This is the trickiest list, the one where we have to judge the relative merits of not just one fight or finish, but packages of 12 or 13 at a time. Combine that with the sport’s heinously packed schedule and you’ve got a recipe for headaches and argumentative comments. On this installment of our yearly “Five Top Fives,” we check out the best mixed martial arts (MMA) events of 2019.
True blue grudge matches rarely live up to expectations, but this main event damn sure exceeded them alongside a strong supporting cast.
Punahele Soriano set the tone in the opening “Prelims” undercard bout with a brutal one-punch finish of Oskar Piechota (highlights), after which Jessica Eye outlasted Viviane Araujo and Kai Kara-France and Brandon Moreno put on the kind of high-amplitude scrap that reminded viewers how entertaining Flyweights can be.
Then came more finishes. Five of the next six bouts ended inside the distance, among them a brutal left hook finish from Irene Aldana and consecutive head kicks courtesy of Geoff Neal and Petr Yan (watch it).
Admittedly, the next portion was a bit of a slump; Marlon Moraes’ split decision over Jose Aldo was entertaining, but the controversial scorecards put a bit of a pall over it, and Amanda Nunes playing it safe against Germaine de Randamie wasn’t the stuff of legend. Luckily, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway were there to bring the violence we craved.
And then, of course, the main event. Nearly five full rounds of back-and-forth action, capped off by one of the most satisfying finishes of the year. Not a bad way to end the year’s pay-per-view (PPV) slate ... at all.
It wasn’t until the seventh fight of the evening that we even saw the judges. From Julio Arce’s head kick of Julian Erosa (watch it) to Zak Cummings’ club-and-sub of Trevin Giles (highlights) to Michel Pereira’s ridiculous flying knee knockout of Daniel Roberts (see it), the “Prelims” undercard absolutely delivered.
Even the subsequent three decisions weren’t a hassle to watch. Aspen Ladd vs. Sijara Eubanks wound up as one of the best women’s fights of the year.
The violence swiftly resumed courtesy of Charles Oliveira and Vicente Luque, followed by Felicia Spencer’s upset of Megan Anderson and a high-volume affair between Ian Heinisch and Antonio Carlos Junior.
Finally, fans were treated to a vintage performance from Rafael dos Anjos, who wore down Kevin Lee with his trademark pressure before wrapping up an arm triangle for the finish (highlights).
Nothing world-shaking, but consistent action is worth a nod.
This event featured one of the most violent five-fight streaks in recent memory. Lyman Good set the stage early with his brutalization of Chance Rencountre (highlights), but things didn’t kick into gear until Jairzinho Rozenstruik turned Andrei Arlovski’s lights out in less than a half-minute (see it).
From there, we saw Edmen Shahbazyan Cro Cop Brad Tavares, Shane Burgos batter Makwan Amirkhani into submission, Corey Anderson turn Johnny Walker into QWOP, and Kevin Lee spark Gregor Gillespie in a “Knockout of the Year” candidate. Though Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov wasn’t much to write home about, it wasn’t enough to kill the vibe, which Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque revitalized with their brilliant battle.
Once Darren Till was done proving he belonged at 185 pounds, the BMFs hit the cage. What Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz lacked in competitiveness it made up for in violence, as “Gamebred” tore into his foe with abandon until Diaz’s face failed to keep up with his fighting spirit.
When a man pushing the best fighter in the world to the brink on just one leg isn’t the number-one highlight, you know you’ve got a good event.
Edmen Shahbazyan’s mauling of Jack Marshman (watch it) and Song Yadong’s one-hitter quitter against Alejandro Perez served as the undercard highlights, and while watching Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez get their asses kicked put a damper on things, Jan Blachowicz knocking Luke Rockhold into next week certainly un-dampened them.
Once Jorge Masvidal had finished destroying Ben Askren in a record-setting five seconds (see it), the card’s place on this list was assured. That didn’t stop Amanda Nunes from tacking on an additional highlight via head kick knockout, or Thiago Santos very nearly claiming the Light Heavyweight title in probably the gutsiest performance of 2019 (highlights).
If something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.
Events need to be consistently excellent throughout their run time to land on this list, but I’ll be honest: they could have stapled the main- and co-main events to a bingo tournament and it would still have been the best show of the year.
That’s not to say the rest of the card had nothing to offer, though. UFC 236’s “Prelims” undercard featured a wild brawl between Brandon Davis and Randy Costa, a 25-second upset knockout from Khalid Taha, and another brutal stoppage courtesy of Alexandre Pantoja. Nikita Krylov kicked off the main card with a revenge submission of Ovince St. Preux (see it), and though Dwight Grant vs. Alan Jouban killed the mood with its inaction and terrible decision, Khalil Rountree brought it back to life by throttling Eryk Anders.
Then the top two “Fights of the Year” happened. Israel Adesanya traded knockdowns with Kelvin Gastelum for five thrilling rounds (highlights), after which Dustin Poirier finally claimed a belt in a brutal war with Max Holloway (watch it).
It may have been top-heavy, but this was one for the ages.
Honorable Mentions: UFC 238, UFC on ESPN+ 2, UFC 235, UFC on ESPN 2, UFC on ESPN+ 1
What Was The Best UFC/MMA ‘Event of the Year’ In 2019?
This poll is closed
UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2
UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos
UFC 244: Masvidal vs. Diaz
UFC Fight Night 152: dos Anjos vs. Lee
UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington
Other (Explain in comments section)