Best MMA Fights
Asking a person to answer “what was the best MMA fight?” is like asking; “what was the best football match?” or “what’s the best movie?” – it’s a matter of taste. But at the same time, it’s not hard to realise when you are witnessing something special.
These 5 fights from this year are my favourites – based on technical aspects, tension and excitement, build-up, significance and a number of other aspects. They are the 5 fights which spring to mind as particularly outstanding, historical events.
I write this post just a few hours before UFC 207, which promises to be an exciting card. With the return of Ronda Rousey, and a fierce rivalry between Dominick Cruz and Cody Gardbrandt – we could see another showstopper, but it will be hard to top the 5 on this list.
I’ve just noticed that all of the fights I’ve picked have went to a decision, so I’ve created a separate posts – Best MMA Knockouts of 2016.
1.) Conor McGregor def. Nate Diaz (majority decision) at UFC 202
Both before and after this fight, I remember feeling that it was a big turning point in the sport of MMA.
Everyone who jumped on the Conor McGregor hype train got a huge shock as he lost to Nate Diaz in their first fight. But Conor handled the defeat with a lot of dignity and was determined to avenge his loss with an immediate rematch. Of course everyone tuned in to see if the biggest star in MMA could pull it off.
In the first fight, Conor loaded up his strikes, desperate for the KO. This, which he admitted himself, caused him to gas-out. He was unable to move as quickly and less able to defend himself – Nate Diaz landed a check-hook from long range, then put pressure on Conor until he shot for a takedown and was easily submitted by Diaz.
But true to form, Conor came in to the fight confident – and although the trash talk wasn’t as good as the first time around, it was more intense. With Conor stating at the weigh ins; “you should have killed me while you had the chance.”
The rematch lived up to the hype and then some.
In the second fight Conor was more composed, in the first round he used a lot of leck kicks, kept his range and picked his shots. Nate started to put on the pressure in the second round, which led a lot of fans to believe we were about to see the same outcome of their first fight. In the third round, Diaz took over and it looked as if Conor could be in deep trouble – but we mangaed to see him weather the storm and walk back to a panicked corner who realised that everything they trained might not be enough on the night.
This is where Conor had to show his heart; would he choke? give up? gas out? or could he turn it around? No one knew.
But in the fourth round, Conor seemed to catch a second wind – sticking to his original gameplan, he was able to outstrike Diaz for the last two rounds. Diaz managed to land his first takedown just moments from the final bell but it wasn’t enough to win him the fight – as Conor walked away with a majority decision win.
2.) Cub Swanson def. Doo Ho Choi (unanimous decision) at UFC 206
This was a highly anticipated Featherweight fight between a rising superstar in Doo Ho Choi, and an icon of Mixed Martial Arts in Cub Swanson. You could describe this as a typical ‘crossroads’ fight, where the rising star (Choi) aimed to prove his worth and take a giant leap up the ranks by defeating a talented, established fighter – while Swanson was determined not to let that happen, but to prove that he’s still a worthy contender in the division.
The fight started with Choi landing some heavy knees in the clinch. As they broke up, Choi seemed to be stalking Swanson, and t seemed for a minute or two that Choi’s precise counter-strikes may stop Cub Swanson from mounting any attacks. But Cub was able to use creative movement and strikes to get in range and land some shots of his own.
When the second round began, Swanson was able to force Choi backwards and land some significant strikes, with the superboy landing some counters of his own. Cub rocked Choi at one point and it looked like Swanson may be able to take advantage and get the stoppage – but we soon found out how tough Doo Ho Choi was, and realised it would take a lot more to finish the fight. He survived the attacks and even rocked Cub Swanson with a few shots of his own. Cub even landed a takedown, but Choi was able to scramble and get back to his feet. They closed out the round with a back-and-forth brawl. No one new what to expect in the third.
In the final round, Swanson displayed his creativity and range of attacks. throwing massive haymakers, Superman punches and even cartwheel kicks – anything to try and finish the resillient Choi. But Choi battled back – as they both laid it all on the line in an epic battle. Swanson almost finished Choi near the end of the round with a barrage of strikes and a spinning elbow which knocked him to the ground. But Choi held on, only to lose by decision.
Although Cub came out with an impressive win; there really were no losers in this match-up – instead we got to see the skill, intelligence and determination of Choi who was fractionally outmatched by Swanson’s creativity and experience.
Cub proved that he is still one of the most exciting fighters to watch, while Choi demonstrated that he has the heart and courage of a fighter to match his martial arts skills.
3.) Robbie Lawler def. Carlos Condit (split decision) at UFC 195
Before he lost the belt to Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler looked like one of the most dangerous, ferocious welterweights in history. Combining his, ‘ruthless’ brawling style with great footwork, distance management and over a decade of pofessional experience he looked like he could reign as champion for a long time.
In Lawler’s fight with Carlos Condit, we seen two legends of the sport collide in a 25 minute war – both having their moments and both putting on a display of excellent technique and experience.
The fight was a back-and-forth battle; both fighters suffered knockdowns in the early rounds, both picking their shots and assessing their opponent – in a display of the ultimate chess-match, as MMA fights are often like.
