From Silva to Volkanovski: Fighters Only’s ‘Fighters of the Year’ winners stand the test of time

The strength in depth of men’s MMA continues to throw up new stories, new champions, and new superstars as the ever-evolving sport of mixed martial arts continues to grow with the years.

The Fighters Only World MMA Awards are a snapshot in time as they celebrate the best of that year in mixed martial arts. Glancing down the list of our “Fighter of the Year” award winners produces a who’s who of fighting excellence over the last 14 previous years the Awards have been active.

The “Fighter of the Year” award has been in circulation from the very beginning of the awards, and it’s perhaps appropriate that the first recipient was a fighter still considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time.

Brazilian legend Anderson “The Spider” Silva burst into the UFC with a one-round demolition of Chris Leben, then tore through the middleweight division to eventually become the 185-pound champion, and the longest-reigning champion in UFC history, at 2,457 days – a record that still stands today, and is in no danger of being eclipsed any time soon.

The second winner of the award is another whose face is a lock for most fans’ “MMA Mount Rushmore.” Georges St-Pierre is arguably the greatest pure martial artist to ever set foot inside the Octagon, and his 2009 win reflected his status as one of the sport’s biggest stars at the time.

Another legend, former WEC and UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo, took the honor in 2010 while at the peak of his powers, the same year a young Jon Jones captured the “Breakthrough Fighter of the Year” award.

Jones then went on to win the main “Fighter of the Year” honor in both 2011 and 2012 as he completed a meteoric rise to the top of the sport, and attained pound-for-pound great status.

Chris Weidman shocked the world and ended Silva’s middleweight reign to earn FOTY honors in 2013, while all-action welterweight Robbie Lawler bounced back from an unsuccessful first title challenge to exact revenge on Johny Hendricks, capture the 170-pound title, and bag the 2014 “Fighter of the Year” award.

2015 saw the rise of Conor McGregor, as the larger-than-life Dubliner became the biggest star in the sport, defeating Chad Mendes to capture interim featherweight gold, then sensationally knocking out Aldo in 13 seconds to win the unified, undisputed title.

McGregor went stratospheric in 2016 as he swapped wins with Nate Diaz in two Octagon classics before challenging, and stopping, Eddie Alvarez to become the UFC’s first “champ champ” at the promotion’s historic first show in New York City, as he made history at Madison Square Garden.

By 2017, Max Holloway had risen to the top of the world at 145 pounds, with his virtuoso performances inside the Octagon earning him the “Fighter of the Year” award that year. The following year, Daniel Cormier repeated McGregor’s feat of becoming a “champ-champ,” as he collected the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles, before collecting “Fighter of the Year” for 2018.

The three most recent winners of the award are still three of the sport’s biggest stars today. Israel Adesanya’s rapid rise to become UFC middleweight champion saw him earn the 2019-20 award, while Kamaru Usman’s dominant run as welterweight champ earned him the statue in 2021.

Last year, the honor went to Australia’s pound-for-pound star and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, whose technical brilliance, blue-collar toughness and indefatigable fighting spirit saw him walk away with the award in 2022.

Will a new name be added for 2023, or will a former winner come back to capture another trophy? We can’t wait to find out!