With the MMA year now officially in the books (apart from the Rizin event on New Years Eve) its time to take a look back through the year and hand out the MMA Mad MMA awards. MMA staff writers Dale Jordan, Nick Rizner, Ty Reynolds and Jonathan Paterson walk you through their awards below.
Biggest Upset Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
Holly Holm’s destruction of Ronda Rousey will be an upset, and moment, that the world of Mixed Martial Arts will never forget, and for good reason. Going into UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia, the outcome of the main event seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
Ronda Rousey had been tearing through opposition since the first day she entered the cage and hardly anyone could find a credible reason to believe she wouldn’t do the same to boxing great Holly Holm. Fans and media alike (albeit begrudgingly from some) simply assumed Rousey would once again put her Judo skills on display en route to an easy submission victory.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Once the the contest commenced, the world watched in absolute amazement as Holm thoroughly dominated Rousey in Round 1 and then finished her in the 2nd, taking the UFC Women’s 135 lbs title in the process. Prior to it occurring, the outcome of Rousey vs. Holm was almost unthinkable to most, making it the clear choice for 2015’s Biggest Upset of the Year.
Nick Rizner – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
The gravity of an upset is quickly forgotten. As time passes, the faulty camera in our mind misremembers things, and our lopsided anticipations are often leveled out by the reality of what actually happened. But make no mistake. Save for a few bold individuals, Ronda Rousey was widely perceived as unbeatable and Holm, though undefeated, was coming off two fairly pedestrian decision victories since signing with the UFC. Those were the facts before the fight and Holm shattered them from the opening bell.
This, to me, was the most shocking, memorable, and noteworthy upset of 2015. It was also one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.
Jonathan Paterson – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
Needless to say, the biggest upset of the year. The odds (and fans) were stacked in Rousey’s favour leading up to the match. After getting completely shut down in two rounds, Rousey is STILL the favourite going into the rematch.
Dale Jordan – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
Holly Holm’s knockout of Ronda Rousey is not the biggest upset in MMA history however in my opinion its number two behind Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre.
Rousey had never looked close to losing, she had only been taken out of the first round once, her previous three fights lasted a combined 64 seconds. Holm was 2-0 in the UFC going into this bout and a split decision win over Raquel Pennington and a unanimous decision win over Marion Reneau did not fill me with confidence that ‘The Preachers Daughter’ stood much of a chance against the only UFC women’s bantamweight champion.
Then, before our eyes we witnessed Holm dominate Rousey from start to brutal head kick finish. Holly Holm is my upset of the year.
Comeback Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Brian Foster vs Joa Zeferino, WSOF 25
Normally, submitting to a BJJ blackbelt in the opening round makes a comeback impossible,because, well, the fight is over…Fortunately for Brian Foster, his submission loss to Joa Zeferino at WSOF 25 took place in an 8man Lightweight tourney that wouldn’t conclude until later that night. Injuries to other participants offered Foster a chance to return to the field, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
After engaging in an all-out war with Luis Palomino and emerging as the victor, Foster advanced to the finals where he would come up against Zeferino again, the man who had temporarily eliminated him earlier in the evening.
This time, however, Foster avoided Zeferino’s submission skills and pounded him out with punches in the 2nd round. By doing so, Brian Foster had gone from being knocked out of the tournament to eventually taking its crown in the same night. That’s one helluva comeback…
Nick Rizner – Rose Namajunas
When Rose came up short on The Ultimate Fighter Finale, it felt as if we were misled. After back-to-back-to-back submission victories in the house, Rose was actually a slight favorite over the previously-favored Carla Esparza on December 12th, 2014. Call it pressure. Call it being overhyped. Call it whatever you’d like. But the fact is, she was dismantled by Esparza and didn’t return to the cage until October of 2015, where it was far from clear which version of Rose would show up. After securing a first round standing rear-naked choke of Angela Hill, the confusion was gone.
She then returned to the cage just five weeks later to take on the surging and favored Paige VanZant on December 10th. This was her finest performance yet, stringing together four-and-a-half rounds of pure dominance before finishing things with a rear-naked choke in the fifth. She is now considered to be one of, if not the #1 contender to the Strawweight belt, and I firmly believe that she has what it takes to win that title in 2016. I’d call that one heck of a turnaround. I’d call that the Comeback of the Year.