For a while, it looked like Condit was ahead on the scorecards, he was able to keep his range very well with the use of kicks; he was throwing good combinations and staying very busy in close range and in the clinch. In the fourth round, Condit seemed to be puling away – he landed 47 significant strikes while Lawler didn’t have an answer to.
But in the final round, we got to see “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler at his best. He put the pressure on Carlos Condit for the full 5 minutes, landing 50 headshots and bringing out the best of Condit who was able to weather the storm for the final 5 minutes.
In a controversial split decision, Lawler came out on top, but like the Swanson vs Choi fight – and all of the fights on this list, I suppose – there really were no losers.
4.) Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson (majority draw) at UFC 205
This fight wasn’t a crazy brawl or a shocking upset, it was more like a chess match – a fight between two people who could finsh the fight with just one strike. Woodley has devastating power to knock out opponents with one punch, while Thompson has spectacular karate kicks and striking – which he has used to finish opponents in the past.
In this fight we seen both fighters keeping their distance and picking their shots – not in hesitance, but in caution because they knew the danger of their opponent – this led to a very intense matchup.
Going in to the fight, many people were doubting Woodley as a champion – although he had knocked out Robbie Lawler in spectacular fashion, a lot of fans and bookmakers favoured Thompson in this matchup – this led to a lot of antiipation and meant that there was a lot on the line, not just the belt.
In the first round we got an insight to both fighters’ gameplans. Woodley was happy to stay on the outside, near the cage – giving him the option to explode with strikes all the way across the octagon – while Thompson was more focused on moving forward and having a high output of strikes. Woodley caught one of Thompson’s kicks and was able to get a takedown, from the top position he dominated Thompson and landed some nasty strikes, leaving Thompson bruised and beat-up going in to the second round.
In the second and third rounds, we seen Thompson edge his way back in to the fight. Thompson’s experience as an undefeated kickboxer – his output of strikes and control of distance – made it hard for Woodley to land any shots or score any points. So many people say the fight in Thompson’s favour going in to the fourth, which is when it all changed.
In the fourth round, Woodley landed a powerful right hand, which rocked Thompson, and just a short while later landed another. This sent Thompson falling to the canvas, and though he was able to get back up, Woodley secured a guillotine choke and jumped back to try and lock it in. For the next two minutes we waited in anxst to see if Woodley could get the submission, but Thompson never gave up. Instead, he was able to pop his head out and, spectacularly, ended the round on top position.
By this point, Woodley’s arms were worn out. For the first half of the final round we saw Thompson pile on the pressure in an attempt to win the fight, Woodley was defensive at first, and though he started to attack more, Thompson secured the fifth round. So it went to the judges’ scorecards.
It was eventually called a majority draw, with Woodley winning on two judges’ scorecards and Thompson on the other.
With his display of determination and skill, Thompson made his case for a rematch. While Woodey learned a valuable lesson – don’t leave it to the judges – although he retained his title, he suffered one of the most embarassing announcements in UFC history, in one of the best fights of the year.
5.) Michael Bisping def. Dan Henderson (unanimous decision) at UFC 204
This fight may not be on many others’s top 5 list, but I remember watching this fight on the endge of my seat the whole time – feeling like I was witnessing history. Two old foes fighting for the UFC belt.
Watching Bisping fight Hendo was like watching him fend off a burglar with a baseball bat. Eventhough Bisping was the busier fighter, we all knew that Dan could land one of his H-bombs and we could see a repeat of what happened last time – Bisping laying flat on the canvas; unconcious and gasping for breath.
In the first round, that happened, almost to a T. Bisping came out strong in the first few minutes, able to keep his range and avoid Hendo’s power punches. But 4 minutes in to the fight we saw Dan’s fist hit Bisping’s chin, and he flew back to the canvas. Unlike last time, when Dan closed in to seal the deal, Bisping saw it coming and was able to survive the barrage of punches and get back to his feet before the round ended.
Michael went back to his corner shocked and bloody, but still confident. In the second round he came out fast and stuck to his gameplan – like in the first round – and though Bisping didn’t seem fazed, fans were in suspense as we anticipated another H-bomb. After Bisping lands a left hook which sent Hendo stumbling, he tried to follow up with some more punches – only to catch a devastating overhand right, sending Bisping to the canvas once again. In survival mode, he was able to keep Dan in his guard and close out the round on bottom.
In the last three rounds, we saw Bisping start to take over the fight – determined to retain the title he had just won in spectacular fashion. Dan started to get tired as Bisping stepped on the gas, but for every 10 strikes Bisping threw, Dan would uncork a deadly right hand which narrowly mist Bisping on a number of occassions. Bisping was able to catch Dan with some heavy punches of his own, and there were some moments where Dan looked almost finished, but he wasn’t finished.
Bisping was able to close out the fight on top, landing more significant strikes and using more forward pressure. But Hendo landed two devastating punches at the start of the fight, almost finishing Bisping early-on – so who won? Only the judges knew.
In the end, Bisping won by unanimous decision – in a very close, nerve-wracking fight. One that was a great title defence for Bisping and a great retirement fight for Hendo.
So there’s my top 5 best mma fights of 2016. Like I said at the beginning, picking the best fights is a matter of opinion, so if you have any suggestions, leave a comment below.