Best of 2018

Best of 2018
Posted by: World MMA Awards

A dolly thrown through a bus window, two Irish fighters thrown in jail, a new double weight world champion, a last-second elbow taking out a zombie, Chuck vs Tito III, the return of the G.O.A.T. No, not a summary of a new Hollywood blockbuster, but just a taste of what happened in the last twelve crazy months in the world of MMA.

JANUARY

The action inside the UFC Octagon officially began on January 14 at UFC Fight Night 142 with Jeremy Stephens handing “The Korean Superboy” Doo Ho Choi the second loss of his professional career. Choi’s defeat was the first of many examples in the year where an upcoming fighter was downed in convincing style by a wily veteran. It can often be suggested that MMA is a young man’s sport, but the following week at UFC 220 the experienced champions proved that “there are levels to this game.”

Francis Ngannou came into his UFC heavyweight title fight with Stipe Miocic promoted as an unstoppable monster who could “hit as hard a Ford Escort going as fast as it can.” But Ngannou was put to the sword by Miocic and soundly beaten across five rounds. UFC light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier also made another hotshot, Volkan Oezdemir look well out of his depth in what was the start of an incredible year where DC would eventually rise to #1 in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.

Stipe Miocic on his way to stopping the “unstoppable” Francis Ngannou

The evening was also noteworthy for the fact that UFC and Bellator went head-to-head for the first time in 2018 with Bellator 192 taking place on the west coast in Inglewood, California. Chael Sonnen defeating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to advance in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix headlined the fight card, but Rory MacDonald’s victory over Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight title was the show stealer. MacDonald went through the fire to overcome Lima’s relentless attacks on his legs and he ultimately took home a unanimous decision victory and his first world MMA title.

Also this month:

•Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza defeated Derek Brunson at UFC on Fox 27 after knocking him out in the first round.

•Lorenz Larkin defeated Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 193 to pick up his first win under the Bellator banner.

FEBRUARY

February marked a historic moment for the UFC in the southern hemisphere as the Octagon landed in Perth, Australia for the first time in its history for UFC 221.

Like many of the UFC pay-per-views in 2018, UFC 221 caused no end of headaches for the UFC matchmakers with plans scrapped left, right and center for many months leading up to February 11. An interim UFC middleweight title fight between Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold eventually took the headline spot, but Romero missing weight by 2.7 pounds on weigh-in day meant that the bout was officially a catchweight contest come fight night.

Fighters missing weight and then going on to win would be a strong theme throughout the year and such was the case at UFC 221. Romero knocking out Rockhold as he lay against the cage with a punch that looked none too dissimilar to someone throwing a bowling ball down an alley, was an image many found hard to take given the Cuban’s failure to make weight and Rockhold’s depleted state just 24-hours earlier. It was a victory however that secured Romero a title shot later on in the year.

UFC 221 was also notable for the debut of Israel Adesanya. “Stylebender” put on a show for the Australian fans with a powerful display of technical striking. It was the first of four impressive victories under the UFC banner in 2018 and the start of his rise to stardom.

Aung La NSang

February also saw the crowning of another double weight MMA world champion. ONE Championship middleweight boss, Aung La Nsang captured the promotion’s light heavyweight title in front of his home fans in Yangon, Myanmar when “the Burmese Python” stopped Alexandre Machado.

Also this month:

•Lyoto Machida defeated Erik Anders in the main event at UFC Fight Night Belem.

•Jeremy Stephens won for the second time in two months beating Josh Emmett at UFC on Fox 28.

•Donald Cerrone defeated Yancy Medeiros at UFC Fight Night Austin.

•Matt Mitrione defeated Roy Nelson to advance in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

MARCH

The third month of the year started with the UFC’s first trip to Las Vegas of 2018 with UFC 222 on March 2. The pay-per-view main event booking woes continued with Max Holloway pulling out of a UFC featherweight title fight with Frankie Edgar just a little over two weeks before the event.

Cris Cyborg stepped up to the plate at short notice and she made light work of the then Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya. The Brazilian finished the job in the first round in a performance where she again showed the gulf in class between her and many of the other women currently competing at the highest level.

