2013 is just about done with and man...what a year it was for fights.
No matter your tastes in mixed martial arts, there was a lot to love over the last twelve months. From big knockouts to crafty submissions to technical masterpieces to good ol' fashioned brawls, there was something to sate your appetite.
Which, though, qualify as the best?
Which gritty decisions appear? Which knockouts? Which submissions?
Find out right here!
Event: UFC on Fuel TV 8
Date: March 3, 2013
Result: Wanderlei Silva defeats Brian Stann by KO via punches at 4:08 of Round 2
Brian Stann vs. Wanderlei Silva kicks off our list at number 10.
Every exchange between the two fighters in the first was utterly frantic. Punches were thrown at a pace that threw caution, planning and strategy to the wind. This was just two dudes trying to knock the other's block off.
The first round saw Wanderlei rocked on four separate occasions. In the second, a great feint set up for an overhand right that left the huge favorite on the mat.
Stann, sadly, would call it quits after the fight (but don't feel too sad, as he hung up the gloves to do commentary for football on Fox Sports 1). For Silva, the bout gave him a renewed relevance that paved the way for his upcoming coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 opposite bitter rival Chael Sonnen.
Event: The Ultimate Fighter season 18, episode 6
Date: Unknown (aired October 9, 2013)
Result: Raquel Pennington defeats Jessamyn Duke via unanimous decision (unknown scores)
Team Rousey's Jessamyn Duke vs. Team Tate's Raquel Pennington was precisely what The Ultimate Fighter was created for. It was two legitimate athletes with a strong fighting foundation getting attention from a top-level mixed martial arts camp, affording them the opportunity to develop in a way that is otherwise impossible.
Pennington and Duke fought for three full rounds in an intense bout. While it was billed by some as a female equivalent of Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin, that's going a bit far. It was, however, a hearty scrap by two skilled, ambitious young ladies.
Both fighters have some solid striking chops. Pennington comes from a boxing background, while Duke does good work turning her length and strength into a potent clinch game. That interesting contrast of styles, coupled with both fighters' pure grittiness, yielded a compelling brawl.
After two, things went to a sudden death round, where Pennington would unanimously get the nod from the judges, giving Team Tate a 3-2 lead. You can re-watch the fight in its entirety here.
Event: Bellator 98
Date: September 7, 2013
Result: Alexander Shlemenko defeats Brett Cooper by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
Bellator 98 was a very good card. The fact that its main event—a championship bout between Alexander Shlemenko and Brett Cooper—stands out means the card was something special.
Entering the fight, Cooper seemed like he would wind up being Shlemenko's coming-out party. After all, Cooper was an injury replacement for hard-punching Doug Marshall, a fighter who knocked him out just five months earlier. It also didn't help that Shlemenko beat him without much issue in 2011. Cooper, however, hung with the champ in a way nobody expected.
That made for a bout that hearkened back to the olden days of MMA, with a gritty American wrestler facing off with an emotionless Russian kickboxer.
Cooper took it to Shlemenko early, rocking him in the first with his hands and breaking out his Reign MMA-honed wrestling in the second. After that, the champ roared back and took the final three rounds to keep his belt safe.
While it wasn't Shlemenko's sexiest performance, given his ability to break men with his pinpoint-accurate striking, it was perhaps the best showing of his career.
Event: UFC 157
Date: February 23, 2013
Result: Dennis Bermudez defeats Matt Grice by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Matt Grice is a fighter. He fought back from elbow surgery in college to continue wrestling. He fought through injuries from a car accident in 2001 to once again return to competition.
Dennis Bermudez, who he fought at UFC 157, may have been the toughest opponent of his career, but the contest wasn't close to the toughest battle he had faced in his life.
Bermudez got mount almost immediately in their fight. Pinning Grice's arm, the New Yorker piled strikes on strikes. Grice, though, squirmed away, and went on to return some of the punishment, rocking Bermudez hard, but couldn't quite secure the finish. The fight went on like that for 15 minutes.
In the end, Grice would only get the nod from one judge, giving Bermudez what was perhaps the toughest win of his career.
Unfortunately, the featherweight would be involved in the second catastrophic car accident of his career. He miraculously survived, but his UFC career is likely over.
Event: Bellator 106
Date: November 2, 2013
Result: Eddie Alvarez defeats Michael Chandler by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
A lot can be said about how this fight came to be. A lot can be said about the integrity Bellator sacrificed, both from a PR and from a sport perspective, to make it happen. A lot can be said about the event it took place at and the pay-per-view that wasn't.
However, all that needs to be said about Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez 2 is that it was a very good fight.
While it seemed early on that Chandler was going to use his larger size and wrestling ability to bully Alvarez to a decision win, Alvarez plain and simply wore Chandler down. The champ literally tossed him around on numerous occasions, but Alvarez found ways to hurt Chandler from the very beginning.
The fight was very close, but the reluctant challenger would get the better of the scorecards. While Bellator's carefully laid-out plans for a lengthy title reign for poster boy Michael Chandler were scuttled, fans got to sit back and enjoy one of the best fights in Bellator history. They also get to look forward to the rematch.
Event: UFC Fight Night 33
Date: December 7, 2013
Result: Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva fight to majority draw (48-47 Hunt, 47-47, 47-47)
The term "leaving it all in the cage" is used a lot.
