After crowning Lando Vannata with our KO of the Year, and Mackenzie Dern with Submission of the Year, now it’s time to switch gears and look at the best fight of 2016. Conor McGregor’s massive drawing power made 2016 one of the most lucrative in UFC history, and he provided some big money fights with extremely high drama. Would that be enough to land him a spot among our top fights, or did the action other fighters provided push them over the top? Time to find out… 3. Conor McGregor def. Nate Diaz – UFC 202
It turns out the most intriguing fight of McGregor’s from a box office perspective also ended up being his best. His rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202 drew the biggest Pay-Per-View numbers in UFC history, but it also ended up being a phenomenal fight. There were many questions to be answered in this bout. Would the Irishman’s confidence be shaken after his first UFC loss? Would Nate Diaz extend his cardio advantage with a full camp behind him? What adjustments would both fighters make?
It turns out that McGregor still retained his swagger, and Diaz still had a cardio edge. However, McGregor showed a perseverance that was lacking in their original meeting. That particular ingredient allowed this bout to go from the high-drama, second-round finish we saw at UFC 196 to a five-round war worthy of consideration for Fight of the Year.
2. Robbie Lawler def. Carlos Condit – UFC 195
It speaks to the quality of a fight when it can happen two days into the year, feature a decision that is widely regarded as incorrect, and still end up very close to Fight of the Year. That’s how engrossing the all-out war that took place between the welterweight champion Lawler and challenger Condit was. Given the way the rest of their respective years played out, 2016 may have been the final year we see either in a title bout. Still, Lawler and Condit made fans of anyone watching and each continued their legacy of being action fighters.
Did I mention the mythical beast that is fifth-round Robbie? Even up against the tireless cardio of Condit, Lawler turned up the heat in the fifth round to such a degree that he scored his best offense of the fight. Condit answered back a variety of times, creating one of the best rounds of the year, and perhaps the greatest sequence we’ve seen in the closing minutes of a title fight. The image of two of MMA’s most well-conditioned fighters hanging off of the cage to keep from collapsing after that final round will be an indelible one the minds of fans and was simply the punctuation mark at the end of a great fight.
1. Cub Swanson def. Doo Ho Choi – UFC 206
The only fight to surpass the level of chaos and action that Lawler and Condit managed — and to accomplish the feat in 15 minutes, as opposed to 25 — was the featherweight clash at UFC 206. Not the one in the main event for the interim title, but a bit further down the main card. Longtime Top 10 fighter Swanson was tasked with defending his spot against the surging prospect Choi, who had dispatched his previous three UFC opponents within a round each.
Choi was able to keep the bout technical in the early going, and he had the advantage. His straight punches got through to Swanson and did the better early work. Coming out in the second round, however, the veteran found another gear. Could the young Korean could match it, the fight would turn into something spectacular, and that’s exactly what happened. On two separate occasions during those five minutes, Swanson rocked Choi with the type of strikes (including a cartwheel kick) that would have easily felled most foes. However, despite being visibly hurt, Choi managed to keep his wits enough to answer back and hurt Swanson, turning the tide back-and-forth as the crowd in Toronto went crazy.
The third round continued in a similar pattern, with Swanson starting to pull away from the bloodied and fatigued Choi. By the time Swanson unleashed a final blitz — complete with a spinning backfist that knocked Choi more off-balance than down — everyone knew they had witnessed a classic, and the contest had earned its spot as 2016 Fight of the Year.
Others Receiving Votes:
Tyron Woodley draw vs. Stephen Thompson – UFC 205 Marco Polo Reyes def. Dong Hyun Kim – UFC 199 Nate Diaz def. Conor McGregor – UFC 196