2016 was a banner year for fun fights. Over the course of the year, we witnessed a long list of unforgettable battles, all of which stand out contenders for this year’s Fight of the Year honors.
Without further ado, here are our 10 favorite fights from the year 2016.
- Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha 2
- Erik Perez vs. Francisco Rivera
- Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas
- John Lineker vs. John Dodson
- Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson vs. Tim Elliot
- Joseph Benavidez vs. Henry Cejudo
- Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs. Matt Brown.
10. Lando Vannata vs. Tony Ferguson
Streaking lightweight contender Tony Ferguson was originally supposed to take on fellow contender Michael Chiesa at July’s UFC Fight Night 91. When Chiesa pulled out this fight with an injury, however, Ferguson was forced to shift his focus to late-replacement Lando Vannata, who made his UFC debut for the bout.
Though few expected him to do so, Vannata pushed Ferguson to the absolute brink, very nearly finishing him in the early moments of the fight. In the end, however, Ferguson was able to reclaim the bout’s momentum in the second round, during which he locked up a D’Arce choke for the win. It was one for the books.
9. Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson
In November of this year, the UFC made its long awaited debut in New York City. In the co-main event of this anticipated, Big Apple debut, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley sought to make the first defense of his title against streaking karate specialist Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
It was as competitive as fights get. For five wild rounds, the two welterweights battled tit-for-tat, with Woodley landing the more damaging punches, and Thompson landing at much greater volume.
When the final bell sounded, the competitive nature of this fight manifested itself in a rare, majority draw. With this result, Woodley retained his title, though not in the way he planned. He and Thompson are now expected to partake in a repeat of their welterweight classic sometime in early 2017.
8. Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson 2
Arguably the biggest upset of the year occurred in June, when English veteran Michael Bisping scored a first-round knockout over Luke Rockhold to win the UFC middleweight title. In October, Bisping sought to extend his unlikely title reign by taking out an old rival in Dan Henderson.
The pair first met in 2009. On that night, Henderson came out on top with one of the most emphatic knockout wins of all time. When they rematched in 2016, history nearly repeated itself, as Henderson was able to drop his British rival with his legendary “H-Bomb” on more than one occasion. In the end, however, Bisping’s success outside of these shaky moments would earn him a unanimous nod from the judges. With this somewhat controversial result, he had defended his title and avenged one of the ugliest losses of his career in an instant classic.
7. Dominick Cruz vs. TJ Dillashaw
In early 2014, the UFC’s first and only bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz was stripped of the title, having been kept out of action for years by an unfortunate string of injuries. In early 2016, after a short-lived 2014 comeback, Cruz returned to action for a title shot against new bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
This bantamweight title fight would see Cruz and Dillashaw – two of the craftiest tacticians in MMA today – engage in a riveting chess match for five fun rounds. By the time the fifth round ended, the judges had an incredibly difficult job on their hands, but ultimately sided with Cruz by split decision.
Having defended his newly reclaimed title against Urijah Faber in June, Cruz is now scheduled for a UFC 207 defense against undefeated challenger Cody Garbrandt. Dillashaw, meanwhile, will take on John Lineker on the same card. If both fighters win at UFC 207, we’re likely to see them rematch in 2017.
6. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2
In March of this year, Nate Diaz shocked the world by submitting featherweight champion Conor McGregor in a hastily arranged welterweight battle. In doing so, he handed McGregor his first UFC loss, and ended the Irishman’s 15-fight unbeaten streak.
Given McGregor’s previous dominance, and his status as the UFC’s biggest star, he was quickly given a shot at redemption against Diaz. Though it was briefly scheduled as the main event of UFC 200, this rematch ultimately headlined UFC 202 in August. It was worth the wait.
The fight began with McGregor nearly taking Diaz’s head off. Just as he did in their first fight, however, he began to fade in the second, at which point Diaz took the reigns. From their, the two fighters laid it all on the line in an incredible display of gutsiness, pummelling each other into applesauce in a wild, back and forth fight.
