Best MMA Fighters of 2016

So 2016 was a fantastic year for the UFC; with some comebacks, some rising stars and a lot of history being made. Thomas Gerbasi of the UFC, published a post – Best Fighters of the Year – but that was before Christmas, and a lot has changed since then.

Just to show you before I give my opinion, here’s his top 10.

UFC’s Best Fighters of 2016


1.) Michael Bisping

2.) Stipe Miocic

3.) Conor McGregor

4.) Dominick Cruz

5.) Joanna Jedrzejczyk


6.) Tyron Woodley

7.) Stephen Thompson

8.) Gegard Mousasi

9.) Donald Cerrone

10.) Derrick Lewis


My Top 10 Best Fighters of 2016


1.) Amanda Nunes

2.) Cody Garbrandt

3.) Conor McGregor

4.) Michael Bisping

5.) Stipe Miocic


6.) Tyron Woodley

7.) Joanna Jedrzejczyk

8.) Max Holloway

9.) Stephen Thompson

10.) Dominick Cruz


Here’s Why

Of course everyone could have their opinion on the best fighters of 2016; but here’s the explanation of my list for anyone who is interested.

You should also check out our post on 5 Fights I’d Like To See In 2017

Or if you’re looking for some MMA Gear – 10 Of The Best MMA Brands

1.) Amanda Nunes

In the UFC’s post on the 23rd of December, Amanda made it to the honorable mentions list. Not to fault the writer for that; before beating Ronda, Amanda had won a unanimous decision over Valentina Shevchenko to earn her title shot, then outclassed and annihilated Meisha Tate to win the belt in very impressive fashion. But she was yet to make a very big statement.

Amanda had beaten Meisha, who had beaten Holly, who had beaten Ronda – but Ronda had beaten Meisha twice. So we didn’t really know who was the best female Bantamweight, and a lot of people bought in to the hype for Ronda’s return against, now champion, Nunes.

Long story short, Amanda demolished Ronda in 48 seconds, but it wasn’t just her performance that made her my #1 fighter of the year.

If you’ve paid attention to any of the aftermath from UFC 207, you will realise just how much of a turning point this has been in women’s MMA. Ronda was their one and only superstar, she was the face of the sport since they introduce a women’s division in MMA. Even going in to this bout with Nunes being champion, Ronda got all of the promotion – so Nunes felt like she had a point to prove. And she proved it – announcing to the fans that no one will take the belt from her and claiming to Dana White – “you have to trust me.”

Another thing I should mention is that Nunes’s English has improved dramatically. Fighters now realise that you have to be marketable to make big money in the sport and get your big opportunity. It’s clear that Nunes has worked hard on this – I remember some of her earlier Octagon interviews and they were a bit cringy to say the least, but not she is a lot more comfortable on the mic and we get to see her friendly, championship personality.

2.) Cody Garbrandt

Again, not another fighter who could have been ranked before Christmas – but at UFC 207, Cody Garbrandt put on a masterclass against – arguably the best P4P fighter at the time – Dominick Cruz.

We knew that Garbrandt was a force to be reckoned with in the Bantamweight division. He had already destroyed 3 opponents in 2016, before his championship fight against Cruz. But a lot of people doubted his experience; they questioned if he was well-rounded enough or even composed enough to become champion at such an early age.

But Cody proved all of his doubters wrong, in very dramatic fashion.

Going in to the fight, people gave Cody a slim chance of winning if he was able to get lucky and land a knockout blow on Cruz. Very few people predicted that he could dominate Cruz for 5 rounds – to show better movement, and better composure; to avoid takedowns, control the octagon and shut off Cruz’s offence. But he did.

Cruz also showed a lot of showboating in the fight, just to prove tht he could get under Cruz’s skin also – after all the trash talking before the fight.

Now Garbrandt is likely to fight TJ Dillishaw which promises to be an epic grudge match between two former training partners and two UFC stars in the making.

3.) Conor McGregor

Throughout 2016, Conor continued to dominate headlines and break records, but he also put on one of the best fights of 2016, in his rematch with Nate Diaz; and showed one of the best performances of the year, in his Lightweight title fight with Eddie Alvarez.

After suffering his first defeat in the octagon to Nate Diaz – Conor was adamant on proving to everyone that he was the superior fighter in that match up, and determined to get back on a winning streak so he could get back on track for the Lightweight title and make more history in the UFC.

The fight played out to be one of the best of the year – a 5 round war in which both fighters were rocked several times but neither gave in. There was a lot of controversy about the final decision – Conor winning unanimously – but nevertheless, Conor proved that he is well worth all the hype.

At UFC 205, Conor put on one of the most spectacular performances we have ever seen in the octagon – when he dominated Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and knocked him out in the second round – to become Lightweight champion, making history once again by becoming the first person to hold two belts simultaneously.

Despite his loss, back in March, McGregor had an amazing 2016. And especially with Ronda losing in such devastating fashion – he is arguably the only superstar left in the UFC.

4.) Michael Bisping

Michael Bisping has taken a lot of criticism since winning the title, but no matter what you think of him: whether he is worthy of being Champion; if his wins were lucky; or if he is almost ready for retirement. No matter what you think – you can’t deny that he had a fantastic 2016, and, in my opinion, he undoubtedly deserves every great thing that happened to him.