Jonathan Paterson – Cro Cop vs. Gonzaga 2, UFC FN 64
Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic exacted revenge in Poland this past April, as he TKOed Gabriel Gonzaga with elbows and punches in the third round. Prior to this point, Cro Cop was losing the first two rounds, not to mention Gonzaga had knocked Cro Cop out in 2007 with his own high-kick manoeuvre.
Dale Jordan – Thomas Almeida vs. Brad Pickett, UFC 189
Thomas Almeida had looked unstoppable in his UFC run. 2-0 leading into his UFC 189 bout with Brad Pickett including two post fight bonuses, Almeida had never really been tested.
For the first three minutes of the contest, it looked as though Brad Pickett had Thomas Almeida figured out.
After getting dropped twice in the first round, Almeida launched a flying knee that knocked Pickett out cold.
The bantamweight bout opened up the main card of UFC 189. It was the perfect way to punctuate his 20th consecutive MMA win and made for a perfect start to a brilliant MMA event.
Event Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – UFC 189: McGregor vs. Mendes
After suffering the huge setback of losing former UFC Featherweight Champion José Aldo due to an injury, the highly promoted UFC 189: McGregor vs. Mendes turned out to be the most entertaining card of 2015.
The preliminary portion of the event left a lot to be desired as far as action goes, but once Matt Brown came storming back against Tim Means in the feature fight of the prelims, it was on.
The main card provided two Fight of the Year candidates (Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald and Jeremy Stephens vs. Dennis Bermudez), a comeback for the ages provided by Thomas Almeida when he landed a flying knee on Brad Pickett, a great performance and finish from welterweight prospect Gunnar Nelson, and Conor McGregor’s first taste of UFC gold (even though it was only an interim championship).
From a fan’s perspective, there really wasn’t much else a PPV main card could’ve provided that would’ve made it more entertaining than the one seen in Las Vegas last July. Even losing the original main event for UFC 189 turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the sport, as Aldo vs. McGregor for the undisputed featherweight championship became an even bigger matchup due to its delay. By all applicable standards, no other event in 2015 came close to topping UFC 189.
Nick Rizner – UFC 189: McGregor vs. Mendes
This really came down to two events – the original and the sequel – Conor McGregor Part I and Part II. Both events were headlined by the Notorious one, carrying with it hordes of ravenous Irish fans and making for an absolutely electric environment on Fight Night. The deciding factor really came down to the surrounding bouts. The UFC 189 main card was absolutely fantastic, from the Almeida and Stephens flying knees to the Gunnar Nelson RNC. The co-main event featured one of the greatest fights of all time and the main event set Dublin, Nevada ablaze. Not only was this the event of the year; it was one of the greatest UFC events of all time. No-brainer.
Jonathan Paterson – UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor
Two title fights, plenty of action and drama, UFC 194 had at all. Not to mention in terms of live gate, UFC 194 was the biggest fight the promotion has hosted in Las Vegas, and second largest next to UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Dale Jordan – UFC 189: Mendes vs. McGregor
It was supposed to be the Aldo vs. McGregor show in July, however following an injury to the champion, McGregor would face Chad Mendes for the interim UFC featherweight title. McGregor would take alot of the headlines following the event, however the event itself was filled with finishes, performances and fights to remember. From Thomas Almeida and Jeremy Stephen’s flying knee KO’s to Gunnar Nelson’s slick submission win over Brandon Thatch to the ‘Fight of the Year’ between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald, UFC 189 was a spectacle.
Hell, even the event’s weigh-ins took place before a record crowd estimated at 11,500. UFC 189 is my event of the year.
Gym Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Kings MMA
Having a team member claim UFC gold is a defining moment for any MMA gym. Doing it in consecutive months, however, is an all time great achievement for any camp. In May and June of 2015, UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum and UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos did just that for Kings MMA and it’s head coach, Rafael Cordeiro, by defeating Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis, two men that many viewed as having the potential to reign over their respective divisions for years.
These contests weren’t competitively close, either. Werdum wore down Velasquez standing before catching the former champ in a beautiful guillotine to grab his belt, while dos Anjos completely dominated Pettis for five rounds en route to earning a crystal-clear decision.
