RANKED: The 25 best fighters of 2019

Photo by Getty ImagesThree of Business Insider’s fighters of the year, 2019.
  • Business Insider has merged the best in boxing and MMA to produce a breakdown of the 25 fighters who had the best year in combat sports.
  • 2019 has seen shock upsets, great comebacks, and thrilling displays.
  • We’re recognising technical abilities shown through the year, breakout performances, and quality of victories.
  • Keep scrolling to see who tops our list this year, a boxer or an MMA fighter.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

25: Anthony Joshua — Heavyweight boxer.

Record this year: 1 loss (1 knockout) then 1 win (decision).

Joshua carried enormous expectations into his American debut in June, expectations that included becoming a Roger Federer of his sport and replacing Floyd Mayweather Jr. as its face. He left New York City knocked down four times, concussed, and humiliatingly beaten.

To pursue the immediate rematch when many said not to, and to win so resoundingly, is the mark of a true fighter’s competitiveness. Credit to Joshua, who is now a two-time heavyweight world champion.

Overall record: 23 wins (21 knockouts and 2 decisions) against 1 loss (1 knockout).

24: Rafael Lovato Jr. — Bellator MMA middleweight.

Record this year: 1 win (decision).

Three days before his 36th birthday in June, Lovato, in his only fight of the year, shook up the MMA world with a majority-decision win over the reigning Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi at the Bellator 223 event in London.

Lovato, one of the most decorated jiu jitsu specialists to ever compete in MMA, put his expertise on the ground to great use, bettering Mousasi on the mat before crying in the cage and telling the British crowd that they were sharing the best moments of his life with him.

Overall record: 10 wins (6 submissions, 2 knockouts, 2 decisions), unbeaten.

23: Gervonta Davis — Lightweight boxer.

Record this year: 3 wins (3 knockouts).

Much is made about the WBC heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder’s 95% knockout ratio. Well, Davis posts the same career percentage.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s protege exhibited excellent punching power throughout the year, defended his WBA super featherweight title twice, and then won the WBA lightweight title when he beat Yuriorkis Gamboa in December.

On top of all that, Davis has emerged as one of boxing’s true attractions, selling tickets in California, Baltimore, and Atlanta.

Overall record: 23 wins (22 knockouts and 1 decision), unbeaten.

22: Teofimo Lopez — Lightweight boxer.

Record this year: 4 wins (3 knockouts and 1 decision).

The boxing magazine The Ring, the broadcaster ESPN, and Sports Illustrated all declared Lopez their prospect of the year after a thumping 2018.

Fast-forward 12 months and he’s now a bona fide world champion, winning the IBF lightweight belt from Richard Commey after a second-round slaughter in December.

Overall record: 15 wins (12 knockouts and 3 decisions), unbeaten.

21: Juan Francisco Estrada — Super fly boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout and 1 decision).

In 2018, Estrada lost a close decision to his super flyweight rival Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, a Thai southpaw rated among the planet’s top pound-for-pound boxers.

In his first bout of 2019, in an anticipated rematch, Estrada got his revenge by outboxing the WBC champion over 12 rounds, winning his world title, and taking his place in the pound-for-pound lists.

The 29-year-old defended the world title in his following fight, a stoppage win over Dewayne Beamon in Mexico.

Overall record: 40 wins (27 knockouts and 13 decisions) against 3 losses (3 decisions).

20: Vasyl Lomachenko — Lightweight boxer.

Associated Press

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout and 1 decision).

One of the most stylish and technically brilliant boxers in the world continued to outclass his opposition this year, as Lomachenko lacerated Anthony Crolla in a fourth-round mauling in April before taking on, and beating, another Brit when he defeated Luke Campbell in London four months later.

Overall record: 14 wins (10 knockouts and 4 decisions) against 1 loss (decision).

19: Khabib Nurmagomedov — UFC lightweight.

Record this year: 1 win (1 submission).

Nurmagomedov made the second defence of his UFC lightweight championship against the interim title holder Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi, his only fight of the year, but dominated his opponent so easily he cannot be overlooked.

Overall record: 28 wins (10 submissions, 8 knockouts, and 10 decisions), unbeaten.

18: Artur Beterbiev — Light heavyweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 knockouts).

Ah yes, the old iron-jawed Artur.

Beterbiev wallops opponents so powerfully it’s as if he’s got mitts made of bricks. You may outbox him for a round or two, but the 34-year-old Russian will remain unfazed and just pierce your rib cage or dent your temple with that ramrod right hand of his.

This man does not mess about. Everyone he’s fought as a pro, he’s finished. And this year was no different.

Even when he competed in a wildly anticipated champion-versus-champion bout against Oleksandr Gvozdyk in October, he forced the Ukrainian to taste defeat for the first time, taking his title for good measure, in a destructive 10th-round stoppage.

He’s one nasty fighter.

Overall record: 15 wins (15 knockouts), unbeaten.

17: Amanda Nunes — UFC women’s bantamweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout and 1 decision).

The UFC proclaims Nunes is the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time, and after she obliterated the avoided and feared featherweight Cris Cyborg in a single round in December 2018, it is easy to see why.

