10 Most Impressive MMA Performances Through the 1st Half of 2014
The 2014 MMA calendar is 50 percent completed, so it is time to look back at the highlights of the past six months.
Many outstanding performances have already gone down inside and outside the Octagon. From Ronda Rousey's first knockout win against Sara McMann to TJ Dillashaw's surprise victory over Renan Barao, MMA fans have been treated to some memorable showings.
On Saturday, UFC 175 will kick off the back end of 2014 with a bang. Rousey will attempt to earn an even more impressive victory against Alexis Davis, and Chris Weidman will attempt to silence his doubters with a more traditional win than the ones he picked up against Anderson Silva.
Heading into the weekend, here are the most impressive MMA performances from the past six months.
10. Benson Henderson
Matchup: Rustam Khabilov at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov
With zero knockouts or submission wins in nine UFC appearances, Benson Henderson was starting to feel the heat from critics. Having also suffered two losses against lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, Henderson needed to make a statement against Rustam Khabilov on June 7.
Despite giving up six takedowns, Henderson still found a way to beat the Russian. With some of the best conditioning in the 155-pound class, Henderson seemed to pick up steam as the fight went along.
In the fourth round, Henderson was able to take Khabilov's back and locked up a rear-naked choke to end his finishing drought that dated back to a win over Donald Cerrone in April 2010.
9. Robbie Lawler
Matchup: Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173
On the heels of a narrow loss to Johny Hendricks in a bout for the welterweight championship, Robbie Lawler only needed to get his hand raised to get back in the running for another shot at UFC gold.
Not only did Lawler get his hand raised, but he also put together one of the strongest showings of the past six months, stopping Jake Ellenberger with strikes in the third round.
With the victory, Lawler earned a bout with a surging Matt Brown. The winner of that matchup is expected to be next up for Hendricks.
8. Roy Nelson
Matchup: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Nogueira
With back-to-back losses to Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic, Roy Nelson was slipping out of title contention in the heavyweight division. A fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira gave him a chance to turn things around, but it also came with a chance that he could be released with a loss.
Big Country did more than return to the win column. After dropping Nogueira once, Nelson floored the Brazilian a second time, ensuring Minotauro didn't get back up again.
Here's me on Roy Nelson, at 37 years old still the perfect man to guard the door for the UFC heavyweight elite: http://t.co/DMbjPTKy70— Chad Dundas (@chaddundas) April 12, 2014
The win added another spectacular knockout to Nelson's highlight reel. While Big Country is still a few wins away from a shot at UFC gold, he has a firm hold on a top-10 position in the heavyweight rankings.
7. Luke Rockhold
Matchup: Tim Boetsch at UFC 172
Coming off a win over Costas Philippou, who had defeated Tim Boetsch not long ago, Luke Rockhold was going to have a tough time impressing in a UFC 172 matchup with The Barbarian.
However, he found a way.
In case you missed it: Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Boetsch video highlights http://t.co/j6fphVDfbx— Shaun Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) April 27, 2014
As he stuffed a Boetsch takedown attempt, Rockhold locked up an inverted triangle choke. Although he wasn't able to cut off Boetsch's blood flow, Rockhold controlled his opponent until he was presented with an opening to secure a kimura.
6. Gegard Mousasi
Matchup: Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Munoz
Following a setback against Lyoto Machida, Gegard Mousasi needed a win over Mark Munoz to remain in the hunt for the 185-pound championship.
Less than four minutes in, Mousasi picked up that victory with a rear-naked choke. In locking up the choke, he became the first fighter to ever submit Munoz, who had faced Demian Maia and other strong grapplers in his previous outings.
Climbing the ladder, Mousasi is now set for a rematch with Ronaldo Souza. An impressive win over the Brazilian might be enough to earn Mousasi a shot at the middleweight strap.
5. Luke Rockhold
Matchup: Costas Philippou at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Philippou
Following a loss to Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold needed a win over Costas Philippou in January to prove he could be a legitimate title threat in the middleweight division.
Though Philippou is a solid boxer, Rockhold made a big statement with his striking. In the opening stanza, Rockhold blasted him with two hard body kicks. The second folded Philippou, who wasn't able to continue fighting.
VIDEO: In case you missed it: Luke Rockhold vs. Costas Philippou highlights http://t.co/rSsBy5Wz94— Shaun Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) January 16, 2014
Rockhold proceeded to earn a nearly equally impressive win over Boetsch in April and might now be a big win or two away from a shot at the 185-pound championship.
4. Johnny Eduardo
Matchup: Eddie Wineland at UFC Fight Night: Brown vs. Silva
Returning from a 24-month hiatus from competition against Eddie Wineland, Johnny Eduardo was a massive underdog in the May matchup.
Eddie Wineland was like a -900 favorite. Johnny Eduardo huge underdog and starches Eddie Wineland for a huge upset KO. #UFCFightNight— UFCONFOX (@UFCONFOX) May 11, 2014
Nonetheless, he scored a huge win over the former title challenger. In the final minute of the first round, Eduardo staggered Wineland with a beautiful combination and followed up to finish before his opponent could recover.
At 35 years old, he essentially came out of nowhere, but Eduardo is a legitimate bantamweight contender right now.
3. Ronda Rousey
Matchup: Sara McMann at UFC 170
With submission wins via armbar in her first eight MMA bouts, Ronda Rousey was being called a one-trick pony despite beating some of the best in the women's bantamweight division.
At UFC 170 she proved she had more than an armbar in her arsenal. The UFC champion clinched with an Olympic wrestling medalist, Sara McMann, and came out on top. With a sharp knee to the body, Rousey dropped McMann and recorded her first knockout victory.
If she can now start finishing multiple opponents without having to hit the canvas, Rousey might have the ability to dominate the women's bantamweight division for years.
2. Renan Barao
Matchup: Urijah Faber at UFC 169
The stoppage may have been controversial, but Renan Barao's knockout win over Urijah Faber has been one of the more impressive performances in 2014.
With four straight wins, Faber looked to be on a mission to avenge his prior loss to Barao, which came via decision at UFC 149. Faber was able to go the distance in that meeting despite breaking his rib early on.
Although Barao was a favorite to beat Faber again, The California Kid figured to keep it competitive against the Brazilian. Instead, Barao stopped Faber in less than four minutes after knocking the former WEC champion down with a right hand.
1. TJ Dillashaw
Matchup: Renan Barao at UFC 173
TJ Dillashaw was supposed to be the newest addition to Renan Barao's long winning streak, which dated back to an April 2005 loss in his MMA debut.
Despite being given little chance to beat Barao, Dillashaw dominated the Brazilian. As a huge underdog, Dillashaw more than doubled Barao's significant strikes, landing 140 on his way to a knockout win in the fifth round.
While he was clearly the better fighter in May, Dillashaw will defend his title against the man he took it from. Barao will attempt to regain his belt at UFC 177 on August 30.