The Half-Year MMA Awards 2018

By Drake Riggs - June 30, 2018

We’re already halfway through 2018! And with that has come plenty of great moments inside the many MMA enclosures around the world. logo

These are our staff awards for the half-way point of 2018.


Tom Taylor (@TomTayMMA)

Submission: Alexey Oleynik’s first round Ezekiel choke on Junior Albini at UFC 224

If my friends in the jiu-jitsu community are to be believed (I’ve always been more of a striking guy), it is exceedingly f***ing difficult to pull off an Ezekiel choke if you’re not wearing a gi. Yet somehow, a 41-year-old Russian named Alexey Oleynik has managed to do so a whopping 12 times over the course of his almost 70-fight career.

Oleynik’s latest Ezekiel choke win came at the expense of Brazil’s Junior Albini, who was tapping out less than two minutes into their UFC 224 bout. You’d think by now all of Oleynik’s foes would be good and prepared to defend against his Ezekiel choke, but somehow, he keeps catching people with it. And I would bet big money that he does it again before he hangs up the gloves.

Event: PFL 1

UFC President Dana White has spent decades trying to convince fighters to chase the finish every time they step into the cage, but despite all of his “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” rants, he’s never really gotten through to his fighters the way that he hoped. In its short existence, the PFL has already figured out how to encourage the kind of aggression that Dana White has always wanted. They award bonus points to fighters based on how quickly they finish their fights.

PFL 1, the opening event of the league’s debut season, flaunted all the fruits of this system. The card was littered with violent, blitzkrieg wins, which combined for an altogether unforgettable night of MMA. Sure, it didn’t have as many big names as UFC 220 or UFC 225, but in terms of action, it punched well above its weight.

Fight: Yusuke Yachi vs Diego Nunes at Rizin 10

There have been so many great fights this year. When making my pick for this category, I considered Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero 2, Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Kyle Bochniak, Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi, and so many others. Ultimately, however, I felt compelled to tip my hat to Japan’s Yusuke Yachi and Brazil’s Diego Nunes, who pounded each other into unrecognizable purple heaps in the Rizin ring back in May. In terms of pace, energy and momentum shifts, I really think this fight takes the cake for the first half of 2018.

Knockout: Li Kai Wen over Rodian Menchavez at ONE: Pinnacle of Power via first-round punch

I’m not even sure that I can articulate why I chose Li Kai Wen’s June knockout of Rodian Menchavez for this category. I just loved it. It was beautiful. The Chinese fighter performed with all the efficiency and mercilessness of a contract killer, immediately walking his foe down and removing his batteries with a comet-like right hand just 10 seconds into the fight. It was the perfect, one-hitter-quitter.

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC heavyweight, Curtis Blaydes

The first half of 2018 could not have gone better for Curtis Blaydes. In the span of six months, the surging heavyweight wrestler has delivered decisive wins over two bona fide MMA legends in Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem. He entered the year 2018 on the fringes of the heavyweight top-15, and half-way through the year, he’s the owner of the number-3 spot in the rankings and is arguably the top contender in the division. If that’s not a breakthrough, I don’t know what is. Now give this man a title shot.

Upset: Claudio Silva’s first-round submission over Nordine Taleb at UFC Liverpool

Of all the categories listed here, this is the one I had the toughest time deciding on. In the end, however, I decided to give my vote to Claudio Silva’s first-round submission of Nordine Taleb, which went down at UFC Liverpool in May. Having entered the cage at +305, Silva was the biggest underdog of the night, and yet he defeated his dangerous foe by submission in the very first round. The thing that made this upset truly special in my eyes, however, is the fact that it marked Silva’s first fight in almost four years. If ring-rust was a factor, he sure did a good job of hiding it.


Chris Taylor (@CTaylor_96)

Submission: Alexey Oleynik’s first round Ezekiel choke on Junior Albini at UFC 224

Alexey Oleynik scored a rarely seen Ezekiel choke submission finish over Junior Albini at UFC 224. The Russian submission ace was able to lock up the chokehold in the clinch and then proceeded to drop down to his back where he tightened his squeeze and forced Albini to tap out.

Event: UFC 225

Although eight of the thirteen bouts at UFC 225 went to the judge’s scorecards for decision, June’s pay-per-view event in Chicago still gets my vote for the event of the year thus far in 2018.

The main event of the evening featured a “fight of the year” war between current UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero. The event also served as Colby Covington’s coming out party, as the brash UFC welterweight proved that he was a lot more than just talk by scoring a dominant decision win over former lightweight titleholder Rafael dos Anjos. The event also featured big wins from former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm who defeated Megan Anderson, as well as a career-defining win for surging heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes who TKO’d former division title challenger Alistair Overeem.

Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Yoel Romero 2 at UFC 225

A rematch between current UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and top division contender Yoel Romero served as the main event of UFC 225 earlier this month in Chicago. The fight was nothing short of an instant classic as “The Soldier of God” and “Bobby Knuckles” traded bombs for the better part of twenty-five minutes much to the delight of the Chi-Town crowd and viewers watching around the world.