Whilst the headline bout was unremarkable, UFC 222 was notable for the younger talent that was on display. Brian Ortega stepped in at short notice to face Frankie Edgar and he stopped the former UFC lightweight champion for the first time in his career after landing a devastating uppercut in the first round.

Ortega’s performance in the co-main event caught the headlines, but victories for Sean O’Malley, Mackenzie Dern, Ketlen Vieira and Alexander Hernandez quietly put a younger generation of stars on the map and all four would go on to have noteworthy years.

Two weeks later, UFC Fight Night London hosted a heavyweight main event featuring former champion Fabricio Werdum and Alexander Volkov. Not many fans expected the Russian to finish Werdum in the style that he did, but it was Paul Craig’s last-gasp win over debutant Magomed Ankalaev that had everyone talking afterwards.

Alexander Volkov dominates Fabricio Werdum. London March 17, 2018

The Scotsman’s UFC career was hanging by a thread as Ankalaev dominated him for four minutes 59-seconds of their light heavyweight undercard bout, but just when it looked like it was curtains for Craig, the Scot latched on a triangle choke and made the Russian tap out with just a second left on the clock. The 02 Arena in London erupted at the sight of Craig pulling off an unlikely win and for a long time, it looked like it would be the most spectacular finish to a fight in 2018. Yair Rodriguez, however, had ideas of his own come November.

In Poland, there was a landmark moment in the history of Polish promotion KSW when its middleweight champion, Mamed Khalidov, was defeated for the first time in eight years when he was submitted by Tomasz Narkun. It would prove to be the beginning of the end for Poland’s most celebrated MMA icon.

Also this month:

• Darrion Caldwell defeated Leandro Higo to defend his Bellator bantamweight title at Bellator 195.

Darrion Caldwell celebrates victory

APRIL

The first week of April may have been one of the most newsworthy in MMA history.

A confrontation at the UFC 223 fighter hotel between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Artem Lobov ended with Conor McGregor flying from Dublin to New York in a private jet to confront Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn.

The image of McGregor throwing a dolly at a bus window carrying the Russian and multiple other fighters and UFC employees unfortunately made headline news worldwide in a day that was ultimately a black-eye both for the sport and the Irishman.

McGregor leaving Brooklyn’s Supreme court after his hearing on June 14 following the April bus attack

Few can deny or defend McGregor’s actions that day, but thankfully the show went on and Nurmagomedov went on to secure the UFC lightweight title with a victory over Al Iaquinta in the main event.

Such was the drama outside of the Octagon, it’s often forgotten that UFC 223 was another event plagued by injuries. The original headliner between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson was called off just six days before fight night after Ferguson tripped on a wire at a promotional shoot and suffered a serious knee injury.
It was a sickening blow for fans but for a few days at least it looked like Max Holloway would save the day stepping in on short notice. Complications with his weight cut, however, saw the Hawaiian replaced by Iaquinta barely 24-hours before the event.

One of the most chaotic fight weeks in the history of the UFC ended with Nurmagomedov holding the UFC lightweight title, but all the talk for months after would be about his feud with McGregor and the Irishman’s arrest earlier in the week.

Outside of the main event at UFC 223, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Kyle Bochniak put on one of the fights of the year in an effort that saw them awarded Fight of the Night performance bonuses. The Russian’s relentless and extravagant attacks were enough to get a unanimous decision win, but Bochniak’s zombie-like toughness won him many a fan on the night in what became a fight that was talked about for weeks after.

Zabit Magomedsharipov (right) lands an elbow on Kyle Bochniak in their epic featherweight encounter at UFC 223.

April was also a month where the foundations of the UFC’s 155-pounds division were shaken with several key matchups taking place outside of the title picture. Dustin Poirier’s victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC on Fox 29 set up an important rematch later in the year with Eddie Alvarez. Just a week later, Kevin Lee put Edson Barboza to the sword at UFC Fight Night Atlantic City in a bout that Lee dominated after surviving a head kick that briefly made him look like Bambi on ice.

Outside of the UFC, Bellator 198 hosted a main event between Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir in the penultimate opening round bout of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. The fight lasted just 48-seconds but it was a breathless affair from start-to-finish with neither man taking a step back. It was Fedor who ultimately got the win after he landed a sweet hook to an onrushing Mir to leave him face first unconscious on the mat.

On the same card, the controversial Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Dillon Danis made his professional MMA debut defeating Kyle Walker via toe hold submission in the first round. Just weeks earlier, it was Danis who had turned up to a court in Brooklyn to post bail for his friend McGregor.April was wild.

Also this month:

• Benson Henderson defeated Roger Huerta in the main event of Bellator 196 in Budapest, Hungary.

• Michael Chandler defeated Brandon Gritz at Bellator 197 after Brent Primus pulled out of the original main event.

MAY

May kicked off with the UFC heading to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for UFC 224. Amanda Nunes dominated Raquel Pennington in the main event and stopped her in the fifth round via TKO. After the fight, many criticised Pennington’s corner for not pulling her out of the contest earlier on after she was overheard telling her coach that she was “done” and not wanting to continue.

The debate over whether allowing her to continue was the right thing to do briefly took some headlines, but the fact the event featured no fewer than eleven finishes and only one decision meant there were many other noteworthy takeaways.

Lyoto Machida’s final fight under the UFC banner ended with one of the most iconic images in the history of the sport after he landed a picture perfect front kick to the face of fellow Brazilian veteran Vitor Belfort. Perfect endings are very rare in MMA, but it was fitting finale to Machida’s UFC tenure.

Three weeks later, the UFC visited Liverpool, England for the first time with Darren Till taking on Stephen Thompson in the main event. Till eventually went on to defeat “Wonderboy” via decision, but the victory was marred by the Scouser missing weight by 3.5-pounds.

Just 24-hours later, Bellator 200 then took place in London and the night ended with Gegard Mousasi raising the Bellator middleweight title after soundly beating Rafael Carvalho. Michael “Venom” Page returned to the cage for the first time in nearly two years and he wowed his home crowd with a vintage showman-like performance against a beleaguered Dave Rickels. Former UK reality TV star Aaron Chalmers also made his Bellator MMA debut and recorded the fourth win of his career defeating Ash Griffiths via submission.

Angela Lee

Across the other side of the world, ONE Championship superstar Angela Lee defeated Mei Yamaguchi for the second time at the Singapore Indoor Arena. Back in 2016, Lee became the youngest MMA world champion in history aged just 19 after she defeated Yamaguchi via unanimous decision. The rematch in May was again another scintillating affair with Lee attempting several submissions that Yamaguchi escaped time and time again. Lee eventually got her hand raised in what was her only fight of the year after injuries prevented her from fighting for a second world title in November.

The month ended with former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping announcing his retirement. The Brit suffered back-to-back losses at the back end of 2017 and then toyed with the idea of having one final fight before officially hanging up the 4-oz. gloves on May 28. What a career.

Also this month:

• Ryan Bader defeated Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal at Bellator 199 to advance to the semi-finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

• Kamaru Usman defeated Demian Maia via unanimous decision at the UFC’s first-ever fight card in Santiago, Chile.

• The UFC also announced a five-year television deal with ESPN that would proceed in 2019.

JUNE

Yoel Romero’s weight issues continued at UFC 225 where he was scheduled to face Robert Whittaker for the UFC middleweight title on June 9. The Cuban again missed weight, this time by 0.2 pounds and was again ineligible come fight night to win UFC gold.

Yoel Romero feels the force of Robert Whittaker in one of the fights of 2018

Thankfully, the fight itself was incredible. In a true contrast from their first fight in 2017, both Romero and Whittaker took the fight to one another and landed crushing blows that would’ve rendered lesser men unconscious. It was a back and forth contest where both men looked likely to finish their opponent, but somehow it went the distance and it was the champion Whittaker who ultimately got his hand raised via a split decision.

Months after the fight, Whittaker described striking Romero as like “punching a man made of steel.” Having shared ten rounds with each other in the UFC Octagon, there’s no doubt an enormous amount of respect between two of the greatest middleweight fighters in the world today.

UFC 225 also saw Colby Covington strap a UFC title around his waist for the first time after he impressively outworked Rafael dos Anjos in the co-main event. Covington’s antics outside of the cage this year have left a few cold, but no one could deny the quality of this performance. His relentless pressure was at times messy, but he drowned the Brazilian with volume and deservedly captured an interim title that he would controversially be stripped of just three months later.

At the same event, CM Punk suffered the second loss of his professional MMA career after Mike Jackson outclassed him in every aspect of the game in what was his only fight of the year. Dana White later stated it would be incredibly unlikely that Punk gets another opportunity to compete inside the Octagon, though at press time he still remains in the USADA testing pool.

June also featured another epic middleweight title fight in ONE Championship with champion Aung La Nsang and challenger Ken Hasegawa going toe-to-toe for the best part of four and a half rounds. After coming through a tough start to the fight, Nsang finished the Japanese fighter with a devastating combination in round five to send the fans in Yangon into euphoria. It’s a fight you have to see if it passed you by the first time.

Also this month:

• Ilima-Lei Macfarlane defended her Bellator women’s flyweight title for the first time when she defeated Alejandra Lara at Bellator 201.

• Bellator announced a nine-figure, multi-year distribution deal with streaming service DAZN.

• British promotion BAMMA hosted their last show in London. Further dates were announced for 2018, but the promotion seemingly dissolved with no official statement given on why the events were cancelled or whether the organization will continue to exist.

JULY

International Fight Week 2018 hosted two events and the Fighters Only MMA Awards on July 4. Hosted by Jeremy Piven at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, 23 awards were handed out in an event attended by members of the MMA community from all over the world.

Notable winners on the night included Max Holloway who won Male Fighter of the Year, Rose Namajunas Female Fighter of the Year, Brian Ortega Breakthrough Fighter of the Year, and Robert Whittaker International Fighter of the Year. Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje at UFC 218 was crowned Fight of The Year.

The two award winners Holloway and Ortega were scheduled to feature in the co-main event of UFC 226, but Holloway was pulled from the fight just 24-hours after the awards night following concerns about his health.

The fight falling apart was a bitter blow for fans worldwide, but the night ended in truly epic fashion anyway after Daniel Cormier became only the second man in the UFC history to hold two UFC titles at the same time after he finished the then UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic inside one round.

Daniel Cormier holds his two belts aloft.

The sight of Cormier replicating Conor McGregor and lifting two world titles above his head should’ve been the last memory from the night, but in true pantomime fashion Brock Lesnar announced his return after the bout and stormed the Octagon to confront the new champion. The scuffle that occurred was mostly innocent, but oddly it foreshadowed a much more serious incident that would occur in the same venue just three months later.

Israel Adesanya’s ascendancy also continued that week after he put on another convincing display at The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated Finale dominating Brad Tavares. At the same event, Brad Katona was crowned the champion of the TUF: Undefeated featherweight tournament and Mike Trizano the winner of the TUF: Undefeated lightweight tournament.

On July 28, the UFC returned to Calgary, Canada and put on a stacked show that was headlined by Dustin Poirier ending his feud with Eddie Alvarez after finishing him via TKO in the second round. Little did we know, but the fight was the last on Alvarez’s UFC contract.

Also this month:

• Bellator 202 and Bellator 203 ran on back-to-back nights. Jullia Budd defended her Bellator featherweight title against Talita Nogueira in Thackerville, Oklahoma, before Patricio Freire defeated Daniel Weichel via split decision in Rome, Italy at Bellator 203.

• UFC announced a landmark partnership with Russian promotion M-1 Global to form ‘UFC Russia.’ A press release on July 18 stated that “M-1 will be responsible for scouting and signing Russian athletes to prepare them to fight in the UFC. M-1 Challenge champions will have a unique opportunity to sign contracts with the UFC.”

