling rounds; a beautiful sight that had fans on the edge of their seats the entire time.
Each fighter’s game plan became apparent in the first couple minutes: Zhang Weili came out swinging, looking to end the fight with the connection of just one shot. Joanna walked in with what some might say was a smarter, more efficient goal. She was going to break Weili’s will over 5 rounds and run away with the title.
Over the course of the bout, Joanna was the more efficient fighter, whereas Zhang Weili seemed to pick her power shots when the opportunity presented itself. Joanna struck at a 50% success rate, landing 186 strikes to Weili’s 165. While Weili landed at a lesser rate, the damage she inflicted was significant.
The skill on display that night was unlike anything I have ever seen. Both fighters showed the heart of a champion with absolutely no intent of shying away from a scrap. Both women had the other hurt on multiple occasions, but there was never a point in the fight where I felt like one was getting the best of the other. For example, around the midpoint of round 2, Zhang Weili landed a picture perfect right hand that stunned the Polish product. The shot had Joanna moving backwards, and it felt as though it was the beginning of the end. When Zhang Weili hurts you, expect the wrath to only increase. However, Joanna weathered the storm and landed a front kick to the face of the champion, hurting Zhang and shifting the momentum back in favor of the challenger.
UFC fans, hardcore or not, love to see high-paced fights. We got that and more with this one. As the final horn sounded, I had no idea who won the fight. There is a case to be made that both fighters won all 5 rounds.
In the end though, Zhang Weili prevailed, marking her 21st straight victory and first title defense. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Zhang Weili is not only the greatest women’s title fight in history, but one of the greatest fights ever regardless of gender.
Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone — UFC 246
Before your eyes roll to the back of your head, let me explain. Yes, this was a 40 second fight. No, Donald Cerrone didn’t land a single strike. But instead of solely looking at the X’s and the O’s, let’s dive deeper. There is a significant meaning behind Conor’s performance, and I feel the need to shed some light on it.
Let’s take it back to October of 2018, shall we? Conor McGregor, after months of trash talking and the unprecedented wrongdoing of throwing a dolly at a bus, finally got his shot at one of the most dominant champions of all time in Khabib Nurmagomedov. After being dominated and finished in the 4th round, there were a lot of questions pertaining to whether Conor was the same fighter he once was.
Then, the downfall. Conor McGregor had a very disappointing 2019. Being inactive along with getting into some trouble with the law led many fans to shy away from Conor. Where was the guy they once knew? Was the sport’s biggest star finished? Doubts arose.
On Thanksgiving Day, after ensuring that he would fight 3 times in 2020, Conor was booked to headline UFC 246 against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. There were many questions that surrounded this matchup: Would Conor’s inactivity lead to a decrease in skill? He only fought once in the 3 years prior. Would the power Conor held at Featherweight and Lightweight translate the same at 170 pounds? Conor failed to finish Nate Diaz twice. Could Conor re-solidify himself at the top of the totem pole?
Every single question was answered in 40 seconds. His eagerness to compete once again was apparent from the get-go. After missing a heavy left hand, Conor managed to break Cerrone’s nose in the clinch with shoulder strikes. Shoulder strikes. Moments later, Conor pounced with a perfectly placed head kick, dropping Cowboy. A few follow-up left hands to the head were all it took before Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight.
So what is the significance? Why is this #2 on my list? To put it bluntly, the most exciting fighter to ever step inside the octagon is back. After battling many internal and external hardships, the pride of Ireland found his way back to prevalence.
Dan Hooker vs Paul Felder — UFC Auckland
A fight that fell under the radar in the midst of McGregor, Adesanya, and Jon Jones all making appearances: Perennial lightweight contenders Dan Hooker and Paul Felder turned in one hell of a war. With both men eager to get their names into the Lightweight title picture, Hooker and Felder stepped into the main event of UFC Auckland with chips on their shoulders.
City Kickboxing, led by 2019 Coach of the Year Eugene Bareman, is known for breeding a certain type of style into its fighters that is centered on technicality and distance control. Dan Hooker, fighting with Baremen in his corner, implemented this style into his gameplan, leading to the collision of two different worlds.
Paul Felder has always been a guy that lives for a fight. Coming off of a very satisfying decision win over Edson Barboza at UFC 242, Felder stepped into the Hooker fight with a lot of confidence, which showed consistently throughout.
Dan Hooker’s gameplan from the jump was apparent: He was going to use his aforementioned distance control to break Felder; a strategy that worked well early on in the fight. Hooker’s lengthy frame allowed him to pick Felder apart, landing calf kicks and tagging The Irish Dragon with his hands off of counters. It seemed as though Felder had a hard time reaching Hooker. He was struggling to find his range, unable to hurt The Hangman. But Felder, being the crafty veteran that he is, found his way. Implementing the jab as the fight progressed into the ladder rounds allowed him to find a home for his powerful right hand.
Felder had Hooker moving backwards more than once, especially in the fourth round. The two went back and forth for 25 minutes, trading shot for shot, embracing the grind. While Hooker was able to manage distance and land with higher volume, Felder seemed to land the more impactful shots. After 5 arduous rounds, both men leaving everything they had inside the octagon, Dan Hooker got his hand raised. The Auckland crowd was blessed that night.
I want to end on a personal note, if I may. To all of the individuals and families struggling at the hands of COVID-19, you are not alone. Reach out, talk about your feelings, lean on loved ones. It is imperative that we all come together and beat this thing. Doctors and medical staff around the world are working around the clock to help fight this pandemic, and for that I applaud. To all employees working in essential businesses, thank you. It is your efforts that will push us through.
The fight game will be back soon enough, and I cannot wait.
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