There were several very, very good fighters who had a very, very good 2015. But, now it's time to find the best of the best.
In the third installment of MMAmania.com's "Top 5s of 2015," we honor the year's true standouts, those who either raised their profiles or demonstrated the reason(s) they're already considered among the best. Let's have a look at the best biffers of the past 12 months:
Honorable Mention: Tony Ferguson
5. Luke Rockhold
It’s not often that getting kicked in the head changes someone’s career for the better, but here we are. Rockhold’s loss to Vitor Belfort sent him on the warpath, and after three dominant finishes in 2014, he entered the current year on the cusp of a title shot.
Lyoto Machida made the mistake of standing in his way.
Even in "The Dragon’s" biggest losses, he’d done some solid work -- he managed to drill "Shogun" Rua with good counters in their rematch, rocked Jon Jones, and put together a strong rally against Chris Weidman. Rockhold just straight-up smashed him with impunity before submitting him in the second round.
The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product’s performance against Chris Weidman may not have been as dynamic as his earlier efforts, but it was still fairly shocking to see him maul the champ. He broke "All-American," something nobody had ever even come close to accomplishing before.
Next up is Yoel Romero, and if Rockhold can put away the Cuban Olympian, it’s hard to imagine anyone at 185 pounds stopping him. Except, perhaps, Vitor Belfort?
4. Daniel Cormier
After all the build up, Cormier’s loss to Jon Jones had to be incredibly tough to swallow. And even without that hanging over his head, taking on Anthony Johnson on relatively short notice is a tall task for anyone.
"D.C." took that nuclear right hand head-on and proceeded to steadily dismantle Johnson with attrition grappling before handing "Rumble" his first loss at 205 and snapping a 10-fight win streak dating back to May 2015. Then, on top of that, he managed to outlast Alexander Gustafsson over five brutal rounds, getting up from a brutal knee in the process.
His time in Strikeforce and early efforts in UFC had shown that Cormier possesses champion-level skills. In 2015, he proved that he has the heart and grit to back them up. Despite suffering the first knockdowns of his career, he managed to come back and defeat two of the division’s absolute best.
He’s still got something left to prove, though. "Bones" is waiting.
3. Rafael Dos Anjos
From the end of 2010 to the end of 2011, dos Anjos went 1-2 with losses to Clay Guida and Gleison Tibau. He’s 10-1 since and, after a tremendous rise in 2014, defied the odds to win and defend the UFC Lightweight title in incredibly impressive fashion.
Dos Anjos straight-up dominated two of the best fighters in arguably the most stacked division in the sport. In March, he overcame 4:1 odds to run roughshod over Anthony Pettis for five rounds at a time when the latter was considered among the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Last week, he murked Donald Cerrone in 66 seconds, putting an end to "Cowboy’s" path of destruction through the division.
Dos Anjos went from mid-tier grappler to all-around wrecking ball, proving that his one-sided wins over Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz were no flukes. Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor appear to be on the docket, and no matter which one it turns out to be, they’re in for a bad time.
2. Holly Holm
Amazingly, 2015 comprised the entirety of Holm’s UFC career to date. And while she didn’t turn many heads with her wins over Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau, her defeat of Ronda Rousey was about as authoritative a statement as one could make.
Holm entered the fight as one of the year’s biggest underdogs, while Ronda had firmly established herself as UFC’s latest and greatest golden goose. "Rowdy" was on the cover of the videogame -- and even Ring Magazine -- despite Holm being the one with tremendous boxing experience. The champ had the Metro PCS commercials, the movie roles and the international stardom.
The one thing she didn’t have, apparently, was any answer for a truly world-class striker. Holm made Rousey look helpless as she ran circles around her and pummeled her with left hand after left hand. In approximately six minutes of combat, Rousey landed one quality strike, while Holm beat the hell out of her with counters and, eventually, a jaw-crushing left high kick that undoubtedly had Mirko "Cro Cop" nodding sagely.
Now, unfortunately, she has to wait for Rousey to return to the cage rather than face ready and willing contenders like Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate. Ain’t blatant favoritism grand?
1. Conor McGregor
McGregor’s year-opening victory over Dennis Siver? Nothing to really write home about. The rest of the year? Pretty incredible.
With no hyperbole at all, McGregor murked two of the greatest Featherweight fighters to ever walk the Earth. Against Chad Mendes, he overcame some difficulties with "Money’s" takedown prowess to ultimately wear him down with body blows and stop him with a brutal 1-2 and follow-up punches. Against Jose Aldo, he didn’t even need to overcome anything, instead putting the 10-year-unbeaten champion to sleep in 13 seconds and only taking a punch after "Scarface" was already unconscious.
Love him or hate him, the Irish phenom has emerged as one of the most marketable UFC champions in recent memory, complementing his highly-entertaining striking style with aggressive self-promotion and a penchant for following through on even his most outlandish predictions.
Whether Frankie Edgar or a crack at the 155-pound title is next for McGregor, one thing’s for sure: It’s going to be a hell of a show.
Next up? The "Top 5 Knockouts of 2015." Don't touch that dial, Maniacs.