You could say that 2017 was fairly calm on the UFC timeline, and that may have been due to the absence of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey on the schedule. One of those superstars was going to come back in 2018, though, and there was more monumental news to come as well.
But first some fights, and on the second card of the year, many expected feared knockout artist Francis Ngannou to put an end to Stipe Miocic’s reign as heavyweight champion, but in a brilliant five-round master class, Miocic shut down and shut out the challenger in the main event of a Boston card that also saw light heavyweight boss Daniel Cormier turn back the charge of Volkan Oezdemir.
A few weeks later, the Octagon was in Perth, Australia, where an unbeaten middleweight named Israel Adesanya made his UFC debut with a second-round TKO of Rob Wilkinson. We would be hearing a lot from “The Last Stylebender” in the future.
At UFC 222 on March 3, Cris Cyborg continued to dominate the women’s featherweight class, as she halted Yana Kunitskaya in a little over three minutes. But it was the co-main event that got all the attention, as a late replacement for featherweight champion Max Holloway – Brian Ortega – knocked out Frankie Edgar in the first round to earn his own shot at the 145-pound belt.
While things were heating up at featherweight, Khabib Nurmagomedov finally got his shot at lightweight gold on April 7 in Brooklyn, but not without plenty of drama that included the withdrawal of Tony Ferguson due to injury, Holloway coming in as a replacement only to be pulled from the bout as well, and a fight week incident involving McGregor that shifted the attention from the card to the Irishman.
Yet like a true pro, Nurmagomedov stayed cool and when he finally got an opponent in Al Iaquinta, he fought the fight and won the fight, decisioning the Long Islander to take the 155-pound belt. In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas retained her title by decisioning the woman she took the belt from, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Also in the lightweight division in April, Dustin Poirier stopped the division’s premier action hero, Justin Gaethje, to move closer to his own shot at the title, and Kevin Lee halted Edson Barboza.
As May began, that monumental news surfaced as it was announced that the UFC would be airing on ESPN beginning in 2019, putting the leading promotion in MMA on the worldwide leader in sports.
A few days later, Amanda Nunes successfully defended her women’s bantamweight title with a stoppage of Raquel Pennington in the main event of UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro. Chile, Liverpool and Utica, New York would be the next three stops on the 2018 road trip before the Octagon rolled into the Windy City of Chicago for a UFC 225 card that produced the Fight of the Year, as Robert Whittaker outpointed Yoel Romero to take the interim UFC middleweight title.
On July 6, Michael Trizano and Brad Katona were crowned Ultimate Fighters in Las Vegas while Adesanya decisioned Brad Tavares in the TUF Finale main event. And the next night, Cormier shook up the world when he knocked out Miocic to add the heavyweight title to the light heavyweight belt in his collection.
The UFC Hall of Fame inducted another set of MMA immortals on International Fight Week, with the Class of 2018 featuring Rousey, Bruce Connal, Art Davie, Matt Serra and the first fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
By the end of the summer, the great fights and performances were coming at fans in a fast and furious fashion, capped off by the August doubleheader in Los Angeles that saw Henry Cejudo upset Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title while bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw repeated his knockout victory over Cody Garbrandt in the UFC 227 main event.
September kicked off with a UFC 228 event in Dallas, and Tyron Woodley’s welterweight title stayed right where it had been thanks to a second-round submission of Darren Till delivered by “The Chosen One.”
As the weeks went by, though, all the focus was seemingly on the UFC 229 SuperFight between Nurmagomedov and the returning McGregor. And on October 6, the sports world stopped as the two rivals entered the Octagon. But on this night, it was all Nurmagomedov, as he submitted McGregor in the fourth round to retain his title.
In the UFC’s November visit to Madison Square Garden, Cormier submitted Derrick Lewis in defense of his heavyweight title, and then it was off to Denver to celebrate the promotion’s 25th anniversary in the place where it all began in 1993. Fittingly, Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung put on an epic fight in the main event, one ended at 4:59 of the fifth round by a Rodriguez elbow.
The UFC took its show on the road for cards in Argentina and China, then it was back home to Vegas, where Juan Espino and Macy Chiasson were the TUF 28 winners.
December would be one to remember, as Holloway turned back Ortega in defense of his featherweight title and Valentina Shevchenko defeated Jedrzejczyk for the vacant women’s flyweight crown at UFC 231. Then Iaquinta decisioned Lee in the final UFC on FOX show, and soon it was off to UFC 232, where light heavyweight champ Jon Jones halted Alexander Gustafsson in their long-awaited rematch, while bantamweight queen Nunes scored a stunning 51-second knockout of Cyborg to add the women’s featherweight title to her collection.
What would 2019 bring? We needed to take a breath after 2018 first.
FIGHTS OF THE YEAR
Robert Whittaker-Yoel Romero 2
Dustin Poirier-Justin Gaethje
Yair Rodriguez-Chan Sung Jung
Max Holloway-Brian Ortega
Tony Ferguson-Anthony Pettis
KNOCKOUTS OF THE YEAR
Yair Rodriguez-Chan Sung Jung
Brian Ortega-Frankie Edgar
Lyoto Machida-Vitor Belfort
Amanda Nunes-Cris Cyborg
Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos-Sean Strickland
SUBMISSIONS OF THE YEAR
Ryan Hall-BJ Penn
Paul Craig-Magomed Ankalaev
Aljamain Sterling-Cody Stamann
Zabit Magomedsharipov-Brandon Davis
Aleksei Oleinik-Junior Albini