MMA of the Year
MMA this year was a little light on classics. Don’t get me wrong, there was some damn good fights, some high drama, controversies, shocks, changing of the guard, and at least one return of a bona fide legend. But in terms of legitimate All Timers, fights we will be talking about for years to come, there was one, maybe two at a push.
This was the year that cemented Jose Aldo’s time at the top really is over. This was the year GSP returned from the wilderness, snatched another championship, and then disappeared again as quickly as he arrived. This is the year Jon Jones shit the bed for possibly the last time. And this is the year Conor McGregor decided he didn’t need MMA, and would pad his bank account (and Floyd Mayweather’s record) in the world of boxing.
It was an odd year (but aren’t they all in this crazy sport), but not without its highlights. Below are my picks for “Submission of the Year”, “Knockout of the Year”, “Fighter of the Year”, and my five favourite fights of 2017.
Submission of the Year
DEMETRIUS “MIGHTY MOUSE” JOHNSON VS RAY BORG
Guys, that is insane. Nobody else would even try this, let alone pull it off. Watch it again. He straight up throws Ray Borg in the air, catches his arm before he hits the ground, and locks in the armbar.
That’s top three submission of all time stuff right there. Mighty Mouse is on another level. Is there really still a discussion about who the best pound for pound in the world is? Because there shouldn’t be. He’s right there. And just to hammer this home, Ray Borg is no joke. He’s a celebrated grappler, with strong wrestling and excellent submission defence, yet Mighty Mouse is still able to do that to him.
Knockout of the Year
FRANCIS NGANNOU VS ALISTAIR OVEREEM
I honestly thought Overeem’s head was about to leave his body. Then the cage. Then the building. And then just keep going until it hit the sun.
That is an uppercut from hell, delivered by the heaviest hitter in the game right now. Terrifying stuff. Champ Stipe Miocic, who is up next for Ngannou, better start working on his head movement. And invest in some life insurance.
Runner Up – Tywan Claxton vs Jonathan Bonilla-Bowman
Ninety seconds in to Calxton’s pro Mixed Martial Arts debut he lands the flying knee to end all flying knees. What a way to start a career.
Fighter of the Year
Going into her fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, not many people were giving Rose Namajunas a chance of winning the fight. Joanna had already put five dominant title defences behind her, and was expected to easily notch another to overtake Ronda Rousey’s title defence record of five. Those who did have a slither of hope for Rose thought if she could pull it off, it would be on the ground with one of her slick submissions.
Rose had other ideas.
She marched into the centre of the octagon and met the revered striker head on. Three minutes and three seconds into the first round “Thug” Rose had dropped the champion twice, and stopped her with ground and pound for a first round TKO.
Nobody saw it coming. Nobody but Rose.
The Upset of the Year. The Performance of the Year. The Fighter of the Year. All crowned within one fight.
After winning the title Rose gave one of the better post fight interviews, stating she wants her legacy to be that of positivity, and that the belt means nothing if you can’t be a decent person.
She says she’s just regular. That’s a pretty special kind of regular.
Runner up – Max Holloway
How do you cement yourself as the greatest featherweight on the planet? If you are Max Holloway you go out and stop the greatest featherweight fighter of all time, Jose Aldo, not once, but twice.
Max continues to improve each and every time he fights, and considering he’s only 26, he’s not even in his prime yet. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the division. He hasn’t lost since 2013, is on a twelve fight winning streak, and is in absolute control of his arsenal. His striking accuracy is fantastic, his cardio bottomless, and his fight I.Q unrivaled at that weight class.
Fights of the Year
5. BOBBY GREEN VS LANDO VANNATA
The big money comes with championships. That’s what most fighters are fighting for. The belt doesn’t just prove who the best fighter in the world is, it gives the champion a bigger piece of the pie. Pay Per View money. Sponsorships. Financial security. So, how can the fighters that are never going to be champions sustain a career in MMA and make enough money to live on?
