What were your five favorite fights in 2015, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
2015 was a banner year for MMA, due mostly to the amazing fights that the UFC brought. The second half of the year features some of the best stretches of fight action that we’ve ever witnessed. Narrowing down the list to just five matches was tough, as there were so many great ones. In a year of memorable moments, here were my top five viewing experiences, which, oddly enough, didn’t feature a Conor McGregor fight:
5. Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza – I wasn’t particularly excited for this fight, as Edson Barboza appears to have hit a ceiling in the lower half of the top 10, and Tony Ferguson has never really struck me as the type of guy that was going to be a title contender. My outlook on the latter has 180’d since seeing this fight. Ferguson started out with a rolling takedown that I immediately thought was gimmicky. After his second attempt I realized, it wasn’t gimmicky, it was brilliant! Ferguson was leading with his backside to protect himself from dangerous kicks and strikes, with the knowledge that there was no way Barboza was going to pounce on him and make it a ground match. The pace was ridiculous, and power shots were exchanged on both sides. Ferguson used his somewhat freakish wingspan to lock on a D’Arce off a mad scramble, and that’s all she wrote. I can see Ferguson challenging for a title with another win.
4. Thomas Almeida vs. Brad Pickett – If someone made the main card of UFC 189 their top five list, I wouldn’t argue. This event was bananas. On a night of ridiculous action and finishes, this fight still managed to stand out. At one point in the fight, Pickett dropped Almeida with a left hook. As Almeida tried to get up, he ate a huge knee and went down again. Then he somehow got up and floored picket with his own punch! Oh, we’re still in the first round, and the two went out firing as it came to a close. The second round looked to pick up where the first left off, as Pickett threw a flying knee, AND THEN GOT KNOCKED OUT BY A FLYING KNEE! Ridiculous.
3. Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne – If one round fights are your thing, this might be the best ever. It definitely ranks up their with Diaz vs. Daley for my money. Arlovski’s unlikely resurgence continued with this insane fight. Arlovski had Browne rocked for a significant amount of the round, only for Browne to send Arlovski crashing to the canvas with a monster right hand to the Belarusian’s notorious glass jaw. Browne was so out of it, I’m surprised he even remembered he was still in a fight, that he wasn’t able to finish Arlovski on the mat. Arlovski somehow got back up, and managed to pound Browne some more until the ref had to step in. Watching this fight is not advisable if you have any type of heart condition and mine was certainly racing throughout.
2. Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm – Belt on the line? Check. Edge-of-your-seat action? Check. Finish felt around the world? Yeah, this had it all as one of the most memorable moments in MMA history, scratch that, sports history. Hyperbole you say? Rousey was one of the biggest crossover stars in the world coming into this match. She also was, and remains, a particularly polarizing figure, with some rooting for her continued dominance while others despising her brash cockiness. Regardless of what it was, it seemed the whole world had an opinion on her and vested interest in this fight. Holm dominated the most dominant champ the sport has ever seen, and finished the high-action bout with a kick that knocked Rousey out cold. This is one of those “you’ll always remember where you were” things.
1. Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald – The final fight in my top five of the year also comes from the fantastic UFC 189 event. If people in New York are still trying to keep MMA banned due to how violent the sport is, this fight would be their Exhibit A. In a crazy war of attrition, both fighters were beyond bloodied. Lawler’s lip was split to the point where it wasn’t really functional as a moving part anymore, and MacDonald’s face resembled a Picasso painting. MacDonald’s perception as Georges St-Pierre’s heir apparent looked like it was coming to fruition when he had the champ on the ropes with a head kick and vicious punches. I had Lawler down three rounds to one going into the fight, meaning he’d need to finish the challenger to hold onto the title. Man, did he ever finish him. Lawler took MacDonald’s already broken nose and tried to shove it through his head with a brutal punch. I was worried that MacDonald might have actually been killed in the Octagon when he crumbled to the ground. You don’t want to see fighters go through many wars like this, but you really have to appreciate it when they do. It’s not quite up their with Jones v. Gustaffson for me, but it’s close, and is my Fight of the Year for 2015.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
My favorite fights were all title fights, and they almost all involved title changes. In chronological order, Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez for the UFC Heavyweight Championship from UFC 188 was a spectacular statement from Werdum, as he dominated the guy some were already wanting to anoint as one of the best heavyweights of all-time. I don’t question how good Velasquez is, I think this reflects more on just how good Werdum is. He already had the grappling, and now that he’s added great striking, it makes him all the more dangerous. My second comes from UFC 190, when Ronda Rousey knocked out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds to retain her UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship. Coming on the heels of her 14 second submission of Cat Zingano at UFC 184, that was quite the impressive feat.
