The UFC‘s year of 2016 is one to remember in numerous ways. From WME-IMG‘s purchase of the company, UFC 205 in New York City, Jon Jones testing positive, and Conor McGregor as a simultaneous two-division champion. The tremendous number of entertaining fights that took place this calendar year are worth discussing. Lando Vannata‘s short-notice surprise, Cub Swanson war with Doo Ho Choi brightening up UFC 206, and the calendar year main card opener between Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler (along with numerous other moments) made this year something special for mixed martial arts viewers. To wrap up and recap this year of octagon performances, we take a look at the Top 10 UFC Fights of 2016.
#10: Michael Bisping vs. Anderson Silva
(UFC Fight Night 84 – February 27th)
It took years for Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva to finally meet inside the octagon. The two met at the O2 Arena in England, a country home to Bisping’s heart. Silva was desperate for a win, coming off an overturned victory over Nick Diaz and his two TKO losses to Chris Weidman. The fight saw Silva backing up against the cage to taunt, Bisping getting the better of the striking for the first two rounds. At the end of round three, controversy sparked when Silva landed a flying knee at the buzzard as Bisping was distracted from losing his mouthguard. The fight was not stopped by referee Herb Dean, and the two would continue until the judge’s decision. A bloodied but not broken Bisping was awarded the unanimous decision victory, keeping his undefeated streak in England alive. Scoring the fight was very tough, with almost all of the rounds being closely contested. Bisping vs. Silva will be remembered as a pure classic between two veterans and impactful legends of the UFC.
Fight Result: Michael Bisping def. Anderson Silva via Unanimous Decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
#9: Tony Ferguson vs. Lando Vannata
(UFC Fight Night 91 – July 13th)
When the late replacement opponent for Michael Chiesa was announced as promotional newcomer Lando Vannata, almost everyone asserted their choice in picking the third-ranked lightweight Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson. He rode a seven fight win streak with five coming by stoppage dating back to October of 2013. Vannata was undefeated but with wins over names lesser known. Vannata’s dynamic fluidity led to him having success on the feet, occasionally having Ferguson rocked with shocked reactions on social media. After a close first round saw in favor by most for Vannata, Ferguson began to take over after the cardio of his opponent fell. He managed to find his range and take less damage, eventually pulling the fatigued Vannata down to secure his specialty D’Arce choke in the second. Ferguson had extended his winning streak, but the victory was the hardest fought in his career. The determination and durability from Vannata expressed in his fight made him an immediate fan favorite.
Fight Result: Tony Ferguson def. Lando Vannata via Submission (D’Arce choke, 2:33, Round 2)
#8: Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor I
(UFC 196 – March 5th)
Featherweight champion Conor McGregor was originally slated to fight Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight belt at UFC 196. However, a broken foot would force Anjos off the card with McGregor in need of an opponent. Nate Diaz was later announced as the official replacement, coming off a “Fight of the Night” decision win over Michael Johnson. With the change happening on such short notice, the fight took place at 170 pounds and no belt was on the line. After a week and a half of trash talk between the two and successfully made weight, they stepped into the octagon minutes after Miesha Tate had upset Holly Holm. McGregor had the strong start that was expected, landing the better shots for the first seven minutes of the fight. The less than two-week weight change took a toll on McGregor who visibly looked tired as the fight progressed. A big left-hand landed for Diaz halfway into the fight, seeing the lightweight champion stumble backwards. After a fatigued McGregor shot for a takedown, Diaz scrambled numerous times before eventually taking the back. He sunk in a rear-naked choke at 3:16 of the second round. Diaz has finished the featherweight champion, halting the dominance and 15-fight win streak of Conor McGregor. Following the result, we knew that it was fate for the two to meet once more.
