Admittedly, this was the toughest winner for me to pick this year. Each and every award comes with a pair of “Honorable Mentions” in the footnotes. However, the two fights mentioned below have the most significance, because they could have easily been winners themselves. This was a close race.
But in the spirit of competition, I have selected one official Fight of the Year, factoring in spectacle, significance and notoriety. And when you consider all that, nothing tops the highly anticipated rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz at UFC 202.
It’s about delivering on hype, something that McGregor has become synonymous with over the years. But Diaz represented a unique challenge for the Irishman and this meant new questions. How would he respond after a loss? Was Diaz simply too big and durable? How would back-to-back losses affect his star power in the UFC?
Given the circumstances of their first encounter, it was difficult to make sense of the rematch, at first. After all, McGregor was still the Featherweight Champion; a title he had to defend. So why then, was he fighting a lightweight at 170 pounds for the second time in six months?
Well the money didn’t hurt…
But there was also the journey of retribution. A singularity in focus and perseverance. The fire that made McGregor into an MMA superstar is the same fire that disallows him to accept failure. When he lost to Diaz at UFC 198, he craved vengeance. He was willing to risk it all for a shot at erasing defeat. The stakes were incredibly high, as a result, and he delivered with a victory.
It wasn’t just about the result, however. If he steamrolled Diaz, it would’ve been a hell of a story, but not Fight of the Year. Rather, this award incorporates the combined performances of both fighters, and Diaz certainly did his part to make it entertaining.
Nate had his chin tested by McGregor’s left hand. He survived. McGregor had his endurance tested by Nate’s boxing combinations and body shots. He survived. It was a game of inches and it was poetry from bell-to-bell. With more eyes on the sport than ever before, McGregor and Diaz gave main stream fans a glimpse at why the die hards can’t get enough of the fight game.
Here’s to a record-breaking trilogy fight. McGregor vs. Diaz II is my 2016 Fight of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206
Honorable Mention: Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit at UFC 195