After five-rounds of back and forth action, which saw the champion badly hurt and almost finished in the final five minutes, the fight went to the judge’s scorecards for decision. In the end, Robert Whittaker was awarded the split-decision victory, but Yoel Romero’s stock did not drop in defeat.

Knockout: Lyoto Machida over Vitor Belfort at UFC 224 via second-round front kick

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida added another sensational knockout to his highlight reel at May’s UFC 224 event in Brazil. “The Dragon” was able to catch fellow MMA legend Vitor Belfort with a left front kick to the face early on in the second-round of their fight, a strike which sent “The Phenom” crashing to the canvas.

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC bantamweight, Petr Yan

Bantamweight fighter Peter Yan (9-1 MMA) made his highly anticipated Octagon debut at last weekend’s UFC Singapore event. The twenty-five year old Russian, who trains out of the famed Tiger Muay Thai gym in Thailand, was able to knock down his opponent Teruto Ishihara three times in the opening round before eventually forcing the referee to step in and call the contest due to ground and pound strikes.

Upset: Alexander Hernandez’ first-round knockout over Beneil Dariush at UFC 222

Alexander Hernandez stepped up on just one week’s notice to make his octagon debut against lightweight staple Beneil Dariush at UFC 222. Despite being a massive underdog, Hernandez was able to make quick work of his ranked opponent, this after he landed a brutal left hand which resulted in a first-round stoppage victory.


Jason Kindschy (@KinchMMA)

Submission: Alexey Oleynik’s first round Ezekiel choke on Junior Albini at UFC 224

Another Ezekiel choke for the constriction-wizard Alexey Oleynek. Such a rare submission to see not only MMA but BJJ competition as well. Considering how many wins the Ukranian has via this stranglehold, I suspect we will see a few more before he’s done with MMA.

Event: UFC 220

Purely on the bias of being at the event live and being a New Englander, I’m going with UFC 220. Two title fights in which the incumbent champions had to overcome surging heavy hitters. Hometown boys getting some big wins, great atmosphere, and you would not believe the brouhaha of rowdy Croatians in the concourse!

Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje at UFC on Fox 29

It seems like this category automatically goes to Justin Gaethje and whoever the opponent might be. Dustin Poirier is as game as they come, and he proved that undeniably in this scrap. There were so many amazing fights to choose from in the past six months, but this one takes the cake. Blood, guts, the will to win, and some serious damage from both sides.

Knockout: Aaron Pico over Shane Krutchen at Bellator 192 via first-round body punch

This pick was incredibly difficult for me. We saw a “rolling thunder” KO early in the year, we saw the return of the Karate Kid crane kick, and enough one-shot starches to keep a laundromat in business for a decade. However, my internal Bas Rutten fanboy sides with Aaron Pico’s liver buster left against Shane Kruchten. Ouch!

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC heavyweight, Curtis Blaydes

Curtis Blaydes has gone from only being known by the hardcore, to next in line for a title shot with wins in 2018 over legends of combat. Honorable mentions would be Dominick Reyes and Israel Adesanya. All three men are future champions in my opinion.

Upset: Sergio Pettis’ split decision over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 225

When you consider betting odds, importance of the matchup and the caliber of athletes involved, Sergio Pettis defeating Joseph Benavidez is the safe choice here.


Drake Riggs (@Dre_Kriggs)

Submission: Paddy Pimblett’s second round flying triangle on Alexis Savvidis at Cage Warriors 90

I mean…how often do we see flying triangles even attempted? This one worked! It’s going to be hard to top for a year-end award let alone a half year.

Event: Bellator 198

The night was full of stellar submission wins. The main card in particular with four straight before an epic one minute war between the legendary heavyweights in Frank Mir and Fedor Emelianenko. I can’t remember a Bellator event that was more fun to watch than this one. Probably ever.

Fight: Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje at UFC on Fox 29

I think people have forgotten that this fight happened this year. It’s almost just not fair for this category when Gaethje fights because his bouts are instant contenders each and every time out. He’s the most exciting fighter of all time and he will continue to show that until he retires.

This fight was also kind of a coming out party for the already super talented, Dustin Poirier. But seeing him hang with the dictator of violence himself was just insanity to watch.

Knockout: Brian Ortega over Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 via first-round punches

Just looking at it as a knockout, this probably isn’t in the top 5. But for me, it’s the story behind it.

The submission wizard came in and became the first man ever to knock out one of the most insanely durable fighters in the history of the sport. I had a weird feeling that Brian Ortega would pull this feat off but I still was in shock that it actually happened. As was the rest of the MMA world and for good reason.

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC welterweight, Darren Till

It can be argued that Darren Till technically broke through with his win over Donald Cerrone in late 2017. But if there’s a way to breakthrough twice then Till did it with his win over the perennial top contender, Stephen Thompson.

The fight was incredibly close and I didn’t even score it in favor of Till. But the fact that he was able to hang in there and even be competitive in the striking department with someone like Thompson showed that he belonged there and is an elite caliber welterweight.

It’s a fun time for the welterweight division.

Upset: Tomasz Narkun’s third-round submission over Mamed Khalidov at KSW 42

This fight was also a strong candidate for comeback for me but Paul Craig just like…man. We’ll get to that.

