A year of incredible highs sets sport up nicely for even more glory ahead.
On a timeline of key events in the UFC’s history, 2016 will surely command a large chunk of column inches.
The narrative of the past 12 months has been one of exponential growth, spearheaded by the remarkable achievements of MMA’s leading light Conor McGregor in the Octagon, and underpinned outside of the cage by the $4 billion (Dh14.69b) sale of the company to WME-IMG.
Indeed, the landscape of MMA has changed drastically, with the UFC enjoying one of its most prosperous years to date in just about every metric.
Mainstream notoriety has been achieved, and crucially appears sustainable with audience figures swelling into the millions. Of course, 2016 has been hallmarked by adversity, too.
Injuries to main and co-main event stars have torn apart numerous cards throughout the year while USADA’s increased presence has led to the suspensions of top stars like former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
It’s also been a year of grief with the tragic deaths of Kimbo Slice, Kevin Randleman, Josh Samman and Ryan Jimmo rocking the sport to its core.
But all of them would feel an innate sense of pride having played their part in helping the UFC to
its meteoric position today.
Here, we take a look back at some of the biggest moments of 2016 and celebrate some of the resplendent personalities which have made for a vastly entertaining year.
YOUNG FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
For his 25th birthday, Max Holloway gifted himself a piece of UFC gold. The Hawaiian is now the interim featherweight champion after his decisive third-round stoppage of Anthony Pettis in the week of his birthday at UFC 206.
The victory followed up an impressive decision win over fellow 145lbs contender Ricardo Lamas at UFC 199 – a fight which left an indelible imprint on the minds of MMA fans after both men stood toe-to-toe wailing on each other with their best shots for the last 10 seconds of the final round.
With 10 straight wins, Holloway will look to to become the undisputed champ when he takes on Jose Aldo in 2017 but he can look back on a hugely successful year, one which in effect has been his coming out party.
The 24-year-old has made serious waves in his short career, extending his FW win streak to five this year.
Unbeaten and fast emerging as a future star having tapped out CM Punk and Sage Northcutt.
With three first-round KOs in 2016, he deserves a shout no matter the outcome at UFC 207.
FIVE-ROUND FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Robbie Lawler v Carlos Condit, UFC 195, January 2
It was said right at the beginning of the year that this five-round war had set the bar high for FOTY. And despite it being on the first pay-per-view card of 2016, this hellacious battle held on to take the acclaim despite some very worth challengers.
It was violence at its most beautiful with two of the most technical strikers in the welterweight division giving every drop of their soul into this title contest.
The image of the exhausted pair sideby-side being held up by the cage after the final bell was poetic. Lawler won by the smallest margin, the final session edging it in his favour after both men attacked with everything they had after the first four frenetic rounds.
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz, UFC 202
Five gripping rounds in which McGregor showed incredible mental fortitude to gain his revenge.
Dominick Cruz v TJ Dillashaw, UFC FN 81
The footwork alone had us drooling. A technical masterclass with Cruz taking a close decision.
Miesha Tate v Holly Holm, UFC 196
Behind on the cards, Tate locked in an RNC to sleep Holm in the final round of their title fight.
THREE-ROUND FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Marco Polo Reyes v Dong Hyun Kim, UFC 199, June 4
If there were bigger names involved, this would go down as one of the best fights of all time. The UFC 199 opener was utterly absurd. Mexican Reyes and Korean Kim put on a fight which warrants its own movie script.
It made Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago look realistic in its insanity. Reyes stunned Kim only for him to fire back. The momentum swung again as Kim was dropped but he survived the onslaught to get out of the round.
In the second session, Reyes was rocked but again fought back with a flurry. It was the same story in the third, only when Kim was hurt again, he could take no more and Reyes earned himself a remarkable stoppage.
Cub Swanson v Doo Ho Choi, UFC 206
It had everything but a finish. Despite bombs galore neither fighter could put the other away.
Steve Bosse v Sean O’Connell, UFC FN 89
Technically no, but for a brawl, there was no better. Bosse survived to almost finish in the second.
Dan Henderson v Hector Lombard, UFC 199
Both uncorked huge power shots in the first, both were floored. Hendo hit a stunning elbow KO.
EVENT OF THE YEAR
UFC 205, November 12
So often in the past, loaded UFC cards inflated by lofty expectations fall flat when it comes to the night itself. Not in New York.
The promotion’s first visit to Madison Square Garden had special hype but delivered a special night, with effectively every fight justifying their spot on an historic card.
Of course, it was topped off by Conor McGregor sensationally stopping Eddie Alvarez to become the first concurrent two-weight UFC world champ. But it offered so much more.
There was an insane backand-forth war between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson while, in the co-main, Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s defence of the women’s strawweight title against fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz more than entertained.
Add in Yoel Romero’s shuddering knock out of former middleweight champ Chris Weidman and
Miesha Tate’s shocking retirement after defeat to Raquel Pennington, and UFC 205 had it all.
There’s even an argument to be made that it wasn’t just the event of 2016, but perhaps the best of all time.
UFC 196, March 5
The night of the underdog which brought sensational wins for both Nate Diaz and Miesha Tate.
