A new year has dawned and the book can finally be closed on 2016. In MMA terms it was certainly a memorable 12 months, particularly in the UFC where only one name featured in practically every conversation had and headline written – Conor McGregor.
It is therefore just about the least surprising announcement that one of MMA’s most reputable online reporting websites and the home of MMA’s top journalist Ariel Helwani, MMA Fighting, has announced that the Irishman is their Fighter of the Year for 2016.
While certainly obvious and wholly expected, it is only when you look at what McGregor achieved in the 12 months from December 2015 to November 2016, that it becomes clear that it was also emphatically deserved.
Conor McGregor, that tattooed and bearded man fighting out of Dublin and top fighter of the now renowned SBG gym, burst onto the UFC scene less than four years ago and in that time has left an indelible mark on the sport’s marquee promotion.
His rise to the summit was relentless and inevitable, culminating, it seemed at the time, with his 13 second decimation of long time featherweight king Jose Aldo at UFC 194 in December 2015.
From there McGregor embarked on a weight hopping adventure that saw him pitted against the lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196, only for the Brazilian to cry off injured with only two weeks to go.
Rather than pull out, as many top fighters do, McGregor chose instead to accept a fight with Stockton bad boy Nate Diaz, a fight that would see the Irishman move up two weight divisions to welterweight for the March clash.
It was a famous encounter that saw a perhaps over confident McGregor suffer his first UFC defeat, a second round submission to the larger man. Instead of returning back to the division he ruled, the Crumlin native insisted on a rematch, again at 170lb.
In August at UFC 202 bore witness to the featherweight champion and Diaz go toe to toe for five enthralling rounds that ultimately, and rightly, saw McGregor earn a majority points victory over the American which once again installed him as the top man in the promotion.
It was a fight that earned him his dream shot at the lightweight title. While Dos Anjos had initially pulled out back in March, he had since lost his belt to Eddie Alvarez and the fight was set for the triumphant return to New York at UFC 205 in November.
In what many expected would be one of McGregor’s toughest fights to date, it instead turned into a masterclass by the Irishman and after only eight minutes, he made history by becoming the UFC’s first ever simultaneous two weight champion and all but rubber stamped his own future induction in the UFC Hall of Fame.
Despite the promotion stripping McGregor of his featherweight strap only days later, returning it to the interim champion Jose Aldo, the ‘Notorious’ one is still a two weight champion, a fact endorsed by UFC president Dana White.
It has been an incredible year for the SBG fighter. He has changed the way fighters approach the sport, brought more money than ever before to fighters and the business, all the while breaking pay-per-view records practically each time he steps into the octagon.
In a sport of legends and superstars, Conor McGregor stands apart. He has transcended the boundaries and underground legacy of MMA and brought it into the mainstream like never before.
There could only ever be one Fighter of the Year and there was only every going to be one name on the shortlist – Conor McGregor.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena