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Missed Fists: Celebrating 2020’s can’t-miss fights, most unbelievable knockouts, bizarre finishes, head kicks, more

A bloody Lisa Verzosa and Julija Stoliarenko face off at an Invicta FC event on March 6, 2020, in Kansas City, Kan.
@cynthiavance, Twitter

Welcome to the latest edition of Missed Fists where we shine a light on fights from across the globe that may have been overlooked in these hectic times where it seems like there’s an MMA show every other day.

Even with the world shutting down this year, MMA found a way, and I’m not just talking about the UFC. Three weeks before Dana White “saved 2020” by holding a pay-per-view event in Jacksonville, Fla., there were fights happening in Belarus. The decision to run shows during the early stages of the pandemic was as questionable as the level of competition that was being booked to compete, but it was clear that humanity’s fighting spirit would not be easily extinguished.

For better or worse, dozens of international and regional promotions followed suit, which means there was plenty of incredible action that was missed this year. So it’s time for the third annual Fisty Awards, with your hosts, the esteemed Jed K. Meshew and Alexander K. Lee!

(hold for applause)

AL: Thank you, thank you, whoever wrote that lovely introduction (me), too kind! So Jed, were you satisfied with what the Fight Gods had to offer outside of the major promotions this year?

JM: Are you kidding me? This is the year that saw CamSoda return to MMA with not one, but two events. I’ve been thrilled with the non-UFC MMA world.

In all seriousness though, probably in large part because MMA is a sport of hooligans, even with COVID-19, we still didn’t see that much drop-off in quality or volume. All around the world, people are willing to suffer head trauma for our amusement, and for that, we salute them.

AL: One thing regular readers know is that as much as I love rules, we also enjoy a good circumvention of the rules so that’s how we’re going to start this show as we discuss our favorite Missed Fists Fight of the Year.

I call this a cheat because I’m picking a fight from a well-known American promotion that I still didn’t feel got enough love, and the fight you’re picking is from a little-known promotion (which may as well have its home base listed as international waters) that we’ve covered plenty on MMA Fighting.

So with apologies to some of the minor league outings that deserved more shine, I have to pick Julija Stoliarenko vs. Lisa Verzosa as my Missed Fists Fight of the Year.

Watch the full fight on UFC Fight Pass and also check out the brilliant All Angles video that was just released.

This fight happened the same weekend as our 2020 Fight of the Year winner Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so it was understandably overshadowed, but the fact that it didn’t crack our top-5 is a travesty. If people want to view Zhang-Jedrzejczyk through the lens of it being maybe the greatest women’s MMA fight of all-time, then Stoliarenko-Verzosa is a close second.

This was just an unholy 25-minute bloodbath.

JM: Zhang-Jedrzejczyk is undoubtedly the greatest women’s fight of all time, but I think we can safely say Stoliarenko-Verzosa is the bloodiest women’s fight of all time, and possibly just the bloodiest fight ever, period. I’m astonished the doctor allowed this fight to continue with the size of that gash but certainly glad he did. Feel bad for Invicta though, because there’s no way they could re-use that canvas after this horror show.

AL: Seriously, these two showed the same wills you’d see in a UFC championship fight and I’m not just talking Zhang-Jedrzejczyk. Think Lawler-Condit. Adesanya-Gastelum. Jones-Gustafsson 1. It’s that good.

Now let’s talk about your pick, which will go down in history for its own reasons.

JM: I want to be clear, I had every intention of putting Panda Banks (AKA The Baddest Man in Phuket) vs. three men as one of my top-5 fights year for MMA Fighting’s end-of-year awards but was talked out of it by somebody *cough cough*.

AL: Only because I knew our philistine co-workers would never support it enough to get it into the No. 1 spot where it truly belongs.

JM: I legitimately love this fight because before it, we’ve seen multiple two-on-one fights in the Fight Circus ring and none have gone well for the lone wolf. But that’s because what you need in that scenario isn’t a wolf, it’s a Panda:

Just look at him go! That right there is elite storytelling. Inverting the classic David vs. Goliath tale by stacking the odds against Panda. But Big Daddy Banks is made of sterner stuff than most men (and not averse to some specious tactics like taking a swipe at the guy on the ring apron, a la pro wrestling).

AL: Panda had to be sneaky because these guys were not playing around. They didn’t just try and dogpile on him, they were throwing all kinds of wild techniques (of questionable effectiveness) to try and win a fight in which they already had a two-man advantage.

Part of me still can’t believe that this happened and yet here we are.

JM: You show me another fight that could be inserted into John Wick 4 and be totally at home, and then I’ll consider that there might have been a better fight in MMA this year, but until then, Panda Banks forever.