The victory saw Nunes add Cyborg’s featherweight championship to her own bantamweight belt, a world title she successfully defended twice in 2019 with convincing wins over Holly Holm and then Germaine de Randamie.

Overall record: 19 wins (13 knockouts, 3 submissions, and 3 decisions) against 4 losses (2 knockouts, 1 submission, and 1 decision).

16: Patricio Freire — Bellator MMA featherweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout and 1 decision).

Freire has had a helluva year as he became a dual champion in May, annexing Michael Chandler’s Bellator lightweight world title and adding it to his Bellator featherweight championship, which he defended in the opening round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix in September.

Bloody Elbow called Freire’s win over Chandler “perhaps the finest” of his 15-year career, despite the controversial stoppage.

He then threatened to knock out the UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov, but he will have his hands full with the continued grand prix, with a quarterfinal against Pedro Carvalho in March 2020.

Overall record: 30 wins (10 knockouts, 11 submissions, and 9 decisions) against 4 losses (1 knockout and 3 decisions).

15: Stipe Miocic — UFC heavyweight.

Record this year: 1 win (1 knockout).

Miocic’s return to the elite has some, admittedly small, similarities to Anthony Joshua.

Like Joshua, Miocic pursued an immediate rematch with the man he lost his heavyweight title to. Like Joshua, his patience and self-belief ensured he became a two-time heavyweight champion, albeit in mixed martial arts rather than boxing.

Miocic was knocked out in the first round when he first fought Daniel Cormier in July 2018. Then, 13 months later, he won it back with a comeback beatdown of Cormier so resolute it earned him a “performance of the night” bonus.

The victory over Cormier saw Miocic attract praise as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history from the ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto, the former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, and Jon Jones, who has held the UFC light heavyweight title every year since 2011.

Overall record: 19 wins (15 knockouts and 4 decisions) against 3 losses (2 knockouts and 1 decision).

14: Manny Pacquiao — Welterweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 decisions).

It belies logic that Pacquiao, who has a young man’s fighting style, is still competing at a high level at age 41.

In 2019, he rolled back the years to dominate Adrien Broner in January before knocking Keith Thurman down en route to a decision win.

He is the WBA welterweight world champion, 21 years after winning his first championship.

Overall record: 62 wins (39 knockouts, 23 decisions) against 7 losses (3 knockouts, 4 decisions).

13: Errol Spence Jr. — Welterweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 decisions).

One of the most talented boxers in the world, Spence fought twice in 2019, outclassing the multiweight campaigner Mikey Garcia at AT&T Stadium in Texas in March before outgunning Shawn Porter in a fight-of-the-year contender at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles in September.

Overall record: 26 wins (21 knockouts, 5 decisions), unbeaten.

12: Zhang Weili — UFC women’s strawweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 decision then 1 knockout).

Zhang, 30, began the year with a unanimous decision win against Tecia Torres at UFC 235 in March.

Almost six months later, she won the UFC strawweight world title with a first-round finish over the reigning champion Jessica Andrade, earning a performance-of-the-night bonus, and became China’s first champion in UFC history – in Shenzhen, China, no less.

Overall record: 20 wins (10 knockouts, 7 submissions, and 3 decisions) against 1 loss (1 decision).

11: Alexander Volkanovski — UFC featherweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 decisions).

Volkanovski’s impressive three-round decision win over Jose Aldo at UFC 237 in Brazil in May was bettered only when he outpointed the long-reigning UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway with an authoritative stand-up strategy consisting of expert footwork, fluid feints, and intuitive distance management.

Overall record: 21 wins (11 knockouts, 3 submissions, 7 decisions) against 1 loss (1 knockout).

10: Amanda Serrano — Women’s featherweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout then 1 decision).

Serrano followed up her first-round stoppage over Eva Voraberger in January with a dominant 10-round decision over the blood-and-guts New York warrior Heather Hardy.

Serrano’s rival Katie Taylor was dubbed women’s fighter of the year by some writers. However, Taylor struggled in her summer bout against Delfine Persoon, which Hardy told Business Insider that Taylor did not deserve to win – Persoon had done enough to not lose.

Serrano has been more dominant than Taylor, winning multiple world titles in multiple weight classes, and she became the first athlete to beat Hardy in a boxing fight – a superior victory than any on Taylor’s record this year.

Overall record: 37 wins (27 knockouts, 10 decisions) against 1 loss (1 decision).

9: Douglas Lima — Bellator MMA welterweight.

Bellator MMA

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout then 1 decision).

The Muay Thai expert Lima is one of the toughest welterweights across the entire MMA spectrum, and he proved that with his highlight-reel knockout over the flash and flamboyant British fighter Michael “Venom” Page before overcoming Rory MacDonald in October.

The MacDonald victory is one of Lima’s crowning moments in his career, as it saw him win the Bellator MMA welterweight title for a third time while also winning the Bellator grand prix in what is a wildly competitive division for the Hollywood fight firm.

Overall record: 32 wins (14 knockouts, 12 submissions, and 6 decisions) against 7 losses (1 knockout, 1 submission, and 5 decisions).