The answer is to put on fights like this. Bobby Green and Lando Vannata are probably never going to wear championship gold. The champions of this era, by and large, game plan. Green and Vannata do not. They subscribe to the old school “just scrap” way of thinking. They meet in the centre of the octagon and throw strikes at their opponents until one of them falls down. Those types of fighters don’t usually win titles. They win fans.
Anybody that saw their fight will know what I mean.
4. DUSTIN POIRIER VS ANTHONY PETTIS
Dustin Poirier had a great 2017. Every fight he was in was superb. His fight with Jim Miller was a brutal back and forth. Ditto for his brawl with Eddie Alvarez, though that one was slightly spoiled by a controversial finish. But it was his demolition of former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis that was his best effort.
Pettis was attempting to snipe from a distance with his patented spinning strikes and kicks, but Poirier kept walking through them to apply constant pressure and drag Pettis down into Poirier’s kind of fight.
It was a gritty performance from both men, but after being bloodied and beaten, Pettis’ rib popped as Poirier locked in a mounted body triangle and the fight was over.
3. EDDIE ALVAREZ VS JUSTIN GAETHJE
Going into the fight, both men declared that this was for the self proclaimed title of “The Most Violent Man in the UFC”…. which, yeah, is pretty dumb, but also perfectly sums up the type of wars these two are known for getting into.
Gaethje said when he first arrived in the UFC this year that his perfect record would not remain intact. His style is too wild and reckless. He eats five shots to land one. But his chin had always held out, and even when it hadn’t, his iron will somehow kept him in the fight anyway.
This is the fight Gaethje’s prediction came true. His unblemished record is gone. He has lost. But what a way to lose.
Alvarez tested Gaethje’s chin from the moment the fight started, but every time he landed a punch, he would be hit with a vicious leg kick. As the fight went on Alvarez’s leg was chewed up. He was limping, struggling to put weight on it, and finding it difficult to move. Late in the third it became apparent that if that lead leg took anymore damage Alvarez wouldn’t be able to stand. It was finish or be finished. The opportunity presented itself, Gaethje lowered his head leaving his chin exposed as he is prone to do, and Alvarez introduced his knee to Gaethje’s face. Night, night.
2. YANCY MEDEIROS VS ALEX OLIVEIRA
If I was told that Medeiros and Oliveira made an agreement before the fight to allow every single strike they threw at each other to land, I would believe it. Striking defence is non-existent in this fight. Both men are wobbled or dropped seemingly every twenty or so seconds. It is absolute chaos.
The resiliency of Medeiros is ridiculous. How does anyone take that many shots, absorb them, and then come back with his own?
This is a fight that wasn’t on many peoples’ radar, but both men made damn sure we paid attention once it started.
Along with number one on this list, probably the only true all time classic from this year. The type of fight that win or lose, raises the stock of both fighters.
1. JUSTIN GAETHJE VS MICHAEL JOHNSON
This was never in any doubt. After July 7th this number one spot was locked up. Fights for the rest of the year were competing for number two, because nothing was topping this.
For two rounds, this was a non stop slug fest where everything was thrown with bad intentions and full power. Neither man was gauging distance with jabs or feints. Every strike was thrown to end the other man. But what makes this fight remarkable, what makes it stand out from many of the other wars of years gone by, is the way Justin Gaethje uses Michael Johnson’s offence against him.
Johnson hits and he hits hard. He rocks Gaethje and swarms him for the finish. But Gaethje has found a way, as other writers have pointed out, of weaponising his will. He takes the best shots Johnson has, and then to show him his best will not cut it, he takes a few more. And once Johnson empties his entire gas tank trying to get the finish, Gaethje marches forward again. Completely demoralising Johnson.
No fighter since perhaps Chris Leben has been able to mount his best offence whilst being out on his feet. It’s insane, and if we are being honest, not the best way to fight if you are looking for any sort of prolonged career. But Gaethje isn’t thinking about his career. Or his next fight. Or even the next round. All he’s thinking is “fight”. And he does. Perhaps more entertainingly than any other fighter on the roster.
That’s how Justin Gaethje’s first two fights in the UFC ended up being in the top three fights of the year.
So that was 2017. Now lets do it all again. Starting with this: