Voting is now live for the Ninth Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards and just in case you’re struggling to select your favorites here’s a breakdown of the five fighters shortlisted in the always competitive ‘Breakthrough Fighter of the Year’ category.
At just 24, Yair Rodriguez is widely recognized as the cream of the crop when it comes to the next generation of fighters in the cage. The Mexican-born Chicago-based switch-hitter holds the key to the Mexican market, speak fluent English and has a style that’s got global appeal. And 2016 was a stellar year for him. After producing one of the shortlisted ‘Knockouts of the Year’ with his awesome flying head kick that almost decapitated Andre Fili at UFC 197. He then proved he has the stamina to go all 25 minutes when he beat Alex Caceres in his first main event at UFC Fight Night 92.
To go from unranked seven-fight novice to UFC champion in a calendar year may be a feat never seen again. New UFC bantamweight champion Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt was incredible in 2016. He started the year with first round knockout win over Augusto Mendes, then did the same to much-fancied Thomas Almeida. He made it a hat-trick of first round KO’s by obliterating Takeya Mizugaki which put him into poll position for a title shot. He saved the best until last, beating the greatest bantamweight ever Dominick Cruz in fine style to climb on top of the division and into the pound-for-pound rankings too.
Doo Ho Choi
When your nickname is ‘The Korean Superboy’ you have a lot to live up to, but boy did Do Ho Choi deliver in 2016. He defeated Thiago Tavares by first round knockout – his third straight first round KO finish since debuting for the UFC – which landed him in a pay-per-view main card slot against perennial contender Cub Swanson. And despite losing their shortlisted ‘Fight of the Year’ showdown bith men emerged with their reputations enhanced. Showing his grit, determination and heart, warrior Choi is now a firm fan favorite as we head into 2017.
‘The Black Beast’ blasted his way through the UFC’s heavyweight division, notching up victories over Damian Grabowski, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson and finally Shamil Abdurakhimov in his first main event. Four wins within a 12-month period in the heavyweight division is impressive enough, but Lewis also made a name for himself via his emergence as a social media star. Now firmly residing within the official top 10 of the UFC rankings it may only take a few more wins for him to get a crack at the heavyweight championship in 2017.
Michael ‘Venom’ Page certainly broke bones and his into the mainstream in 2016, with both his in cage action and highly entertaining post fight celebrations with a firm finger on the pulse of what’s hot in popular culture. He started the year with a toe hold submission win over Jeremie Holloway, but it was at Bellator’s debut event in London when he had the world talking. The flying knee knockout over Cyborg Santos, that caved the Brazilian veteran’s skull, was capped by Page’s viral-busting post-fight celebration infusing the Pokemon Go video game. That KO and celebration remains the most view video on the official Bellator YouTube channel.
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