My third is from UFC 193 when Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey to win the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship. This was a stunning development, as Rousey stood with Holm and paid the price. Holm was so masterful with her movement that the ending was almost a foregone conclusion, but it was still so amazing to see Rousey getting trucked like that.
My 4th and 5th choices both occurred at UFC 194. Luke Rockhold took advantage of a Chris Weidman mistake and proceeded to pound him into a bloody pulp to capture the UFC Middleweight Championship. Weidman had been on a huge roll and was looking largely unstoppable, but Rockhold took the fight to him and pummeled him in a great display of ground-and-pound. Then, Conor McGregor blasted Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to capture the UFC Feathweight Championship. In a fight that was as surprising as it was short, McGregor silenced any possible remaining critics with a tremendous punch that sealed his place in MMA history. Aldo hadn’t lost in 10 years and McGregor beat him in 13 seconds. It’s been quite the year in MMA, and this list is leaving out a lot of other huge fights, but that’s my list.
BRAD WALKER, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
In no particular order:
-Daniel Cormier vs Alexander Gustafsson. It was as close as possible and it was absolutely intense to watch the judges scores be read off; no one was 100% positive who won.
-Fabricio Werdum vs Cain Velasquez. One of the most telling images of the year was of our heavyweight king getting picked apart and destroyed in a way we never thought possible.
-Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald 2. The solidification of the new champion as dominant, powerful, and long standing; it was a hell of a showing.
-Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm. Because seeing someone get their karmic blow back is so sweet. Especially when you knew that was the fighter who was going to do it a year ahead of time.
-Ken Shamrock vs Kimbo Slice. Sometimes seeing how terrible something can be is more fun than a real fight. This crap fest had me laughing before, during, and after. Pure entertainment.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Easy choice for #1 was the epic showdown between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald at UFC 189. It was about as technical and violent as an MMA fight gets and exemplifies everything that we love about the sport and then even added a few more wrinkles such as the epic staredown they had at the end of the fourth round as well as the unbelievable amount of damage that they endured. Can anyone else recall a cut lip similar to the one Lawler sustained? Or how about MacDonald barely able to sit up at the conclusion as his head bobbed like a newborn’s unable to sustain the weight of its own head? It isn’t my all-time favorite fight, but it is close.
#2 was the one round slugfest between Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne. These two pretty much threw out all strategy and just threw down with each being rocked at various points of the bout. Arlovski’s use of the backfist was something I can’t recall seeing used by anyone else either with the cherry on top being the exchange at the end of the fight where they hugged and Browne told his former training partner that he had nothing to apologize for as he did what he was supposed to do, friendship be damned… just as a sport should be treated. Arlovski’s Cinderella story doesn’t hurt either….
#3 was the Holly Holm upset of Ronda Rousey, less because of the quality of the fight (though it was a good fight) and more because of the shock value it produced. I went into the fight expecting Rousey to make quick work of the underdog and was pleasantly shocked. Not because I wanted to see Rousey lose, but because moments like that are so rare where you question if what you just saw really happened that you have to appreciate it when it does happen. Maybe I could put the Conor McGregor 13 second KO of long reigning king Jose Aldo… but naw! A year’s worth of buildup for 13 seconds!? Great moment, but not one of my favorites.
