So this year I’ve decided to split my top MMA fights list between the UFC and everyone else in an effort to share the love with regional promotions and Bellator. Also, Bellator had a pretty bad year in terms good action fights so I’ll include them. So here’s my top 5 fights from 2016 inside the Octagon.
Marco Polo Reyes vs Dong Hyun Kim - UFC 199
Steve Bosse vs Sean O’Connell - UFC Fight Night 89
Anderson Silva vs Michael Bisping - UFC Fight Night 84
Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor 1 - UFC 196
Neil Magny vs Hector Lombard - UFC Fight Night 85
Lando Vannata vs Tony Ferguson - UFC Fight Night 91
5. Dominick Cruz vs TJ Dillashaw - UFC Fight Night 81
This fight was everything we could have asked for. Heading into this fight, Cruz and Dillashaw had dazzled fans with their astounding footwork and unique striking. It only made sense the two would put on a technical marvel. Their fight back in January was truly spectacular. And while it didn’t produce the fireworks that some of the other fights on the list did, if you’re a fan of technical innovation and high-paced chess style striking this is the fight for you. And the story of Cruz’s health and return to the cage after so much time away only made his win all the sweeter after a great performance.
4. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Claudia Gadelha 2 - TUF 23 Finale
Back when these two met for the first time in 2014, I called their fight a perfect example of what two top level fighters fighting for a crack at the title should be. It was a grueling, nasty, and ugly fight where two fighters got after one another in an attempt to put their stamp on the fight. Their 2nd fight earlier this year took that concept to another level. Gadelha came out looking like a million bucks, dropping the champion and ragdolling her around the cage for the vast majority of the early rounds and landing some nice GnP in the process. But she hit a wall in the 3rd, and Jedrzejczyk demonstrated she might be the best conditioned athlete in MMA by coming out and landing something like ~150 punches over the course of the last 2 and a half round to retain. If we could get Gadelha-Jedrzejczyk every year while awaiting for the current crew of young strawweights to mature, I wouldn’t be mad at that. The two just have a perfect stylistic clash for 5 round fights.
3. Cub Swanson vs Doo Ho Choi - UFC 206
The only three rounder on this list so you know it had to be magical. This was an full out war and I’m so happy ~5 million people got to see it on Fox’s Christmas Eve replay. In what was being dubbed Doo Ho Choi’s arrival fight leading into UFC 206, it instead turned into a war of attrition that saw a veteran that was seemingly on the decline in Cub Swanson find new life after some muddling about. Swanson, in the middle of an early onslaught from the young Korean, managed to readjust and take over the fight. And that’s not to undersell Choi’s performance as his punishing offense and heart were on full display. Neither man really walked away a loser. It wasn’t just your typical brawl either. The firefight was a deliberate choice on Swanson and Greg Jackson’s part to take Choi out of his element and force him on the retreat. Savvy veteran stuff without the eye pokes.
2. Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz 2 - UFC 202
Even without the UFC 200 fiasco, the backroom politicking, the stupid “he moved up two weight classes” arguments, and the highly publicized bottle tossing, this is still just an amazing fight. Up to his first fight with Nate Diaz, I think it’s fair to say McGregor hasn’t been in any real prolonged trouble in his career. Sure, Chad Mendes took him down but he was never really in any danger in that fight. So when, on 11 days notice and fresh off the beach in Cabo Nate Diaz tagged McGregor so hard it caused him to panic wrestle it raised a lot of questions about his ability to take any heat. Then 5 months later, the two square off again and the fight goes very much the same way with McGregor landing hard and clean early with Nate bouncing back in the middle of the 2nd. From there we got to see the Irishman battle through the championship rounds with one of MMA’s most punishing volume punchers. Nate showed why he is considered one of the toughest SOBs in MMA and McGregor showed he could be forced to adapt under pressure. And that culminated in a tremendous 5 round war on the biggest card in UFC history.
1. Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit - UFC 195
On the 2nd day of the year of 2016, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit put on a fight so amazing and set the bar so high that there was really no way any other fight was going to surpass it. The 5th round by itself is probably the greatest round in MMA history. And in all honesty, we couldn’t have really expected any less. Condit and Lawler on a short list of the most violent fighters in all of MMA history. It was a war so violent, it probably took off a significant amount of time off the remainder of these two’s careers. It was an all time classic fight. Damn, I’m going to miss Robbie Lawler’s title reign.