• Congenital amputee fighter Nick Newell got his long-awaited chance to fight for a UFC contract but unfortunately lost a unanimous decision to Alex Munoz on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series on July 25.

AUGUST

The UFC headed to Los Angeles, California for UFC 227 on August 4 and the main event saw the bitter rivalry between former teammates TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt come to an end. Unlike the first time the two fought in November 2017, this time around the build-up featured far less animosity, but the result was no different.

Dillashaw finished Garbrandt in the first round and successfully defended his UFC bantamweight for the first time. It was a somewhat unspectacular end to one of the bitterest feuds in recent MMA history, but it finally put an end to the debate of which of the two was the king of the UFC’s 135-pounds division.

TJ Dillashaw unloads on Cody Garbrandt as he successfully defends his UFC bantamweight title

Whilst that rematch was underwhelming, not many were expecting to see Demetrious Johnson dethroned as the UFC flyweight champion. Henry Cejudo had been defeated by Johnson just two years before their rematch at UFC 227 and not many gave him a hope heading into their second fight. This time though, Cejudo proved the doubters wrong and used his wrestling to contain Johnson and squeeze out a split-decision victory to capture the flyweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the year.

UFC 227 fight week was punctuated by the announcement that in October Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov would settle their differences at UFC 229. The announcement was made at a press conference in California where a number of key match-ups for the rest of the year were also revealed. Perhaps most notably, it was announced Nate Diaz would take on Dustin Poirier at UFC 228 in a fight that unfortunately never materialised after Poirier suffered an injury.

Two weeks later on August 17, Bellator 204 took place in Sioux Falls and Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell showed the world he’s a danger at featherweight defeating the UFC veteran Noad Lahat via second-round knockout.

Caldwell’s win should’ve been the highlight of the event, but it was Ricky Bandejas knocking out SBG Ireland’s James Gallagher that sent shockwaves throughout the MMA community. The Irishman’s brash talk and confident attitude weren’t appreciated by a large portion of the fanbase and the nature of Bandejas’ highlight reel knockout victory meant the image of him lying unconscious on his back travelled far and wide. Both Bandejas and Gallagher will no doubt be two names to keep an eye on in 2019.

Earlier in the month, Bellator also announced that they would be staging a Welterweight Grand Prix with Michael Page, Jon Fitch, Paul Daley, Ed Ruth, Neiman Gracie, Douglas Lima, Andrey Koreshkov and Rory MacDonald all involved.

Also this month:

• Justin Gaethje knocked out James Vick at UFC Nebraska.

• Chuck Liddell announced that he and Tito Ortiz had signed an agreement with Oscar De La Hoya’s latest venture, Golden Boy MMA and that they would both come out of retirement to face each other for the third time in November.

SEPTEMBER

The UFC matchmaking woes continued into UFC 228 where Darren Till was given the opportunity to fight for UFC gold for the first time. The original plan was for Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley to unify the UFC welterweight title, but after Covington pulled out, Till was given the fight on short notice.

Much of the build-up to the fight focused on the Liverpudlian’s weight cut following the issues he had earlier in the year, but come weigh-in day he tipped the scales at 169-pounds and made his fight with Woodley official. Unfortunately for him, Woodley dominated the fight from the very start and after being levelled with a huge counter overhand he was finished on the mat via a D’Arce choke.

The event also saw the UFC’s first ever female flyweight champion Nicco Montano stripped of her title. Montano was expected to defend her belt for the first time against Valentina Shevchenko, but the champion was hospitalised during her weight cut and was forced to pull out of the bout. Shevchenko would eventually claim the title in December, but it was another frustrating week for the Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian fighter who had predicted the champion wouldn’t make it to the Octagon.

September also marked the UFC’s debut in Russia. Many of the UFC’s biggest Russian names didn’t feature on the Moscow card, though wins for Petr Yan, Mairbek Taisumov, Rustam Khabilov and Alexey Oleynik were enough to send the local fans home happy.

Outside of the Octagon, Jon Jones avoided a four-year ban from USADA and was handed just a 15-month retroactive suspension after an independent arbitrator ruled that he did not intentionally cheat after testing positive for a banned substance during UFC 214 fight week.