Fight Result: Nate Diaz def. Conor McGregor via Submission (rear-naked choke, 4:12, Round 2)
#7: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha
(The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale – July 8th)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha formed one of the most memorable rivalries of the 2016 year. The two had faced off previously in December of 2014, with Jedrzejczyk winning a very tight and debatable split decision over Gadelha. One fight later would see the Polish fighter Jedrzejczyk winning the strawweight championship. For her third defense following success with the belt she was paired up once again with Gadelha, the Brazilian wanting to avenge her loss from their first meeting. For the first two of five rounds, Gadelha utilized numerous takedowns to take a strong start of the fight. However, her cardio began to fall in the last three rounds, and Jedrzejczyk began to take over with her dangerous striking. Gadelha survived the late onslaught from the champion, and the close fight would fall into the hands of the judges. Jedrzejczyk was awarded the unanimous decision win and pushed her undefeated career to 12-0. The first meeting between the two was close, but the rematch with the title on the line makes this fight one to remember.
Fight Result: Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Claudia Gadelha via Unanimous Decision (48-46, 48-45, 48-46)
#6: Steve Bosse vs. Sean O’Connell
(UFC Fight Night 89 – June 18th)
Not often do you see two powerhouse strikers like Steve Bosse and Sean O’Connell last past the first round. Combined, 244 strikes were landed throughout the fifteen minute war. There were numerous moments leaving both on loose legs, including a huge knockdown from O’Connell just over a minute from the start. The fight would see a unanimous decision victory in favor for Bosse, the win falling in front of his Canadian crowd. The durable performance from both was applauded by the fans and mixed martial arts community. Neither are known for being at the top of the division; however, the barn burner between Bosse and O’Connell became one of the best and most memorable light heavyweight fights of 2016.
Fight Result: Steve Bosse def. Sean O’Connell via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)
#5: Dominick Cruz vs. TJ Dillashaw
(UFC Fight Night 81 – January 17th)
Dominick Cruz had his UFC Bantamweight Championship vacated after recurring knee injuries kept him out of competition. During that period, TJ Dillashaw took the belt for himself after defeating Renan Barao, earning two title defenses in the process. Cruz had a successful comeback in September of 2014 before suffering another knee injury, leaving him on the sidelines once again. However, Cruz would be ready for a return and was set to fight Dillashaw in January. Neither were fond of each other, and a heated rivalry brew over the course of the fight’s announcement. The dynamic footwork and striking display from both showed for the full 25 minutes, proving they reign as two of the best in their division. Each round was very tight in scoring due the back-and-forth technical action. A split decision was announced in favor for Dominick Cruz, capturing the belt away from TJ Dillashaw and once again becoming the UFC Bantamweight Champion. The animosity and fight made for one of the best of 2016, and it will go without surprise to see these to meet again in the future.
Fight Result: Dominick Cruz def. TJ Dillashaw via Split Decision (48-47, 46-49, 49-46)
#4: Marco Polo Reyes vs. Dong Hyun Kim
(UFC 199 – June 4th)
A fight between two men in their second octagon appearance kicking off the UFC Fight Pass prelims may have low expectations for some. Marco Polo Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim were both recent newcomers to the UFC, and neither had the best records coming into their match-up. Just 30 seconds into the start, the two began exchanging heavy strikes that showed both had fight-ending capability. Kim had a solid start with his striking until Reyes managed to drop him twice inside the first three minutes, once with an elbow and the other with a left hand. The second round saw much of the same action, with both Reyes and Kim absorbing a ridiculous amount of damage. The most damaging strike came in the final round after Reyes landed two huge right hands sending Kim crashing to the canvas and forcing referee Mike Beltran to intervene. Reyes had landed 147 strikes with Kim landing 99 strikes during their 12-minute bout. The slobber-knocker was one of the most brutal battles of 2016, proving that the best is not always saved for last.
