Including the “Prelims” undercard bouts, modern mixed martial arts (MMA) events clock in at around six to seven grueling hours, and the ones that manage to keep us glued to our seats the whole time deserve recognition. Here are our picks for 2018’s best events.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: UFC on FOX 27, UFC Fight Night 126, UFC on FOX 28.
No. 5: UFC 224
Despite an abysmal buyrate and a main event too one-sided to be truly compelling, UFC 224 featured quality action from top to bottom. Viewers saw Jack Hermansson pull off an unbelievable comeback finish of Thales Leites, Elizeu Zaleski wipe out Sean Strickland with a spinning hook kick to the face, and Alexey Oleinik hit yet another Ezekiel choke on a man nearly 15 years his junior.
And that’s before we even got to the bit where Lyoto Machida front-kicked Vitor Belfort in the face and John Lineker chased Brian Kelleher with the single-minded devotion of Wile E. Coyote, or the part where “Jacare” Souza went to war with Kelvin Gastelum.
Brazil and quality MMA remain a strong pairing.
No. 4: UFC 221
This card started slow with three consecutive decisions, but picked up steam in a hurry. After the warm-ups, Jussier Formiga stopped Ben Nguyen with a spinning back fist and rear naked choke, Alexander Volkanovski brutalized Jeremy Kennedy with ground-and-pound, and Israel Adesanya enjoyed a successful debut against Rob Wilkinson. The main card saw, among other things, Tyson Pedro hit a gnarly kimura on Saparbeg Safarov, Jake Matthews go life-and-death with Li Jingliang, and Tai Tuivasa pulverize Cyril Asker in his second UFC appearance.
The co-main event was nearly something special, as Mark Hunt came within a hair’s breadth of upsetting Curtis Blaydes with a clean counter right, but the main event was certainly memorable. Yoel Romero, unfortunately overweight, stepped up on short notice to knock Luke Rockhold into next week in a fight that saw both one of the nastiest follow-up shots in recent memory and one of the most awkward post-fight embraces in the history of the sport.
There’s just something about Australia that brings out the best in fighters.
No. 3: UFC Fight Night 135
I’ll admit that I’ve probably got some bias here, seeing as the main event saw someone I adore destroy someone I loathe, but even with a couple of iffy fights, this was among the best Fox Sports 1 had to offer.
Rani Yahya opened things up on Fight Pass with a 91-second heel hook of Luke Sanders, one of the only such subs we’ve seen in the Octagon this year. Drew Dober then out-dueled Jon Tuck, after which things got wild.
Impressive submissions from Joanne Calderwood and Mickey Gall followed, and after a decent but unremarkable fight between Andrew Sanchez and Markus Perez, viewers were treated to five consecutive knockouts, most notably Eryk Anders’ soccer kick of Tim Williams and Deiveson Figueiredo’s gut-munching blowout of John Moraga.
Then the aforementioned iffy fights kicked in. Cortney Casey and Michael Johnson’s split decision victories were nothing to write home about, but luckily, Justin Gaethje was there to turn James Vick’s lights out in 87 seconds. Good to know that good triumphs over evil sometimes.
No. 2: UFC 229
The big one. The most-purchased UFC pay-per-view (PPV) in history by an 800,000 margin. The one that brought back uncomfortable memories of the legendary Strikeforce melee at the end.
Even putting aside the main event, which we’ve all heard and will continue to hear about, it was a fairly strong evening of fights. The Prelims opened with a pair of head kick finishes, took a breather in a dull fight between Yana Kunitskaya and Lina Lansberg, then went right back to the violence with three more stoppages, including an absolutely brutal beatdown from Vicente Luque.
After a one-sided bout between Jussier Formiga and Sergio Pettis, the main card kicked off with Michele Waterson defeating Felice Herrig. Then came Derrick Lewis’ improbable comeback knockout of Alexander Volkov, Dominick Reyes’ entertaining victory over Ovince Saint Preux, and the absolutely wild battle between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis.
It may have ended in disaster, but UFC 229 was fun while it lasted.
No. 1: UFC 228
UFC 229 had the glitz, the glamour, the names, and the attention, but in terms of pure MMA entertainment, UFC 228 had it beat. This card alone saw featured:
· Jim Miller and Diego Sanchez turning back the clock in entertaining fashion.
· Geoff Neal landing one of the scariest head kicks of the year on Frank Camacho.
· Aljamain Sterling and Zabit Magomedsharipov both hitting Suloev stretches.
· Abdul Razak Alhassan melting Niko Price in 43 seconds.
· Jessica Andrade scoring the first one-punch finish in UFC Strawweight history.
· Tyron Woodley thoroughly ruining UFC’s plans with a d’arce choke of Darren Till.
Though it may not have gotten the buzz or become an immortal piece of MMA history (for better and worse) like UFC 229, this was the sport at its most electric.
What was your Event of the Year for 2019?
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UFC Fight Night 135