Bellator 206 on September 29 featured a rare champion vs champion showdown with middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi taking on welterweight champion Rory MacDonald. MacDonald was attempting to do what only Joe Warren had done previously and claim a second Bellator title in a different weight class, but Mousasi proved to be way too much for him on the night.

Gegard Mousasi looks unimpressed by Rory MacDonald’s challenge at the press conference to announce their September scrap

On the same card, Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov kicked off the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix with Lima advancing into the next round after winning via submission in the fifth round. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson also defeated Wanderlei Silva in the fourth chapter of their long and storied rivalry to level their series up at two apiece.

Also this month:

• Thiago Santos stepped in on short notice to defeat Eryk Anders at UFC Fight Night Sao Paulo on another fight card riddled with injuries.

• UFC and Bellator bantamweight veteran Michael “Mayday” MacDonald announced his retirement after suffering another broken hand following his fight with Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 202 in July.

• Fans in the UK and Ireland suffered the heartbreak of missing out on the ending of the MacDonald vs Mousasi fight after the event ran late and the broadcast switched to an episode of children’s TV show, Peppa Pig.

OCTOBER

“The world is watching” was the message that fronted the UFC’s promotion of Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov for UFC 229 and come fight night it didn’t seem far from the truth. Pay-per-view estimates from independent experts claim that a record number of people bought the fight and with the world watching the feud once again got out of hand.

The build-up during fight week saw the temperature rising between the two camps to the point where Nurmagomedov walked out of the pre-fight press conference after the Irishman failed to show up on time.
Some claimed McGregor had gotten into Nurmagomedov’s head as he’d done with so many of his previous opponents, but on the night the champion was calculated, ruthless and ultimately victorious.

Nurmagomedov knocking McGregor down to the mat in the second round was a scenario very few would’ve ever predicted and the Irishman later described it as “the worst round of his life.” Nurmagomedov submitting McGregor with a neck crank in round four should’ve been the focus of all the post-fight analysis, but it was the ensuing brawl which stole all the attention.

Khabib is restrained in the T-Mobile Arena during the post-fight McGregor melee

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the much-publicised chaos, but both McGregor and Nurmagomedov are awaiting a hearing with the Nevada State Athletic Commission to discover their punishments
Whilst a UFC lightweight title fight headlined the card, a pivotal clash in the division in the co-main event between Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis lived up to expectations. Both Ferguson and Pettis gave it their all and left everything they had in Octagon including a copious amount of blood. After two epic rounds of non-stop action, Pettis was pulled from the fight by his coach Duke Roufus. Normally such an intervention would raise criticism from fans, but not a soul dared question it and both men were awarded Fight of the Night honours.

Tony Ferguson

2018 was a year for buzzer-beating knockouts and Derrick Lewis scored one at UFC 229. “The Black Beast” was on the back foot for the majority of his heavyweight contest with Russian, Alexander Volkov but with 11-seconds remaining he landed a huge overhand right. Lewis double-downed with an even more epic post-fight speech where he dropped the now infamous “Cos my balls was hot” line that went viral. It was an effort that would secure him a UFC title shot just a month later.

Shortly after ONE Championship announced a new $166 million cash injection at the beginning of the month, the Singapore based promotion secured two huge signings with both Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson. Alvarez was the first to put pen to paper signing as a free agent, but Johnson was involved in a first of its kind trade deal with Ben Askren moving in the opposite direction.

Following Johnson’s departure, several UFC flyweight fighters announced that they’d been released from the organization and been told that the UFC’s 125-pounds division was being dissolved. However, just a week later, the UFC announced that UFC 233 in January 2019 would play host to a UFC flyweight title fight between the champion Henry Cejudo and the UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw who will be moving down a weight division to compete for a second title.

Bellator also ran back-to-back shows in October with Bellator 207 in Connecticut and Bellator 208 taking place in New York the next evening. The events ended with Ryan Bader and Fedor Emelianenko booking their places in the final of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix after Bader defeated Matt Mitrione and Emelianenko saw off Chael Sonnen.

