Some say that the best way to predict the future is to analyze the past and, if the last few years are anything to go by, the UFC’s first main event of 2020 looks all set to deliver some memorable action.
The UFC’s first main event of the calendar year has served up some classic moments over the past decade, with some of the sport’s biggest stars claiming memorable wins, with fans treated to a host of unforgettable battles as the UFC consistently kicked off the new year in spectacular fashion.
The first UFC main event of 2021 will see former featherweight champion Max Holloway take on rising contender Calvin Kattar at UFC on ABC 1 in a pivotal bout for both men in the 145-pound division.
UFC on ABC 1 takes place Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs on ABC and ESPN+ following prelims on ESPN+.
Ahead of their clash on “UFC Fight Island,” take a look back at our six-pack of the UFC’s best new year main events.
Henry Cejudo vs. T.J. Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 143 | Jan. 19, 2019
Two of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet went head to head in the first headliner of 2019, but while the matchup between reigning flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and two-time bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw looked like a close one on paper, the result was anything but close on fight night.
Dillashaw was looking to drop down to 125 to become a two-division champion, but any thoughts that the bantamweight king would hold the power advantage over Cejudo were blown out of the water within seconds as “The Messenger” delivered the most devastating performance of his career.
Cejudo clipped and stunned Dillashaw early and pounced on the opportunity as he swarmed the scrambled bantamweight champion to force the stoppage after just 32 seconds and register the fifth-fastest knockout or TKO in a title fight in UFC history.
Dillashaw was left angry at the swift stoppage, claiming he could have continued, while Cejudo’s win almost certainly saved the UFC’s flyweight division, with the future of the 125-pound class decidedly uncertain heading into the event.
Cejudo followed up that title defense by moving up to bantamweight and capturing the 135-pound strap to become a UFC “champ champ,” before eventually announcing his surprise retirement after defeating former 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz last May. Since Cejudo’s departure the flyweight division has thrived, and now has one of the most exciting new champions in the sport in Deiveson Figueiredo. Once thought to be under threat for its very existence, the UFC’s flyweight champion is now in rude good health.
You never know, Cejudo may even fancy a comeback in 2021…
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 | Jan. 3, 2015
After an infamous brawl in a hotel lobby, a canceled booking and hours of heated pre-fight build-up, the biggest grudge match in UFC history finally took place at UFC 182 as Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier faced off at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.
An epic battle was expected, with the undefeated Cormier thought to be the man best equipped to dethrone Jones at the top of the 205-pound division. But, despite a tough, competitive fight, it was Jones who prevailed after five grueling rounds to earn scores of 49-46 on all three scorecards.
The rivalry didn’t end there, of course, and a rematch between the pair two years later ended initially with a knockout win for Jones, but the result was eventually overturned to a no contest after the champion returned a positive drug test.
Unfortunately, a third bout between the pair never materialized, as Cormier moved up to heavyweight and eventually captured the heavyweight title before retiring from the sport in 2020.
Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 | Jan. 18, 2020
Last year was all set to be a big year for Conor McGregor, and the Dubliner’s planned 2020 “season” got off to a blistering start with a 40-second demolition of Donald Cerrone in Las Vegas.
Returning to action for the first time since his submission defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov 15 months prior, McGregor looked in phenomenal form as he came flying out of his corner and immediately put the pressure on Cerrone in the opening seconds of the fight.
After a clinch and a few now-famous shoulder strikes, McGregor connected with a big head kick, then followed up with some big left hands to finish “Cowboy” and announce his return to winning form in emphatic fashion.
Unfortunately for McGregor, his plans for a big year in 2020 were thwarted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. But now McGregor is all set to return to action later this month at UFC 257, where he hopes to pick up where he left off as he bids to reclaim the UFC lightweight title.
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes at UFC 142 | Jan. 14, 2012
“The King of Rio” had arguably the best moment of his career as Jose Aldo kicked off 2012 with a buzzer-beating knockout for the ages at UFC 142. Best of all, he did it in front of his own fans.
The HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro was a cauldron of noise as then-featherweight champion Aldo took on surging contender Chad Mendes, who arrived in Brazil with a perfect 11-0 record. The American was expected to give Aldo the toughest test of his championship reign to date, but Aldo produced a moment of magic in the closing seconds of the first round as he walked Mendes onto a perfectly-timed knee that sent “Money” flying backward and forced the stoppage at the 4:59 mark.
The win was spectacular, and so was Aldo’s celebration, as he charged out of the octagon door and dived into the crowd, who hoisted him onto their shoulders as Aldo enjoyed a classic UFC moment with his hometown fans.
Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit at UFC 195 | Jan. 2, 2016
Two of the most popular fighters with hardcore MMA fans went toe to toe in the first UFC main event as Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit kicked off a huge year for the promotion with a “Fight of the Year” contender in Las Vegas.
Defending welterweight champ Lawler had captured the 170-pound title with a split-decision win over Johny Hendricks, then defended the belt in an instant classic with Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 to establish himself at the top of the welterweight tree. Condit, meanwhile, had recovered from a knee injury sustained against Tyron Woodley to defeat Thiago Alves and earn a shot at the gold.
Given the fighting styles of both men, nothing short of a knock-down, drag-out affair was expected, and the pair didn’t disappoint as they served up a remarkable five-rounds of fury to thrill the fans inside the MGM Grand Garden, plus the millions watching at home. In the end, it was Lawler who ended up victorious as he edged a split-decision verdict after the judges scored it 47-48, 48-47, 48-47 in the champion’s favor.
It was one of the all-time great title fight battles, and the image of both men leaning, exhausted, against the top rail of the cage after the matchup was one of the most iconic shots of the year as two legends shared a moment after their epic encounter.
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125 | Jan. 1, 2011
One of the all-time great title fights in UFC history, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard produced a classic to kick off 2011 as they battled all the way to a split draw in Las Vegas.
Maynard already held a win over Edgar from earlier in their careers and, when the pair met in the rematch at the MGM Grand Garden, and it looked like “The Bully” was on course for a second victory when he battered then-lightweight champion Edgar from pillar to post through a breathless first round.
Somehow, despite taking a staggering 97 punches in the first round, Edgar survived the onslaught and came back in Round 2 to establish a foothold in the fight, and a big power slam at the end of the round signaled that the matchup was still very much in the balance.
The pair then proceeded to go back and forth through Rounds 3 and 4 to set up a pivotal final round. By then both men were physically spent, but somehow managed to battle all the way to the final buzzer.
It was a rollercoaster of a fight, and when the scorecards were announced, there were gasps from the Las Vegas crowd as the fight was adjudged a split draw, with scores of 46-48, 48-46, 47-47. It meant Edgar retained his title by the slimmest of margins, and Maynard’s best chance of capturing UFC gold agonizingly slipped away.
The pair met for a third time nine months later at UFC 136, where Edgar produced another remarkable performance to score a knockout win and draw a line under their epic trilogy. But even that display couldn’t quite eclipse his remarkable come-from-behind performance to retain his title on New Year’s Day, 2011.