Mamed Khalidov has been one of the best fighters outside of the UFC for the better part of his career. And since his sixth pro fight, he had gone 32-1-1. Which is astounding. His competition wasn’t just a bunch of cans either and Khalidov had truly become a bonafide star in Europe and KSW. He’s kind of like the Chuck Liddell of KSW I guess you could say.

And after defeating their welterweight champion in a non-title super fight, the middleweight champ, Khalidov went up to challenge the light heavyweight champ, Tomasz Narkun in another non-title super fight.

Khalidov caught Narkun early on and had him in plenty of trouble. The fight continued competitively but with Khalidov clearly in the driver’s seat. Then the third round rolled around and Narkun came out knowing he was down, got in the clinch and began unloading.

Khalidov hit the takedown in defense but wound in a triangle that forced him to tap as the Polish crowd exploded. It was one of my favorite fights of the year overall so far and just such an unexpected upset and comeback.


Jordy McElroy (@JordyMcElroy)

Submission: Paddy Pimblett’s second round flying triangle on Alexis Savvidis at Cage Warriors 90

Flying triangle. Does anything else really need to be said?

Event: UFC 223

Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Yoel Romero 2 at UFC 225

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing two of the best in the world slinging meat-hooks like an old Rocky movie. Robert Whitaker and Yoel Romero might forever disagree on the decision at UFC 225, but they’ll always be tied to something legendary. Forget Fight of the Year. That was one of the greatest championship bouts in UFC history.

Knockout: Lyoto Machida over Vitor Belfort at UFC 224 via second-round front kick

Age is nothing but a number for Lyoto Machida, who still fights like the real-life version of Daniel Larusso. His finish of Vitor Belfort, a living legend in his own right, is proof of the artistry and beauty of technique when correctly applied. It doesn’t get any cleaner than a walk-off front kick knockout.

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC interim welterweight champion, Colby Covington

Colby Covington talked the talk, but he should also be commended for walking the walk. It’s hard to knock a man that managed to find a path to superstardom so quickly. Few even knew who he was a year ago, and now he’s the interim UFC welterweight champion preparing for a blockbuster fight with Tyron Woodley.

Upset: Sergio Pettis’ split decision over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 225

Sergio Pettis’ win over Joseph Benavidez is hands down the biggest upset so far this year. Benavidez has only lost to three men over the course of a 12-year career: Dominick Cruz, Demetrious Johnson and now Pettis. That’s damn good company if you’re Pettis. Cruz is a former UFC champion and the best bantamweight of all time, and Johnson, the reigning UFC flyweight champion, is arguably the greatest fighter that ever lived.


Mike Pendleton (@MP2310)

Submission: Ovince Saint Preux’s first-round straight armbar on Tyson Pedro at UFC Singapore

Tying Jon Jones for submissions at light heavyweight is certainly noteworthy and Saint Preux’s submissions are always so smooth.

Event: UFC 223

The action, inside and outside of the event may have changed the lightweight division and possibly the UFC for a long time. Khabib Nurmagomedov became champion, Conor McGregor became crazy, and the fans became invested into a must-see fight.

Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Yoel Romero 2 at UFC 225

Two of the highest level fighters just fought each other for another five rounds and the decision could’ve gone either way. We saw both guys get in trouble and both survived for the epic fight

Knockout: Yoel Romero over Luke Rockhold at UFC 221 via third-round punches

YOEL, HE’S ALREADY OUT! It wasn’t just the first left that was vicious, it was the SECOND that landed after Rockhold that was already out. That KO showed (even though he missed weight) that Yoel belonged at the top of 185.

Breakthrough fighter/up and comer: UFC lightweight, Kevin Lee

I’ve got to say, my initial pick was Zabit Magomedsharipov but I’m going to go ahead and choose Kevin Lee. He bounced back from losing the interim title fight to Tony Ferguson last year, and the loss of his coach Robert Follis and absolutely destroyed Edson Barboza in his return. Maybe it’s unfair cause he’s fought for the interim title, but he’s ONLY 25 years old and with all eyes on the lightweight division, there could be some huge fights in line for him.

Upset: Sergio Pettis’ split decision over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 225


Everyone (pick described by Tom Taylor)

Comeback: Paul Craig’s last-second triangle over Magomed Ankalaev at UFC London

In my opinion, there could be no other choice for this category than Paul Craig’s last-second submission defeat of Magomed Ankalaev. The Scotsman Craig, who had been soundly thumped for about 14 minutes and 50 seconds of their 15-minute fight, looked doomed to lose a lopsided unanimous decision to his Russian foe.

But then, as the seconds melted off the clock, he threw his legs over his foe’s shoulders, locked up a triangle choke, and with a single, lonely second left in the fight, coaxed out the tap. I can confidently say that I consider this not only the best comeback of early 2018 but one of the greatest comebacks in the history of fighting, period. If I didn’t think it’d make my selections incredibly boring, I would have picked Craig’s win for best submission and best upset too.

This article first appeared on on 6/30/2018.

This article appeared first on BJPENN.COM


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