Fight Result: Marco Polo Reyes def. Dong Hyun Kim via KO (punches, 1:52, Round 3)
#3: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II
(UFC 202 – August 20th)
Conor McGregor was still the UFC Featherweight Champion, but he had lost to a man most thought he could beat. Nate Diaz grew even more in popularity after his upset victory, and people from both fan bases wanted to see a rematch. The “money fight” was first scheduled for the historic UFC 200 in July, until McGregor was pulled from the card due to disagreements regarding media scheduling. In result, Diaz was pulled from the card and the fight was then re-set to take place as the main event for UFC 202. Both had more time to prepare for the 170 pound weight, and both had their moments in the fight. McGregor scored two knockdowns in the early minutes, until Diaz came back with a strong close to the second and third round. The back-and-forth action would continue all 25 minutes of the scheduled fight, putting the result in the hands of the judges. McGregor was awarded the close majority decision victory, avenging his loss to Diaz from their first meeting. Their rematch lived up to expectations, and became an instant classic in a fight between two of the most game fighters on the roster. It is unknown whether a trilogy will be planned for 2017 or beyond, but we can assume this plan is lingering on the UFC’s mind.
Fight Result: Conor McGregor def. Nate Diaz via Majority Decision (48-47, 47-47, 48-47)
#2: Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi
(UFC 206 – December 10th)
UFC 206 had taken numerous hits to leave the card looking weaker named than its original plan, including Daniel Cormier pulling out after an injury and his fight with Rumble Johnson for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship being scrapped. The stylistic parings, however, would be worth the watch, including a match-up between dangerous striker Cub Swanson and rising star Doo Ho Choi. Both had numerous knockout victories on their individual resumes and had been climbing towards the top of the 145-pound division. The fight had a mediocre start until the beginning of round two, with both Swanson and Choi landing fight-ending shots. Both had each other hurt on wobbly legs, but they kept pushing forward. The final five minutes showed much of the same action, including a dominate 60-second closing from Swanson. Choi had absorbed an unbelievable amount of damage in the third round; to everyone’s amazement, he survived to bell. Swanson was awarded the unanimous decision victory and pushed his win streak to 3-0 in 2016. Both were praised for their ability to withstand the punishment of each other, and it made for one of the greatest fights in the UFC’s featherweight history.
Fight Result: Cub Swanson def. Doo Ho Choi via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
#1: Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit
(UFC 195 – January 2nd)
UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler and top contender Carlos Condit headlined the first UFC card of 2016. Lawler took the title from Johny Hendricks in their rematch at UFC 181 and was coming off a TKO victory over Rory MacDonald, a fight that went down as one of the greatest in UFC history. Condit had returned following a 13-month layoff to defeat Thiago Alves in May of 2015. The two savvy veterans had yet to compete against each other, but the idea of this fight one day happening was that we would see a war. The first round saw Condit having more success on the feet, throwing numerous kicks and a variety of dynamic strikes. Lawler would then score a big knockdown halfway through the second, setting the fight close to even on the scorecards. Round three was as close as they come, with both sharing moments of success. The first of two championship rounds went back of the hands of Condit, having the champion rocked in the closing second. The fifth and final round saw the most chaos of the entire fight with Lawler and Condit giving it their all, throwing haymaker after haymaker. The two would fight until the round expired, leaving the final decision with the three judges. Robbie Lawler was announced the winner by split decision, retaining his UFC Welterweight Belt. However, the decision came with controversy, as the majority of media and fans who scored the fight saw the win for Carlos Condit. All-in-all, Condit landed the second most significant strikes in UFC title-fight history with 176, and the two combined threw 675 strikes within their 25-minute battle. The continuous alternating action expended from both Lawler and Condit made for one of the most memorable welterweight fights in UFC history and takes the top spot for the best UFC fight of 2016.
Fight Result: Robbie Lawler def. Carlos Condit via Split Decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47)
Ten Honorable Mentions
The year is in fact not over, as UFC 206 is the only remaining card left in the 2016 calendar year scheduled for December 30th. Unfortunately, a “Fight of the Night” worthy fight from that card will not be a part of this list.
What was your favorite UFC fight of 2016? Was there a fight that did not make the list? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and opinions.