In the end, McGregor would be awarded a majority decision win for his efforts, evening the score with Diaz in the process. Hopefully we get a tie-breaker in the near future!
5. Marco Polo Reyes vs. “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim
This fight, which occured at UFC 199 in June, is one of the sleepers on this list, as it did not feature especially big names. That being said, it was an absolute thrill ride.
The fight saw Mexico’s Marco Polo Reyes and South Korea’s Dong Hyun Kim – not to be confused with the welterweight of the same name – smash one another in a Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em robots style fight. While both fighters displayed iron chins in this fight, however, Kim would eventually be put down by a third-round Reyes salvo.
There was no title or spot in the lightweight top-10 on the line, but this one was a downright classic all the same. Reyes and Kim undeniably deserve a spot amongst the many MMA superstars on this list.
4. Michael Bisping vs. Anderson Silva
In late February of this year, the UFC returned to London, England with a stacked Fight Night card. In the main event, English MMA pioneer Michael Bisping got the biggest test of his career in former middleweight champion and MMA great Anderson Silva. This fight had it all: violence, controversy, sportsmanship and more.
It began with Bisping surprising by dropping the notoriously elusive Silva on several occasions. From there, Silva was able to find his groove, at which point he began to land on the Brit. Then came the controversy. At the end of the third round, Bisping lost his mouth piece. When he attempted to pause the action to put it back in, Silva erupted into the air and planted a flying knee on his chin. The round ended at the precise moment that Bisping crumpled to the canvas in a dazed heap. He’d been saved by the bell.
From there, Silva and the bloodied Brit offered up two more exciting rounds, with Bisping ultimately walking away with a unanimous win. The two fighters then put weeks of trash talk in bed in a memorable display of sportsmanship.
3. Steve Bossé vs. Sean O’Connell
Like Marco Polo Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim’s fight, Steve Bossé and Sean O’Connell’s thrilling light heavyweight war tends to be forgotten because neither man is particularly big name. But what a battle it was.
The fight, which occurred in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, began with O’Connell dropping his Canadian foe with a punch. From there, Bossé was able to brush off the cobwebs, at which point he surged back to rattle his American adversary on several occasions.
In the end, Bossé would walk away with a unanimous decision win. Yet he and his opponent would both leave Ottawa with $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus checks, having produced one of the best fights of the year on an otherwise forgettable card.
2. Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi
On December 10, the UFC returned to Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the first time since 2013. It did so with UFC 206, a card that was initially criticized for it’s lack of big name fighters.
Despite the flack that UFC 206 received, the card ultimately emerged as one of the best of the year. The lineup was highlighted by a number of thrilling fights – and none more thrilling than Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi’s featherweight war.
Over the course of this three-round fight, the crafty veteran and torpedo-fisted South Korean prospect rattled each other with the kinds of punches that could knock planets out of their orbits – and yet against all odds, both fighters stayed standing until the final bell.
In the end, Swanson’s craftiness and veteran poise would carry him to a unanimous decision win, which would mark the end Choi’s unbeaten run in the UFC. Truly, though, there was no loser in this fight. It very easily could have taken the number one spot on this list. After much deliberation, however, we opted to give that honor too…
1. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit
Why Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit’s January welterweight title war over Swanson and Choi’s December epic? Well, there are a few reasons for this choice.
First and foremost, is that Lawler vs. Condit was a five-round fight. The two welterweight legends simply had two more rounds to hurt each other in, and they did not let them go to waste. Secondly, this fight was a title fight. There was more on the line. Yet even with the welterweight division’s ultimate prize on the hook, the two fighters fought with the kind of reckless abandon you’d see in two drunk guys fighting in a Denny’s parking lot. They did this of course, with finely-tuned technique developed over a combined 30 years of professional fighting experience. Indeed, in our humble opinions, Lawler vs. Condit, is the only real choice for the number one spot on this list.
In the end, Lawler would win this fight with a split decision, in one of the most controversial judging verdicts of the year. Despite the incredibly competitive nature of this welterweight slobber-knocker, the UFC decided to deprive us of an immediate rematch. Luckily for them, fight fans are a forgiving bunch.