We had to wait until after UFC 207 for this one, as there were a couple of fighters still in consideration for the award who were competing on the UFC’s year-end card. Amanda Nunes put her stamp on an impressive 2016 with a first round stoppage of Ronda Rousey, while Cody Garbrandt completed his ascendence from prospect to champion with a surprisingly dominant showing over Dominick Cruz. Were those final performances enough to push either through to be named MMAOddsBreaker’s Fighter of the Year? Keep reading to find out: 3. Amanda Nunes – UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion UFC 196 – def. Valentina Shevchenko (UD) UFC 200 – def. Miesha Tate (SUB1) UFC 207 – def. Ronda Rousey (TKO1) 2016 just kept getting better and better for Amanda Nunes. After getting a spot on the main card of the massive UFC 196 card, she scored a unanimous decision over Valentina Shevchenko. Coupled with her two dominant wins from 2015, that was enough to earn her a title shot at UFC 200. Originally slated to be third on the card (behind rematches between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, as well as Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz), Nunes and Miesha Tate were promoted to the main event by the time the card rolled around. Following a fairly lacklustre event, Nunes did her best to give fans something to remember on the card, as she dominated Miesha Tate, eventually scoring a rear-naked choke in the first round to capture the women’s bantamweight title. Following that win, it was discovered that Ronda Rousey would be returning to the Octagon, and Nunes was scheduled to face her on UFC 207, the promotion’s year-end card. While the promotion behind the event was solely focused on the return of Rousey, the defending champion was quietly preparing to assert her dominance in the division. It didn’t take long for that to happen, as Nunes immediately jumped all over Rousey, landing 27 punishing strikes in just 48 seconds. With that, Nunes scored the highest profile win of her career, defended her title in flawless fashion, as established herself as the woman to lead the charge into 2017. The year as whole was impressive enough to earn Nunes the #3 spot in our Fighter of the Year rankings.
2. Michael Bisping – UFC Middleweight Champion UFC Fight Night 84 – def. Anderson Silva (UD) UFC 199 – def. Luke Rockhold (KO1) *Captured UFC MW Title UFC 204 – def. Dan Henderson (UD)
At the beginning of 2016, if you made a list of individuals who were likely to end up in contention for fighter of the year come December, it’s unlikely the Michael Bisping would have been anywhere near it. Sure, he had a good 2015 — defeating CB Dollaway and Thales Leites in typical Bisping fashion, by workmanlike decision — but his MO had always been that he couldn’t break through to the top of the division. His February bout against Anderson Silva seemed to be as close as he would ever get to a UFC title, as that was the man he had been chasing for so much of his decade in the Octagon. That bout seemed to encapsulate Bisping’s career, he was outworking Silva and winning the fight, then he was knocked out by a flying knee at the end of round three. Luckily, rather than send him back down the ladder as previous losses had, it was simply the end of the round. Bisping somehow gathered himself, came back out, and proceeded to squeeze out the win over the former champion. It was a massive victory for Bisping, the biggest of his career to that point, but he still wasn’t viewed as a top contender. It still took a Chris Weidman injury just two weeks before UFC 199 to thrust Bisping into a UFC title fight, and he jumped at the opportunity, even against a man who had thoroughly dominated him just a year and a half prior. By the time he stepped into the cage against Luke Rockhold on June 4th, 2016, it had been just 20 days short of a decade that Bisping had spent in the UFC. He had competed in the Octagon 25 times, winning 18. He helped usher in the UFC’s era of international expansion. A fan favorite in his home country, he was reviled by many outside of it for his attitude. However, as his career seemed to be winding down, almost all had gained an appreciation for Bisping. And that’s when the MMA gods took over. The Brit who was mocked for his lack of punching power at times hurt Rockhold with a left, sending him reeling. Another left in the clinch dropped him. He swarmed against the cage and it was over in the opening round. Michael Bisping after a decade of toiling in the UFC had an historic, heroic, breakthrough as champion. Either of those fights on its own would have been enough to make a memorable year, but Bisping still had one more to go. His old nemesis Dan Henderson. Back at UFC 100, Henderson scored one of MMA’s iconic KOs on Bisping. Finally, over one hundred pay-per-views later, Bisping would get his shot at redemption, but he had to put his newly won belt on the line at UFC 204 in his hometown of Manchester. At 46 years old, Henderson really had no business being in a UFC title fight. He had dropped six of his past nine bouts, but a perfectly timed win over Hector Lombard made the Bisping/Henderson story too enticing not to follow up on. And then those MMA gods, they almost did it again: The same right hand that felled Bisping in July 2009, it landed again in the first round and put the champion on the ropes. Much like against Silva earlier in the year, he recovered and composed himself. He seemed to be on the way to taking the fight over, but then Henderson did it again in the second. Down two rounds, Bisping needed to score a stoppage or sweep the final three to win a decision. Digging deep, the champion managed to do it in a fight that turned out being far better than it had any business being. A fitting cap for a fighter who had a year that seemed far better than even the loftiest expectations could have predicted. Michael Bisping’s 2016 may be the best culmination of any fighter’s story in UFC history, but it still wasn’t quite enough to earn him our fighter of the year.