On top of those achievements, dos Anjos brought even more good fortune to Kings MMA by defending his new belt in an utter destruction of Donald Cerrone in the main event of the UFC’s final event of the year, setting himself up for a potential super-fight with the UFC’s new featherweight ruler, Conor McGregor, sometime in 2016. Kings MMA clearly could do no wrong in 2015
It will be difficult to match the success of the past year, but with the possibility of the dos Anjos/McGregor fight looming and a rematch with Velasquez for Werdum coming up on Super Bowl weekend, the California based team is already in a position to make a run at it.
Nick Rizner – American Kickboxing Academy
Whenever you have a gym with multiple champions, you need to start looking at the gym, itself, as the primary reason. For AKA, 2015 was all about Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier. Cormier began the year by going the distance with pound-for-pound king Jon Jones in a Fight of the Night worthy effort. After legal issues led to the vacancy of that title, DC defeated the streaking Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson to claim the belt and went on to defend it against a dangerous Alexander Gustafsson.
As if this wasn’t enough, Luke Rockhold secured the middleweight strap with a dominant win over the previously undefeated Chris Weidman, following a lopsided submission victory over Lyoto Machida to secure #1 contender status. With Cain Velasquez and Khabib Nurmagomedov poised for title fights in their respective weight classes, AKA could be setting up for a repeat in 2016. But that will have to wait… for now, they remain as my pick for Gym of the Year.
Jonathan Paterson – American Kickboxing Academy
AKA currently has three major promotional champions in Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold and Liam McGeary (Bellator). It would be tempting to give this honour to Kings MMA in Brazil, but Werdum and Dos Anjos did not fight nearly as much in 2015 as the athletes at AKA.
Dale Jordan – Kings MMA
Another difficult category. Kings MMA and the American Kickboxing Academy both deserve this award, however Kings MMA just about takes it for me.
The way that they won their two titles was just slightly more impressive than AKA. Fabricio Werdum of Kings MMA defeated Cain Velasquez of AKA at UFC 188 to unify the UFC Heavyweight title in a dominant performance against a champion who looked unstoppable.
Rafael dos Anjos also won a title in a dominant performance over champion Anthony Pettis. Many thought Pettis would rule over the 155lb division for some time, however dos Anjos ran through him like a steam train, dominating Pettis to become lightweight champion.
Submission Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Rousey vs Cat Zingano, UFC 184
The world of MMA has become quite accustom to witnessing Ronda Rousey finish opponents off in mere minutes, or even seconds, with her worldclass submission game, but she surprised us anyway with her victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 184.
After Zingano rushed across the cage immediately after the opening bell, Rousey defended a throw and beautifully set up an armbar all in one motion. Zingano was as shocked as the rest of us, and was forced to tap out only 14 seconds into the bout.
At the time, it was the fastest victory ever in a UFC title fight and further cemented Rousey’s legacy as possibly the greatest women’s fighter MMA has ever seen.
Nick Rizner – Rousey vs Cat Zingano, UFC 184
It was quintessential Rousey. The mind-games and air of unbeatability that caused Zingano to rush in. The grappling superiority that led to the reversal of position during the takedown. The creativity on the mat and the ability to take advantage of the smallest mistakes. And of course, another lightning-fast armbar victory for the champ.
Zingano was supposed to be her toughest test; the true number 1 contender that we were promised after her victory over Miesha Tate in 2013. And yet, when they met, it was over before it started. Rousey at her finest… Submission of the Year.
Jonathan Paterson – Godofredo Pepey vs. Andre Fili, UFC FN 62
A very slick first-round submission from Godofredo ‘Pepey’ Castro gets my vote here. Castro, a +240 underdog, used a great flying triangle technique to tap out Andre Fili in only a couple of minutes. These types of submissions aren’t illustrated very often in the UFC, so this particular fight was quite a memorable occasion.
Dale Jordan – Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez, UFC 188
This bout in Mexico City was to unify Cain Velasquez’ heavyweight title with the interim title held by Fabricio Werdum.
Many speculated that putting a heavyweight title fight in the altitude of Mexico City (7,832 feet above sea level) would play a huge factor in this fight and those people were spot on.
