It’s that time of year again!
With 12 months of mixed martial arts (MMA) action behind us and a much-need break before the year-end pay-per-view (PPV) blockbuster, UFC 207: "Nunes vs. Rousey," we here at MMAmania.com would like to take a look back at a year that has -- despite a boatload of grief elsewhere -- produced some of the greatest moments this sport has ever seen.
We continue with a retrospective on the Top 5 events 2016 had to offer.
For the sake of full disclosure, John Lineker is my favorite fighter to watch in all of MMA. Still, I think this card deserves to be here on its own merits.
Things started strong on Fight Pass with Alex Nicholson’s comeback knockout of Devin Clark and Rani Yahya’s fun scramblefest with Matthew Lopez. FOX Sports 1's "Prelims" line up was decent, highlighted by Cortney Casey obliterating Cristina Stanciu and Sam Alvey guillotining Eric Spicely so hard he was basically carrying him by the neck.
Save for a slow fight between Daniel Omielanczuk and Oleksiy Oleinik, the main card basically never stopped delivering. Louis Smolka and Ben Nguyen opened the broadcast with an amazing back-and-forth war that on any other night would have earned them $50,000 apiece, after which Keita Nakamura upset Kyle Noke via brutal knee and follow up rear-naked choke.
Once the heavyweights had shuffled off, Tim Boetsch did his "Barbarian" thing and bounced back from early troubles to pound out Josh Samman (RIP). The co-main event saw Tony Ferguson and Lando Vannata steal the show with two rounds of pure excitement that culminated in yet another "Cucuy" d’arce choke.
In the main event, a clash between two of the Bantamweight division’s most fearsome sluggers, John Lineker overcame a six-inch height disadvantage to batter Michael McDonald into submission.
Great cards don’t always need to be big shows or have the biggest names. They just need to have great fights.
Though a bit top-heavy with its big names, UFC 202 delivered wall-to-wall action with only a couple of hiccups.
Italy’s Marvin Vettori opened the show with a guillotine finish of Alberto "Uda" and, while Colby Covington didn’t electrify in his three-round beating of Max Griffin, Lorenz Larkin damn sure did with his utter destruction of Neil Magny to close the Fight Pass "Prelims" portion.
Things slowed down a bit after Cortney Casey beat Randa Markos as Artem Lobov and Raquel Pennington picked up decision wins. Then came the five-fight knockout streak. Cody Garbrandt crushed Takeya Mizugaki in 48 seconds, Tim Means dissected Sabah Homasi over the course of two rounds, Mike Perry blew out Hyun Gyu Lim in an impressive upset, Donald Cerrone uncorked an unbelievable combo on Rick Story, and Anthony Johnson savaged Glover Teixeira in 13 seconds to set the stage for the main event.
And what a main event it was. Conor McGregor spent the first two rounds dominating Nate Diaz with savvy counter-wrestling and multiple knockdowns. As before, however, Diaz’s pressure and durability got to him, leading to a third round surge from the Stocktonite that seemed to portend victory.
McGregor, however, salvaged the fourth round with range control and body blows, blunting Diaz’s onslaught long enough to secure the pivotal 10-9 and survive a furious fifth.
Love him or hate him, McGregor’s always good for a show and UFC knows how to give him a solid supporting cast.
This event took a pretty decent beating from the injury bug, losing both its main event (Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson 2) and an intriguing Middleweight showdown (Tim Kennedy vs. Rashad Evans) in the preceding weeks. The guys and gals left over more than picked up the slack, however, turning what looked like a disappointment-in-the-making into one of the year’s best events.
Things were a bit touch-and-go at the start, going from a great grappling match between Dustin Ortiz and Zach Makovsky to a "meh" affair between Rustam Khabilov and Jason Saggo. Luckily, Lando Vannata was there to wheel kick away our worries and teamed up with Matthew Lopez’s brawl with Mitch Gagnon to carry us through Valerie Letourneau vs. Viviane Pereira.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Misha Cirkunov took their next steps as prospects with impressive submissions of Drew Dober and Nikita Krylov to end the "Prelims" undercard. And, while Emil Meek’s battle with Jordan Mein fell short of expectations, the rest of the pay-per-view (PPV) main card certainly did not.