AL: We’re going to put a moratorium on the Fight Circus talk for now, because otherwise the events would probably sweep the Fistys, but if you want to read more or watch the events for free yourself you can find all the pertinent info and links here and here and Jed’s explanation for why Fight Circus Vol. 2 was the best MMA event of 2020 here.

The Krazy Horse Award (Best Knockouts)

AL: My first pick for best KO goes to amateur lightweight Emon Baker who executed one of the most insane slams I’ve ever seen.

JM: I’m going to do something I rarely do here, and that’s agree with you. That’s probably the best KO this year, if only by the metric of it being the one I would least like to have happen to me.

AL: Here’s another view of it from Baker’s coach, MMA and Bellator vet Chad George, who thankfully also provided a positive update on the health of Baker’s opponent.

JM: But despite agreeing with you, for the sake of argument I will proffer a truly terrifying outcome from Jervon Beverly:

Jumping directly into a huge right hand is not good tactics, but it is sensational television.

AL: I still don’t know what the hell Robert Taylor was thinking there.

I’m going to dip into the world of lethwei for this pick, which saw Naing Htet Lin viciously knock out some poor soul TWICE.

Literally something that could only happen in lethwei.

JM: That’s why Lethwei is the sport of kings. Well, that and the headbutting.

But my other winner of a Krazy Horse is Genison Lima sending Jose Filho to the land of wind and ghosts and violent fashion.

That fall looks almost exactly like the one Terry Etim had when Edson Barboza wheel-kicked him in the face and if you can ever call back to that KO with your own, you’re doing something right.

Honorable Mention

Punished for styling.

Cleveland McLean’s walk-off knee.

Michael Lilly splatters Kendly St. Louis.

Pre-UFC Joaquin Buckley.

Kim Jae Young’s insane comeback.

Mo Miller takes a man to Suplex City.

The Cro Cop Award (Best Head Kicks)

AL: I regret leaving this first choice off of my KO of the Year list, so it’s getting its more-than-deserved props as my favorite head kick of 2020: Mamed Khalidov winning the KSW middleweight title with an absolute braining of Scott Askham.

JM: I’m not gonna lie, I completely forgot this thing happened until just now and I too regret not having it on my KO of the Year list. Granted, there were a lot of great KOs this year but honestly, given the ludicrosity of this and the stakes involved, I’m actually willing to believe this is the top KO of the year, full stop.

But if you’re talking about pure aesthetics, it’s tough to top Jasurbek Sabirov’s picture-perfect head kick here.

AL: Picture-perfect and… audio-perfect? Is that a thing? If it is, that’s what that kick was.

We can’t leave off this kick from Tarek Mousa, which saw the amateur fighter catch a leg and then connect with a whopper of his own as his opponent stumbled.

One thing I missed the first time around, it looks like Mousa might have slipped a low blow in there as he was holding Mark Twaalfhoven’s leg. So bonus points.

JM: There’s just a lot of kicking going on there.

But you know what’s better than kicking? Going full Diaz bro and THEN kicking a dude in the face.

AL: We actually met for the first time in person before COVID hit and this is exactly how you greeted me.

JM: Considering Bayaman Nurmamat’s Babe Ruth-like abilities to call his shot, we need to get him in a kicking-only fight with the Kyokushin Kid in Fight Circus (you thought you were going to keep me from talking about it, but you were wrong).

AL: Motherf---

Honorable Mention

Pre-UFC Ludovit Klein.

One of the cleanest head kicks you’ll see.

Bianca Atman, mercy!

Little man, huge head kick.

The Demolidor Award (Best Flying Moves)

AL: Even though we’re seeing a kindler, gentler Michel Pereira these days...

JM: You mean, boring. Some stupid person has convinced him to fight like a sane person, and whoever it was should be straight-up slapped.

AL: ...we still give out this award in his honor and I think he’d be proud of the best high-flying efforts we saw this year, including Abdifatah Khalif fadeaway jumping knee KO of Korede Lawrence.

JM: I would actually argue that Khalidov’s head kick was also the best Demolidor of the year as well but for the sake of variety, I can’t fault you for this beautiful counter flying knee (which is a phrase that doesn’t seem like it should exist, and yet does). But for me I think I prefer this double clutch flying knee from Rodrigo Lidio, perhaps if only because he starches a guy named Jack Godzilla with it.

Honorable Mention

Do Gyeom Lee takes flight to defend his UAE featherweight title.