8: Demetrious Johnson — ONE Championship flyweight.

Record this year: 3 wins (1 submission then 2 decisions).

Demetrious Johnson’s sole fight in 2018 was a split-decision loss to one of the current pound-for-pound elite fighters in MMA, Henry Cejudo – a result that saw him lose a UFC flyweight championship he had held for six years.

How do you come back from that?

Well, if you’re Johnson, you secure a trade from UFC to the Singapore fight firm ONE Championship, participate in its flyweight grand prix, compete in all three fights in the tournament – and win the entire thing.

Overall record: 30 wins (5 knockouts, 12 submissions, 13 decisions) against 3 losses (3 decisions).

7: Kamaru Usman — UFC welterweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 decision then 1 knockout).

Usman’s career record is filled with fights against big-name welterweights, and he added two more in 2019.

The first, Tyron Woodley, was described by CBS Sports as a “changing of the guard” fight because he won the UFC welterweight championship against someone who had held the belt for 945 days. And he did so dominantly.

The second, Colby Covington, was a feel-good kicking for fight fans riled by Covington who, as the Showtime MMA analyst Luke Thomas points out, “cosplays as an alt-right troll.”

Overall record: 16 wins (7 knockouts, 1 submission, 8 decisions) against 1 loss (1 submission).

6: Josh Taylor — Super lightweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 decisions).

In recent years, a clear path in boxing has emerged that leads to world championships, stardom, and the lure of million-dollar fights in your future.

That path is the World Boxing Super Series – a tournament that pulls together eight of the top competitors in a single weight class and aligns them in a knockout competition.

Taylor was the last man standing in the super lightweight season, beating Ivan Baranchyk in Glasgow in May before defeating Regis Prograis in a fight-of-the-year candidate in London in October.

Overall record: 16 wins (12 knockouts, 4 decisions), unbeaten.

5: Naoya Inoue — Bantamweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 knockout then 1 decision).

Like Josh Taylor, Inoue was the last man standing in the World Boxing Super Series, with the “Kaibutsu (Monster)” excelling in the bantamweight season.

Inoue easily overcame Emmanuel Rodriguez with a second-round knockout win in Glasgow in May, before a fight-of-the-year-style thriller at Saitama’s Super Arena in Japan.

Overall record: 19 wins (16 knockouts, 3 decisions), unbeaten.

4: Henry Cejudo — UFC bantamweight.

Record this year: 2 wins (2 knockouts).

He’s called the “King of Cringe” for good reason. His promos are corny, he uses bikini-clad women as props, and you wish he would just stop talking.

But when it comes to combat, there’s nothing cringe-worthy – just wins.

In January, Cejudo defended his UFC flyweight championship when he destroyed TJ Dillashaw in a single round, a fighter who tested positive before and after the bout for erythropoietin (EPO).

Later in the year he moved up a weight class to challenge Marlon Moraes for the UFC bantamweight championship, and he destroyed him, too.

Overall record: 15 wins (7 knockouts, 8 decisions) against 2 losses (1 knockout, 1 decision).

3: Jorge Masvidal — UFC welterweight.

Record this year: 3 wins (3 knockouts).

When you knock the English fighter Darren Till out in his own country, break the record for the fastest knockout in UFC history when you hit Ben Askren with a flying knee, and then force a doctor’s stoppage over Nate Diaz in a blood-stained three-round rumble, you deserve to win a belt for “Baddest Mother F—–” in the game.

Overall record: 35 wins (16 knockouts, 2 submissions, 17 decisions) against 13 losses (1 knockout, 2 submission, 10 decisions).

2: Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez — Super middleweight boxer.

Record this year: 2 wins (1 decision then 1 knockout).

At one point in 2019, Alvarez held three middleweight world titles, a super middleweight title, and a light heavyweight title simultaneously.

Alvarez has had clear issues with his promoter Golden Boy Promotions and its founder, Oscar de la Hoya, but he shrugs off any distractions to take care of business in whatever weight class he chooses to compete in.

In May, he outpointed Daniel Jacobs in Las Vegas. Then, in November, he hit the WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev with a knockout punch so hard the Russian collapsed through the ropes a half second later. Brutal, but beautiful.

Overall record: 53 wins (36 knockouts, 17 decisions) against 2 draws and 1 loss (1 decision).

1: Israel Adesanya — UFC middleweight.

Record this year: 3 (2 decisions then 1 knockout).

Business Insider’s fighter of the year is a mixed martial artist who was still competing in kickboxing bouts in 2017, only made his UFC debut in 2018, and then became a full champion in 2019. He bought the ticket, and took the ride.

His decision win over Anderson Silva at the beginning of the year was crowned fight of the night at the UFC 234 event, his decision win against Kelvin Gastelum was awarded fight of the night too, and his knockout win over Robert Whittaker, which won him the middleweight title at UFC 243, was the performance of the night.

From where he was little more than a year before, the magnitude of the bouts this year, and the gold around his waist, it doesn’t come better than that.

Overall record: 18 wins (14 knockouts, 4 decisions), unbeaten.

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