We here in the mixed martial arts (MMA) community like to pretend that we’re connoisseurs of fine technique, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like seeing someone get totally separated from their senses. This list had so many contenders that half the struggle was just whittling them down. I think I’ve pulled out some winners, though, so let’s look at the best knockouts of 2017!
Honorable Mentions: Matt Brown (elbow vs. Diego Sanchez), Marcel Fortuna (punch vs. Anthony Hamilton), Mike Perry (elbow vs. Jake Ellenberger), Galore Bofando (slam vs. Charlie Ward), Mairbek Taisumov (punch vs. Felipe Silva), Marc Diakiese (punch vs. Teemu Packalén), Alex Oliveira (punch vs. Ryan LaFlare)
Number Five: Darren Elkins Brings it All the Way Back
The mechanics of this knockout weren’t all that clean, but it was such an incredible comeback that it deserves a spot on the list anyway.
Darren Elkins was getting thrashed by Mirsad Bektic at UFC 209. There’s no other description of it that doesn’t involve expletives. Bektic — thought by many to be the future of the division -- unleashed the sort of ground-and-pound that would have had a prime Fedor Emelianenko nodding in approval, taking the first round with an arguable 10-7 and maintaining the beating through the second.
As the fight progressed, though, Bektic appeared to lack confidence in his standup and shot for increasingly ineffective takedowns. Still, thought I, he would just cruise to a decision — Elkins’ only stoppage wins since 2009 came when Duane Ludwig’s ankle exploded and when Yves Lavigne decided that the standing and lucid Antonio Carvalho needed saving after a flash knockdown.
Then Elkins put one of the sport’s best prospects to sleep with point-blank right hands and a head kick that led to an unconscious somersault.
Elkins now has a five-fight win streak behind him, in which he was an underdog three times, and Michael Johnson ahead of him. Expect the unexpected, I suppose.
Number Four: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes
The first two rounds of Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia were so agonizingly dull that my play-by-play of them took fewer words than the first round of Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tarec Saffiedine alone. I had gotten up at 3 a.m. that morning and was deeply regretting my commitment to keeping y’all entertained.
Then Correia decided to showboat a little and wave on Holm.
Here’s the thing about shenanigans like that: If they work, you look badass for a few seconds. Maybe several seconds, depending on how nifty your follow-up is. If they don’t work, you look stupid forever. And, well, it didn’t work.
Holm lamped Correia with a shin upside the head and, when Correia’s remaining motor functions failed to get the hint, blasted her with a downright mean left hand that turned out the lights completely. On the bright side, Bethe, at least they won’t just remember you for the Rousey loss anymore.
Number Three (Tie): The Left Hook Upsets
I couldn’t decide between three brutal, out-of-nowhere bombs that carried sizable underdogs to stunning first-round finishes. Let’s go through them one-by-one, in no particular order.
Magomed Bibulatov entered his fight with John Moraga as more than a -500 favorite and with the perception that he would be challenging Demetrious Johnson before too long. Beloved of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and blending dizzying kickboxing with rock-solid wrestling, Bibulatov looked like he would breeze past “Chicano John,” who had lost three of his previous four.
Instead, Moraga unleashed an absolute bomb of a left hook that left Bibulatov trying to leglock Jason Herzog. Moraga was so overwhelmed that he fell to his knees and cried, but was hilariously blasé about his feat when Daniel Cormier tried to impress on him just how incredible it was.
The second one doesn’t have anywhere near the level of quality backstory as the others, but makes up for it with raw brutality. Josh Emmett, a decent-size underdog who missed weight by more than two pounds after stepping up on short notice last week, plugged Ricardo Lamas with his own left hook that left Cormier giddy as he watched Lamas’ head dribble off the canvas in super slow motion.
Alas, no bonus for Emmett. The (lost) wages of sin and all that.
Finally, “Thug” Rose Namajunas. Going up against a woman skirting dangerously close to Female GOAT and having recently lost to one of the champ’s previous victims, Namajunas defied absurd odds to flatten Joanna Jedrzejczyk, finally living up to the incredible potential she had shown on The Ultimate Fighter.
Jedrzejczyk had looked so dominant that the idea of her simultaneously ruling strawweight and flyweight once the latter opened up was not out of the question. Her reign had all the signs of a dynasty and she had secured her place as the organization’s most dominant champion behind Demetrious Johnson. Whether or not Rose can do it again, she accomplished something absolutely incredible at UFC 217. Well done.
Number Two: The Year of the Knee
Yeah, another multi-faceted entry. Sue me, this year was incredible.
Whether flying, intercepting, or from the clinch, 2017 had a frankly unreasonable amount of incredible knee KO’s. I could have easily filled this list with nothing but knees and it would still be valid. Not sure I have enough space or patience to give them all the treatment they deserve, but the standouts include:
- Paul Daley annihilating Brennan Ward with a picture-perfect bicycle knee
- Damir Hadzovic punishing Marcin Held’s Imanari roll
- Edson Barboza crumpling Beneil Dariush’s face
- Eddie Alvarez becoming the first man to crack Justin Gaethje’s chin
- 265+ pounds of Tai Tuivasa going airborne against Rashad Coulter
- Marlon Moraes absolutely thumping Aljamain Sterling on short notice
- Alessio Di Chirico faceplanting Oluwale Bamgbose
My personal favorite? Barboza vs. Dariush. In addition to how awesome it looked, the analytics behind it were fascinating. Multiple times during the fight, Dariush would fire his jab to raise Barboza’s hands before shooting in for a takedown. Despite struggling with Dariush’s pressure and volume, Barboza caught on to the tendency and met him coming in with a gorgeous jumping knee.
That’s one way to get a guy to stop chasing you.
Number One: Francis Ngannou by Decapitation
This year had a lot of “dang” knockouts. It had a lot of “whoa” knockouts. This was a “holy shit” knockout.
Alistair Overeem getting knocked silly isn’t exactly a unique occasion, but good Lord, Francis Ngannou damn near sent that man’s head to space. Overeem’s head snapped back like a CGI goon on the wrong end of Thor’s hammer. Joe Rogan’s dumbfounded silence as Jon Anik excitedly took over commentating duty says it all.
Let us remember all those brave brain cells lost in the line of duty as we eliminate a few of our own via spiked eggnog, but be sure you’re still lucid enough to enjoy the rest of our lists today ... we’ve got just one left!