A great fight is a perfect storm. Put two fighters together and you never know what you’ll get, but when both have the intention of making a statement against each other and the styles mesh, it becomes something more than just an athletic competition. When that happens, there’s nothing better in all of sports.
Here are 10 of the best fights from 2015, as the Highly Unofficial awards season continues.
10 – Gian Villante-Corey Anderson
Corey Anderson’s first pro loss was a painful one, mainly due to the teeth he had to get fixed after eating a knee from Gian Villante, but someday he may look at the third-round knockout defeat as the turning point in his career, because he proved that he didn’t just have the talent to succeed, but the heart as well. This was a dig down deep bout, and both Anderson and Villante did that throughout, with Long Island’s Villante - down on one scorecard heading into the final round and even on the other two – leaving the judges out of it with a sudden third-round finish.
9 – Nicolas Dalby-Darren Till
Fighters with unbeaten records often fight a certain way when they reach the elite level of the sport, choosing to protect that “0” instead of using the style that got them to the big show in the first place. Welterweights Nicolas Dalby and Darren Till don’t fall into that category, and their October Fight of the Night in Dublin proved it. Yet the biggest takeaway from this three-round battle was Dalby’s miraculous final round comeback, one that didn’t win him the fight, but that did do enough for him to keep his undefeated record by way of a draw.
8 – Edson Barboza-Paul Felder | Read: Family first for Barboza
It’s not a Fight of the Year list without an entry (or two) featuring Edson Barboza. Meeting up with fellow striker Paul Felder in July, it was assumed that, like most matchups of this sort, two strikers would equal a wrestling match. Not here. Putting their varied array of punishing and diverse stand-up techniques on display for 15 thrilling minutes, Barboza and Felder showed just what striking looks like at the highest level of the game, and while it was Barboza leaving with the decision win that night, there were no losers in this bout.
7 – Yair Rodriguez-Charles Rosa | WATCH ON FIGHT PASS
In boxing, you rarely see two hot prospects meeting on the way up. It just doesn’t happen. In the UFC though, a great matchup is a great matchup, and Sean Shelby put together a classic one between featherweights Yair Rodriguez and Charles Rosa at UFC 188 in June and they stole the show with a mix of flashy striking, slick groundwork and guts and grit. When it was over, Rodriguez emerged with a well-deserved decision win, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the next time they meet will be with a world title up for grabs.
6 - Brian Ortega-Thiago Tavares | Read: Ortega a Big Name Hunter
Great MMA fights rarely have every element of the sport flowing through it from start to finish. Brian Ortega’s third-round stoppage of Thiago Tavares was the exception. From slick groundwork to crisp stand-up exchanges, from two guys going for the finish throughout to gut checks for both featherweights, this was a fun one to watch, and in beating the veteran Tavares, Ortega announced his arrival to the big show in a big way in his second Octagon bout, and it’s clear that we will be hearing a lot more from “T-City” in the future.
5 – John Lineker-Francisco Rivera
Proving that, in combat sports, the best defense is often placed around deyard, bantamweights John Lineker and Francisco Rivera threw all caution to the wind in their UFC 191 clash in September. What resulted was a frenetic 2:08 of toe-to-toe slugging capped off by a Lineker guillotine choke that ended the bout and allowed the entire fight world to take a deep breath again.
4 – Andrei Arlovski-Travis Browne | WATCH ON FIGHT PASS
I don’t know whether I love this fight because it captured the great comeback of Andrei Arlovski in four minutes and 41 seconds or just because two big guys swinging bombs at each other for nearly five minutes will always get the top spot in my heart. Whatever it is, Arlovski and Browne didn’t fight like good friends on May 23. This was a bitter enemies’ kind of fight, with Arlovski putting Browne in trouble several times, Browne coming back with a knockdown, and “The Pit Bull” finally putting the finishing touches on his former training partner with a barrage of blows. It was compelling from a storyline point of view and in terms of pure visceral action, a mix that made it an easy pick for this list.
3 – Tony Ferguson-Edson Barboza | What Ferguson's win meant
Win or lose, Edson Barboza can’t be in a bad fight, and in December he lived up to that Action Hero reputation once more against Tony Ferguson, who is must see TV in his own right. While Barboza’s devastating striking attack was on display once more against the Californian, “El Cucuy” took it all and came back firing with a diverse array of techniques that eventually forced Barboza into an ill-advised takedown attempt that produced Ferguson’s submission finish.
2 – Daniel Cormier-Alexander Gustafsson | Full recap of UFC 192
It’s not the legacy Alexander Gustafsson wants for himself, and he will do everything in his power to one day wear UFC championship gold, but for now, he should never hang his head about being in what are likely the two greatest 205-pound title fights ever. Of course, the Swede came up short, first against Jon Jones in 2013 and then in October against Daniel Cormier, but oh, what fights they were. Looking to prove that the vacant title he won against Anthony Johnson was no paper crown, Cormier went into those dark places only real fighters are willing to go to and after surviving Gustafsson’s attacks and coming back with his own furious assault, he came out with a split decision victory and silenced any doubters once and for all.
1 – Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald | WATCH ON FIGHT PASS
Most fight fans would have watched Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald stare each other down in the center of the Octagon after the fourth round of their UFC 189 war in July and said ‘okay, Fight of the Year.’ It was that good, a moment of calm in the midst of a punishing 21-minute battle, as the two battered and bloodied welterweights assessed each other for a few seconds before returning to their corner. A minute into the next round, Lawler finished MacDonald, who was perilously close to taking the welterweight title in the third frame. Even more notable is that according to the scorecards, Lawler needed a finish in the final round to keep his title. Drama, momentum swings, displays of courage that show just what it takes to be a professional fighter – this fight had it all.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – Oliveira-Lentz II, Cote-Burkman, Jones-Cormier, Jouban-Dwyer, Laprise-Barberena