A great fight is a perfect storm. Put two fighters together and you never know what you’ll get, but when both have the intention of making a statement against each other and the styles mesh, it becomes something more than just an athletic competition. When that happens, there’s nothing better in all of sports. Here are the best of 2016.
1. Cub Swanson-Dooho Choi
When the featherweight bout between Cub Swanson and Dooho Choi was announced, every fight fan worth his or her salt expected an epic battle that would steal the show at UFC 206 in Toronto. But did anyone really expect the fight to be this good? Well, it was, with Swanson silencing any critics that made him the underdog and Choi proving that despite his status as a knockout artist, he was no frontrunner. In 15 minutes of high-level and fast-paced action, this was the best of mixed martial arts on display for the world to see.
2. Conor McGregor–Nate Diaz II
Sure, the hype machine was in full effect leading up to this August rematch, but when put on the sport’s biggest stage for a second time, both Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz stepped up once more. Filled with drama from start to finish, McGregor started fast and Diaz finished strong, but it was “The Notorious” one who emerged victorious via decision, evening the score with Stockton’s finest and setting the stage for what fans hope will be a rubber match.
3. Robbie Lawler–Carlos Condit
If we ever decide to start naming these awards, The Robbies may be an appropriate start, as it seems that Mr. Robbie Lawler is always a fixture in the Best Fight category. His January win over Carlos Condit is the latest example of his action-packed brilliance, and the fact that we’re still talking about it in December shows you just how good this five-round war was.
4. Steve Bosse-Sean O’Connell
Steve Bosse and Sean O’Connell may not be champions or top contenders, but there will always be a place for fighters like this in the Octagon, simply because when the cage door closes, they leave nothing up to chance. Their fists and feet – primarily their fists – are how they do their job, and if throwing them for 15 minutes at an opponent is the way to get that job done, they’re going to do it. This was classic brawling won by Bosse, but there were no losers here.
5. Tyron Woodley–Stephen Thompson
You never know what a fighter is truly made of until they hit some adversity. At UFC 205 in November, both welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson had to show their true mettle, and each passed their test. In the process, those of us watching from outside the cage got a five round battle worthy of having the name “world championship” attached to it. Sure, the old sports adage is that a draw is like kissing your sister, but neither Woodley or Thompson deserved to lose this one.
6. Joanna Jedrzejczyk-Claudia Gadelha II
For world-class fighting at its highest level, look no further than July’s five-rounder between strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. An intense fight from start to finish, Jedrzejczyk proved her championship mettle in the toughest fight of her career, and Gadelha showed that she has the talent and determination to make another run at the crown.
7. Polo Reyes-“Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim
Like Bosse vs. O’Connell, Polo Reyes and “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim paid no attention to their own safety in their UFC 199 opener, and for 11 minutes and 52 seconds, the crowd already in their seats at The Forum was captivated. For those who waited until the main card to show up, sorry, you missed one of the best fights of the year.
8. Donald Cerrone–Matt Brown
Lost in the fanfare of the glorious bout between Cub Swanson and Dooho Choi was the fight that came right after it on the UFC 206 main card. As I’m watching Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown throw down, it amazed me how quiet the Toronto crowd was. And it was understandable, because they were drained from Swanson-Choi, but here’s the opportunity to give the welterweight vets their due, as they put on a heck of a striking duel before Cerrone scored a highlight reel knockout in the third round.
9. Tony Ferguson–Rafael Dos Anjos
Fighters act with confidence all the time. Whether they show it when it counts is another thing. Lightweight contender Tony Ferguson always shows it, and it was never more apparent than in the biggest fight of his career against Rafael Dos Anjos. Facing a hungry former champion, Ferguson took risks and battled RDA everywhere the fight went. Why? Because he was confident that whatever he did, it was going to work. That wasn’t always the case, but in the end, he got the victory and yet another Fight of the Night bonus.
10. Robert Whittaker–Derek Brunson
Put two of the middleweight division’s top rising stars – each with a five-fight winning streak – in the Octagon together, and you expect that there will be plenty of compelling action. And Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson delivered on those expectations. What fans didn’t know that all that action was going to get crammed into a little over four minutes. Sure, it was sloppy and frantic at times before Whittaker pulled off the victory, but if you were watching, you couldn’t look away. That’s a great fight.