Kelvin Gastelum defied expectations by demolishing Tim Kennedy at Middleweight, only for Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi to upstage him with an unforgettable war. Even Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown didn’t quite manage to live up to it, although their back-and-forth scrap and climactic head kick finish were ones for the ages.
Then Max Holloway went and beat the stuffing out of Anthony Pettis until he crumbled to hoist the interim Featherweight belt, a feat that the likes of Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza couldn’t accomplish.
Not bad for a card with less than a reported 200,000 PPV buys.
UFC 205 was basically, "Okay, let’s try UFC 200 again and not piss off any vengeful deities this time." Things got a bit hairy when Robbie Lawler pulled out of what could have been an all-time great fight with Donald Cerrone and replacement Kelvin Gastelum fouled up his weight cut in legendary fashion, but they made it over the starting line mostly intact and managed to deliver.
Liz Carmouche vs. Kailtyn Chookagian and Jim Miller vs. Thiago "Grievously Overweight" Alves didn’t ignite the New York City crowd, but Tim Boetsch and Vicente Luque got the show started for real with brutal knockouts of Rafael Natal and Belal Muhammad, respectively. Though things took a brief turn for the hard-to-watch with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s utter mauling of Michael Johnson, Frankie Edgar’s battle with Jeremy Stephens returned the "Prelims" to a more wholesome sort of violence.
Miesha Tate vs. Raquel Pennington, which replaced the Cerrone Circus on the main card, was a solid enough fight bolstered by an upset. Yoel Romero vs. Chris Weidman had an upset, too, but needed no such bolstering thanks to "Soldier of God" being a physical monster freak with thermite instead of blood and a permanent Haste spell applied to his muscles. He crushed the former champ with a perfect flying knee that left him twitching in a pool of his own blood.
And that was before we even got to the title fights.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz was a tad one-sided, save for "Kontender" scoring a surprise knockdown in the fifth round. Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson, on the other hand, was a delightfully chaotic affair that showcased the best of both men. Woodley did early damage with a takedown and ground-and-pound, only to find himself at the mercy of "Wonderboy’s" long-range attack in the next two. Just as the karateka seemed poised to cruise to victory, however, Woodley roared back with a vicious series of right hands and a spine-crunching guillotine that Thompson survived by the skin of his teeth.
Despite the damage, Thompson managed to fight his way back and win the fifth round to secure a draw. It was almost an anticlimax when Conor McGregor steamrolled Eddie Alvarez in the main event.
Not everything went right, but more than enough did.
UFC 199 opened with Polo Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim going to war on Fight Pass and, save for one brief two-fight lull, never let up.
Elvis Mutapcic roared back to force a draw with Kevin Casey in the second fight, after which Luis "Frankenstein" Henrique won an excellent brawl with Jonathan Wilson. Sean Strickland’s questionable decision over Tom Breese and Alex Caceres’s "meh" fight with Cole Miller slowed the roll, but five consecutive knockouts sped it right the hell back up.
Jessica Andrade thrashed Jessica Penne, Beneil Dariush knocked James Vick cold with a booming left hand, Brian Ortega flattened Clay Guida with a knee in the last 20 seconds of the third round, Dustin Poirier crushed Bobby Green, and Dan Henderson elbowed Hector Lombard into unconsciousness before we saw the judges again.
Max Holloway’s battle with Ricardo Lamas went from solid to legendary in the last few seconds, when "Blessed" invited "The Bully" to plant his feet and swing bombs with him in the center of the cage. Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber 3 followed, in which Cruz handily outclassed his former nemesis for a one-sided decision win.
And we all know what happened in the main event.
This card produced several of the year’s best moments and did so with overall quality matchmaking. Though it didn’t have quite as much hype as some of the others on the list, it delivered in truly phenomenal fashion. It more than earned its spot as the year’s best event.
Honorable Mention: UFC on FOX 21: "Maia vs. Condit," UFC 200: "Tate vs. Nunes"
Still three more Top 5 lists to go! Stop back in a few hours to check out 2016's "Submissions of the Year."