TheÂ World MMA Awards 'Fighter of the Year' award is arguably one ofÂ the most sought-after accolades in the sport. With the Eighth Annual event fast-approaching, we give a rundown of the five nominees for this year's award.
Rafael dos Anjos
Rafael dos Anjos pretty much guaranteed his place among the 2015 'Upset of the Year' nominees with his stunning lightweight title win over Anthony Pettis in March. With a second - arguably even more impressive - win over Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 17 at the end of the year, the Brazilian champion is an obvious candidate for 'Fighter of the Year'.
Kicking off his UFC career in late 2008 with a KO loss to Jeremy Stephens, RDA looked to be the furthest thing from a championship candidate. Over many years and many fights Rafael continued to improve but would always fall at the last hurdle after putting together a string of wins. It wasn't until 2015 that we saw the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt achieve his full potential by beating Pettis for the title off the back ofÂ a 3-0 run in 2014.
It now looks like the UFC lightweight champ could be on a collision course with fellow 'Fighter of the Year' nominee Conor McGregor, and there are many who feel RDA has the size, strength and fighting ability to hand the Irishman his first loss inside the Octagon. All we know is 2016 is shaping up to be one hell of a year.
Rising Hawaiian star Max Holloway hasn't lost a fight since his August '13 decision loss to McGregor, and he has looked like a straight killer ever since.
Currently riding an 8-0 streak, Max has beaten top 145lb contenders like Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens to #4 in the official UFC featherweight rankings. After #2-ranked Frankie Edgar, it's hard to argue against Holloway being next for a shot at the belt. Of course, the only problem is the division's current champ, McGregor, seems a little preoccupied with the 155lb division at present. So Holloway may have to wait.
For now, Max finds himself as an underdog for 'Fighter of the Year', but if there's one thing we've learned about this young contender it's that we should never, ever count him out.
UFC flyweight champ Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson has been untouchable since dropping from 135lb to his rightful place at 125lb. He is undefeated at the weight with a 9-0-1 record.
Johnson has been criticized for not facing the same caliber of opponents as the champs in other divisions (though that's hardly his fault), but no one can fault the near-flawlessness of his performances. in 2015, he successfully defended his title two more times with wins over Kyoji Horiguchi (submission) and John Dodson (unanimous decision). Dodson, who challenged Johnson for the title previously in early 2013, was seen as the champ'sÂ only legitimate threat, but was handled completely.
He may not have the same kinds ofÂ headline-grabbing wins as some of the other fighters on this shortlist, but Mighty Mouse's squeaky clean record at flyweight still makes him one of the best of the past year.
What can be said of UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor? He has predicted win after win and he hasn't been wrong so far. Not even top pound-for-pound fighter Jose Aldo could bring Conor's mystical streak to a halt.
With three knockout wins and a UFC title in the space of one year, McGregor left no option but to include him among the nominees for 'Fighter of the Year'. As well as handing Aldo his first loss since 2005, McGregor has become the sport's foremost personality - fitting of his 'The Notorious' nickname.Â
McGregor's 2016 New Year's Resolution appears to be to challenge for the UFC lightweight title and become the promotion's first ever dual-weight champion. If he can pull it off then expect to see him on this list once again for the Ninth Annual awards.
When the UFC middleweight title fight between Luke Rockhold and reigning champ Chris Weidman was announced, fans salivated at the prospect of arguably the most stylistically exciting fight of the year.
A supremely dominant win over former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida in April made the MMA world wake up and take notice of Rockhold, and betting lines for Weidman vs. Rockhold were razor thin as a result. Though everyone considered him a legitimate threat to Weidman's title and undefeated record, seeing Rockhold stop the defending champ was still one of the most stunning sights we saw in the Octagon all year.
Who Rockhold will face in his first middleweight title defense is still up in the air but, whoever it is, fans will surely be expecting even more impressive things from the new champ in 2016.
Cast your votes for 'Fighter of the Year' and other awards at worldmmaawards.com.