1. Stipe Miocic – UFC Heavyweight Champion UFC 195 – def. Andrei Arlovski (KO1) UFC 198 – def. Fabricio Werdum (KO1) *Captured UFC HW Title UFC 203 – def. Alistair Overeem (KO1)
Back in 2011, Stipe Miocic entered the UFC as a legitimate 6-0 prospect. At 29, he was the rare heavyweight who was still young enough to be considered an actual prospect too. His UFC career started impressively, as a decision over (then durable) Joey Beltran and TKOs against fellow undefeated fighters Phil de Fries and Shane del Rosario pushed him into his first main event. Then he was stopped by strikes against Stefan Struve — a man who had scored just six TKOs in his 24 MMA victories prior to that — and we all seemed to forget about Miocic. He bounced back with wins over Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Fabio Maldonado, but two decisions and a quick stoppage over a blown up light heavyweight still weren’t enough to get fans back on board with Miocic as a high-level prospect. He didn’t have enough power, he wouldn’t commit to punches, and his chin wasn’t good enough to survive as a top flight heavyweight. That was the reputation. Things started to turn when he went to a very competitive decision against Junior dos Santos. Absorbing a ton of damage and answering the questions about his chin. Then he dominated Mark Hunt for a fifth round TKO stoppage in an historically one-sided beatdown. That brings us up to 2016, and he started things off with a bang. Just two days into the year, he stopped a resurgent Andrei Arlovski in under a minute at UFC 195. Immediately calling for a title shot, he got his wish when Cain Velasquez pulled out of a scheduled rematch with Fabricio Werdum just a month later. However, Miocic would have to wait, as Werdum wound up pulling out of that event with his own injury. The scenario when he got rebooked wasn’t quite as favorable. Rather than Vegas, Miocic would have to travel down to Curitiba, Brazil in his bid to wrest the belt from Werdum. A former member of Chute Boxe, Werdum had the raucous crowd fully in his corner as the bout started. Unphased, Miocic’s boxing got the better of Werdum as he landed a perfectly placed right hand as the champion moved forward aggressively. That was all it took for Miocic to bring the heavyweight title back to Cleveland. His first defense would take place at UFC 203 in his hometown of Cleveland. Tasked with former K-1 Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeem, who was fresh off of KOs against Junior dos Santos and Arlovski, it seemed as if it would be Miocic’s stiffest test on the feet. That proved true, as exactly a minute into the fight, Overeem dropped the champion with a straight left hand. Miocic survived the ensuing guillotine attempt, and began to track down Overeem who was literally running from exchanges. After Overeem stopped his forward pressure momentarily with another sharp left, Miocic continued the assault. Finally landing in top position, the champion landed pinpoint strikes that left his foe unconscious and triggered one of the best crowd reactions of the entire year from the faithful in ‘The Q’. His first title defense, his third consecutive first round stoppage of the year, and doing it all in front of the hometown fans: that was the cherry on top of 2016 for Stipe Miocic. Twelve months that earned him MMAOddsBreaker’s 2016 Fighter of the Year. Others Receiving Votes:
Gegard Mousasi Joanna Jedrzejczyk Conor McGregor Cody Garbrandt Max Holloway Demetrious Johnson