I’ve been rather terse with most of these, as I recognize that an introduction is just an obstacle between you, the list, and subsequently complaining about the list in the comments, but I did want to chime in here. Several fighters, namely Max Holloway, Henry Cejudo, Tyron Woodley and Robert Whittaker had massive victories in 2018, but competed just once. Unless it’s a Douglas vs. Tyson-level, Earth-shattering victory, I don’t think one good win is enough to earn a spot on this list.
Luckily, there were plenty of other worthy contenders to fill in the gaps. Here are our picks for 2018’s “Fighter of the Year.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Thiago Santos, Valentina Shevchenko, Gegard Mousasi, Tatiana Suarez, Anthony Smith
No. 5: Dustin Poirier
“The Diamond” has gone 8-1 with one “No Contest” since moving up to Lightweight, and though he fought just twice this year as opposed to his three-bout 2015 and 2016 efforts due to an injury scrapping a planned fight with Nate Diaz, what he accomplished was significant enough to earn a spot.
Poirier’s first fight of 2018 remains arguably the year’s best, a grueling war with Justin Gaethje that saw Poirier survive a compromised lead leg to put away the incomparably gritty “Highlight” early in the fourth round. Then came revenge; Poirier had gone to war with Eddie Alvarez in 2017, nearly finishing the former UFC and Bellator champ before illegal knees from the “Underground King” ended proceedings early. This time around, headlining the penultimate Fox show in July, Poirier survived a rough spot to smash Alvarez into submission late in the second round.
Poirier has now won three “Fights of the Night” and one “Performance of the Night” in his last five fights. Though the situation with Lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson remains up in the air, I’d love to see “The Diamond” finally get a shot at the belt.
No. 4: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
This may seem like a weird inclusion considering that Souza suffered a loss this year, but let’s look closer.
Souza opened the year by easily defeating Derek Brunson, who was coming off of crushing knockout victories over Daniel Kelly and Lyoto Machida. He returned four months later against Kelvin Gastelum, and despite visibly fading from a rough weight cut and losing a split decision, gave the former Ultimate Fighter such a tough out that the MMA media was essentially split down the middle over who deserved the nod. Finally, he wiped out Chris Weidman with a gorgeous right hand despite having been originally preparing for David Branch.
With slightly different judging, Souza could have been 3-0 this year with two of those victories coming over a former champion and the man who will soon fight for the title. All while being 39 years old. I think that deserves some recognition.
No. 3: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Nurmagomedov’s victory over Conor McGregor was the most-watched piece of MMA action of 2018 and one of the most-watched fights in the history of the sport. Unfortunately, so was the ensuing melee, and though I can definitely sympathize with the Dagestani wrecking machine after all the haranguing he received, it’s hard to overlook that when putting together a list of top fighters.
The win was still excellent, admittedly, and his dominant-but-uninspiring victory over Al Iaquinta looks a lot better after the latter’s upset of Kevin Lee a couple weeks back. Just a little too much baggage for those top spots.
No. 2: Israel Adesanya
Adesanya is arguably tied with Gokhan Saki as the most accomplished kickboxer to ever step foot in the Octagon besides Semmy Schilt, who only became a kickboxing legend well after his UFC tenure. Unlike Saki, he joined the UFC in the midst of his athletic prime, and the results have been stunning.
After breaking down Rob Wilkinson and edging Marvin Vettori, Adesanya got a main event slot against Brad Tavares, whom he dismantled so thoroughly that he earned Performance of the Night for a decision win. He took on another wrestler in Derek Brunson four months later, thrashing him in a single round for his third post-fight bonus in four UFC bouts.
We won’t have to wait long to see him again, either; he’s booked to fight Anderson Silva in just over a month. Here’s hoping we see another busy year for “The Last Stylebender.”
UPDATE-No. 1.5: Amanda Nunes
So yeah, this is what happens when you make a best-of list before the last event of the year.
Amanda Nunes lost quite a bit of steam in 2017, following up her triumphant beating of Ronda Rousey with a slow, controversial decision over rival Valentina Shevchenko. She got some of the luster back in May, systematically disassembling Raquel Pennington, but it wasn’t until UFC 232 that she cemented her claim to all-time greatness.
Stepping up in weight against Cris Cyborg, the most dominant and feared female fighter on the planet, “The Lioness” not only brawled with the fearsome knockout artist, but came out victorious in just 51 violent seconds.
Nunes, once an afterthought after a 3-3 stretch saw her lose to Alexis Davis, Sara D’Alelio, and Cat Zingano, now has a strong argument for being the women’s GOAT.
No. 1: Daniel Cormier
Undefeated (3-0) with three finishes, first man in UFC history to defend two different titles in the same reign. “The Daddest Man on the Planet” had an unprecedented year, handily disposing of Volkan Oezdemir, the heavily favored Stipe Miocic, and Derrick Lewis. I don’t think there’s any question he deserves the top spot.
Who was your Fighter of the Year for 2018?
This poll is closed