Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) capped off 2015 last night (Sat., Dec. 19, 2015) in Orlando, Florida, as the Amway Center hosted a lightweight title bout "dos Anjos vs Cerrone 2" televised live on UFC on Fox 17.
In the main event, Rafael dos Anjos defended his UFC lightweight championship with a quick victory over challenger Donald Cerrone, knocking out the fighter just over a minute into the very first round of their five-round title bout. The win cemented dos Anjos' position atop the 155-pound ladder, proving his victory over Anthony Pettis was no fluke.
In the co-main event, the once mighty Alistair Overeem took another step toward greatness with a surprising knockout of former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, potentially setting up a title shot against the winner of Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez 2.
With that quick overview of the night's marquee bouts, here are your biggest winners, as well as the runners-up from "UFC Orlando."
Biggest Winner: Rafael dos Anjos
Wow. It's amazing to think that this is the same Brazilian fighter whose first two UFC fights were back-to-back losses in 2008 and 2009, to Jeremy Stephens and Tyson Griffin, respectively.
My, how times have changed. After beginning his UFC career with a shaky 4-3 record, dos Anjos has gone on an absolute torrid streak with 10 victories since 2012, his only blemish coming to undefeated World Combat Sambo champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in early 2014.
With the Dagestani fighter injured, however, dos Anjos propelled himself to the top with a string of wins over the lightweight division's absolute elite, including Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, and Anthony Pettis.
Last night's title fight was a rematch against Donald Cerrone, to whom he won a close but unanimous decision in August of 2013. The fight demonstrated a dramatic improvement in the striking of dos Anjos, who has benefitted tremendously from working with boxing coach Rafael Cordeiro.
But Donald Cerrone had been on no less of a tear of late, rattling off eight consecutive victories, and looked to dethrone the champion who had so thoroughly dominated Pettis. On paper, this looked like a five round war.
Like so many paper fights, however, this one went nothing like the script. The champion set to work attacking Cerrone early and often, landing a liver kick that was the beginning of the end and swarming on "Cowboy" for a quick finish.
The victory was so decisive and brutal that it leaves no doubt as to who is currently the world's number one lightweight fighter, regardless of how Nurmagomedov may have handled him in 2014. After all, this dos Anjos has fought five times since then and won each by a complete blowout.
We now await to see whether the Brazilian will fight recently crowned featherweight titleholder Conor McGregor, or if somebody else will step up to provide dos Anjos with a modicum of resistance.
Runner-up: Alistair Overeem
When former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem was knocked out by Ben Rothwell for the third time in his last four at UFC Fight Night: Jacare vs. Mousasi 14 months ago, it looked as though the punch drunk Dutchman was finished. How wrong we were.
A more cautious and intelligent Overeem emerged at UFC on Fox 13 to pick apart and finish Stefan Struve, followed by another tentative but thorough outclassing of Roy Nelson at UFC 185.
The "professional" pundits, however, didn't think much of Overeem's chances of getting by the heavy hitting former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, owner of 12 knockouts in 17 victories, including one over the current UFC champion.
But wherever that dos Santos is, he didn't show up last night. The slimmed down, sloppy version that arrived to fight Overeem looked slow and scared, unwilling to engage with the dangerous K-1 kickboxer and unable to land the heavy shot that would put him away.
Through most of the first two rounds neither fighter looked willing to engage, with Overeem mainly using his kicks to keep his opponent at bay. But late in the second round a huge left hook dropped the former champion and a quick flurry finished him off.
With his third victory in a row, Overeem sets himself up to argue for one last shot at UFC gold, and the chance to prove he's every bit the greatest heavyweight of all-time that fans used to name alongside the great Fedor Emelianenko.
Honorable mention: Nate Diaz
I know I basically picked the last three winners on UFC on Fox 17's fight card, but the truth is that all three won the biggest fights of their careers. Yes, Nate Marquardt earned a surprising knockout and Tamdan McCrory is a wonderful comeback story, but Stockton, California's younger Diaz brother is a huge winner here.
Consider where Diaz was before this fight. Loser of three of his last four fights, his sole victory had come against a man whose chin had long since evaporated.
He hadn't fought in just over a year since missing weight and getting absolutely trounced by dos Anjos at UFC on Fox: dos Santos vs. Miocic last December. The fight was so one-sided that it looked as though Diaz might just be on the way out of the UFC.
But when you look at the caliber of competition Diaz faced, it's now clear that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Diaz was facing a stiff test in Michael Johnson who, except for an inexplicable decision loss to Beneil Dariush at UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Saint Preux, looked every bit like a top contender in the lightweight division. Johnson looked to bring better footwork, speed and punching power to a fight with plenty of hostilities.
