Everyone loves a knockout.
There are few things in combat sports as viscerally thrilling as the sight of a fighter being separated from his consciousness thanks to a well-placed left hook or a baseball bat-like kick to the side of the head.
Which might be why, for many years, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) offered a post-fight bonus for "Knockout of the Night" in order to encourage fighters to send their opponents on the express train to the astral plane.
However, earlier this week, the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion announced it would no longer be meting out post-fight bonuses for "Knockout of the Night" or for "Submission of the Night."
In their place will be two $50,000 "Performance of the Night" bonuses awarded to fighters who deliver exciting action inside the Octagon. Obviously, this new discretionary bonus could take the form of a knockout or submission, but its open-ended nature leaves UFC with plenty of wiggle room when it comes to how it rewards athletes on its roster.
For instance, a bungalow-swinging fighter who puts on a standing ovation-eliciting effort in a decision victory will probably be a more likely candidate than a grinder who notches up a "W" via a by-the-numbers rear naked choke at the end of a dull, three-round snoozefest.
This move makes sense on a number of levels.
As has already been pointed out by my colleagues at MMAmania.com, nearly 40% of UFC fight cards held in 2013 didn't feature a submission. The move to the new system will mean more bonus cash to go around on submission-free cards, which would in theory, serve as added incentive for fighters to go for broke and put on action-packed fights.
Furthermore, for as often as UFC President Dana White repeats the cliche phrase, "never leave it in the hands of the judges," the reality of competition at the UFC level is that sometimes an opportunity for a fighter to take his or her opponent out just isn't going to present itself.
However, unless we're talking about fighters who simply can't out-grapple an opponent with "Wall-and-Stall Fever" or who find themselves trapped under a guy who decides a cage fight is a good time to get in touch with his maker, via some lay-and-pray, more often than not, fighters can control how crowd-friendly of a performance they put on.
While only time will tell how well the "Performance of the Night" system works in practice, let's take a moment here to pause and look back at the five most-winningest recipients of the now-discontinued "Knockout of the Night" bonus.
(Note: Numerically speaking, there was a three-way tie for third. I opted to rank these three fighters by my own subjective take on the quality of their knockouts).
1) Anderson Silva: For longtime MMA fans, it should come as no surprise "The Spider" sits atop the list of most "Knockout of the Night" bonuses. Silva has won the award a record-setting seven times during his UFC career.
From the disfiguring set of knees that turned out the lights for former middleweight champ Rich Franklin on two separate occasions, to the pinpoint accuracy of the step-away jab that floored Forrest Griffin like a bullet from a sniper's rifle, to the spectacular front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort that gave many of us children of the eighties flashbacks to the ending of the original "Karate Kid," Silva has set a standard for poetic violence inside the Octagon that will be hard to match.
No matter what comes next in his career, Silva will forever be remembered as the man who took face punching (and kicking) to the level of high art during his record-smashing UFC run from 2006 to 2013.
2) Vitor Belfort: The young dinosaur comes in second on this list, thanks in large part to his Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)-tinged career resurgence in recent years. In fact, three of the 36-year-old Belfort's five knockout bonuses came in 2013. What makes this even more spectacular is that all three of them came by way of head kick -- a technique Belfort has only recently added to his arsenal.
What's more, before "The Phenom" turned the head kick into a veritable pro wrestling finisher, he notched quite a few knockout victories in the pre-Zuffa UFC. He has four TKO or KO victories in the early UFC that aren't included on his final tally, including a 44-second massacre of Wanderlei Silva at UFC Brazil back in 1998.
3) Lyoto Machida: Let's not mince words: over the years, "The Dragon's" star power has been hampered by a rep as a boring fighter.
And while I'd be the first to admit watching Machida's trademark "elusive" style can be less stimulating than a lecture in Post-Keynesian economics delivered by Hal from "2001: A Space Odyssey," the Brazilian has a habit of using that frustrating footwork to set up knockouts.
Don't believe me? Just ask Mark Munoz, Randy Couture, Rashad Evans, and -- if you can catch him during visiting hours at the Broward Jail -- Thiago Silva.
The above list is what UFC color commentator Joe Rogan is fond of referring to as "a murderer's row." Starching Rashad Evans to capture the UFC title is doubtlessly the high point of Machida's career, but retiring MMA legend Randy Couture by way of a brutal head kick is also a pretty nice feather in "The Dragon's" cap.
4) Travis Browne: In case you haven't figured it out by now, attempting to get Travis Browne to the ground by working for a takedown against the fence isn't a good idea. Gabriel Gonzaga found that out the hard way, as did Josh Barnett. You see, Browne has a habit of elbowing his opponents into next week if they present him with an easy target, such as a fighter does when when he digs in against the fence in a takedown attempt.
Browne also recorded a highlight-reel worthy come-from-behind front kick knockout of horsemeat enthusiast Alistair Overeem last year, as well as a beautiful finish of Stefan Struve via superman punch back in 2011.
5) Chris Leben: "The Crippler" may not have won his four "Knockout of the Night" bonuses against the same caliber of competition as Machida or Browne, but more than anyone else on this list, he exemplifies the slugger who wades forward, bites down on his mouthpiece, and throws heavy leather looking to take somebody's head off. Consider his number five spot on this list something of a lifetime achievement award for the trademark brand of violence "The Cat Smasher" brought during his UFC career.
There you have it.
Check out our previous installment as we look back at the dearly-departed "Submission of the Night" by clicking here.