Also this month:

• Jon Jones’ return to the UFC Octagon was announced for UFC 232 whilst a champion vs champion title fight was booked for the same event with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes taking on the UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.

• Anthony Smith recorded his third win of the year after he defeated Volkan Oezdemir in the main event of UFC Fight Night Moncton. On the same evening, Michael Johnson handed Artem Lobov his third straight loss.

NOVEMBER

UFC 230 on November 3 saw the promotion stage their third event at Madison Square Garden in New York. Following the success of the first two events was always going to be a tall task, but with no main event announced four weeks ahead of fight night it was left up to double weight champion Daniel Cormier to show his worth as a company man.

Hot on the heels of his win at UFC 229, Derrick Lewis was thrown into the main event with Cormier and for the third time in the year, Cormier showed he was a level above the man standing across him in the Octagon. With Cormier announcing earlier in the year that he would retire in March 2019, it was a dangerous matchup taking on Lewis with his expected money-fight showdown with Brock Lesnar on the line as well as his UFC heavyweight title.

Cormier never looked in trouble securing a second-round win, but the fight week was overshadowed by the return of Jon Jones who attended a press conference earlier in the week to promote his fight at UFC 232 with Alexander Gustafsson. Will Cormier and Jones meet again for the third time? Will they do it at heavyweight? Will Cormier stick around longer than March 2019 to get the opportunity to face Jones again? These will no doubt be some of the biggest questions answered next year.

November 10 marked the UFC’s 25th anniversary and it was a night that will long live in the memory of UFC fans worldwide. The night was originally scheduled to be headlined by Frankie Edgar taking on Chan Sung Jung, but after Edgar pulled out of the fight with an injury, flamboyant striker Yair Rodriguez stepped up to the plate.

Rodriguez and Jung put on a memorable main event and went blow for blow in a contest that had every MMA fan on the edge of their seat. Jung looked to be heading towards a decision victory as confirmed by the judges’ scorecards after the fight, but with just a single second left in the bout, Rodriguez landed an incredible elbow to render the Korean unconscious and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It was a moment that will forever appear on UFC highlight reels and one that will be etched in the history of the sport.

On November 25 the unthinkable occurred when Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz once again put on the 4-oz. gloves and fought each other for the third time. The 49-year-old Liddell looked a shadow of his former self and Ortiz took full of advantage by brutally knocking him out after four minutes and 24-seconds of the first round.

It was a sad to see two members of the UFC Hall of Fame tempted out of retirement for a payday and De La Hoya was widely criticised afterwards for being involved in such an event. Pay-per-view estimates released afterwards revealed that the fight only did a fraction of the 200,000 buys predicted by Ortiz and De La Hoya with industry insiders suggesting the fight achieved a figure much closer to 30,000.

Over in ONE Championship, BJJ specialist Garry Tonon capped a successful start to his professional MMA career with his third straight win. Tonon defeated Sung Jong Lee via submission and notched up his third successive finish under the ONE Championship banner. Tonon will no doubt be one to watch next year as he continues his MMA journey in a promotion that continues to go from strength to strength in the Far East.

Floyd Mayweather delivered a shock on November 5 when he announced that he would take part in a boxing match with Japanese kickboxing sensation Tenshin Nasukawa at RIZIN Fighting Federation’s New Year’s Eve show.

Mayweather and Nasukawa promote their forthcoming fight

After promising fans a fight “like nothing they’d ever seen before,” Mayweather took to his social media just a few days later and revealed that the fight would no longer be taking place because of a misunderstanding about the rules. Several weeks after, RIZIN announced that the fight was back on and that Mayweather and Nasukawa would compete in a three-round boxing exhibition fight on December 31.

Also this month:

• Kamaru Usman defeated Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters Finale. Juan Espino Dieppa was crowned the heavyweight tournament winner whilst Macy Chiasson won the women’s featherweight tournament after she defeated Pannie Kianzad in the final.