The experience and talent of Diaz shone through, however, as the combinations, cardio and mind games of the Stockton native was enough to outclass Johnson over three rounds.
After the fight the pugnacious pugilist grabbed the microphone from Joe Rogan to shout out a profanity-laced challenge to featherweight champion Conor McGregor, potentially setting up one of the greatest mental warfare matchups of all time.
Biggest Loser: Donald Cerrone
It's difficult to imagine a more talented fighter unable to win in the biggest fights of his career. There are others, of course, such as Urijah Faber and Alexander Gustafsson, but none have preceded their title opportunities with quite so much momentum before falling flat on their faces.
Cerrone was riding an incredible eight-fight winning streak, with four victories in that span and convincing victories over top fighters. But the manner in which he choked last night was equally spectacular.
The champion required just over a minute to erase two years and an eight fight winning streak, the sort of anticlimactic finish that might be second only to Jose Aldo's 10-year undefeated streak ending in 13 seconds.
It's a painful history lesson for Cerrone, who lost in two other lightweight title fights in the past, both to Benson Henderson in the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) championship.
There's no denying his remarkable talent, both on the feet and off his back, but the fact is that "Cowboy" has a history of losing to the top fighters at 155 pounds: Jamie Varner, Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and now Rafael dos Anjos, twice.
The good news for Cerrone fans is that few fighters rebound like "Cowboy." And although he's now 32 years of age, there's still plenty of miles left before this cowboy leaves the dusty trail.
Cerrone has avenged losses to both Varner and Henderson, defeating the latter in a trilogy in which he was down two-love. However unlikely it may seem right now, it's not inconceivable his fortunes may change with dos Anjos some time down the road.
Runner-up: Junior dos Santos
When Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in 2011 to become the UFC heavyweight champion, "Cigano" seemed like the most frightening and dangerous striker the division had ever seen.
With a record of 14-1 at the time, the smiling and happy-go-lucky Brazilian became a monster inside the cage, knocking out all comers, often in blood-soaked fashion.
Aside from knocking out Fabricio Werdum and starching Gabriel Gonzaga, dos Santos also ostensibly retired Shane Carwin following a three round beatdown of biblical proportions.
But following his initial knockout of Velasquez, the ensuing rematch and trilogy fight took years off the lifespan of the once formidable striker. He's never really looked the same since, despite earning victories over Stipe Miocic and Mark Hunt.
The Brazilian looked meek and timid last night, circling and watching Alistair Overeem, who seemed equally unwilling to engage. But the lack of offense from dos Santos emboldened Overeem as time went on, leading to the left hook that ended the night.
With the knockout loss, dos Santos is now 2-3 in his last five fights spanning the past three years. With the infrequency of his competition and father time ticking away, he'll now have to dig deep if he wants to climb back up to the top of the 265-pound division.
That may prove difficult in an era where drug-testing is more stringent than ever. While I would not directly accuse the fighter of cheating, his saggy and deflated look (similar to Overeem) and slowness inside the cage indicates a deficiency in something that once boosted him to the pinnacle of his sport.
Dishonorable mention: Myles Jury
Losing to Donald Cerrone should have been no large embarrassment, particularly for a formerly undefeated fighter. And yet Myles Jury inexplicably responded to his first career setback by dropping down to featherweight, a curious move for a man with a 15-1 professional MMA record.
Dropping down in weight is always a gambit that aims to revitalize a career, usually after a setback of some kind. When it works it makes the fighter look born again unblemished, "undefeated" in a new weight class. Jose Aldo was actually undefeated at featherweight prior to Conor McGregor, his sole career loss coming in a lightweight bout.
But when a fighter drops down and continues to lose it can really cast doubt on the wisdom of the move, particularly when the loss is convincing. Jury suffered just such a fate last night.
Also, when you come into a fight boasting your own brand of "Jury Jiu-Jitsu" you'd better have the chops to back it up. "Fury" couldn't back it up whatsoever, getting taken down, surrendering his back, and getting choked out, all within a span of just over three minutes.
If there's any consolation to the 27-year-old, he didn't lose to a featherweight, but to a 150.5 pound fighter who missed weight for the third time in his career. Should Jury choose to stay at 145 pounds, he can certainly lay claim to not having officially tested himself at these waters yet.
Having said that, any loss is mentally difficult and I'm sure there will be dramatic changes in the training of this young man's camp.
For complete results from UFC on Fox 17: "dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2," including play-by-play updates click here.