What a year for the sport of MMA. In the UFC, we’ve seen two new double-champions, three title changes, ten title defenses, 39 events, 122 debut fighters and a ton of exciting fights. Bellator has seen the emergence of a few incredible prospects and put on some of the best fights the sport has seen. One Championship has made some huge signings and has emerged as a major player in the MMA Game. Really just a very positive year for the sport in general, save for a few choice moments.
Several of these categories were taken from Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show but opinions are my own.
Male Fighter of the Year – Khabib Nurmagomedov
The undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov took the UFC’s Lightweight title after the Clusterfuck that was UFC 223 where his opponent, Tony Ferguson got injured and his replacement was deemed unfit to fight. He ended up facing Al Iaquinta to save the card and won the belt by Unanimous Decision. He then headlined the highest-selling Pay-Per-View card in the UFC’s History by facing and defeating Megastar Conor McGregor. Nurmagomedov is the Face of a Massive MMA Market right now in Russia and his presence in the UFC is huge for the sport. I was split between Khabib and his teammate Daniel Cormier but I decided on Nurmagomedov based on the financial gain he made.
Other Candidates – Daniel Cormier, TJ Dillashaw, Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman
Female Fighter of the Year – Amanda Nunes
Before last Saturday, this category was a hard one to decide. Now it’s quite easy. Amanda Nunes defended her title in May by rearranging Raquel Pennington’s face and retaining her Bantamweight belt and followed up that performance by Knocking out Cris Cyborg within a minute to become the UFC Featherweight Champion to become the first simultaneous Two-Division Women’s Champion. I had doubted Amanda Nunes in her two title fights this year and me thinking that was obviously foolish. Amanda Nunes might just be the best Female MMA Fighter ever after that Saturday Night Performance.
Other Candidates – Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas, Tatiana Suarez
Fight of the Year – Anthony Pettis Vs. Tony Ferguson
This fight was the Co-Main Event of UFC 229 which was the McGregor/Nurmagomedeov card and it should’ve been talked about more in regards to fight of the year. The Melee after the Main Event took away much of the spotlight that Ferguson and Pettis deserved. The first round was incredibly exciting. Pettis came out like the Pettis of old, throwing creative strikes and keeping Ferguson honest, even though Tony was the one pushing the action. I felt that Ferguson’s striking was a little more precise than Pettis’ so I gave the first round to Tony. The Second round might be the best round of a fight I’d ever seen. In the first couple seconds of the round, Pettis clocked Ferguson making him fall back and rocked him when he was able to get back up to his feet on two occasions. Pettis ended up on top against someone who possibly has the best Guard in the UFC in Tony Ferguson and Ferguson eventually got up and was able to pepper Pettis, who was standing against the wall, for three minutes. Pettis’ coach Duke Roufus stopped the fight due to his fighters performance in the end of the round and because of the broken hand that he suffered, and Ferguson ended up winning the fight by Corner Stoppage.
Other Candidates – Dustin Poirier Vs. Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier Vs. Eddie Alvarez, Yair Rodriguez Vs. Korean Zombie, Ronaldo Souza Vs. Chris Weidman, Robert Whittaker Vs. Yoel Romero 2, Zabit Magomedsharipov Vs. Kyle Bochniak, Calvin Kattar Vs. Shane Burgos
Comeback of the Year – Derrick Lewis Def. Alexander Volkov
A little backstory on my UFC 229 night, My friends invited me to watch the McGregor fight with them and I was like sure, they were not usually into MMA and it was my opportunity to turn them into die-hards. My original idea was to bring them to Buffalo Wild Wings but they nixed that idea real quick when the bar had a 2-hour wait. Then we went to Dave and Buster’s and we all sat through the prelims with me glued to the screen and them arguing over what an “Impossible Burger” is. When the Main Card started some of my friends went home. Luckily my bud and his girlfriend stayed behind with me (Josh you’re a real one). The first fight on the main card was kind of a snoozer and I was expecting Volkov Vs. Lewis to be a much more entertaining contest. Unfortunately, this fight wasn’t a typical Derrick Lewis slugfest. The 6,7 Volkov used his length to keep Lewis at bay for 2 and a half rounds and seemed poised to take a nice decision victory and propel that into a possible title shot, Then I started seeing Volkov get relaxed. He wasn’t moving as well as he did earlier in the round and I felt like he was getting comfortable moving backward and avoiding Lewis’ powerful overhands. Then with about 15 seconds left, Lewis caught him and Volkov hit the mat. Josh was Fucking impressed. He followed up the win by dropping the best promo ever from someone who wasn’t trying to drop the best promo.
Other Candidates – Yair Rodriguez Def. The Korean Zombie, Paul Craig Def. Magomed Ankalaev, Claudio Puelles Def. Felipe Silva
Submission of the Year – Ryan Hall Def. BJ Penn
Ryan Hall, like anyone, was thrilled to face a legend like BJ Penn. Penn, who got his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in less than two years, which is something that is unheard of in BJJ, has never been submitted and has won many grappling competitions throughout his combat sports career. Unfortunately for Penn, he was set to face probably the brightest young BJJ Prospect in MMA, Ryan Hall. Ryan Hall won the Ultimate Fighter season 22 after an OK showing through the show and a lucky break as a replacement for the finale. If you know who Ryan Hall is and know his background you know that he can do to people. He could bend you into a pretzel if he wanted to. Within a few minutes, he did that to BJ Penn. I didn’t choose the most flashy submission with this one, I chose the Hall Heel Hook because of who he did it to.