• The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) hosted their biggest ever amateur world championships in November. Taking place as part of BRAVE International Combat Week, the 5-day, nation vs nation, amateur MMA tournament featured 362 competitors from more than 50 nations across 16 weight divisions. The Junior tournament (for 18 to 20-year olds) ran concurrently with the Senior Championships (for 18s+) and both events took place under Unified Amateur MMA Rules across four MMA cages at Khalifa Sports City Arena in Manama, Bahrain.

• ACB announced they’d merged with fellow Russian promotional outfit WFCA on November 28 and will in future be known as Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACA). The merger followed a difficult period for ACB which cancelled several fight cards in Europe.

DECEMBER

Max Holloway had a far from perfect year, but at UFC 231 he reminded the world of his class. Holloway faced Brian Ortega in a fight rescheduled from UFC 226 and he proceeded to put on a striking clinic as Ortega showed his heart taking a significant amount of damage. The fight was eventually waved off before the beginning of the fifth round and Holloway retained his UFC featherweight title.

In the co-main event of UFC 231, Valentina Shevchenko claimed the vacant UFC women’s flyweight title after she defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk via unanimous decision. Both women were impressive on the night in a fight that was mostly fought on the feet.

Bellator staged their first events in Hawaii with Bellator 212 and 213 taking place on back-to-back evenings across the weekend of December 15-16. Michael Chandler reclaimed the Bellator lightweight title in the main event of Bellator 212 after he defeated Brent Primus via unanimous decision. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane then wowed her hometown fans with an impressive submission victory over former UFC strawweight title contender Valerie Letourneau.

December also marked the retirement of the Polish MMA legend Mamed Khalidov who was defeated for the second time in 2018 by Tomasz Narkun in the main event of KSW 45. It was a shame that Khalidov never got to showcase his skills in the UFC, but he heads into retirement as a legend of the sport in Europe.

The UFC’s epic year was always likely to end with a bang and UFC 232 on December 29 didn’t disappoint.

First, the event location was moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on just six days’ notice after the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to licence Jon Jones after another random pre-fight drug test from USADA flagged his sample for a trace of Turinabol. Thankfully, the fight with Gustafsson still took place and Jones once again went on to reclaim the UFC light heavyweight title after finishing the Swede in the third round via TKO. Jones wasn’t short of a word or two for his arch rival, Daniel Cormier and a tantalising third bout between the two could be on the horizon in 2019.

The UFC 232 co-main event turned the world women’s MMA on its head when Amanda Nunes became the first women in history to finish Cris Cyborg via strikes. The fight lasted just 51-seconds with Nunes standing toe-to-toe with her fellow countrywoman and landing several overhand rights to send Cyborg face first to the mat in under a minute. In doing so, Nunes became the first women to become a two-weight world champion in UFC history.

Amanda Nunes punches Cris Cyborg on her way to a 1st round KO

The last major MMA event of the year was held in Saitama, Japan with RIZIN 14 taking place on New Year’s Eve. The controversial boxing exhibition bout between Floyd Mayweather and Tenshin Nasukawa took centre stage and it was all out domination from the unbeaten American who knocked down the Japanese kickboxer three times before his corner called it a wrap after just two minutes and 51-seconds.

Whilst the headliner was something of a farce, bantamweights Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell entertained the crowd in the co-main event in a champion vs champion bout. The 135-lb champion Caldwell looked to be on his way to claiming the RIZIN title, but Horiguchi sunk in a guillotine choke late into the third round and sent the Saitama Super Arena into a frenzy after picking up a submission victory.

Also this month:

• Lyoto Machida made his Bellator MMA debut defeating former Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho.

• Brave CF became the first major MMA promotion to announce that in 2019 they will be launching two new weight classes with super-lightweight (165lbs) and super-welterweight (175lbs) replacing their current welterweight (170lbs) division.

• The opening season of the Professional Fighters league culminated with Magomed Magomedkerimov, Philipe Lins, Sean O’Connell, Natan Schulte, Lance Palmer and Louis Taylor being crowned the winners of their respective divisions and taking home cheques for $1,000,000.

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