The holidays are, as a general concept, a time of peace. While this is occasionally compromised by relatives without the good sense to shut up about politics during dinner, this is by and large the part of the year set aside for resting and recharging in the face of a New Year.
And what better way to celebrate peace than to look at the most violent moments of 2016? MMAmania.com continues its "Top 5" series with 2016'a "Knockouts of the Year."
5. Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard
Dan Henderson stepped into his June showdown with Hector Lombard as a +270 underdog. At 45 years old, knocked out in two of his previous three fights, and taking on one of the most ferocious punchers the Middleweight division has ever seen, the question wasn’t whether Lombard would destroy him but how brutally.
Instead, Henderson went to war, rocking Lombard early with his signature right hand and getting rocked in return to kick off a frenetic first round. Defying all expectations, the two sluggers reached the second round, battered and bruised but still ready to go.
A little more than one minute in, Henderson threw a rare head kick that clipped Lombard, who managed to catch it. On one leg, "Hendo" slammed him with a reverse elbow that knocked out the Cuban judoka cold for the first time in his career.
That last fact alone is worthy of recognition. In more than 40 previous fights, Lombard was only ever stopped when Neil Magny drained his gas tank and forced a technical knockout because of unanswered ground-and-pound. He had never before gone to sleep until the oldest man in UFC had a crack at it.
4. Yair Rodriguez vs. Andre Fili
Yair Rodriguez is an amazing prospect who still has some work to do. His massive arsenal of strikes, the vast majority of which he throws with pinpoint accuracy, has yet to coalesce into a cohesive onslaught. When he can’t get the killshots, such as when he went against Alex Caceres, his fights can turn into frustrating slogs full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
When he does land those blows, though? Hoo, boy.
Rodriguez impressed early and often against Fili at UFC 197, outwrestling the Team Alpha Male-trained prospect and grappling his way to a 10-9 first round. After taking down "Touchy" once again, Rodriguez showed off the striking that turned so many heads in previous appearances. "Pantera" faked low with his lead leg and brought his left shin into abrupt and devastating contact with Fili’s leaning head.
No follow-up needed.
This knockout is notable not only for how great it was, but for the effect it’s had on the sport. Like Anderson Silva’s front kick on Vitor Belfort, more and more fighters have been trying the move out since Fili’s face served as its testing grounds. Chris Wade scored a hard knockdown of Rustam Khabilov with it and Paige VanZant clobbered Bec Rawlings with it for a technical knockout finish in August.
Rodriguez takes on B.J. Penn next month at UFC Fight Night 103, which should be utterly fascinating. Can’t wait.
3. Tie: Stipe Miocic vs. Fabricio Werdum and Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler
Just couldn’t decide -- both fights featured stunning one-punch knockouts of notoriously durable champions, Miocic on the counter and Woodley on the lead. The latter was slightly more violent thanks to Woodley’s monstrous follow-up shots, but Werdum’s faceplant scores that one some brownie points as well.
Werdum hadn’t been stopped since 2008 and had survived the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Travis Browne and Cain Velasquez in that span. Lawler hadn’t been knocked out since 2004 and had survived the likes of Melvin Manhoef, Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown, Carlos Condit and two helpings each of Rory MacDonald and Johny Hendricks.
One good shot in the right place is all it takes, folks.
2. The Donald Cerrone Show
I was all set to have Cerrone’s Tekken combination that destroyed Rick Story at UFC 202 near the top of this list and then "Cowboy" had to go and lamp Matt freaking Brown. Asshole.
Complain at me all you want for cheating on this "Top Five," but look at how many honorable mentions there were. This year produced a bountiful harvest of USDA Choice Violence.
The Brown knockout (watch highlights) at UFC 206 earlier this month was the more visceral of the two. The heavy crack of Cerrone finally catching Brown leaning and the sight of the inhumanly durable "Immortal" splayed out on the mat were the sort of stunning moments that are this sport’s lifeblood.
The Story knockout, though, was just plain gorgeous.
Generally speaking, you don’t throw a combo with the expectation of landing every single strike. The opening blows, even if they don’t connect, are meant to create openings for the later ones. To land an entire four-hit combo on a world-class fighter is incredible. Cerrone opened with a jab to the head, and when Story’s hands flew up, he rammed a straight right into his midsection. As Story bent forward from the impact, a shovel hook knocked him aside and, when he finally turned away, Cerrone caught him with a head kick.
The only reason that’s not No. 1 is that Story didn’t have the good sense to go down immediately, although "Cowboy" did win some style points back with a sneaky knee as "The Horror" staggered.
Whether or not Cerrone ever wins a title, he will always be one of the sport’s greatest highlight machines.
1. Lando Vannata vs. John Makdessi
There’s a lot that goes into selecting the year’s best knockout. The scale of the event, the level of opposition, the quality of the preceding fight, the technique involved, and the raw brutality of the finish all factor in.
Sometimes, though, a knockout’s just too pretty not to win.
Lando Vannata exploded onto UFC fans’ radars with his war against Tony Ferguson in his short notice Octagon debut, nearly knocking out The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner with a head kick before ultimately succumbing to his go-to d’arce choke. In his sophomore bout at UFC 206 earlier this month, he took on John Makdessi, a Taekwondo expert whose rough history with the judges belies his strength and striking prowess.
In the early going, "Groovy" pursued with punches and a regular kick to the thigh, not a Jon Jones-style knee bungler but a rangefinder. Around 90 seconds in, he landed one and Makdessi backed away. He threw it again and, when Makdessi didn’t give ground, followed through into a wheel kick that hit just about as perfectly as it could.
Makdessi is so tough that, when Donald Cerrone kicked him hard enough to break his jaw, he was lucid enough to signal to the ref that he couldn't continue. He's so tough that Cerrone didn't even budge him with a Silva/Fryklund-style elbow.
Everything about this knockout was delightful, from Vannata’s casual walk afterward to the way Makdessi teetered over on impact. My favorite part was the sound Vannata’s heel made as it connected, a hearty wooden clunk like hitting someone over the head with a table leg.
At just 24 years young, the sky seems to be the limit for the Jackson-Wink product. I can’t wait to be part of the ride.
Honorable Mentions: Diego Rivas vs. Noad Lahat, Yoel Romero vs. Chris Weidman, Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold, Anthony Johnson vs. Glover Teixeira, Michael Page vs. Evangelista Santos, Nate Marquardt vs. Tamdan McCrory, Michael Chandler vs. Patricky Freire, Nikita Krylov vs. Ed Herman, Javy Ayala vs. Sergei Kharitonov, Jimi Manuwa vs. Ovince St. Preux
Just one more "Top Five" of 2016 remains -- the "Fights of the Year." Hope you'll join us for it in just a few short hours. Ho-ho-ho, Maniacs.