Other Candidates – Zabit Magomedsharipov Def. Brandon Davis (Suloev Stretch), Aljamain Sterling Def. Cody Stamann (Suloev Stretch), Adam Wieczorek Def. Arjan Bhullar (Omoplata), Aleksei Oleinik Def. Junior Albini (Ezekiel Choke)
Breakout Fighter of the Year – Israel Adesanya
Israel Adesanya wasn’t even a UFC fighter at this time last year, yet he wins this category based on his four Octagon appearances. In his debut, he pummelled Rob Wilkinson for a second-round TKO victory. His follow up performance was his most underwhelming as he defeated Marvin Vettori by Split Decision. He took advantage of a Main Event spot in July as he dominated Brad Tavares over five rounds to take a Unanimous Decision. In his final showing, he took a massive step up in competition and answered the call by being able to Knockout Derek Brunson within a round at UFC 230. We’ve known from his Kickboxing career that he was a force to be reckoned with on the feet but his takedown defense and ability to keep the fight standing, even against grappling heavy opponents was incredibly impressive. Israel has a fight scheduled with Anderson Silva at UFC 234 and a win there could propel Adesanya to a title shot against the winner of Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum
Other Candidates – Anthony Smith, Alexander Volkanovski, Alexander Hernandez, Deiveson Figueiredo
Knockout of the Year – Yair Rodriguez Def. The Korean Zombie
Yair Rodriguez was losing his main event spot in the fifth round of his Main Event at UFC Fight Night Denver back in November. TKZ was peppering him with multiple shots and was up on the scorecards 3-1 when in the last second of the fight Yair Lands an upwards elbow after an exchange which puts The Korean Zombie to sleep. Possibly the craziest finish I’ve ever seen and I was thoroughly entertained.
Other Candidates – Lyoto Machida Def. Vitor Belfort, Abdul Razak Alhassan Def. Sabah Homasi, Alexander Hernandez Def. Beneil Dariush, Dan Hooker Def. Jim Miller, Gabriel Benitez Def. Humberto Bandenay, Anthony Smith Def. Rashad Evans, Niko Price Def. Randy Brown, Geoff Neal Def. Frank Camacho, Don Madge Def. Te Edwards, Ryan Bader Def. King Mo Lawal
Upset of the Year – Henry Cejudo Def. Demetrious Johnson
At UFC 197 Demetrious Johnson defended his Flyweight title once again against Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist in Freestyle Wrestling and at the time, an undefeated fighter holding a professional record of 10-0. This fight was expected to be a ground out grappling fest but instead, Demetrious ran through him. Demetrious got him in the clinch threw a knee and Henry dropped. Cejudo then plodded through the Flyweight division winning most of his fights and ultimately earning another shot at Demetrious. The UFC 227 fight was obviously much different Cejudo was able to use his Wrestling advantage to get on top of Johnson and make him work from the bottom for most of the fight where Cejudo took Johnson’s belt by Split Decision. While it wasn’t the most exciting upset, it was a monumental moment for the Flyweight Division and ended the longest title reign in UFC history at 11 defenses.
Other Candidates – Amanda Nunes Def. Cris Cyborg, Ray Cooper Def. Jake Shields, Paul Craig Def. Magomed Ankalaev
Rivalry of the Year – Khabib Nurmagomedov Vs. Conor McGregor
Because Duh. We got a dolly going through a bus window and a Prison fight after their Main Event. These two crazy bastards get my vote.
Other Candidates – (Very Distant Second) Jon Jones Vs. Daniel Cormier
Coach/Gym of the Year – Javier Mendes/American Kickboxing Academy
The American Kickboxing Academy leader has successfully coached two UFC champs in Title changes and Title defenses. Those two fighters, Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmagomedov are #1 and #2 in my Male Fighter of the Year Category and won all five of the UFC Title fights between them this year at three different weight classes. He has also been instrumental in assisting other MMA fighters this year such as Luis Pena, Deron Winn, Gabriel Benitez, Dwight Grant, Islam Makhachev and Luke Rockhold.
Other Candidates – City Kickboxing, American Top Team, Fortis MMA
The Walkout of the Year – Tom Lawlor at Goldenboy MMA 1
I love that Tom Lawlor is no longer a UFC Fighter but still active in MMA just so we can see the greatest walkouts in MMA make an incredible return. When Lawlor was in the UFC he was the king of great walkout moments. This guy has acted as Apollo Creed, Steven Seagal, and Dan Severn during his walkouts and weight in appearances over his years in the UFC. And just when the Reebok Deal kicked in for the UFC, and he wasn’t able to cosplay some famous action star, he found a way around it and mimicked Conor McGregor. During his walkout at Goldenboy MMA 1, he Lip-synched to “Born to Die” by Lana Del Ray in one of the more creative moments of the year and I’m excited to see where he goes next.
Other Candidates – Tai Tuivasa at UFC 225, Tai Tuivasa at UFN Adelaide, Mark Hunt at UFN Adelaide
WTF Moment of the Year – The Referee in the Cory Sandhagen Vs. Iuri Alcantara fight
When Buffer announced the guy who would Referee the fight and when I saw his face for the first time, I literally said “This guy’s gonna screw something up” and I wasn’t wrong. Alcantara had Sandhagen on the ropes for the first minute, threatening multiple submissions and Sandhagen probably should’ve tapped, but he’s a mad man and kept on trucking. Sandhagen escaped and then was able to pepper Alcantara on top for Four Straight minutes with Alcantara only putting up a small fight and had multiple times where he wasn’t able to properly defend himself. The ref finally stopped the fight in the second and then was barred from Refereeing the other fights on the card he was scheduled for. The Referee was Brandon Pfannenstiel
Other Candidates – Jarred Brooks knocking himself out, Khabib Vs. Conor Post Fight Brawl,