Voting is now open for the Ninth Annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards, here’s a breakdown the five nominees in the running for this year’s Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis Fighter of the Year stature.
Middleweight Michael Bisping started the year in style – with a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender points victory over the man recognised as the greatest fighter of all time, Anderson Silva in which Bisping had to recover from a heavy flying knee knockdown at the end of the third to have his hand raised. Then, on just two weeks notice, he stepped up to the plate to finally get a title shot at UFC 199. In his way stood Luke Rockhold, who had already beaten him in emphatic fashion just 18 months earlier. The outcome? A first round knockout to become the first British UFC champion. ‘The Count’ then rounded out 2016 by defeating his old nemesis, Dan Henderson, in the main event of UFC 204 amid dramatic early morning scenes at home in Manchester, UK. Three fights, three wins, two title success.
Donald Cerrone ended his tenure at 155lb at the end of 2015 and hasn’t looked back. Up at 170lb, ‘Cowboy’ and looked like a much healthier fighter and the proof has been in the pudding with four victories in quick succession. He started the year with a submission win over Alex Oliveira and followed that with three straight k knockouts over Patrick Cote, Rick Story and Matt Brown. Currently riding high at the upper end of the welterweight division, he could well be just one more win away from a richly-deserved title shot.
Just 12 months ago Cody Garbrandt was unranked. Today he’s the UFC bantamweight champion. How he got there was with a flurry of devastating knockout victories, capping it off with one of the most impressive championship challenger performances in history. The Team Alpha Male star scored first round knockout wins over Augusto Mendes, Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki and those performances rocketed him to the top of the division. Yet while most thought a shot at the greatest 135lb fighter to date, Dominick Cruz, had come too soon, Cody had other ideas. At UFC 207 Garbrandt put on a virtuoso performance to defeat Cruz on everybody’s scorecard. At just 25 years of age he’s sitting on top of Planet MMA in 2017. Four fights, three knockouts, one championship belt.
He’s the only fighter on this list with a loss in 2016, but it’s sometimes how a fighter rebounds from defeat that showcases their championship calibre. McGregor started the year with a short notice fight against Nate Diaz at 170lb, losing via second round rear naked choke. His reaction was to force the UFC to give him an instant rematch at UFC 202 where McGregor got his revenge by unanimous decision in one of the fights of the year. To put the cherry on the cake, McGregor then re-focused on trying to become the UFC 155lb champion and got the job done in incredible fashion by halting Eddie Alvarez via first round knockout the UFC’s debut event in New York City. The first simultaneous two-weight UFC champion, with all the PPV records!
It’s pretty darn hard to be consistent in the UFC’s heavyweight division, but that’s exactly what Stipe Miocic was in 2016 in what became a banner year for Cleveland, Ohio’s favourite son. He started the year with a first round knockout win over Andrei Arlovski at UFC 195. Then he went to Curitiba and knocked out Fabricio Werdum, again in the first round, in front of a soccer stadium of Brazilian’s to become the new UFC heavyweight champion. Finally, he got his homecoming wish when he knockout out Alistair Overeem in the opening round at UFC 203. Three first round knockout victories, a UFC championship won in enemy territory and then a first successful title defence in front of your hometown fans. That’s stellar by any measurement when considering fighter of the year.
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