10) Elizeu Zaleski vs. Max Griffin (UFC Fight Night 119, Oct. 28)
Zaleski and Griffin went to war in Brazil, with Zaleski edging out a narrow unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards. It was a highly entertaining affair that saw both fighters have their moments and take home an extra $50,000 for ‘Fight of the Night’ honors, despite being buried all the way on the bottom of the evening’s televised prelims.
9) Shane Burgos vs. Charles Rosa (UFC 210, Apr. 8)
Burgos and Rose went to battle on the preliminary card in Buffalo and had an entertaining scrap that resulted with Burgos stopping Rosa with strikes in the third and final round of action, earning his second straight victory inside the Octagon and the first by T/KO. Burgos remained undefeated with the victory, went on to defeat Godofredo Pepey by unanimous decision and is currently scheduled to face Calvin Kattar in Boston later this month at UFC 220, which will be his first time competing on the main card in the UFC.
8) Tim Elliott vs. Louis Smolka (UFC on FOX 24, Apr. 15)
Elliott and Smolka kicked off the televised prelims for UFC on FOX in Kansas City and produced fireworks for all 15 minutes of grappling heavy action. It was a tremendously fun fight that saw Elliott largely get the better of Smolka en route to picking up a unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards.
7) TJ Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt (UFC 217, Nov. 4)
Dillashaw defeated Garbrandt via second round knockout to regain his UFC Bantamweight title in what was a come from behind victory for the former Team Alpha Male product. It was “New Team Alpha Male versus Ex-Team Alpha Male” and Dillashaw ultimately came out on top, though he was hurt and nearly finished by Garbrandt in the opening stanza. It was a very fun fight from start to finish; fight fans will definitely be lining up for a potential rematch down the line.
6) Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee (UFC 216, Oct. 7)
Ferguson and Lee had a great war in which both 155 pounders had their moments, with Lee finding success with his wrestling and Ferguson doing damage off his back and eventually securing a triangle choke submission to earn the tap from Lee in the third of five scheduled championship rounds. It was a beautiful bloodbath, and both fighters saw their stocks rise following the contest.
5) Dustin Poirier vs. Anthony Pettis (UFC Fight Night 120, Nov. 11)
Poirier and Pettis had a fight to remember this past November, and while both lightweights had their moments, it was Poirier largely getting the better of Pettis until eventually earning a third round stoppage. The victory marked the first of Poirier’s in a UFC main event after coming up short the first three times.
4) David Teymur vs. Lando Vannata (UFC 209, Mar. 4)
Teymur was a big underdog heading into his Pay Per View main card match up against highly touted prospect Vannata, but he got the better of him both on the feet and on the mat for the majority of firework-heavy 15 minutes of action en route to picking up a unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards. He remained unbeaten inside the Octagon with the victory and went on to also defeat an undefeated prospect in Drakkar Klose via unanimous decision to close out the year on a high note.
3) Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale, July 7)
Gaethje made his UFC debut against Johnson in what many call the best fight of the year, though it notches fourth on my list, despite of the fact that I was in attendance in Las Vegas for this main event contest that was scheduled for five rounds and only lasted two, with Gaethje securing a TKO stoppage to earn the victory, his 18th straight as a pro. He went on to lose to Eddie Alvarez later in the year at UFC 218 via third round TKO in another very entertaining battle, and that marked the first official loss of his professional mixed martial arts career.
2) Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira (UFC 218, Dec. 2)
This was an insane fight. A definite instant classic, much like the Gaethje versus Johnson bout, except this one lasted nearly three hole rounds and saw many more near-finishes from both fighters. It was a ridiculous back and forth affair in which both 170-pounders had the other badly hurt on a number of occasions, until Medeiros eventually found the finish in the third and final round of action. It was a tremendous bloodbath of a battle and both fighters were well deserving of the extra $50,000 they received for their efforts, as well as the number two slot on my list.
1) Georges St. Pierre vs. Michael Bisping (UFC 217, Nov. 4)
I completely hated on this fight from the moment it was announced. Heck, since long before it was even announced! I hated this matchup. I did not want to see it. I knew GSP would win and I did not care to see him as middleweight champion. I was going to be attending UFC 217 live at Madison Square Garden and even considered leaving the arena just before this fight. But I couldn’t do that. I had to watch. There was no way I could miss it. Even though it was a ridiculous matchup, it was still more than a matchup: it was an event. Not quite a superfight, but certainly an event. A fight and a night to be remembered. And boy, was it! It was already an incredible night, with Rose Namajunas becoming the UFC’s new women’s strawweight champion and TJ Dillashaw recapturing his UFC bantamweight title, but somehow GSP vs. Bisping ended up topping all of that. It was a very fun fight from start to third round finish, where GSP knocked Bisping down and then took his back to sink in a rear naked choke. Bisping refused to tap and went to sleep, resulting in GSP becoming the new UFC middleweight champion. In hindsight, it was more of a money grab fight than anything else, which is what many, including myself suspected from the very start. Regardless, the fight was a true classic and earned the number one slot on my list for the year.