Of course the Middleweight division is full of killers and of course he is reaching the tail end of his career – but to be great in the sport, you have to show up and fight anyone who is placed in front of you and perform better than them on the night, that’s all you have to do. And Bisping proved that when he won the title from Luke Rockhold.

Bisping accepted that fight on 2 weeks notice – though he was coming off a great win over the greatest of all time, Anderson Silva – a lot of people gave him no chance of winning. Even Rockhold seemed to underestimate Bisping, but showing complete focus and composure – he knockout out Rockhold in the first round.

After winning the title Bisping took on the legend, Dan Henderson – in an attempt to avenge his most devastating knockout loss. After being rocked twice, Bisping came back to dominate the rest of the fight; showing tremendous heart, determination and skill – rounding off a great year.

If you need proof that Bisping is a deserving champion, you just need to look at his UFC record of 22-7. He has avenged two of his stoppage losses to Rockhold and Henderson, the other coming from UFC legend Vitor Belfort. And the other defeats have all been fairly close decisions to Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans and Tim Kennedy – 4 legends of the Middleweight division.

So when I said Bisping will fight anybody, I wasn’t lying.

5.) Stipe Miocic

The Heavyweight is notorious for upsets, unexpected knockouts and a constant rotation of new champions. We all know that these 265lb athletes hit with so much power that it’s silly to count any of them out.

In saying that, Stipe Miocic faced one of the toughest tests that any Heavyweight could face. He was matched up with Fabricio Werdum – one of the best Jiu Jitsu practitioners in the UFC, let alone the Heavyweight division – in his backyard of Curitiba, Brazil.

In the first few minutes we saw a back in forth striking battle, with both fighters trying to find their range but neither being able to get in close and land combinations. When Stipe started to find his range, Werdum charged in and Stipe uncorked a short-range right hand that put out Werdum and silenced the crowd.

It will go down as one of the best knockouts of the year, and possibly the best moment of Stipe’s career. After that, Stipe faced the very dangerous Alistair Overeem in his first title defence.

In that fight, Stipe was rocked early by a big left hand by Overeem – it looked like the fight could be finished by a vicious guillotine choke – but Stipe escaped the choke and got back to his feet. Then Stipe started to find some openings of his own, he hurt Overeem with some of those and found an opportunity to take Alistair down and end the fight with some vicious ground and pound.

Despite leaving some openings in his defence, Stipe has some of the best boxing in the Heavyweight division and has the ability to retain the belt for a long time. And this year, with 3 KO wins, he proved that.

6.) Tyron Woodley

Woodley has attracted a lot of haters since he became champion. Asking for money fights and demanding respect doesn’t get you a lot of fans it seems. Although his charisma and marketing strategy doesn’t quite match that of Conor McGregor – his performance of the night win against Lawler, and fight of the night performance against Stephen Thompson were extremely impressive nonetheless.

Woodey’s knockout of Robbie Lawler to win the Welterweight title was completely flawless – one of the best set-ups and most powerful punches I have ever seen. But Woodley attracted a lot of criticism for his performance against Thompson – his first defence of the belt. A lot of people, including Joe Rogan, criticised Woodley for being too cautious; holding back on strikes and allowing Thompson to force him back against the fence. Woodley rebutted that by explaining that it was part of his gameplan, of baiting Thompson in and allowing Woodley to explode across the cage with strikes.

Since Tyron had to endure one of the most embarassing announcements in history – as they changed the result from split decision win, to majority draw – you could say his gameplan didn’t go to plan, maybe he learned the lesson that you shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the judges. But to be fair to Tyron, he was able to, effectively, neutralise the threat of Thompson’s strikes – some of the most dangerous in the UFC – and he had 2 rounds of complete dominance over the challenger. So despite the result, I think it was a good night for Tyron Woodley, and a great year overall.

To address his claims about wanting to be the greates, and wanting ‘money fights’, I’d say “good on him”. Maybe he shouldn’t be so blatant but it’s only a good sign when a fighter claims that they are the greatest and I think he has all the skills to prove that over the next few years – with a bit more experience.

7.) Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Time and time again, Joanna has proved that she is the most talented fighter in the women’s Strawweight division – and with such a dominant reign as champion, she has been making her way up the pound-for-pound list.

In 2016, she faced two of the toughest fighters in the history of the Strawweight division, in two of the toughest fights of her career.

Back in July, after a heated and controversial season of The Ultimate Fighter – in which Joanna almost started a brawl with the opposing coach, Claudia Gadhela – they headed in to a hugely anticipated fight for the title. Caludia Gadhela started the fight very impressively, forcing Joanna in to deep trouble in the earlier rounds – but Joanna rebounded, taking control of the fight and winning by unanimous decision.

At UFC 205, Joanna defended her belt once again – against Polish contender, Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Again, Joanna put on a masterful performance, utilising her superior striking to dominate Kowalkiewicz and win by unanimous decision.

