Due to some family circumstances this week, I’m getting a late start on my year-end awards, but over the next several days I’ll be running down my picks for 2015’s best in the realm of knockouts, submissions, fights, and the fighter of the year, along with a look at 2015 on the whole. Today I present part one, with my award for “Fight of the Year,” along with thoughts on the “Best of the Rest.”
2015 Fight of the Year: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald II – UFC 189 – July 11
Was there any question on this one? Despite some monumental finishes and several really good fights during the year, 2015 wasn’t as strong as far as transcendent fights are concerned, with only one real exception in the rematch here between Lawler and MacDonald. Their first fight in Dec. of 2013 was solid, but off of that the war that we got in Las Vegas couldn’t have been predicted. After a non-descript first round, the fight began a crazy back and forth that came to a crescendo in an iconic end-of-fourth-round staredown, and was ended by the Champion in the fifth when judges had him down three rounds to one into that final frame. Lawler started picking up his attack midway through the second, and was continuing to press strongly for much of the third before getting cracked with a head kick and gutting out the final minute of that round. The challenger started the fourth off strong, but got his nose busted up badly and started fading as Lawler came on strong. They continued firing back and forth throughout much of the round, Lawler suffering a nasty cut on his lip and MacDonald’s face getting bloodied up worse and worse with every strike. When the horn sounded, they were standing face to face, and held that gaze for several seconds before being motioned to their respective corners. MacDonald tried to keep fighting despite serious facial damage in the final round, but a perfectly placed strike to the badly broken nose forced him to crumple to the mat in pain, finally bringing an end to an epic title matchup. It was a fantastic display of heart, a brutal display of violence, and quite easily the best fight of the year.
The Best of the Rest (In Chronological Order)
Benson Henderson vs. Brandon Thatch – UFC Fight Night 60 – February 15: An incredible performance from Benson Henderson in his welterweight debut on two weeks notice. They had an extremely close opening round with a ton of action, Thatch then had a strong second, only to fade a bit as Henderson took over in the third. Henderson then had a fantastic fourth, out-working Thatch before taking his back, dragging him to the ground, and forcing him to tap to a rear naked choke. It was one of Henderson’s great career performances, and a great capper to that February Fight Night event.
LC Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro – Bellator 135 – March 27: One of the most action-packed back and forth three round fights you’re bound to see. Both bantamweights started with a furious pace, and it never let up. From some crazy striking exchanges, both getting rocked on different occasions, to fantastic grappling sequences that saw each of them score sweeps off submission attempts and nearly finish those holds, this fight just had everything. It didn’t have the stakes of many others, and as a three round bout left fans simply wanting for more, but it was just a really, really good fight and still stands out nine months later.
Justin Gaethje vs. Louis Palomino – WSOF 19 – March 28: One night after the fantastic Davis-Tokoro bout, perhaps WSOF’s greatest ever fight took place for their Lightweight Championship. The first Gaethje-Palomino fight (much like their rematch in September) was an absolutely insane brawl, with both fighters getting hurt badly. Gaethje’s leg kicks were the difference, and directly led to the finish in the third round, but Palomino got in enough offense to get his rematch. That ended just as bad for him, and even more violently in a fight that was also great, but slightly below this first fight.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne – UFC 187 – May 23: Perhaps the single most insane one round fight we’ve ever seen, Arlovski pummeled Browne with combination after combination, only to see the massive heavyweight fight back on instinct. The moment that elevated this beyond any normal beatdown was Browne nearly stopping Arlovski while on wobbly legs, knocking the former UFC Heavyweight Champion to the mat with his best strike of the fight. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t follow up, and Arlovski regained his composure enough to chase him down and finish it off himself. Just a thrilling and ridiculous heavyweight fight.
Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz – UFC Fight Night 67 – May 31: A rematch at featherweight of a 2011 lightweight bout, Oliveira and Lentz put on a great matchup in Brazil to close out May. Lentz got in a lot of offense in the first, but took a bit more damage and got slightly outworked on the ground. Lentz turned the tables in the second, making Oliveira fight his fight for much more of that frame, but Oliveira scored a beautiful finish in the third when he grabbed a guillotine, pulled guard, then swept to mount to finish it and force the tap.
Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum – UFC 188 – June 13: Werdum’s crowning moment. The returning Velasquez got in a ton of damage in the opening round, but Werdum did quite a bit himself, and that started wearing on the defending Champion into the second round. Werdum’s striking attacks picked up, he began beating Velasquez up, and Velasquez started tiring out significantly. That continued exhaustion forced Velasquez into an ill-advised takedown in the third, and Werdum capitalized with a guillotine choke to take the title. It was a great Heavyweight Title fight, and though the upcoming rematch isn’t all that called for, this was a great highlight for the year.
Nicolas Dalby vs. Darren Till – UFC Fight Night 76 – October 24: Two undefeated fighters kept their records unblemished in the most stellar draw you could possibly see in this sport in Dublin. The younger Till was excellent through ten minutes, picking Dalby apart to what was nearly a 10-8 first round, and he continued it with a strong attack in the second. Then the older vet in Dalby came on strong in the third round, beating Till up and nearly finishing the fight for the comeback. That it ended in a majority draw was an ultimately just result to keep both without a loss on their respective records.
Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza – TUF 22 Finale – December 11: A late addition to the conversation, Ferguson and Barboza had a wild back and forth in Las Vegas, with both taking damage on the feet while engaging on the ground as well. Ferguson’s stellar transition to a D’Arce choke in the second round off a scramble is up there for one of the top finishes of the year (more on that later this week), but the whole fight itself was just fantastic.
[Photo (c) Joe Camporeale via USA Today Sports]
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