The best UFC moments of the first quarter of 2014...
We're only in April, and UFC fans have already seen a host of great fights and great moments. What are the best of the first three months of 2014? Read on to find out...
10. Fabio Maldonado’s comeback win at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Henderson 2
How do you not love Fabio Maldonado? The former Brazilian boxer owned a 22-0 record in his previous sport with a frightening 21 wins by knockout. Maldonado jumped into the MMA cage and rattled off a 17-3 record with 11 KO/TKO wins and was on an absurd 10 fight win streak when he joined the UFC. In his Octagon debut, Maldonado showed off his brutal body shots in a third round TKO of English kickboxer James McSweeney at UFC 120. Following that, Maldonado endured a three-fight losing skid where he continued to display his imposing stand-up as well as a granite chin and a clear unwillingness to cave to any opponent. Then, Maldonado found new life with a three-fight win streak, including his unanimous decision win in March over former NCAA Division I wrestler and football player Gian Villante. The first round was all Villante, with his superior grappling, control, and knees to the legs and body. Halfway through the second round, the immovable object that is Maldonado mounted his comeback, which hit a fevered pitch for the entirety of round three, where the Brazilian crowd was going nuts for their Rocky-like countryman. Maldonado has easily emerged as a huge fan-favorite both home and abroad.
> Watch: Maldonado vs. Villante on UFC Fight Pass
9. “The Snake” retires at UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa
It wasn’t the high note ending that many would have wanted, but it was an exciting combat career that was worth cheering for. At 40 years old, French kickboxer Cyrille “The Snake” Diabate retired following his submission loss to Ilir Latifi at UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa. The 6’6” striker entered his first pro MMA bout way, way, way back in 1999 in his native France and scored his first of eight KO/TKO wins. While known for his stand-up, Diabate’s long limbs were also put to good use on the ground with his surprisingly adept submission game, with which he secured his final pro win via rear naked choke at UFC 154. While he was on a five-fight win streak when he joined the UFC, “The Snake” was already in his late 30s and some wondered what the K-1 veteran had left in the tank. Those questions were quickly forgotten as Diabate delivered a first round TKO against Brazilian bomber Luiz “Banha” Cane. The former Team Quest member walked off into retirement leaving behind a 30-fight MMA career filled with great striking showcases and a 51-fight kickboxing career with many memorable wins like his TKO of Rick “The Jet” Roufus and his unanimous decision over current UFC middleweight Michael “The Count” Bisping.
8. Dennis Bermudez earns win number six at UFC 171
If a “streak” starts at three, what’s it called at six? Dominance. Ultimate Fighter 14 finalist Dennis Bermudez won his sixth straight fight inside the Octagon since losing his UFC debut, which dubbed “The Menace” a TUF “finalist” and not a TUF “winner”. Since that wild Fight of the Night bout against Diego Brandao, Bermudez has been slugging and slamming his unfortunate Octagon opponents from pillar to post. He is without a doubt must-see-TV, as the Long Island, New York native fights at 100 mph whether he’s trading punches or shooting for a takedown. Either way, it’s been all offense, from his eight body slams of Pablo Garza to his Fight of the Night punch-a-thon with Matt Grice. And, each and every time, Bermudez has had his hand raised in the end. For win number six, he faced judo standout Jimy Hettes. Like all his other bouts, Bermudez pushed the pace no matter where the fight was contested and never relented with punches and knees until halfway through the third, when the fight was stopped via TKO. Afterward, Bermudez received a Performance of the Night bonus.
