2019 Nose Awards for top MMA performances: Jorge Masvidal and Zhang Weili win fighters of the year

MMA

Behold the 2019 Helwani Nose Awards.

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this, and I have to say this might have been the toughest year yet.

I agonized over a bunch of these categories for weeks (in particular male and female fighter of the year, coach of the year and fighters of the decade), but in the end, there must be a winner. Yes, I even considered naming co-winners, à la the 1995 NBA Rookie of the Year Award, but that felt like a cop-out.

So here we are with the most comprehensive awards in MMA history.


The winners:

Male fighter of the year: Jorge Masvidal

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Ben Askren says that Jorge Masvidal is his pick for Male Fighter of the Year, but he doesn’t give him the nod for Knockout of the Year.

This was a tough one. Any other year, this easily goes to Israel Adesanya. However, I sided with Masvidal due to the record-breaking knockout of the previously undefeated Ben Askren and the magnitude of his win over Nate Diaz. The knockout of Darren Till in England was pretty amazing, too.

Female fighter of the year: Zhang Weili

You could make a case for Zhang, Amanada Nunes or Valentina Shevchenko here. In the end, the way in which Zhang disposed of Andrade — not to mention the history she made — gave her the edge.

Fight of the year: Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 (Watch this fight)

This was one of the easiest awards to hand out. Very few fights came close to this one.

Round of the year: Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236, Round 5 (Watch this fight)

Adesanya told his corner he was willing to die going into this round. That is legendary stuff, and the final stanza of this incredible battle was just as legendary.

Submission of the year: Bryce Mitchell def. Matt Sayles via Twister (Watch this fight)

It was either this one or Misha Cirkunov‘s Peruvian necktie versus Jimmy Crute. Both just the second in UFC history. No wrong answer here, but the Twister is a little more rare, so I sided with that one.

Breakout fighter of the year: Jairzinho Rozenstruik

The Surinamese fighter went 4-0 in 2019 and won all his fights via knockout, including a main event fight versus Alistair Overeem last month. No one knew who he was a year ago and now he’s about to headline another show versus Francis Ngannou. That’s a breakout year.

Knockout of the year: Jorge Masvidal KOs Ben Askren, UFC 239 (Watch the knockout)

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Jorge Masvidal describes training for his flying knee knockout of Ben Askren and his thoughts after it landed.

There were a ton of great knockouts last year, but the speed, technique and stakes involved in this one made it an easy choice. Plus, actual history was made because it became the fastest knockout in UFC history.

Comeback of the year: Jorge Masvidal

Masvidal didn’t fight a single time in 2018 and entered the year on a two-fight losing streak. Easy one.

Most improved fighter of the year: Jorge Masvidal

We all knew Masvidal was a great fighter, but he never put it together like he did this year. His confidence is sky-high right now and he has finally come into his own after 16 years in the game.

Story of the year: The resurrection of Jorge Masvidal

Lots to choose from here, but in the end, it has to go to Masvidal. Again, he was inactive and on a losing streak last January. No one, and I mean no one, saw this coming.

Poster of the year: Every Rizin poster

Rizin crushed the poster department last year. Each event was better than the previous one. Impossible to pick just one, but they were the easy pick here, with Invicta FC’s batch coming in at No. 2.

Honorable Menschen of the year: Justin Wren, Dustin Poirier, Cris Cyborg, Deborah Woodley (with Kamaru Usman), Daniel Cormier, Max Holloway

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UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier’s second job as a high school coach keeps him connected to his first love, wrestling.

The six went above and beyond, doing good work in 2019:

  • Justin Wren’s work with an anti-bullying campaign as part of his Fight for the Forgotten Foundation

  • Dustin Poirier with his Good Fight Foundation, which has partnered with Fight for the Forgotten

  • Cris Cyborg helping with water and land initiatives in Uganda, partnering with Fight for the Forgotten

  • Tyron Woodley’s mother, Deborah, encouraging an emotional Kamaru Usman after Usman beat her son

  • Daniel Cormier’s work with the Gilroy (California) High School wrestling team

  • Max Holloway’s class in defeat and setting an example for his son.

Promo of the year: Nate Diaz following his win at UFC 241

Diaz created a belt and set up the Masvidal megafight in this 90-second postfight interview. It was brilliant. No one used their mic time better than Diaz did in this moment.

Upset of the year: Timofey Nastyukhin def. Eddie Alvarez

Alvarez’s ONE Championship debut was a big deal, and most expected him to roll through the relatively unknown Nastyukhin, who was coming off a loss and was 2-2 in his previous four fights. Didn’t happen. Nastyukhin won in shocking fashion via TKO.

Coach of the year: Eugene Bareman

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Israel Adesanya’s coach, Eugene Bareman, tells the story of Adesanya’s first amateur MMA fight and how he tested him by telling him to train elsewhere.

This award came down to Bareman and Eric Albarracin. I struggled with this one for weeks. Had we discussed this award in June, I would have said Albarracin was a shoo-in. But Bareman, and his great stable of fighters from City Kickboxing, ended the year incredibly strong. He finished 2019 with two champions (Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski) and with an 11-1 UFC record. Hard to beat that.

Walkout of the year: Israel Adesanya, UFC 243

There were other elaborate walkouts in 2019, but none made headlines as much as Adesanya’s prior to his title fight against Robert Whittaker. It stood out above the rest, as UFC fighters don’t usually go to those lengths before their bouts.

Rivalry of the year: Usman vs. Covington (Watch this fight)

This one lasted the entire year and ended — at least for now — in the main event of the final pay-per-view of 2019. It spilled into casino lobbies and got personal at times, too.

Crowd of the year: Madison Square Garden, UFC 244

The crowd was electric from start to finish. Also, the president was in attendance, which was a first for the UFC.

Event of the year: UFC 244

Nothing felt bigger than this card at Madison Square Garden in November.

Best of the Decade:

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Ariel Helwani and Chael Sonnen give their selections for Male Fighter of the Decade during the 2019 Helwani Nose Awards.

  • Male fighter of the decade: Jon Jones. I struggled with this one a lot because of his PED transgressions, but I settled on Jones (over Khabib Nurmagomedov and Demetrious Johnson) because of the level of competition he faced — and beat — all decade long.

  • Female fighter of the decade: Amanda Nunes. She started the decade unimpressively (at one point she was 3-3 over six fights), but she ended it by beating every notable name and former champion available. Her shocking knockout of Cris Cyborg in 2018 sealed the deal for me.

  • Male impact fighter of the decade: Conor McGregor. He became the face of the UFC and the biggest draw in the history of the sport — by far. Easy one.

  • Female impact fighter of the decade: Ronda Rousey. She opened the door for women to fight in the UFC and then carried the division during an incredible run between 2013 and 2015.

  • Fight of the decade: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, UFC 165. Not only was this my fight of the decade, I also think it is the greatest UFC fight of all time. Incredible drama from start to finish because Jones looked so invincible at the time and no one gave Gustafsson a chance going in.

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