It only took one round for Velasquez to become fatigued compared to his normal non-stop five round pace we have become accustomed to seeing. In the second round Velasquez shot in for a lazy takedown, allowing Werdum to sync up a guillotine choke and force the tap from Velasquez. It may not be the prettiest submission of the year, but its one of the more meaningful ones.
Knockout Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
Holly Holm’s headkick knockout of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 will be remembered as one of the great moments in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. It truly was “The Kick Heard Round the World.” It ended the reign of one of MMA’s most dominant champions in definitive, already legendary fashion, setting off a media firestorm in the process, and instantly making Holm one of the most recognizable fighters on the planet.
The finish did more than just bring the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship to Albuquerque, NM; it changed Holm’s life and career forever. That kick laid the foundation for a legacy in MMA that will be remembered from here on out, regardless of whether or not the new champion proves capable of adding any more achievements to her résumé. Outside of maybe, just MAYBE, Matt Serra icing GSP years ago, it’s difficult to think of another knockout that shook the entire industry to such a high degree.
Holm’s victory has the potential to be a turning point in the evolution of WMMA; it really could prove to be that important. That’s an amazing feat for someone who wasn’t even given a chance to even be capable of hanging with Rousey by the majority of viewers, let alone fight a near-perfect fight and then score a truly historical headkick knockout.
Nick Rizner – Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo, UFC 194
I briefly toyed with the idea of selecting Holm’s head kick, but ultimately was compelled to chose McGregor, instead. Jose Aldo’s last loss – the only one of his career – came back in 2005; more than ten years prior. He was the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the only UFC Featherweight Champion we had ever known. McGregor had spent his career making bold predictions, ultimately backing up each and every one. But this last one seemed too much. A first round knockout of the Jose Aldo?! Impossible!
He did it in 13 seconds. Knockout of the Year.
Jonathan Paterson – Yoel Romero vs. Lyoto Machida, UFC FN 70
Yoel Romero has been undefeated in the UFC, but looked his most dangerous earlier this year, when he brutally knocked out Lyoto Machida in the third round with a barrage of elbows from half guard. Definitely one of the, if not THE, most brutal knockout of the year.
Dale Jordan – Rousey vs Holm, UFC 193
I went back and forth over this for weeks. Holm over Rousey or McGregor over Aldo. When it comes down to it, there is only one winner for me. I was amazed at McGregor’s performance however the feeling I felt when Holm connected with that left high kick is indescribable. Thats why Holm gets the award for me. Also the fact that I picked McGregor to win over Aldo and had Rousey to defeat Holm swung the decision in favour of ‘The Preacher’s Daughter.’
Fighter Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Conor McGregor
2015 was the year of “The Notorious One.”
It was clear from the first day that Conor McGregor stepped into the Octagon that he had the potential to be one of MMA’s brightest stars, but the Irishman proved in the last year that he is, without a shadow of a doubt, now its biggest.
McGregor started off 2015 by easily dismantling Dennis Siver on FS1, raking in record ratings in the process. The brash talker would then verbally jab and insult his way into a title fight with longtime featherweight kingpin José Aldo before being forced to take on the ultra tough Chad Mendes on short notice for an interim title. After defeating Mendes, McGregor once again set his sights on Aldo and shocked the MMA world by defeating him in 13 short seconds at UFC 194, the fastest win ever in a UFC title fight. That event could possibly prove to be the most successful the UFC has ever promoted.
The only thing as impressive as his ability in the cage was his ability to talk outside of it. Throughout his UFC career, especially in 2015, “Mystic Mac” has shown off his psychic abilities by predicting both his ascent and the outcomes of his fights with almost eerylike accuracy, belittling and insulting almost every opponent or potential future opponent along the way with the sharpest tongue in the business.
Now the industry is at his feet with possible match-ups with Frankie Edgar at 145 lbs., a rematch with Aldo that would do big business, or a move up to 155 lbs. in an attempt to become the first man to ever secure two titles in the UFC at once. Regardless of which option he chooses for himself, McGregor’s future in MMA will likely be more profitable than any we have ever seen.