The Kid Yamamoto Award (Fastest KOs)

AL: In honor of the late, great Kid Yamamoto—the true owner of the fastest knockout in MMA history—here’s our list of six of the quickest KOs of 2020, in descending order. Before we get to that though, one has to ask how these things even happen. What goes into the making of a blink-and-you-missed-it fight?

JM: It’s mostly luck, but a little bit has to do with the person on the receiving end either being bad, or having a noticeable flaw that gets exploited. Take Jorge Masvidal’s KO of Ben Askren. Askren always comes out and shoots to start fights. Masvidal knew this and planned for it. It was still immensely lucky to work out like it did, but it couldn’t have happened in the first place without Askren screwing up.

It’s the same with any of these other ones. Either someone is being reckless and gets caught, or they were too slow to get started in the first place and thus, never got the chance.

Now here’s the list.

Kenan Dzhafarli (0:14)

Yuri Kiselov (0:12)

Filip Pejic (0:12)

Alexander Mikhaylin (0:10)

Michal Andryszak (0:09)

Kenyasky (0:05)

The Tobikan Judan Award (Craziest Submissions)

JM: This was probably the easiest category for me to pick as I had a regional show finish in my top-5 submissions of the year for the site. Felipe Dias’s Suloev stretch was one of the most insane looking positions we saw in MMA all year and I had to re-watch it a number of times to finally figure out what caused the finish. Just look at it!

Knotted up like two pretzels in a taffy pulling machine.

AL: I don’t know what I’m seeing.

Vanessa Demopoulos’ Contender Series spot didn’t go as she’d hoped, but she should forever be proud of this ridiculous inverted triangle chokeout that made her LFA’s first-ever strawweight champion.

JM: My second winner is actually probably my choice for Submission of the Year in all of MMA, however, since it only just happened on Dec. 31, it didn’t make any of our lists. Ayaka Hamasaki winning the Rizin atomweight championship with a freakin’ leg scissor choke was far and away the weirdest, coolest submission to happen this year.

Now all she needs to do is work on timing, because if this happened in July, she’s probably the SOTY winner.

AL: People know Hamasaki is fun as hell to watch, right? Because people should know this.

Sometimes MMA just isn’t enough, and you’ve got to go to the world of Combat Jiujitsu to get your fix. So hats off to grappling wunderkind Kade Ruotolo for introducing me to the buggy choke:

JM: A.J. McKee is probably gonna mess around and hit this on Patricio Pitbull to win the featherweight title.

Honorable Mention

Grigory Dontsov turns a head kick into a leg lock.

Khasan Magomedsharipov, Zabit’s little bro, hits a twister.

Spinning sh-just kidding, triangle choke!

Sam Hughes with the buzzer-beater.

Jose Perez makes like a banana and splits.

The Spinning Sh*t Award (Best Spinning Sh*ts)

AL: As for the best spinning sh*t, I’m once again cheating here and grabbing a highlight that easily could have slotted into the head kick category. Here’s Juan Roman going for a spin and cracking Mike Shipp right on the dome.

“Oh, holy sh*t,” indeed.

JM: Every year this is one of my favorite categories and the only slight grievance I have with it this year is that Fight Circus’ spinning attacks-only fight did not end up yielding an entrant. Still, it’s not like we were left wanting. Take my personal favorite of the year from Rebel FC 10 by Gazavat Suleymanov.

AL: Did he miss the initial step-in elbow or was that all part of the plan? We’ll never know.

Honorable Mentions

Sampson Tabbytite sends his foe tumbling.

The delayed reaction.

Right off the top of the head.

Humpty Dumpty Award (Most Memorable Falls)

AL: There were a lot of unfortunate falls this year, but my heart goes out to Pete Keepers who was able to do a full dance routine before Josh Quinlan put him away for good.

JM: The Humpty Dumpty is the biggest Fisty we give out every year, because it really signifies exactly what we are about here: weird, violent shit. And what is more delightfully weird and violent than the man, the myth, the legend, Sexyama?

AL: This was Sexyama’s first win in over five years and my goodness, it was worth the wait. Now Sherif Mohamed isn’t exactly a world beater (after this fight his record dropped to 9-6 with three consecutive losses), but that’s exactly the kind of matchmaking we like to see when you bring in an absolute star like Yoshihiro Akiyama.

JM: Not only does this KO give us a good excuse to write the best nickname in MMA once again, but the KO is also absurd with Mohamed looking like Wile E. Coyote when he chases the Road Runner off a cliff. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Sexyama.

Honorable Mentions

Hideaki Yamazaki is a bully.

Vladimir Mineev connects, Artur Pronin just needs a second to lie down.

Watch dude’s leg.

