2019 Yahoo Sports Male MMA Fighter of the Year

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Patricio Freire, Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman, Henry Cejudo and Israel Adesanya top Yahoo Sports' list of 2019's best MMA fighters.

This has been the toughest year to choose a male Fighter of the Year in quite some time.

Elite candidates abound and there are strong arguments which could be made for each of my five finalists (in alphabetical order here so as not to give anything away):

  • UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

  • UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo.

  • Bellator featherweight and lightweight champion Patricio Freire.

  • UFC welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal.

  • UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.

Adesanya went 3-0, with a non-title win over Anderson Silva followed by an epic Fight of the Year-type victory over Kelvin Gastelum in an interim title bout and then a title-unification KO of Robert Whittaker.

Cejudo went 2-0, knocking out bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in 32 seconds in a flyweight title fight, then coming back to defeat Marlon Moraes to claim the vacant bantamweight belt.

Freire added the Bellator lightweight title to the featherweight belt he’d already owned when he knocked out Michael Chandler in just 1:01 on May 11. He then defeated Juan Archuleta in the opening round of Bellator’s featherweight grand prix tournament.

Masvidal finished all three of his wins. He upset Darren Till and knocked him out in London at 3:05 of the second round in March. In July, he set a record for fastest UFC knockout when his flying knee splattered Ben Askren. And then he won the contrived BMF belt in November in front of President Donald Trump, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden when the bout was stopped after three rounds because of cuts on the face of Nate Diaz.

Usman upset Tyron Woodley to win the welterweight title in a stunningly one-sided performance, then knocked out top contender Colby Covington on Dec. 14 in the fifth round of a compelling battle.

Any of those five have the credentials to win, but Masvidal not only scored three victories, he finished all of them and two were upsets.

He was expected to be blown out by Till, who is substantially larger, and he was knocked down early in the fight. But he got up and stopped Till. His destruction of Askren is now the thing of legends, while the win over Diaz in that intense spotlight was enough to cement the honor for him.

I had great difficulty narrowing the field, and my final two were Usman and Masvidal. Woodley was 6-0-1 in his last seven entering the Usman fight and he had matured into a complete fighter. But Usman’s wrestling totally shut Woodley down and Woodley was never in the bout.

Usman then knocked out Covington in a pressure-packed bout in which he poured it on down the stretch and finished Covington in the final moment.

That was an extraordinary win that capped a year of a lifetime for him, but it also came in a year with other elite performances.

That Masvidal won three times against the competition he did and in the manner he did made the difference.

The man who became known as “Street Jesus” in 2019, Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal, is the choice as the 2019 Yahoo Sports Male MMA Fighter of the Year.

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