When a fight wins ‘Fight of the Year’ at the Fighters Only World MMA Awards it overshadows its competitors. That’s why, here, we cast a light on the contests that may not have claimed the top spot but still stand out as all-time classics.
Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva (UFC Fight Night 33)
When UFC heavyweights Mark Hunt and Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva met in Hunt’s adopted home of Australia, what transpired was arguably the greatest heavyweight MMA contest of all time. Over the course of five rounds Hunt and Silva battered each other, both standing on the ground, in a back-and-forth affair. The judges were left with no other option than to call the contest a draw.
So epic was the fight that UFC president Dana White had a custom Hunt vs. Silva 2 t-shirt made to promote his desire to see it again. Sadly, the buzz following the bout was dampened when Silva failed a post-fight drug test, causing the result to be changed from a draw to a no-contest. But even that wasn’t enough to take away a World MMA Awards ‘Fight of the Year’ nomination.
UFC 165’s Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson was named ‘Fight of the Year’ for that year.
Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua (UFC 139)
Mention the first Hendo-Shogun fight to any hardcore MMA fans and they will instantly acknowledge it as an all-time classic. So it came as quite a surprise when the fight lost out to Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner at the World MMA Awards.
This was one of those bloody battles that could have been stopped numerous times, in favor of both Henderson or ‘Shogun’. ‘Hendo’ was fairly dominant in the first three rounds, hurting his Brazilian opponent with his heavy hands on several occasions. But, with an incredible display of warrior spirit, Rua rallied late to turn the tides in the main event rounds and ended the fight raining down blows on an exhausted Hendo.
Despite Shogun’s heroic efforts, however, Henderson was awarded the decision win for his early dominance.
Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 58)
You could argue that it was Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez who put Bellator’s lightweight division on the map when they had arguably the best fight of 2011, though they were not officially awarded that accolade. What elevated the fight even further was having the promotion’s lightweight championship on the line.
Alvarez had reigned as Bellator 155lb champ for over two years – and had been totally dominant in that time – when he put his belt on the line against Chandler. Eddie looked like he would continue his reign late in the third against Chandler when he had the challenger hurt against the cage and landed blow after lethal blow. But, incredibly, a bloody Michael survived to see the fourth and even pulled off one of the truly great MMA comebacks by finishing Alvarez via rear naked choke to become the new champ.
The two men would meet again almost exactly one year later and put on another highly entertaining show, this time with Alvarez getting revenge and winning back the belt with via decision – albeit a controversial one.
Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung (WEC 48)
When World Extreme Cagefighting held their first (and only) pay-per-view event in April 2010, they couldn’t possibly have hoped for a preliminary headliner as good as Garcia vs. Jung to lead fans into the PPV portion of the card. But what they got was an absolute dream fight between two wild and reckless featherweights.
Garcia and ‘The Korean Zombie’ were not particularly well-known – even to hardcore fans – but that all changed after they went crazy on each other for three full rounds of utter madness. For fight fans not so familiar with things outside the UFC, this one is an absolute must-see. It even holds the position of favorite all-time fight for more than one member of the FO staff.
Garcia-Korean Zombie 2 took place one year later when the WEC was absorbed by the UFC, and Jung avenged his decision loss to Garcia from their first meeting by pulling off the first ever twister submission in the UFC. He may have missed out on the ‘Fight of the Year’ award the first time, but made up for things by picking up ‘Submission of the Year’ for the rematch.
Raquel Pennington vs. Jessamyn Duke (TUF 18)
Unlike the previous mentions on our list, this epic fight didn’t even make the World MMA Awards ‘Fight of the Year’ shortlist. However, that’s not because it didn’t compare to the other nominees but rather because, as it was classed as an exhibition bout and was therefore not included on the fighters’ pro records, it was not eligible to be included.
On season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter Pennington – fighting under coach Miesha Tate – and Duke – fighting under coach Ronda Rousey – had one of the best female MMA bouts ever seen. As is customary on the UFC reality show, the two women took their contest to a deciding third round after the judges scored the first two a draw. After another bloody five minutes filled with knees, elbows, kicks and punches – not unlike the first two rounds – it was Pennington who was declared the victor.
Sadly, because it was not counted as a pro fight, this one has fallen into relative obscurity.
Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 192)
In a year when Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald stole the show at UFC 189, it became a virtually impossible task for any other fight to claim ‘Fight of the Year’ honors. Sure enough, Cormier vs. Gustafsson finished second but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a sensational fight.
Gustafsson was the first to challenge Cormier for the 205lb title, which ‘DC’ won after Jon Jones was stripped earlier in the year, and many were critical of the matchmaking as Gustafsson was coming off a loss to the man Cormier beat to win the belt, Anthony Johnson. But by the end of the UFC 192 main event there wasn’t a single fan in the MMA world who felt the Swedish challenger didn’t deserve his shot.
Despite DC having already tasted defeat at the hands of Jones, it was Gustafsson who gave the defending champ the toughest fight of his career over the course of five rounds. Cormier may have emerged the winner via decision but this in which both men gained so much more than they lost.