It’s that time of the year again folks! With 2016 behind us the MMA media now face the near-impossible task of drawing up a list of the greatest fights of the 366-day period that just passed, and though I was originally going to produce a top-five, the standard this year was simply too ridiculous so with that, I give you my top-eight fights of the year in the UFC.
8. Marco Polo-Reyes vs Dong Hyun Kim – UFC 199
We’ll start this list off like all good lists should start, with a good ‘ol fashioned brawl, and although this was a Fight-Pass prelims matchup, it kicked last year’s UFC 199 off with a bang, with both of these guys throwing all caution to the wind and trading shots with virtually no regard for their safety.
There’s not much else to say other than that. It was a fight with no real implications for either man and no belt on the line. It was simply a war that undoubtedly entertained every single person who was fortunate enough to tune in and see Marco Polo-Reyes come away with the TKO victory.
7. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Claudia Gadelha II – TUF 23 Finale
Bad blood always seems to bring the best out in fighters and when Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk finally had the chance to convert months of animosity into a five-round contest, they most certainly did not disappoint.
Joanna and Claudia had been serving as coaches on the Ultimate Fighter and after all the tension that had built up over the season, early signs suggested that Claudia – the contender – would be the one to dethrone the mighty muay-thai stylist that is Joanna, but after conceding the first two rounds, JJ turned the tables on the Brazilian and dominated her in the stand-up, winning a decision and reminding the world exactly why she’s still on top of the 115lb division.
6. Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz I – UFC 196
There’s nothing like a shocking twist to keep the fans guessing. And though many did rejoice when Nate Diaz choked out Conor McGregor at UFC 196, an even greater portion of people had to do a double-take and simply wonder at what they had just witnessed.
For a good portion of the two-round fight, Conor lit Nate up on the feet, plodding forward without much in the way of head movement, throwing left-hand after left-hand but not really doing damage to the Stockton-native. And then in as noticeable a momentum change as you will ever see in a mixed martial arts contest, Nate noticed the slowing of the Irishman and pounced on him, forcing the exhausted and battered McGregor into an ill-fated takedown attempt that was sprawled on, and punished with a tight rear-naked choke.
It was a thrilling match-up and one that will stick in the memory for years, not only for its drama and action, but also because it marked a turning point for the sport’s greatest superstar, and the birth of another in his opponent.
5. TJ Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz – UFC Fight Night 81
This was an incredibly high-level chess match between two outstanding martial artists. Dominick went into that bout as the champion who never lost his crown and in TJ, he faced the champ whose style – though different – mirrored some of the exceptional movement of his own. Cruz’s road back to the top of the game was as great a comeback as you will ever see in combat sports and when he stepped into the octagon that night, you could feel the weight of the occasion in the air.
The contest was a high-intensity battle featuring some of the best footwork you will see in any MMA matchup, ever. Cruz asserted his dominance early but in the later rounds, TJ grew more confident and with some well placed leg-kicks, began to claim the momentum as his own.
Cruz won the fight by the close (and correctly-awarded) decision but TJ’s stock took virtually no damage from this encounter and ever since then, fans have been eager to see these two face off again, despite Cruz’s loss to Cody Garbrandt last weekend.
4. Tony Ferguson vs Lando Vannata – UFC Fight Night 91
I really do hope that Lando Vannata does well for himself in the UFC! In this fight he was brought in as a late-replacement to face the then-number-3 ranked lightweight in the world in his own promotional debut.
Tony Ferguson was (and still is) on an absolute tear, winning his last seven fights and riding the type of momentum that had many speculating about his title-chances in the very near future. Vannata, who had never fought on this level before, came into that bout and had Ferguson hurt several times, dropping him with a vicious head kick and engaging him in one of the craziest back-and-forth wars I’d seen in some time.
After just under two rounds of spinning attacks, constant action and several huge shots, Tony caught the slightly-overconfident “Groovy” Lando in his signature d’Arce Choke, ending the bout as well as any fears of a potential upset along with it. Still though, one of the fights of the year for sure and a great introduction for the man who went on to possibly score the knockout of the year in his next bout.
3. Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor II – UFC 202
This fight had everything. A turbulent road to its announcement, an insane press-tour before it and one of the most intense watches I’ve sat through for a sporting event, period.
Putting everything on the line against the man who beat him, Conor McGregor faced off with the much-bigger Nate Diaz for a second time and despite dominating the first round and scoring big knockdowns in the second, could not put Diaz away and as a result, partook in one of the most entertaining and downright nail-biting contests in recent memory. Both men had their moments and both men sprung back from the brink of defeat.
In the end, Conor found a second wind and deservedly came away with the decision, but after the pair of bouts these guys have had so far, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we are ready for a third helping.
2. Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit – UFC 195
I feel like in most other years this fight would have taken the top spot without any argument. It was a title-fight, featuring two legends of the division and most importantly, each man went in there that night and gave absolutely everything they had in the tank, and then some.
A back-and-forth contest in which Condit displayed some fantastic creativity to match Lawler’s ridiculous ferocity, I held no envy towards those responsible for judging this one.
The fifth round of this matchup was quite possibly the round of the century. Each man absorbed so much damage that I was at a loss for words when all was said and done. There was a great shot just after the fight finished where both Condit and Lawler – seconds after the bell – literally stood and leaned on the cage, unable to stand straight, both men entirely spent and I feel like it’s moments like these that stick with us and it certainly proved exactly what type of men both of these fighters are.
As if they needed to prove it anymore anyway.
1. Cub Swanson vs Doo-ho Choi – UFC 206
Here it is, the fight of the year! Cub Swanson/Doo-ho Choi was among the most entertaining fights I have seen in my life. I’d been a big fan of these two guys for a while and as soon as I saw Choi’s characteristically polite call-out of Swanson earlier in the year, I knew we were in for something good.
I just had no idea it would be as good as it was.
For three rounds these guys put on the type of show that makes McGregor/Diaz 2 look like a tea-party. I genuinely feared for the health of Doo-ho Choi when I watched back and saw each and everyone of the strikes he absorbed but boy did he crack Cub with some hard shots in return.
The final 30 or so seconds in the bout contained the most amazing string of attacks – from Swanson – that I can ever recall seeing. There was a superman-punch, a capoeira kick, a spinning elbow and a barrage of punches that still could not put the Korean-Superboy away. The fight was a brawl, but a highly-skillful brawl and with enough momentum swings to fill an entire fight-card, it was the clear winner this year and for that reason was my ‘Fight of the Year’ for 2016.
Good luck following that one up, 2017!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena
Read More About: 2016, 2017, Carlos Condit, choi, claudia, conor mcgregor, cub swanson doo-ho, fight of the year, fights of the year, gadelha, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, lando vannata, lawler, nate diaz, robbie, tony ferguson, ufc 195, ufc 196, ufc 199, ufc 202