The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year of change, but one thing stayed the same – intense action inside the Circle.
Even though the best and brightest mixed martial artists in the world were forced to the sidelines for many months, they made up for lost time whenever they were called into action.
Those stellar performances made it tough to narrow down the list, but after plenty of deliberation, we present ONE Championship’s top five MMA fights of 2020.
#1 Thanh Le Vs. Martin Nguyen
The ONE Featherweight World Title match at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX in October had everything you could want from a high-level mixed martial arts clash between a pair of knockout artists.
This fight featured two athletes at the top of their games going back and forth until a shocking comeback finish brought the curtain down.
But by the second stanza, the defending World Champion had started to find his groove. Nguyen seemed to grow in confidence as he stayed in his challenger’s face throughout the frame.
Le was active with counters, but the tide seemed to have turned in Nguyen’s favor, and that continued into round three as “The Situ-Asian” piled on the pressure. Le was backing up, and it appeared that he’d been hurt by the onslaught of fists from the reigning titleholder.
But suddenly, one perfectly timed punch turned the contest on its head. Nguyen, who’d been pursuing his rival and the finish, dropped his left hand slightly, and that was all the invitation Le needed to fire a game-changing blow.
A flurry of strikes followed, and we had a new World Champion after the most dramatic fight of the year.
#2 Xiong Jing Nan Vs. Tiffany Teo II
When “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan met Tiffany “No Chill” Teo for the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title in January 2018, it was one-way traffic. Xiong was dominant and won the belt with a devastating KO.
It was a different story in the rematch two-and-a-half years later at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX. Teo was twice the fighter and pushed her old rival the distance, but she still didn’t have quite enough to dethrone Xiong.
From the opening bell, Teo fought smartly, using her long reach to score with punches and kicks.
However, “The Panda’s” punching power brought her back into the contest. She charged forward with flurries of fists and low kicks to take control of the stand-up exchanges.
Teo responded by attempting to grapple, but Xiong turned the tables whenever the Singaporean found success with takedowns. The Chinese star also dug deep to answer “No Chill’s” fifth-round striking aggression with counter-punches and ensured she stayed ahead on the judges’ scorecards.
By following her 2019 fight of the year with this thriller, Xiong proved that her next World Title defense will be must-see action for every mixed martial arts fan.
#3 Christian Lee Vs. Iuri Lapicus
Still, the ONE Lightweight World Championship contest at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX packed almost as much action into two minutes and 18 seconds as most other fights produce in multiple rounds.
There was an explosive start, as Lee charged forward at the opening bell and was dropped by the Moldovan challenger’s right hand inside three seconds. The pace barely slowed from there.
A scramble ensued, leading to a beautiful throw that put Lapicus into top position and on the hunt for a finish.
But the defending World Champion is no slouch on the ground. It was not long before Lee got to his feet, scored a takedown of his own, and then passed to the mount position.
Incredibly, Lapicus rolled out the back door to threaten with a leg lock, but Lee adjusted and unloaded a barrage of punches until the match was stopped.
After winning by decision for the first time in his previous fight, “The Warrior” solidified his status as ONE’s most prolific finisher with another KO to wrap up the breathless encounter.
#4 Joshua Pacio Vs. Alex Silva
This is the second bout on this list to feature the kind of drama that can take place when two world-class athletes go to war for a full 25 minutes.
Pacio began with a ton of striking offense and excellent takedown defense, which brought huge cheers from the crowd in Manila for their Filipino hero.
However, that enthusiasm was tempered when the Brazilian challenger put his BJJ black belt skills to work in the second, fourth, and fifth rounds.
To his credit, “The Passion’s” ground defense was on point and he produced flurries of strikes to gain the edge in the stand-up exchanges, but it was tough to say whether he’d done enough to defend his belt.
It all came down to a nail-biting split decision, and Pacio’s emotional reaction to getting his hand raised proved that he’d never worked harder to achieve a victory.
#5 Kiamrian Abbasov Vs. James Nakashima
The ONE Welterweight World Title showdown between reigning king Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov and undefeated challenger James Nakashima at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX II in November was a thrilling war of attrition.
It looked like it could have produced a new World Champion, too. Nakashima went blow-for-blow with the Kyrgyz, gave him a ton of trouble with top-tier wrestling, and even busted his nose with a straight left hand.
By the fourth round, the American challenger had taken control of the Circle and seemed like he had the gas to push the pace until the final bell. However, he made a critical mistake.
Nakashima ducked straight into a hard right knee as he went for a takedown, and that was the beginning of the end. Though he got back to his feet after eating a barrage of uppercuts, the American was well and truly on the ropes.
Abbasov bided his time, picked his shots, and ultimately stopped Nakashima for the most dramatic turnaround of the year.
Read more: The Top 5 MMA Knockouts Of 2020