The mixed martial arts (MMA) world really went all-out in making my job difficult. From beginning to end, this year was absolutely jam-packed with slobberknockers, donnybrooks and every other synonym for pure violence you can think of. Whittling them down was not easy, let me tell you, so you’d better appreciate this list.
Honorable Mentions: Li Jingliang vs. Frank Camacho, Julian Marquez vs. Darren Stewart, Frank Camacho vs. Damien Brown, Chase Sherman vs. Rashad Coulter, Lando Vannata vs. Bobby Green, T.J. Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt, Jéssica Andrade vs. Angela Hill, Li Jingliang vs. Bobby Nash
Number Five (TIE): Pretty Much Everything Involving Dustin Poirier
Dustin Poirier went 2-0 (1 NC) this year, earned two “Fight of the Night” bonuses, and established himself as among the most entertaining fighters on UFC’s roster. Whether he was slinging heat at Jim Miller on one leg or grinding Anthony Pettis into the canvas, Poirier was an endless fountain of top-tier violence.
Even better, he’s not just a mindless brawler — he boxes well, wrestles well, and has a knack for imposing his strength and punching power to force opponents into his preferred style of fight. There’s not one fighter on the Lightweight roster I wouldn’t tune in to watch Poirier fight. Here’s hoping he has a busy 2018.
Number Four: Tim Elliott vs. Louis Smolka
This year offered a preponderance of knockdown, drag-out slugfests, so I figured this beauty deserved a shout-out. This fight was pure grappling insanity between Elliott’s overpowering wrestling and Smolka’s gorgeous submission game.
Though Elliott got the nod on all three scorecards, Smolka was competitive throughout, constantly threatening submission and sweeps while Elliott put him on his back time and time again. The scrambles were some of the best you’ll ever see in the Octagon and both men deserve the utmost credit for pushing a furious pace for all 15 minutes.
If you’ve got a friend who whines any time an MMA match hits the ground, show him this one.
Number Three: Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje
The word of the day is “tension.” This was the sort of fight to keep your heartrate in the triple digits despite a fairly measured pace, as both men viciously chiseled away at each other with shots that would have been fight-ending against almost anyone else.
A huge part of that tension was Gaethje’s signature low kicks. As Alvarez tore into him with shots to the head and body, Gaethje pulverized his lead leg, willingly taking heavy blows on his forearms in order to catch “The Underground King” with his foot planted. Even as Alvarez racked up points and visibly taxed Gaethje with his volume, it became a race against time as his leg buckled more and more and Gaethje’s brutal uppercuts came closer and closer to hitting home.
The third round was one big hope spot for Gaethje, who seemed just a handful of whacks away from leaving Alvarez unable to walk. Instead, Alvarez took advantage of Gaethje’s tendency to duck in and met his chin with a booming knee that finally proved too much for his inhuman foe to absorb. Incredible fight, incredible ending.
The craziest part? This fight had to share “Fight of the Night” credit with the next one.
Number Two: Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira
Yancy Medeiros might have the worst striking defense in UFC. If you were to mail him a letter in triplicate describing the exact time, speed and angle at which you were going to punch him in the face a week ahead of time, he’d still get caught. His saving grace is his inhuman recovery, which his chin struggles to keep up with. I figured Oliveira — whose right hand tends to leave people in an uncomfortably corpse-like state — would be just a bit too much for Medeiros to pop up from.
I was very entertainingly wrong.
These two duked it out for 2.5 rounds of sheer bloody brutality, trading knockdowns and concussive punches with zero regard for their own personal well-being. The fight was so vicious that Oliveira’s body basically gave out after his final ground assault failed.
I doubt either of these guys will remember their own names by the time they hit 40, but their sacrifice was greatly appreciated.
Number One: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson
I’ve gone over this fight and, while the end of the year gave us some worthy contenders, it still stands along in my personal rankings. Just a terrific, terrific brawl between two scary bastards.
Not a bad year of work at all. Well done, lads (and lasses).
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