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Fight of the Year Candidates

With less than half the year left to go, which fights are contenders for “Fight of the Year?”

The controlling factors in my evaluation are: excitement, skill level, and divisional significance.  Excitement, in my view, mainly entails a high pace and back-and-forth action.  Damage is not itself critical to the evaluation, but tends to be a natural byproduct of these types of fights.  Skill level is also important.  When two skilled fighters collide, they force each other to either elevate their level or face defeat.  It allows viewers to enjoy a level of martial arts mastery that they would not see in a one-sided fight.  Finally, divisional significance helps add to a Fight of the Year.  A fight becomes more engaging to watch if it carries title implications with it.  

With that said, here are my contenders for Fight of the Year.


Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja 2

Viewers have always underappreciated the flyweight division.  Despite producing the all-time great Demetrious Johnson, the average fan still does not recognize their skill level.  Not only are the flyweights incredibly talented, but they also deliver incredibly exciting fights.  Alexandre Pantoja’s title victory against Brandon Moreno checked every box.  Both fought at an astounding pace.  They exchanged viciously in the pocket.  Although Moreno landed countless shots on Pantoja, Pantoja absorbed them and caught Moreno with heavy counters.  The grappling exchanges were also incredible.  Both fighters threatened with submissions.  Pantoja won out the majority of these exchanges, but Moreno made him work for it.  Brandon reversed position multiple times and fought back to his feet.  Both fighters took an enormous amount of punishment.  Pantoja dropped Moreno in round one, and yet Moreno continued to battle back for the rest of the fight.  Ultimately, Pantoja showed enough toughness, skill, and focus to capture a well-earned title.  The fight was a testament to the flyweight division’s strength and a strong Fight of the Year candidate.

Image – MMA Fighting

Jared Cannonier vs. Marvin Vettori

Interestingly, fans generally considered both of these fighters relatively boring.  Cannonier was labeled as an overly safe counter striker, particularly after his decision loss to  Israel Adesanya.  Similarly, fans often mocked Vettori for his lack of punching power and finishing ability.  In reality, the two always had the making of exciting fighters.  The reason Cannonier has had slower fights is precisely because others are aware of Jared’s power.  They make sure not to overcommit, knowing that one misstep can lead to a vicious finish.  Vettori, however, has an unbelievable level of durability.  Although he is not the hardest hitter, he brings an incredibly high output and aggressive style.  When these two met, they delivered one of the best middleweight fights of all-time.  Vettori rocked Cannonier early and showed improvements in his boxing.  However, Cannonier began unloading devastating combinations and nearly finished Vettori on multiple occasions.  Somehow, Marvin managed to stay in the fight and continued firing back for twenty five minutes.  It remains a mystery how Vettori absorbed that many strikes from Cannonier, a known knockout artist.  Both fighters left everything in the octagon that night, and put on a truly memorable fight.

Image – MMA Junkie

Shavkat Rakhmanov vs. Geoff Neal

Prior to this fight, Rakhmanov had not faced much resistance in the UFC.  Geoff Neal, however, brought the fight to him.  Neal used his incredibly sharp, powerful striking to hurt Rakhmanov on multiple occasions.  In turn, Shavkat showed off his own skills, and proved that his hype is well-deserved.  Neal showed impressive takedown defense, which resulted in a back-and-forth war.  Both fighters continued at an exhausting pace well into the third round.  Rakhmanov sealed the deal, however, with an impressive standing choke.  Not only did the two deliver an outstanding fight, but Rakhmanov continued his ascent to the top.  Both fighters hurt each other on multiple occasions, and had fans on the edge of their seats.  These two welterweights deserve strong considerations for Fight of the Year honors.  

Image – Draftkings Nation

Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski

The UFC 284 main event lived up to all the hype.  This clash between the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world resulted in an epic contest.  Fans heavily favored Makhachev going into the fight, but Volkanovski showed incredible takedown defense.  In turn, Islam demonstrated incredibly sharp striking.  Both fighters demonstrated a well-rounded skillset and fought at a grueling pace.  Although Islam won more of the rounds, Volkanovski rocked him badly and ended the fight on top.  Both fighters pushed each other to their limits and have fans clamoring for a rematch.  Not only was the fight exciting, but it may be the highest expression of martial arts skill to date.  It not only carried lightweight title implications, but pound for pound status as well.  This fight, along with a potential rematch, will shape the legacies of both fighters and the lightweight division itself.

Image – South China Morning Post

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