While the UFC forged ahead during the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, only missing a very short beat before resuming a business-as-usual approach to their weekly event schedule, Bellator MMA was more conservative in its approach. Bellator would pause events from the end of February until the end of July.
That made the selection of certain year-end-award categories a bit more difficult than a normal year for Bellator. This was especially true when evaluating fighters for Fighter of the Year, as few notable competitors were afforded the opportunity to pick up multiple wins in 2020 through circumstances beyond their control.
Still, the CBS Sports combat sports experts sat down to dig through what was a unique year for the promotion, deciding on three awards: Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year and Finish of the Year.
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Fighter of the Year
Cris Cyborg -- 2-0 in 2020
Cyborg kicked off the Bellator 2020 calendar with one of the best performances of the year, defeating Julia Budd to capture the women's featherweight championship on Jan. 25 in her promotional debut. The fight ended in a fourth-round TKO after tense rounds that saw Cyborg show a bit more patience than normal while picking apart and hurting Budd round after round. The win gave Cyborg the unique distinction of winning championships in Strikeforce, UFC and Bellator (she also held the Invicta FC featherweight title). In October, Cyborg picked up the first defense of her new title with a dominant showing against Arlene Blencowe, who Cyborg not only dominated but finished her via submission with a rear-naked choke. That marked the first time the feared striker had picked up a submission victory in her career.
Honorable mentions: Patricio Pitbull, Vadim Nemkov, Juan Archuleta, Tim Johnson, Juliana Velasquez
Bellator Fight of the Year
Juan Archuleta def. Patchy Mix -- Bellator 246
Archuleta made a strong case for Fighter of the Year with two key wins of his own, but he still gets recognition for his outstanding victory over Patchy Mix on Sept. 12 at Bellator 246. Despite an accomplished and impressive career, Archuleta never had the kind of hype thrown behind a rising star like Mix. Archuleta had come up short a year earlier when he challenged Patricio Pitbull for the featherweight championship in the opening round of the 145-pound Grand Prix. He got another shot at gold against Mix, this time at bantamweight where Archuleta has not lost in the Bellator cage. Mix was smothering in the fight's early going, but Archuleta survived attack after attack before putting his veteran savvy to work against the less-experienced Mix, turning up his striking output and working to the body as Mix fatigued. In the end, Archuleta's pressuring game was enough to get him the nod on the scorecard and a long-awaited championship victory.
Honorable mentions: Cris Cyborg def. Julia Budd -- Bellator 238, Jake Hager def. Brandon Calton -- Bellator 250, Yaroslav Amosov def. Logan Storley -- Bellator 252
Finish of the Year
AJ McKee submits Darrion Caldwell -- Bellator 253
After a slow build to his career, the time for easy fights is over for McKee. That's especially true after entering the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix. McKee was paired with Caldwell in the semifinals of the tournament at Bellator 253, just one fight away from an opportunity to challenge for a world championship. Caldwell is one of the few men on the Bellator roster who would have the wrestling advantage over McKee, which shows quickly as Caldwell drove through a takedown to put McKee on his back. It took only moments for McKee to sense an opening, trapping Caldwell's head and putting pressure on his shoulders to force the submission with a neck crank from bottom position -- a rare submission. McKee will next face Pitbull in the finals of the tournament with the featherweight title on the line.
Honorable mentions: Timothy Johnson def. Tyrell Fortune via KO (punch) -- Bellator 239, Michael Chandler def. Benson Henderson via KO (punches) -- Bellator 243, Sabah Homasi def. Bobby Voelker via KO (flying knee) -- Bellator 250, Aaron Pico def. John de Jesus via KO (punch) -- Bellator 252