Despite her dominant performance, this was perhaps Joanna’s toughest test as champion – as Karolina was able to take every strike that Joanna threw, and kept walking forward, putting pressure on the champion. For 90% of the fight, Joanna was able to stay out of range, but with one strike, Karolina had the champion hurt – and though she closed in for the finish, she was unable to stop the champion. Instead, Joanna rebounded and won the final round.

Although Joanna has reigned as champion for almost 2 years, there is a growing list of contenders waiting for their opportunity. Maybe 2017 won’t be as easy for Joanna, but you can’t deny that she had another great year in 2016.

8.) Max Holloway

Max Holloway outclassed Anthony Pettis at UFC 206, taking him to a 10 fight win streak and earing him the Interim Featherweight belt.

Although Pettis has  some of the most dynamic strikes in the UFC, Max was able to dominate almost every exchange with good movement and his excellent control of range. Max’s striking defence is also something that we rarely see from UFC fighters – by constantly and almost automatically bringing his rear hand back to guard, he neutralised all of Pettis’s kicks.

In that fight, we got to see Max’s well rounded game which has earned him a 10 fight win streak since losing his last fight to Conor McGregor back in 2013.

Since that fight, the Hawaian has defeated some of the top fighters in the Featherweight division; including Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas and now, Anthony Pettis – to earn his #1 contender’s spot. Defeating Lamas and Pettis made 2016 a brilliant year for Max, but 2017 could be even more spectacular – with a title fight with Jose Aldo on the horizon and, if Max can prevail, his first title defence.

With Conor McGregor winning the Featherweight belt in December 2015, then moving up in weight class – the Featherweight division has been wide open and calling out for new title contenders and the only person to answer the call, so far, has been Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway.

At the age of just 25, Max is definitely a fighter to watch, and someone who may go down in history as one of the greats.

9.) Stephen Thompson

‘Wonderboy’ Thompson rose to title contention in 2016 by defeating Johnny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald in two of his greatest performances to date. But, eventhough he didn’t come away with the belt, Thompson was even more impressive in his title fight with Tyron Woodley.

At UFC 205, the two Welterweights put on a spectacular show, in a battle which earned them fight of the night. Both Thompson and Woodley are two of the most devastating strikers in their division, and both went in to the bout with a fairly cautious approach. Although we didn’t get to see many of Thompson’s masterful karate kicks, we got to see a lot of heart.

In the first round, Tyron managed to catch a kick and take Thompson down, he delivered some vicious ground and pound leaving Thompson bruised and bloody going in to the second round. Thompson was edging his way back in to the fight, pushing Woodley backwards and starting to find his range. But in the 4th round, Woodley caught Wonderboy with two powerful right hands, knocking him to the canvas. Wonderboy got up, but Woodley sunk in a guillotine choke and dragged Wonderboy to the canvas.

For 2 minutes, we witnessed Woodley squeezing a choke, which would have most likely finished 99% of fighters – but Thompson didn’t give up. He moved around, hung on, and eventually popped his head out – finishing the round on top.

After surviving the most grueling round of his career, Thompson returned to his gameplan and took the fight to Woodley once more. Unfortunately, he didn’t do enough to win the fight, and Woodley retained his belt via majority draw.

Despite falling short on his first title contention – Wonderboy still had a great year in 2016. And it will be interesting to see f he can challenge for the belt again this year.

10.) Dominick Cruz

Dominick Cruz has, probably, the best comeback story in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. After losing to Urijah Faber in 2007, Dominick Cruz returned and rose to become champion of the WEC and then the UFC – spending 3 years undefeated and almost 2 years as champion.

Then Cruz suffered a terrible injury, forcing him out of the sport for almost 3 years. In 2014 he returned to defeat Takeya Mizugaki in the first round. We all thought that the champion may have been back, that he was here to, once again reign over the Bantamweight division. But he then suffered another tremendous setback.

During his two lay-offs because of injury – Cruz had undergone 3 ACL reconstructions and many fans wondered if he would ever return.

After spending some time behind the Fox Sports analyst desk, Cruz returned once again in 2016. This time to face the explosive, well-rounded, dangerous champion, TJ Dillishaw – in what would be the ultimate Bantamweight showdown.

Dominick put on a show that night, making a fighter who had destroyed most of the division look fairly amateur. Although it was a close split decision, and some fans maintain that TJ won, you can’t deny that Cruz put on a masterful performance that night – with the best comeback you could imagine.

In July, Cruz then faced Urijah Faber, and with another masterful performance – put an end to their 9 year rivalry when he won another unanimous decision. Urijah took his opportunity on the mic to pass the flag to alpha male prospect, Cody Garbrandt, setting up one of the best Bantamweight fights of all time as Cody defeated Cruz.

Perhaps if Cruz retained the title against Garbrandt he would be #1 on my list. Although he lost, his tremendous comeback and great performances have earned him a place on my top 10.

Honorable Mentions

Gegard Mousasi

Donald Cerrone

Demetrious Johnson

Nate Diaz

Tony Ferguson

Summary

So there’s 10 of the best fighters of 2016.

You can find more MMA news and opinions on the MMA Gear Hub Blog. And visit our Shop for Mixed Martial Arts gear.

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