It would be impossible to ring in the New Year without looking back on the events of 2017, and while the year started off relatively slowly, it grew into an incredible one for mixed martial arts.
Below we take a look at some of the most memorable events from the world of UFC which deserve our recognition.
Biggest Upset of the Year
It is impossible to look past the defeat of Joanna Jedrzejczyk to Rose Namajunas as the shock of the year. Jedrzejczyk was making her sixth consecutive title defence and looking to add another win to her undefeated record of 14 and 0, while Rose Namajunas was expected to make up the numbers coming into this fight with a record of six wins and three losses.
Yet, Namajunas stunned the world when she landed a monster left hook, which dropped the Polish champion, and followed it up with strikes, forcing Big John McCarthy to intervene. Given the fact Rose had never won via knockout and Joanna had faced huge hitters in the past such as Jessica Andrade and Claudia Gadelha, the manner of the finish only added to the sense of disbelief as Namajunas became the new strawweight champion of the world.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
While the lack Conor McGregor’s return to the octagon has been disappointing, particularly given the talent pool in the 155lb division, this pales in comparison to the desolation experienced by fans upon learning that Jon Jones had tested positive for PEDs after his defeat of Daniel Cormier.
Fans and pundits alike were already deep in debate as to how a Jon Jones-Brock Lesner super fight would go when it was announced that Jones had tested positive for Turinabol. The greatest pound-for-pound fighter is a recurring debate and one which Jones had been a regular in the list. Yet, now his career has seemingly gone up in smoke.
Breakthrough Fighter of the Year
Darren Till has had his hand raised three times in 2017. The Liverpudlian earned a decision win over Jessin Ayari in May and followed this up with another victory over Bojan Velickovic in September. He then capitalised on a lack of available European talent and earned a headline slot against UFC veteran, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, at UFC: Gdansk.
Till instantly captured the attention of viewers as he finished the number six-ranked fighter with an incredible first round knockout. The potential of Till was not lost on UFC chief Dana White who uploaded a picture of Till landing a strike with the caption ‘the future’ to his social media accounts post-fight.
Currently linked with fights against the likes of Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, Mike Perry and Colby Covington amongst others, Till is undoubtedly the breakout star of 2017 as an exciting 2018 looms on the horizon.
Fighter of the Year
An honourable mention must go to Max Holloway. He became the featherweight champion and successfully defended the strap. Yet he only defeated one opponent, albeit twice, and although it was the featherweight legend Jose Aldo, this was not the Aldo of two years ago. And that is why Robert Whittaker takes the Fighter of the Year title. Whittaker defeated Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza in April. He finished the fight via head kick and punches and collected a performance of the night bonus in the process.
He followed this up by getting his hand raised in a much closer victory over Cuban powerhouse, Yoel Romero. This earned him the interim middleweight championship, which has since been promoted to undisputed champion. This was the first five round fight of the New Zealand-born fighter’s career in the UFC. He also incurred an early knee injury, demonstrating his ability to overcome adversity in the octagon. In 2017, Whittaker showed his incredible knockout power and also intelligent game management earning him the Fighter of the Year.
Fight of the Year
Although a Fight of the Year which does not involve Justin Gaethje may be a surprise, this award goes to TJ Dillashaw and Cody ‘NoLove’ Garbrandt. A fight of the year that was finished inside the first two rounds is unprecedented. Yet to every rule, there is an exception. This match up involved two of the best fighters, pound-for-pound, on the entire UFC roster.
In addition to this, there was genuine bad blood with both men engaging in mental warfare as the fight approached. The fight itself did not disappoint. It looked a certainty that Cody would retain the bantamweight title after he knocked down TJ in the first before the latter was saved by the bell. NoLove entered the second round supremely confident; to the point he danced and mocked the challenger.
Yet, Dillashaw grew into the second where he dropped Cody with a head kick and later landed a hook which floored the champion leading to a referee intervention. This contest was packed with excitement and quality which warrants its recognition as the Fight of the Year.
Finishes of the Year
The submission of the year goes to Demetrious Johnson for his incredible armbar on Ray Borg. DJ showed incredible athleticism and intelligence as he suplexed Borg and effectively locked in the armbar as Borg was in mid-air.
The knockout of the year gong goes to Francis Ngannou for his devastating KO of UFC veteran, Alistair Overeem. The Cameroonian heavyweight landed a ferocious left uppercut that instantly dropped Overeem rendering him temporarily paralysed as he lay on the mat.
And finally, a mention must go to Tyron Woodley. He could be awarded the most underappreciated champion of the year as he defeated arguably the best BJJ artist and striker in the UFC, in the forms of Demian Maia and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson respectively. However, he could be just as easily named the most boring fighter of the year as many fans did not enjoy what they interpreted as negative tactics in his two title defences.
No fighter has split the opinion of fans as much as the welterweight champion. Yet, as the division heats up, one would imagine an undefeated 2018 for Woodley and he would finally get the recognition he so craves.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena