As you’ll see later on, coming up with the ten best fighters of 2018 wasn’t easy. But at least picking the man in the top spot was an easy call. Beginning with his January title defense knockout of Volkan Oezdemir at 205 pounds, Daniel Cormier had a year for the ages, one highlighted by a finish of Stipe Miocic that earned him the UFC heavyweight crown and made “DC” a champ-champ. He could have sat out the rest of the year and still earned this spot, but he cemented it by closing out the year with a submission of Derrick Lewis in November.
UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes began her year in May with a one-sided stoppage of Raquel Pennington, and then in December, she made an air-tight case as the best female fighter in MMA history by ending the over 13-year unbeaten streak of Cris Cyborg by way of a 51-second knockout.
After a seemingly endless wait, Khabib Nurmagomedov added “world champion” to his name in April when he defeated Al Iaquinta for the vacant lightweight title. Then came the biggest fight of the year against Conor McGregor in October, and with the lights shining brighter than ever, the Dagestani destroyer moved to 27-0 with a fourth-round submission of “The Notorious” one.
If you’re only going to fight once in a calendar year and make it onto a list like this, you better beat one of the greatest fighters of all-time. Well, that’s just what Henry Cejudo did in August when he evened the score with Demetrious Johnson via split decision, in the process ending the long UFC flyweight title reign of “Mighty Mouse” and setting up a SuperFight later this month with TJ Dillashaw.
Valentina Shevchenko was one of the top bantamweights in the world. In the flyweight division, she’s even better. This was evident as soon as she defeated Priscila Cachoeira in her first UFC bout at flyweight in February, and then in December, she struck gold by defeating former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant 125-pound crown.
Most wouldn’t assume Anthony Smith would make it on this list after starting the year with a Fight of the Night loss to Thiago Santos. But a move from 185 to 205 pounds made a world of difference for “Lionheart,” who ended his year with knockouts of Rashad Evans and “Shogun” Rua and a submission of Volkan Oezdemir. Now he’s calling out champ Jon Jones.
The UFC’s Rookie of the Year was also one of the top fighters of 2018, and if you didn’t know who Israel Adesanya was before his debut in February, four Octagon wins over Rob Wilkinson, Marvin Vettori, Brad Tavares and Derek Brunson most certainly have “The Last Stylebender” on your short list of fighters to watch in 2019 and beyond.
If a close split decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum in May went his way, we might have Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza a few slots higher on this list considering that his Fight of the Night defeat was sandwiched by knockout wins over Derek Brunson and Chris Weidman.
If there was a title to be won for UFC action hero, Dustin Poirier may have secured that crown in 2018 with knockout wins over two of the premier thrillmakers in the Octagon, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez.
I’m usually a lot more decisive in matters like these, but given the years turned in by Corey Anderson (3-0 with wins over top five contenders Glover Teixeira and Ilir Latifi), Thiago Santos (4-1 with three knockouts of Anthony Smith, Eryk Anders and Jimi Manuwa) and Kamaru Usman (3-0 with wins over top contenders Demian Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos), I decided to make a three-way tie for 10th place and celebrate all three fighters. Hey, it’s my list.