It was tough to come up with just ten newcomers for the list in 2019. Well, 2020 was even tougher, but our gang here was able to scrap and battle and get it done. So without further delay, here are the top rookies to hit the Octagon over the past 12 months. Let the Highly Unofficial Awards season begin…
10 - Chris Daukaus
Philadelphia’s Chris Daukaus entered the Octagon as a fairly unknown prospect whose main claims to fame was that he was a Philly cop as well as the brother of UFC fighter Kyle Daukaus. Two first-round knockouts of Parker Porter and Rodrigo Nascimento later, Daukaus is poised for a big 2021 campaign, and with his fast hands and accurate striking, he’s going to be a tough puzzle for his opponents to figure out.
9 - Tom Aspinall
Speaking of tough puzzles to figure out in the heavyweight division, Liverpool’s Tom Aspinall fits that bill as perfectly as Daukaus does. A former sparring partner of heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury, Aspinall has the hands to do damage in the Octagon, as evidenced by a pair of first-round finishes of Jake Collier and Alan Baudot that took a little over two minutes combined. But he also has a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, adding another layer to an intriguing tool set that we’re likely to see more of in 2021.
8 - Ilia Topuria
Six months ago, Ilia Topuria wasn’t even on the UFC roster, but after accepting a fight on less than two weeks’ notice against Youssef Zalal in October, the Georgian made his presence felt with a win over “The Moroccan Devil.” Less than two months later, Topuria showed off an impressing standup game in knocking out veteran Damon Jackson in less than three minutes, and all of a sudden, everyone is watching to see what the unbeaten 23-year-old does next.
7 - Youssef Zalal
With an infectious energy in and out of the Octagon, Youssef Zalal arrived in the big show in February and he’s been going a hundred miles an hour since, defeating Austin Lingo, Jordan Griffin and Peter Barrett in succession before an October loss to the man at number eight on this list, Ilia Topuria. Zalal has a good squad at Factory X behind him and he’s bounced back from defeat before, so get ready for a strong return from “The Moroccan Devil” next year.
6 - Jamahal Hill
Want to know how competitive the race for 2020 Newcomer of the Year was? Jamahal Hill is at number six after a year in which he made three impressive showings in the Octagon following his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019. Kicking off his UFC career with a decision win over Darko Stosic, “Sweet Dreams” delivered an impressive first-round finish of Klidson Abreu, only to see that overturned to a no contest due to a positive test for marijuana. Undeterred, the unbeaten Hill ended the year with an impressive second-round stoppage of Ovince Saint Preux that landed him in the light heavyweight top 15.
5 - Jiri Prochazka
It’s always interesting to see someone with 31 pro fights on the rookies’ list, but hey, Jiri Prochazka did make his UFC debut in 2020, and what a debut it was, as the light heavyweight from the Czech Republic knocked out former world title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in the second round. Couple that victory with wins outside the UFC against the likes of CB Dollaway, Mo Lawal and Fabio Maldonado, and the 28-year-old is clearly on his way to a title run in the coming year.
4 - Khaos Williams
After a pair of highlight reel knockouts over Alex Morono and Abdul Razak Alhassan that took a combined 57 seconds, Khaos Williams might have taken the number one spot here had he beaten Michel Pereira on the last show of the year on December 19. He didn’t, losing a competitive decision to the Brazilian, but that doesn’t take away from the year the proud Detroit product had or his upside next year and in the years to come. “The OxFighter” is for real.
3 - Brandon Royval
Another fighter who could have snagged the top newcomer award for 2020 is Colorado flyweight Brandon Royval, who made an immediate impact in the Octagon with submission finishes of Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France that earned him a pair of the Performance of the Night bonuses. The “RawDawg” appeared to be on his way to at least a Fight of the Night bonus in November when an injury spelled the beginning of the end in his bout against Brandon Moreno. It wasn’t the way he wanted to end the year, obviously, but in a wide open 125-pound weight class, he may just be a win away from a title shot.
2 - Joaquin Buckley
Even though a loss to Kevin Holland kicked off Joaquin Buckley’s UFC career, anyone who saw that fight knew that Buckley was going to be one to watch, as he may be the hardest throwing striker on the entire roster. Well, two months later, Buckley got his second Octagon bout against Impa Kasanganay, and if you’re reading this, you know what happened next, as Buckley’s knockout win went viral. There was a lot of pressure to repeat in his third walk, but he did, adding another Performance of the Night KO to his resume as he halted Jordan Wright in the second round.
1 - Khamzat Chimaev
It was the Summer of Khamzat Chimaev in 2020, as the unbeaten prospect came out of nowhere to win three bouts in spectacular fashion before the leaves started turning colors for the fall. Clearly the star of Fight Island, the 26-year-old won two fights in ten days, submitting John Phillips and stopping Rhys McKee. In September, “Borz” traveled to Las Vegas and was expected to get a stiff test from Gerald Meerschaert, but he won that fight, too, knocking the veteran out in just 17 seconds. Next up for the 2020 UFC Newcomer of the Year? Welterweight contender Leon Edwards.
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES – Herbert Burns, Kay Hansen, Phil Hawes, Ludovit Klein, Jordan Leavitt, Nate Maness, Cory McKenna, Kanako Murata, Kyler Phillips, Daniel Rodriguez, Alexander Romanov, Adrian Yanez