We gotta do something about this women’s boxing matchmaking.

Renata Mascena causes a face-plant.

The Uncle Creepy Award (Most Bizarre Endings)

AL: It’s difficult to say what constitutes a “weird finish” when we’re talking about outlaw MMA, but for me this award has to go to one of the most brutal below-the-belt shots I’ve seen in a while, Ibrahim ElSawi just annihilating the protective cop of Yuri Fraga.

JM: When a low blow results in the guy getting stretchered out of the cage, you know something when horribly, horribly wrong. I think I’d rather suffer the slam KO from earlier than that tragic fate.

But I’d still rather have that happen to me than to be Thiago Souza:

AL: Dude was flailing, tapping the mat, doing anything in his power to let the referee know he was injured while also getting punched in the face and almost choked out. This throw went poorly, is what I’m saying.

JM: Anytime you are the cause of your own downfall, it hurts much more than just being straight-up beaten. And I imagine that losing because you failed to suplex someone and instead heaved them onto your own chest, rendering yourself useless, is a tough pill to swallow.

Honorable Mention

These knees from Harry Stalone didn’t even vaguely resemble anything legal.

Fight ends after one leg kick?

So many nutshots.

Shawn West takes an L for this YOLO knee.

Ary Santos DDTs himself in a title fight.

Odds and Ends

AL: With MMA slow to restart during the pandemic, we made sure to keep a close eye on its cousins and there were several weeks where the best finishes came from the world of boxing or kickboxing or some other wacky form of combat.

Just focusing on boxing, few fighters delighted me more than 24-year-old super lightweight Elvis Rodriguez, who made a mess of the five opponents he faced this past year, including Danny Murray, Dennis Okoth, and Cody Wilson:

JM: The only way I could like this Elvis more is if he adopted the moniker “The King of Rock and Rumble.” Pay respect to the legends of MMA, my dude!

But for me, this is hands down the best of the year, in part because I think Yeison Vargas may still be standing frozen in the ring like that.

AL: Melvin Lopez hit this man with the tranquilizer dart.

From the world of lethwei, we got the best non-KO strike I’ve seen since The Showtime Kick and The Lobov Hammer. That’s right, it’s the Bo Bo Win Spin:

JM: I hate that you got to this one before me. God, what a glorious calamity that was. But fine, you can have that one because it means I still get this gem.

Sometimes in life, you can be too tough for your own good and that’s exactly what happened to the poor schmuck who faced Singdam Diamond 98.

AL: Luckily for me I default to the fetal position.

Honorable Mentions

What a switch knee.

William Whipple with the head kick outta nowhere.

Kana uncorks a right hand from the deepest depths of Hades.

A life-changing uppercut.

Jumping switch kick on the button.

Big upset.

The good ol’ stiff kick to the thighs.

Head kick or baseball bat?

The Mama Kichigin Award for General Weirdness

AL: And then we have just general weirdness, which leads me to my favorite thing of 2020. No, not my favorite MMA move, not even my favorite MMA-related clip, just my favorite thing that happened anywhere this year.

From Time of Masters 5 in Rumia, Poland on Feb. 5, it’s The Violin Guy.

I repeat: It’s the Violin Guy.

JM: I mean, my true answer is Fight Circus Vol. 1 and everything that happened there. The golden axes, Jon Nutt singing the King’s Anthem in Thai, surprise fights. All of it. But since I’m dangerously close to beating that horse to death, I’ll go with something else, and though I am strongly inclined to choose Wotore, the spiritual lovechild of Fight Circus and YAMMA (you actually predicted the return of CamSoda, AK!), instead I’ll have to choose that which this award was named for: Mama Kichigin screaming in the face of her son who is getting whooped.

Just look at her. The focus, the anger, the mask around her chin as though having it on properly might impede her ability to shout at her son, the fanny pack. It’s all so extremely weird MMA, which is what we love about this sport in the first place.

AL: There’s really nothing more to be said, so we’ll just leave you with even more combat sports clips that sum up 2020 about as well as anything else.

Honorable Mentions

Stamp Fairtex.

Dragan Desic a.k.a. “Discount Demolidor.”

Curtis Blaydes vs. Anthony Johnson sumo wrestling.

Too adorable.

Adventures in officiating.

Linkimaster gets down after another win.

Poor referee reset costs a fighter a win.

Darina Madzyuk beats 529-pound man, later signs with Bellator.

If you know of a recent fight or event that you think may have been overlooked, or a promotion that could use some attention, please let us know on Twitter – @JedKMeshew and @AlexanderKLee – using the hashtag #MissedFists.

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