There were 493 fights fought in the UFC Octagon in 2016, and the 12th bout of the year was one of the best, as Robbie Lawler retained his welterweight crown in a five-round war with Carlos Condit in the main event of UFC 195 on January 2.
It was the perfect way to kick off a pivotal year for the promotion, and the hits just kept on coming – 15 days later to be exact – as the comeback of Dominick Cruz landed in Boston, where “The Dominator” scored a close decision win over TJ Dillashaw to regain the bantamweight title he never lost in the Octagon.
Not as emotional, but equally dramatic, was the February headliner in London as Michael Bisping eked out the biggest win of his career over Anderson Silva in a fight decided by one point on each of the three judges’ scorecards.
And speaking of drama, a March SuperFight pitting lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos against featherweight king Conor McGregor was scheduled for March 5 in Las Vegas, but when Dos Anjos was forced to withdraw due to injury, it was Nate Diaz who stepped up to face McGregor in a welterweight matchup on the same night. They wouldn’t need five rounds, though, as Diaz rebounded from some early adversity to submit McGregor in the second stanza with the choke heard ‘round the MMA world.
In the UFC 196 co-main event, the women’s bantamweight title changed hands, as Miesha Tate scored a come from behind fifth-round submission of Holly Holm.
By April, Jon Jones was back in the title picture at 205 pounds, as he defeated Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197 to win the interim light heavyweight belt while champion Daniel Cormier was sidelined with a foot injury. In the co-feature, flyweight boss Demetrious Johnson kept rolling, as he successfully defended his title with a stoppage of Henry Cejudo.
May saw the UFC’s first visit to Curitiba, Brazil, but Stipe Miocic spoiled the Brazilian homecoming of heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum, knocking the local favorite out in the first round to take the belt home to Cleveland. Also on the card was the UFC debut of women’s MMA superstar Cris Cyborg, who stopped Leslie Smith in 81 seconds.
A month later, another title changed hands, and this time it was England’s Bisping upsetting Luke Rockhold on short notice to take the 185-pound belt.
Needless to say, it had been a wild year thus far, but once the summer rolled around, it got even wilder.
On International Fight Week, the UFC put on three events over three days, culminating in UFC 200 on July 9. On the first night of this trifecta, Eddie Alvarez stopped Rafael Dos Anjos in the first round to win the UFC lightweight title and on night two, Andrew Sanchez and Tatiana Suarez earned Ultimate Fighter crowns, while strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated heated rival Claudia Gadelha to retain her title.
The UFC Hall of Fame also added to its collection of legends, with Don Frye, the fight between Pete Williams and Mark Coleman, Bob Meyrowitz and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira all getting the call to the Hall.
But the drama was just beginning in Las Vegas. Originally scheduled to be headlined by the Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier rematch, UFC 200 lost that bout on fight week when Jones was pulled for a potential USADA Anti-Doping Policy violation. Into the main event slot moved the women’s bantamweight title fight between Tate and Amanda Nunes, while Cormier now took on Anderson Silva. Also featured was the return of former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar against Mark Hunt.
On fight night, Nunes took Tate’s title, Cormier decisioned Silva and Lesnar defeated Hunt. Also victorious was Jose Aldo, who took the interim UFC featherweight title with a win over Frankie Edgar.
It was an exhausting week to say the least, but the big news was still to come, as it was soon announced that the UFC was acquired for a record price by Endeavor, together with strategic partners Silver Lake Partners and KKR. Staying on board to steer the ship with his new partners would be UFC President Dana White, while Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta stepped away from the business.
And while this monumental news stayed in the headlines, there were still fights to be fought and events to be held, and by the end of July, the focus was back on the action inside the Octagon, where Tyron Woodley scored a stirring first-round knockout of Lawler to win the UFC welterweight title.
In August, the bout some called the biggest rematch in UFC history took place in Las Vegas, and in the main event of UFC 202, McGregor evened the score with Diaz via majority decision.
Cleveland got its first UFC event in September, and not surprisingly, it was local hero Stipe Miocic headlining the event, along with former WWE superstar CM Punk making his pro MMA debut on the undercard. It was Miocic’s show, though, as he halted Alistair Overeem to retain his crown.
Bisping returned home to Manchester, England in October, winning his rematch with Dan Henderson in what would be the last fight in the storied career of “Hendo.”
November saw the crowning of Martin Bravo as the TUF Latin America lightweight winner, and a week later, it was one of the biggest events in UFC history as the promotion returned to New York for the first time since 1995. UFC 205 also marked the first event in New York City’s Madison Square Garden and the promotion brought the big guns to the tune of three title fights.
In the main event, McGregor became the first fighter to hold two UFC titles simultaneously when he defeated Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt. Woodley and Stephen Thompson fought to a five-round Fight of the Night draw in their welterweight title bout, and Jedrzejczyk retained her 115-pound title by defeating Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
On The Ultimate Fighter 24, there was a twist to the usual competition, as flyweight champions from around the globe competed for a shot at UFC champ Johnson. When the dust settled, it was Tim Elliott winning the tournament, and while he gave “Mighty Mouse” a tough go, it was Johnson again emerging victorious in their December 3 bout.
A week later, Max Holloway won the interim featherweight title by stopping Anthony Pettis in Toronto, setting up a showdown with the man elevated to undisputed champion, Jose Aldo.
Two more title fights would end the year on December 30, with Nunes spoiling the return of Ronda Rousey via first-round TKO, and Cody Garbrandt upsetting Dominick Cruz via decision to take the bantamweight belt.
What a year.
FIGHTS OF THE YEAR
Cub Swanson-Dooho Choi
Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz II
Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit
Steve Bosse-Sean O’Connell
Tyron Woodley-Stephen Thompson I
KNOCKOUTS OF THE YEAR
Lando Vannata-John Makdessi
Anthony Johnson-Glover Teixeira
Diego Rivas- Noad Lahat
Yair Rodriguez-Andre Fili
Stipe Miocic-Fabricio Werdum
SUBMISSIONS OF THE YEAR
Ben Rothwell-Josh Barnett
Miesha Tate-Holly Holm
Brian Ortega-Diego Brandao
Chas Skelly-Maximo Blanco
Teemu Packalen-Thibault Gouti