UFC welterweight Neil Magny was not the fighter of the year in 2020, OK? Let's make that clear right now. There were only two possible answers for who was fighter of the year in 2020, and they were UFC men's flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo (who went 3-0-1) and middleweight Kevin Holland (who went 5-0).
But if those two hadn't separated themselves so far from the pack, the 2020 honor would have been wide open. And I think I could have made a case for the perpetually overlooked Magny.
All Magny does, year in and year out, is stay ready and accept every fight the UFC offers. Magny (24-7) will face Michael Chiesa (16-4) on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in a UFC Fight Night that will air during daytime in the United States on ESPN and ESPN+ (12 p.m. ET main card, 9 a.m. prelims). In 2020, Magny went 3-0, earning wins over Li Jingliang, Anthony Rocco Martin and Robbie Lawler. And he was really the only one to put his hand up to volunteer to face Geoff Neal and Khamzat Chimaev, two highly avoided welterweights, though the bouts did not come to be.
In this day and age, when fighters can be (understandably) picky about which matchups they're willing to take, the willingness to fight anyone at any time should be a factor in evaluating one's year. And if that's the case, Magny was right up near the top of the list. And this was nothing new for the man. He's been doing so throughout his entire career.
Wednesday's main event was supposed to feature Chimaev (9-0) against Leon Edwards (18-3) in one of the most highly anticipated welterweight matchups in recent memory. The absence of that fight, which has since been rescheduled for March 13, has been noticeable this week on Fight Island.
But I, for one, am happy to see Magny, a seven-year UFC veteran, get this shine. Magny is one of the unsung contenders at 170 pounds and in the sport in general. A win over Chiesa, who is No. 10 in ESPN's welterweight rankings, would be his fourth straight, and should open the door to another high-profile opportunity.
By the numbers
3-0: Chiesa's record since moving to welterweight in 2018. Prior to that, he had lost his last two at lightweight, where he was 7-4 overall.
3-0: Magny's record in 2020, after sitting out all of 2019.
17: Wins in the UFC welterweight division for Magny, second in division history to Georges St-Pierre's 19.
5: Rear-naked choke wins by Chiesa, tying him for third most in UFC history. All 11 of his finishes in the Octagon have come by submission.
49: Takedowns in the UFC by Magny, the second most among active welterweights, behind Colby Covington's 61. Chiesa, meanwhile, has 15 takedowns in his three fights at 170 pounds.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Michael Chiesa's most recent results
Win: Rafael Dos Anjos (UD, Jan. 25, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Diego Sanchez (UD, July 6, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Carlos Condit (Sub2, Dec. 29, 2018)
Loss: Anthony Pettis (Sub2, July 7, 2018)
Loss: Kevin Lee (TechSub1, June 25, 2017)
Neil Magny's most recent results
Win: Robbie Lawler (UD, Aug. 29, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Anthony Rocco Martin (UD, June 6, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Li Jingliang (UD, March 7, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Santiago Ponzinibbio (KO4, Nov. 17, 2018)
Win: Craig White (KO1, May 27, 2018)
And the winner is ...
I know I just sang Magny's praises, and I meant every word, but we should now acknowledge that this matchup with Chiesa is extremely even. A lot of the things Magny is good at, things that can neutralize dangerous opponents and carry him to wins, Chiesa isn't susceptible to. Chiesa can grapple with Magny. He can keep up with Magny's pace. If a fight is gritty and a little dirty, it's usually safe to assume it's going Magny's way. Such is not the case in a fight with Chiesa. He's very comfortable in those trenches as well. I'm going to lean with Chiesa's submission skills, and I trust he can go five rounds with Magny if need be, but this is a very tough one to call. Chiesa via submission, fourth round.
How to watch the fights
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Wednesday's fight card
ESPN/ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET
Michael Chiesa vs. Neil Magny | Welterweight
Warlley Alves vs. Mounir Lazzez | Welterweight
Ike Villanueva vs. Vinicius Moreira | Light heavyweight
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Viviane Araujo | Women's flyweight
Matt Schnell vs. Tyson Nam | Men's flyweight
Lerone Murphy vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade | Men's featherweight
ESPN/ESPN+, 9 a.m. ET
Omari Akhmedov vs. Tom Breese | Middleweight
Ricky Simon vs. Gaetano Pirrello | Men's bantamweight
Su Mudaerji vs. Zarrukh Adashev | Men's flyweight
Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Markus Perez | Middleweight
Francisco Figueiredo vs. Jerome Rivera | Men's flyweight
Mike Davis vs. Mason Jones | Lightweight
Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Sergey Morozov | Men's bantamweight
Victoria Leonardo vs. Manon Fiorot | Women's flyweight
Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Warlley Alves, who meets Mounir Lazzez in the co-main event, has won three UFC fights by guillotine, tying him for third most in promotion history, one behind second-place Nate Diaz. Lazzez, who has won three in a row, is the first Tunisian fighter in UFC history.
2. Veteran flyweight Roxanne Modafferi will be in her 44th career fight when she faces Viviane Araujo on the main card. Modafferi has four wins at 125 pounds, tied for the fifth most in division history.
3. It will be a battle of fast flyweights when Matt Schnell meets Tyson Nam. Schnell scored the second-fastest submission in division history, submitting Jordan Espinosa in 83 seconds in 2019. Nam has the sixth-fastest knockout ever at bantamweight, a 32-second finish of Zarrukh Adashev last year.
4. Seven fighters are scheduled to make their UFC debuts. A couple of notable names: flyweight Francisco Figueiredo and bantamweight Umar Nurmagomedov. Figueiredo (11-3-1), the brother of men's flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, is on a three-fight unbeaten streak (2-0-1). Nurmagomedov (12-0), cousin of lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, is a 5-to-1 favorite against fellow debuting fighter Sergey Morozov. Umar Nurmagomedov was named the 10th-best fighter under age 25 by ESPN.
ESPN's Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this preview.