Mark Hunt and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, though, left it all in the cage. They had no stamina, no energy, and a moderately shorter lifespan after their 25-minute battle. It was one of those fights that serves as a stark reminder that fighters like these two simply have a spirit that the rest of us lack.
The fight was not perfect. The final decision being read as a draw, while it was a nice feel-good angle to the story, was undeniably a questionable one. Our own Jonathan Snowden did a fairly irrefutable breakdown on how the fight should have been scored, and my scoring was the same, 48-47 in favor of Silva (especially considering the draw came about through a 10-8 round 5 in favor of Hunt).
The failed drug test? That didn't really help either.
The thing is, there is no way around the fact that this was 530 pounds and 25 minutes of pure cojones. That's a rare combination, and it's one that you likely won't see again.
Event: The Ultimate Fighter season 17 Finale
Date: April 13, 2013
Result: Cat Zingano defeats Miesha Tate by TKO via knee and elbow at 2:55 of Round 3
Bouts between two fighters who have evolved past wrestling backgrounds tend to be exciting. Women's MMA tends to be exciting. Putting the two together in Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate yielded one of the best fights of 2013.
From the very beginning, this was an action-packed fight. The scrambles were fast, the striking was fierce and the submission attempts were frequent.
Tate likely found herself with an advantage on the score cards, though, courtesy of getting the better of most grappling exchanges. Zingano, though, had revenge on the mind. After the infamous Bryan Caraway weigh-in elbow and an unsporting face wipe between rounds, she wasn't going to coast towards the finish.
As soon as the bell sounded, Zingano threw big strikes before exploding into a Mariusz Pudzianowski-style takedown. From there, she roughed Tate up in a way that should make the naysayers that claimed women lack power embarrassed.
It started with ground and pound from top position, and when Tate finally got back standing, continued with brutal knees in the clinch. The former Strikeforce champ would wind up a bloody, battered mess who would walk away with the fourth loss of her career.
The UFC's plans would go awry from there, but the results of both this fight and the following season of The Ultimate Fighter exceeded expectations in a big way.
Event: Invicta FC 5
Date: April 5, 2013
Result: Michelle Waterson defeats Jessica Penne by submission via armbar at 2:31 of Round 4
When I was discussing the fights I was considering putting on this list with my Bleacher Report cohorts, our own women's MMA nerd, Nathan McCarter, chimed in with this:
For the casual fan it won't hold as much weight as, say, Jones vs. Gustafsson However, it's on the same level to me. They aren't as popular, but it's still the top two in the world of a specific weight class battling for the top title in the world...and it was PHENOMENAL.I don't expect those who don't follow WMMA to agree, but damn it...best fight of the year. Not a "brawl" like Melendez/Sanchez or Grice/Bermudez, not two tired athletes getting sloppy in later rounds like Jones vs. Gustafsson or Hunt vs. Bigfoot. Very good striking. Amazing, AMAZING, ground scrambles and submission attempts.
Event: UFC 166
Date: October 19, 2013
Result: Gilbert Melendez defeats Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)
Diego Sanchez is one of the most exciting fighters in MMA. Any given fight that involves the former lightweight contender can explode into an instant classic. In that vein, Diego Sanchez vs. Gilbert Melendez was a megaton bomb.
For 15 minutes, Sanchez and the former Strikeforce champion threw everything they had at each other. They punched, they kicked, they made angry faces at one another.
Was it a close fight? No. Watching closely and looking past the frantic pace, Melendez did an amazing job of getting the better of almost every exchange. With the exception of a scare in the third round, it was an absolute clinic by Melendez.
The action was absolutely non-stop, however, and that is a true rarity in MMA.
While it doesn't quite get the top spot, it was one of 2013's best fights, and definitely lands among the greatest of all time.
Event: UFC 165
Date: September 21, 2013
Result: Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-47)
Wins and losses are the most common metric that fans weigh fighters by. The true mark of a great fighter, though, doesn't show up on any kind of stat sheet. It shows up in the cage when he demonstrates a will to win that people like us just don't have.
Our own Jonathan Snowden summed this up perfectly when discussing Vitor Belfort:
Vitor Belfort has never fallen short when it comes to speed, strength or prodigious punching power. When the good lord was handing out those attributes, Belfort took a triple helping. Greedy and selfish, but whatever. What's done is done.
What he's lacked—has always lacked—is that little thing that separates the good from the great—heart. Belfort, when the going gets tough, will crack. There isn't a pill or a needle that can make a man persevere when things get hard. When he gets into deep waters, Belfort will drown. He always has. He likely always will.
For all Jones' accomplishments in the cage, the question "does Jon Jones have the indomitable spirit of a true champion?" was left unanswered until he came up against gargantuan Swede Alexander Gustafsson. He answered in the affirmative.
That isn't to downplay Gustafsson's part in all this. Many, including myself, completely dismissed not only his chances against Jones, but whether or not he was even truly a top light heavyweight. His fight with Jones showed that he was every bit the champion's equal.
Jones, though, was the one who found himself with an early deficit. Possibly, arguably, an insurmountable one. Still, he battled back with everything he had and would, in time, earn both the win and label of "true champion."
That performance makes this the fight of the year.