The UFC world may have still been reeling from the injury that ended Anderson Silva’s UFC 168 bout against Chris Weidman, but a week later, the Octagon was back up and ready to host some fights, this time for the first time in Singapore, with a Fight Night event that saw the launch of the promotion’s digital streaming service, UFC FIGHT PASS.
Headlined by Tarec Saffiedine’s win over Hyun Gyu Lim, the 10-bout card was aired exclusively on the new service, allowing fans to see live fights – along with extensive fight libraries - on their computer, gaming console, tablet or smart phone.
This new technology showed just how far the UFC had come since 1993, but as always, the best part of watching the sport had nothing to do with technical advances, as it’s the fights that matter.
In February, the first title fights of the year took place on the same UFC 169 card in Newark. Originally scheduled to see the long-awaited bout for the undisputed bantamweight title between Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao, Cruz was unfortunately injured again, elevating Barao from interim to undisputed champion, and allowing Urijah Faber to step in for a title fight. Barao left no doubt in their rematch though, stopping “The California Kid” in the first round. Also on the card was Barao’s teammate Jose Aldo, who kept his featherweight crown intact with a five-round decision win over Ricardo Lamas.
The championship fireworks kept coming at UFC 170 on February 22, as Ronda Rousey stopped Sara McMann in 66 seconds to retain her women’s bantamweight title in a clash of former Olympians, and March got off to a solid start as well with the crowning of the first Ultimate Fighter China champion, Zhang Lipeng.
On March 15, the vacancy at the top of the 170-pound division created by George St-Pierre’s sabbatical from the sport was filled in the 2014 Fight of the Year, as Johny Hendricks outpointed Robbie Lawler in an epic five-round bout that saw both men go for broke in their quest for championship gold.
After the first Ultimate Fighter Nations season concluded in Quebec City on April 16 with Elias Theodorou and Chad Laprise picking up UFC contracts, Fabricio Werdum earned a shot at Cain Velasquez’ heavyweight title with a five-round win over Travis Browne three days later in Orlando, Florida.
This hectic schedule kept UFC staffers running from coast to coast and across the globe, but the fans loved every minute of it, as now UFC events could be seen on almost a weekly basis. The next stop was Baltimore on April 26, with Jon Jones turning back yet another challenger for his light heavyweight title. This time it was Glover Teixeira who fell at the hands of “Bones,” who bounced back from his grueling late-2013 battle with Alexander Gustafsson in style.
At UFC 173 in Las Vegas on May 24, it was expected to be another successful title defense for Renan Barao as he took on talented, but unheralded, TJ Dillashaw. Those expectations went south in a hurry for Barao though, as Dillashaw dropped him early and kept the heat on throughout, eventually knocking the Brazilian out in the fifth round to become the UFC bantamweight champion in one of the sport’s great upsets.
Dillashaw’s win should have been ringing in the head of TUF Brazil 3 winners Antonio Carlos Junior and Warlley Alves, as it was the Californian’s stint on TUF 14 that propelled him into the UFC and paved the way for him to eventually win a world title.
One fighter who didn’t have the Ultimate Fighter on his resume, but who was inspired by the first season to start training in MMA was Demetrious Johnson, and he didn’t let any upsets cross his path at UFC 174 in June, as he easily turned back the challenge of Ali Bagautinov.
Another champion who kept his title secure in the summer of 2014 was Chris Weidman. Fresh from two wins over Anderson Silva, the New Yorker got a chance to see a different face for the first time in a while when he battled former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 on July 5. A win was the end result once more, though, as Weidman held off a spirited effort from “The Dragon” to retain his middleweight title. Also defending a title successfully was Rousey, who needed only 16 seconds to knock out Canadian challenger Alexis Davis.
The day after UFC 175, it was another fight card in Vegas, and while TUF 19 winners Corey Anderson and Eddie Gordon got their share of the spotlight, it was BJ Penn who got the lion’s share of it, and rightfully so, as he announced his retirement following his loss to Frankie Edgar in the card’s main event. “The Prodigy” would ultimately return, though.
In the meantime, the new breed of the UFC was more than willing to take up the mantle for fighters like Penn, with none more vocal about it than Ireland’s Conor McGregor, who tested his appeal on July 19 when the Octagon returned to Dublin for the first time since 2009. Suffice to say that it was a success, with the sold out crowd of over 9,500 sounding like 90,000 as they cheered McGregor on to a first-round TKO over Diego Brandao. It was a seminal day for Irish MMA, and “The Notorious” one was leading the way, saying after the bout, “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over.”
The man who McGregor had his sights on, featherweight champion Jose Aldo, had pressing matters to deal with first in the form of former opponent Chad Mendes, who had soared back to the number one contender’s spot after a series of knockout wins, and the two were scheduled to meet again at UFC 176 in Los Angeles on August 2. But an injury to Aldo scrapped the bout, and later the entire card, with Aldo-Mendes II moving to UFC 179 later in the year.
The brief title fight drought ended on August 30, as Dillashaw prepared to defend his title against the man he beat for the belt, Barao. But after a bad weight cut forced Barao out of the bout on weigh-in day, debuting undercard fighter Joe Soto stepped up to face the champion on a day’s notice. It was a gutsy decision and Soto gave a supreme effort in the UFC 177 main event, but there would be no Hollywood ending in Sacramento, as Dillashaw retained his title with a fifth-round knockout.
By now, bad blood was brewing between Jones and unbeaten Daniel Cormier, but first the light heavyweight champ had business to tend to with former foe Gustafsson. The two were slated to meet at UFC 178 on September 27, but a Gustafsson injury forced him out of the bout. In stepped Cormier, and a subsequent press conference brawl with Jones ignited even more interest in the fight. But soon, a Jones leg injury prompted the postponement of the bout to UFC 182 in January of 2015.
Moving quickly, the UFC moved the UFC 177 bout between Johnson and Chris Cariaso into the UFC 178 main event slot, and Johnson was mighty once more, submitting his foe in the second round on a card that saw comeback wins by Cruz and Cat Zingano, another knockout win by McGregor, and a victory by Donald Cerrone over highly-regarded newcomer Eddie Alvarez.
On October 25 in Rio de Janeiro, Aldo and Mendes finally met again, and while their first bout was a quick knockout win for the champion, in the UFC 179 rematch, he had to fight tooth and nail to keep his belt in one of the best UFC title fights ever.
With the euphoria from Aldo-Mendes II keeping fight fans asking for more, they got it on November 15, as the UFC visited Mexico for the first time. Yet injuries plagued this UFC 180 card as well, with fights like Diego Sanchez-Joe Lauzon and the main event of Cain Velasquez-Fabricio Werdum falling by the wayside. The main event delivered plenty of excitement though, as Werdum won the interim heavyweight title with a second-round knockout of late replacement Mark Hunt.
It had been a rollercoaster year for sure, but the UFC made sure it was going to finish strong in December, and it started with the first day of the month when it was announced that a deal had been signed with Reebok for the global fitness leader to become the UFC’s exclusive outfitter and apparel provider.
“This will be the biggest non-broadcast partnership that our company has ever signed,” UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. “So it is significant.”
In the Octagon, the action ended the year on a high note as well. At UFC 181 on December 6, the welterweight title changed hands when Lawler decisioned Hendricks in another closely contested showdown, and Pettis successfully defended his lightweight belt for the first time against his rival coach on The Ultimate Fighter 20, Gilbert Melendez.
Speaking of The Ultimate Fighter 20, this season was the first to feature all women and the UFC’s newest weight class, the 115-pound strawweight division. What was even more notable was that the winner would be crowned the UFC’s first strawweight champion, and that first titlist was Carla Esparza, who beat Rose Namajunas in the finals on December 12 in Las Vegas.
It was a rollercoaster ride for sure, but who doesn’t love that kind of excitement?
Johny Hendricks W5 Robbie Lawler I
Jose Aldo W5 Chad Mendes II
Junior Dos Santos W5 Stipe Miocic
Matt Brown TKO3 Erick Silva
Abel Trujillo KO2 Jamie Varner
Dong Hyun Kim KO3 John Hathaway
Chris Beal KO1 Patrick Williams
Josh Samman KO2 Eddie Gordon
Mark Hunt KO2 Roy Nelson
Roy Nelson KO1 Minotauro Nogueira
Charles Oliveira Wsub2 Hatsu Hioki
Anthony Pettis Wsub2 Gilbert Melendez
Ben Saunders Wsub1 Chris Heatherly
Luke Rockhold Wsub1 Tim Boetsch
Mitch Clarke Wsub2 Al Iaquinta
A version of this piece appeared in UFC: A Visual History, by Thomas Gerbasi