#4 is fresh on my mind as the battle between Tony Ferguson and Edson Barboza was about as fast-paced a fight as you will find that extends beyond one round. Ferguson stuck with his strategy of pressure despite the hard body shots Barboza continued to throw at him, making the performance all that more impressive. Barboza was the one who eventually wilted and ended up getting caught in a beautiful D’arce choke that cemented Ferguson as a true contender in the deepest division of the sport.
#5 was Benson Henderson taking down the much larger Brandon Thatch in what seemed to be an old-school David vs. Goliath fight that hasn’t been seen in years. Thatch clearly owned the physical advantage and didn’t necessarily fight a bad fight, but Henderson’s strategy was that damn good that he was able to submit the Colorado representative in the fourth round after Thatch wore himself out and was unable to catch the savvy Henderson. It was good to see Bendo get some love after all the criticism his title reign endured, deserved or not.
Honorable mentions: Gathje-Palomino I, Cormier-Gustafsson, Davis-Tokoro, Ortega-Tavares, Lineker-Rivera, and McGregor-Mendes.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
1. Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald – UFC 189 “McGregor vs Mendes”
Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald has to be every combat sport fans’ Fight of the Year. The sheer brutality and unwillingness for either fighter to cede an inch is the type of match fans clamor to witness. The conclusion of the fourth round, with each fighter standing beaten and bloody glaring at one another, encompassed the high drama that Hollywood boxing films seek to capture. Lawler versus MacDonald at UFC 189 was everything.
2. Chris Weidman vs Luke Rockhold – UFC 194 “Aldo vs McGregor”
I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked Chris Weidman, and I’m not a huge fan of Luke Rockhold either. I thought that Rockhold would have an advantage in striking and grappling as he faced Weidman, who is talented but also dry, boring and slow, so very very slow. I’m glad that I was never on the Chris Weidman freight train to nowhere. Even when Weidman was attempting to be interesting his stories were just gross. How many poop stories can one man have? Although I thought Rockhold would have an advantage on the ground, I thought the end would come due to submission, not Weidman being nearly beaten to death. However, when you throw a spinning heel kick in slow motion and the wrong direction then you almost deserve the beating you received.
3. Lorenz Larkin vs Santiago Ponzinibbio – UFC Fight Night 70 “Romero vs Machida”
This fight would serve as Lorenz Larkin’s second fight at welterweight in the UFC. Larkin showed his blazing speed, power and viciousness at his new weight class. Santiago Ponzinibbio continuously pressed forward despite blistering leg kicks being served by Larkin. In the second round Ponzinibbio stunned Larkin for a brief moment before Larkin dispatched of his opponent with a lead left hook, right straight, left hook combination. It was a fight filled with action and beautiful violence.
4. Charles Oliveira vs Nik Lentz – UFC Fight Night 67 “Condit vs Alves”
Another intense pugilistic exchange that I’ve watched on numerous occasions occurred between Charles Oliveira and Nik Lentz. Any time these two face one another it’s all systems go. Oliveira and Lentz exchanged strikes and ferocity with reckless abandon. When it looked like Oliveira had the rematch won in the first after he dropped Lentz with hard knee, it was Lentz’ toughness and grit that enabled him to make it out of the round. Warning to any wrestler and all future Charles Oliveira’s opponents, if you leave your neck out for even a moment, he will snatch it up.
5. Edson Barboza vs Paul Felder – UFC on Fox 17 “Dillashaw vs Barao II”
If you want to see precise technical striking, and one of the fastest Muay Thai switch kicks outside of Thailand you need to check out this fight. On the other hand, if you like toughness, grit, a press-forward-and-bite-down-on-your-mouthpiece type of fight, then you need to watch this fight. However, if you’re the type of person that likes spinning shit and I mean lots and lots of spinning shit, you need to see this fight.
[Photo (c) Joe Camporeale via USA Today Sports]
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