UFC fans have been treated to a number of exciting fights since the start of 2019 and it is tough to select the top five. However, after much deliberation we have managed to whittle it down to these gripping bouts:

Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena

These talented welterweights locked horns for a sensational battle at UFC on ESPN 1 back in February 2019. Luque went into the fight as the heavy favorite after securing consecutive victories over Niko Price, Chad Laprise and Jalin turner, but the steel-chinned Barberena always looked like a dangerous opponent. The American was content to stand firm, soak up blows and fight back with fierce strikes of his own, and the result was a battle for the ages. The Silent Assassin opened with a number of taut left and right hands, but Barbarena then dropped his opponent with just over a minute left in the first round. Luque instantly recovered and nearly finished Barbarena off with rear naked and D’Arce chokes, but Barbarena wriggled free and then had the crowd on their feet with a series of powerful elbows. The second was an action-packed slugfest. Luque landed the most blows, but Barbarena’s durability was astonishing. It looked like the fight would go the full distance, but the Brazilian finally dropped him with the knee and followed up with a barrage of strikes, forcing the referee to stop it with just six minutes remaining.

Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum

This five-round battle had everything an MMA fan could possibly hope for. The momentum changed hands several times, and it remained close throughout the entire contest. All three judges had it 38-38 as they went into the final round, and Gastelum had the momentum after stunning his opponent with a ferocious left kick to the head. Adesanya staggered into the final round with a swollen face and a nasty cut, and Gastelum sought to ram home his advantage. Yet the Nigerian hit back with a right hand that left Gastelum stunned. Adesanya then dropped Gastelum three times in the closing 70 seconds of the fight, and that was enough for him to seize a narrow 48-46 victory. Both fighters displayed outrageous levels of grit and resilience throughout the encounter, which featured a dazzling array of knockdowns, powerful strikes and tactical skirmishes. UFC commentator Jon Anik called it “one of the greatest title fights you will see” and it has to rank as the best fight of 2019.

Paulo Costa vs. Yoel Romero

Costa and Romero pummeled one another in a brutal and compelling battle at UFC 241 in August 2019. They are both blessed with the sort of hulking, chiseled physiques normally reserved for comic book characters, and both men have racked up legions of fans due to their all-action styles, so this promised to be one of the best fights of the year. It more than lived up to expectations. Costa dropped Romero with a left-hook after less than a minute of the first round, but a minute later Costa was felled. Neither fighter relented. Costa delivered a string of ferocious blows, but his 42-year-old opponent constantly responded with counter-punches, flying knees and snapping backfists. With 90 seconds remaining, the bloodied warriors put their hands behind their backs and roared at one another. They traded blows until the final bell, and fans were split as to the identity of the winner. All three judges scored it 29-28 to Costa, which remains a contentious decision, but nobody was left in any doubt about the quality of the fight. Costa was a significant underdog – check out sports spread betting explained for more detail on fighting odds – so anyone that backed him to pull off an upset was jubilant.

Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder

The Hangman and The Irish Dragon delivered five rounds of brutal entertainment at the Spark Arena in Auckland on February 23, 2020. Hooker came flying out of the blocks and nearly shut Felder’s right eye in the opening stages of the fight. Blood was pouring from Felder’s nose, and he looked in really bad shape as a partisan Kiwi crowd roared on their hero. However, Felder displayed astonishing grit to work his way back into the contest and the judges handed him the final two rounds. In the end it went down to a split decision, and Hooker won it 48-47, 47-48, 48-47, showing just how close it was. Both fighters were stretchered to hospital after the fight. A disfigured Felder opened up about the anguish of his facial and kidney injuries, but said it was an honor to share the octagon for 25 minutes with The Hangman. He is now contemplating retirement, and it would be a fitting way to bow out after an action-packed and entertaining career.

Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Weili and Jedrzejczyk lit up the women’s strawweight division with an absolute banger in March 2020. They went at it for five epic rounds, and they totally outshone the main event between Adesanya and Romero. They combined for 768 strikes in total, and both women had to be medically suspended until the summer. Zhang looked like she had been in the fight of her life, but Jedrzejczyk looked totally unrecognizable. Her swelling was horrendous, one of the worst hematoma injuries in UFC history, but she went on to make a full recovery. These two fighters displayed remarkable skill, precision and power throughout the fight, and it really could have gone either way, but the judges handed Zhang a slender victory. There has never been a better women’s MMA fight, and it is hard to imagine a better UFC bout taking place this year.