UFC 202, August 20
From 12 fights, just three went to a decision, one was Conor McGregor’s revenge over Nate Diaz.
UFC Fight Night 91
Submissions, KOs and 155lb top contender Tony Ferguson almost losing to Lando Vannata.
UPSET OF THE YEAR
Nate Diaz v Conor McGregor 1, UFC 196, March 5
Nate Diaz can claim all he wants that his second-round submission of Conor McGregor was no surprise to him, but to the rest of the world it was almost unfathomable.
The American had been on a beach in Mexico just two weeks before taking the fight after Rafael Dos Anjos pulled out of his intended clash with the Irishman.
Twelve weeks prior to that, McGregor had just knocked out the greatest featherweight ever in Jose Aldo and had looked unstoppable in the UFC.
But fighting at welterweight, against a durable Diaz, he found out why no man is impenetrable in MMA. McGregor controlled the bout, opening up a nasty cut over Diaz’s right eye in the first session.
He was beaming as he headed back to his corner and began the second by teeing off on his rival in a similar fashion.
Then came the punch which changed McGregor’s destiny. A right hand from Diaz set up a juddering left and when the fight went to the ground, he locked in a rear-naked choke to force the
tap. The Las Vegas air was a mix of sheer shock and pure delirium at what was just witnessed.
Michael Bisping v Luke Rockhold
Beaten decisively once by Rockhold 18 months earlier, Bisping on two weeks notice KO’d the champ.
Brandon Moreno v Louis Smolka
Smolka, on a four-fight win streak, submitted early to a fighter debuting having lost on TUF.
Bryan Barberena v Warlley Alves
Submitted Sage Northcutt and followed it with a decision over a very dangerous Alves.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
No other fighter has smashed their preconceived labels in more spectacular fashion than Michael
Bisping. Quite simply, 2016 has been his year.
His career renaissance has been stunning and few can match his achievements in the Octagon this
For a man dogged down by the tags of good but not great, skilled but no KO power and experienced but incapable of reaching No1 contender status, Bisping managed to dispel each one in incredible fashion.
It started with his five-round war with middleweight legend Anderson Silva in February. In front of a sold-out London crowd he earned a career-defining win, taking a unanimous decision in a fight of pure heart, tremendous skill and even controversy.
The 37-year-old Brit controlled the fight beautifully and came back strong after surviving a hellacious third-round knockdown when his mouthguard fell out.
He followed that victory up by KOing 185lbs champ Luke Rockhold in the first round on just two weeks’ notice. Rockhold was billed as the next middleweight great and already owned a win over Bisping but would fall to one of the biggest shocks off all time.
He then topped the year off by successfully defending the belt against Dan Henderson – the man who viciously KO’d him at UFC 100.
After a over a year on the sidelines through injury, Cruz returned to take back his 135lbs belt.
The P4P best female fighter on the planet, she beat Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
The Irishman made history as the first ever simultaneous two-weight UFC champ.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
Lando Vannata v John Makdessi, UFC 206, December 10
There’s an elegant violence about spinning wheel kick KOs. The footwork, the timing and the precision almost suspends their destructive nature in your mind and allows you to appreciate the artistry as you would a plie.
There are few better examples than Vannata’s. He started the fight aggressively, pushing the pace and throwing smooth kicks from range. Then Makdessi made a crucial error as he circled the wrong way.
Vanatta responded by delivering the most picture-perfect spinning wheel kick. It could not have been more accurately placed, spinning Makdessi’s chin into the air and bringing an immediate end to the fight.
Diego Rivas v Noad Lahat, UFC FN 82
The sound of Rivas’ jumping knee connecting beautifully with Lahat’s chin was simply chilling.
Stipe Miocic v Fabricio Werdum, UFC 198
Werdum rushed in and Miocic sent him into the dark lands with a perfectly-placed right hand.
Anthony Johnson v Glover Teixeira, UFC 202
For pure unadulterated power, Johnson’s thunderous uppercut is up there with the very best.
SUBMISSION OF THE YEAR
Miesha Tate v Holly Holm, UFC 196, March 5
“Oh… my… God.” UFC commentator Joe Rogan’s reaction probably paints the picture of Miesha Tate’s rear-naked choke submission of Holly Holm better than anyone.
Tate wrapped her up tighter than a snake does its prey, rendering Holm unconscious with just 90 seconds remaining.
In the second round she had almost tapped out Holm with the RNC, the champ somehow scrambling free to hear the bell despite the blood draining from her head. She controlled the bout from there.
But in the final session, Holm missed with a winging punch, Tate timed it, took her down, turned her and was on her back. Her grip was vicelike and she held on to claim a spine-tingling victory.
Ben Rothwell v Josh Barnett, UFC on Fox 18
The birth of Rothwell’s ten finger guillotine. He became the first to submit Barnett with this choke.
Demian Maia v Carlos Condit, UFC on Fox 21
The pick of a bunch of Maia submissions. His first-round rear-naked choke was a masterpiece.
Nate Diaz v Conor McGregor, UFC 196
The way Diaz slipped in by punching his hands through McGregor’s defence was so proficient.