Nick Rizner – Conor McGregor
This was undoubtedly the year of Conor McGregor. In 2013, we were introduced to a loudmouth Irishman with wide eyes and big plans. In 2014, we started to believe him. He brought the UFC to Ireland and dispatched of Diego Brandao. He made his Vegas debut against Poirier and finished him within two minutes. But in 2015, he became a legend. A quick stop in Boston to solidify his #1 contender status. An interim belt for his victory over Chad Mendes at the Event of the Year. And finally – the most memorable moment of all – a 13 second knockout of a fighting icon and the unification of the UFC Featherweight Championship.
I’ll say it again. This was the year of Conor McGregor. You’d be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
Jonathan Paterson – Conor McGregor
This goes without saying for the most part. Conor McGregor is changing the landscape of the UFC and arguably the sport overall. With three spectacular wins this year, it will be interesting to see how McGregor furthers his career into 2016.
Dale Jordan – Conor McGregor
This one is easy. Conor McGregor.
McGregor’s year started with him earning the UFC’s ratings records on Fox Sports 1 in a headlining bout against Denis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59 in Boston.
That set up a title fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 189, and while it didn’t pan out due to Aldo’s rib injury, McGregor earned the UFC’s interim featherweight title disposing of Chad Mendes, again via second round TKO.
Aldo vs. McGregor would finally happen at UFC 194, and McGregor delivered on his pre-fight predictions by knocking Aldo in just 13 seconds.
All of the performances above earned McGregor a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus. Not a bad year right?
Fight Of The Year
Ty Reynolds – Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald, UFC 189
Robbie Lawler’s first defense of his UFC Welterweight Championship against Rory MacDonald is a shining example of what a classic UFC title fight should be.
The stakes were high, even for a title fight, as Lawler looked to legitmize his reign and MacDonald was seeking to reach his goal of becoming UFC champion by the age of 25. Both men entered the Octagon for the comain event for UFC 189 and did all they feasibly could in an attempt to do what they had set out to achieve.
The contest was a display of tactical brilliance, aggression, drama, heart, determination, perseverance, and world class ability. There were momentum shifts, near finishes, classic moments, and a definitive conclusion in the bout’s final round.
Oh, and there was blood. An enourmous amount of blood…
Lawler broke MacDonald’s nose in the earlier rounds of the fight, leaving him busted open and eventually forcing the Canadian star to relent in order to avoid more damage to his face, but not before MacDonald had tore the champion’s upper lip open in gruesome fashion by landing numerous remorseless blows of his own. Champion and challenger alike endured ungodly amounts of punishment before the battle was finally halted.
In the end, Robbie Lawler reached the the heights many predicted for him years ago and proved that he is a now a future halloffamer, while Rory MacDonald showed that he is well on his way to doing the same. When future generations of fans look back on these men’s careers, there can be no doubt that the chapter they wrote together at UFC 189 will be one of the more cherished highlights.
Nick Rizner – Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald, UFC 189
This was the easiest pick of them all. Robbie Lawler was not only the Fight of the Year, but as Dana White so eloquently worded it during the post-fight press conference, “Lawler vs. MacDonald might be the Fight of the… Ever”. And that it was; a visual specticle to be remembered for years to come. This was technique, heart, perseverance, skill and athleticism rolled into one.
It was the perfect embodiment of everything we love about mixed martial arts, put on display by two of the sport’s finest. In fact, if anyone selects a different bout for Fight of the Year, point them out and I will personally debate them on it. In my opinion, there was only one choice. Lawler vs. MacDonald was one for the ages.
Jonathan Paterson – Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald, UFC 189
Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald put on a performance for the ages at UFC 189 back in July. The back and forth war saw both men battered and bloodied, and it was not until early round five where the accumulated damage was simply too much for Rory MacDonald to endure, with Lawler winning the fight via TKO. One of the greatest welterweight fights in UFC history.
Dale Jordan – Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald, UFC 189
UFC 189 was the Conor McGregor show. There is no doubting that. However when I witnessed Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald stare each other down in the centre of the Octagon after the fourth round, ‘The Notorious’ one was the last thing on my mind.
McDonald won the early exchanges and arguably the first 2 and a bit rounds, but then the champion turned on the style and managed the to get the finish early in the fifth round. Momentum swings, courage and drama, all the ingredients for ‘Fight of the Year.’
Thank you all for reading. Leave your award winners in the comment section below and we will see you all in 2016.
Check out our latest podcast episode featuring Robbie Fox of Barstool Sports.