7. Gunnar Nelson exceeds the hype at UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa
What’s bigger than a hype train? A hype-tactical nuclear submarine? Iceland’s undefeated Gunnar Nelson entered the UFC with high expectations as both a submission artist, due to his BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie, and a knockout artist, as a multiple-time medalist and champion in karate tournaments. Nelson secured a first round rear naked choke to win his UFC debut and earned a unanimous decision win in his second Octagon appearance. For bout number three in the UFC, he would face Omari Akhmedov, who was on an 11 fight win streak, including a Fight of the Night knockout victory in his UFC debut. Not only was Nelson’s opponent game, but “Gunni” hadn’t fought in 13 months. How would the “ring rust” affect him? Apparently not one bit, as the fight started and Nelson stormed to the center of the cage and began stalking Akhmedov for an explosive viper-like attack. More than halfway through the round, Nelson did strike with a laser punch that dropped Akhmedov, and from there Nelson worked his vaunted ground game until he jumped on a guillotine choke with 30 seconds left in the round for his third straight UFC win and a Performance of the Night bonus.
> Watch: Gunnar Nelson vs. Omari Akhmedov on UFC Fight Pass
6. Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner at UFC 169
Let’s be honest, UFC 169 wasn’t the best card in company history. Nevertheless, there was a Fight of the Year contender contested that night in Newark, New Jersey as former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner collided with Abel “Killa” Trujillo. In his third Fight of the Night performance inside the Octagon, the MMA Lab’s Varner provided a much needed shot of adrenaline to UFC 169 as he drove to the center of the cage to get himself into a wild punching exchange. There to meet Varner was the Blackzilians’ Trujillo, who had shown off a penchant for explosive striking in his back-to-back battles with Roger Bowling. The first round was a white knuckle, grip-and-rip punching session where Varner and Trujillo challenged each other to see who would blink first. Amazingly, there was even a hard-fought north-south choke submission attempt by Varner in the process. The second round was pure chaos, as the two began teeing off on each other. Varner got the better of the exchanges and was following up with more strikes for what appeared to be his win until Trujillo nailed Varner with a huge right hand that sent the Arizonan face first to the canvas. Besides the Fight of the Night award, “Killa” received his first Knockout of the Night bonus.
> Watch: Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner on UFC Fight Pass
5. Yoel Romero’s comeback TKO at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Philippou
Last April, 2000 Cuban Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero made his Octagon debut with a flying knee Knockout of the Night that absolutely blew away fight fans the world over. In his second Octagon appearance, Romero put on an excellent performance against Brazilian powerhouse Ronny Markes and delivered a third round knockout of the previously undefeated in the UFC Markes. What could Romero do this year that would top what happened in 2013? Well, the American Top Team-trained Romero could clearly lose the first two rounds of a bout then score a TKO in the third round in one of the greatest comeback wins in UFC history. And that’s exactly what Romero accomplished in his January battle with Derek Brunson at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Philippou. The first 10 minutes were completely controlled by the younger Brunson with his speed, technical striking, and takedowns. With a round remaining, Romero threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Brunson. About three minutes into the final stanza, Romero dropped Brunson, got on top of him, and proceeded to hammer down elbows until the referee jumped in. A deserved Fight of the Night bonus was awarded to both men.
4. Ronda Rousey wins, but not by armbar at UFC 170
It wasn’t an armbar, but it was still as fast and as furious as ever. Making her third title defense, UFC women’s bantamweight champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was set for an Olympic connection collision with undefeated Sara McMann. Per usual, the “Rowdy” one shot out of her corner like a charging bull and met the former wrestling silver medalist in the center of the Octagon with punches. What was unusual is that the fight did not hit the floor seconds after Rousey got her hands on her opponent. Instead, a new wrinkle in Rousey’s game came to light: striking from the clinch. The judo bronze medalist bullied McMann against the fence, where she delivered devastating knees. One of them hit the liver’s sweet spot, which dropped McMann and ushered in a referee stoppage. If defending Rousey’s throws and submissions weren’t enough, Rousey is becoming a punishing striker as well.
3. A new UFC welterweight champion at UFC 171
From April 19th, 2008 until November 16th of last year, Georges “Rush” St-Pierre reigned as the undisputed UFC welterweight champion. Many Octagon enthusiasts had never known another champ at 170 pounds and at UFC 171 that was all going to change. In one corner, former two-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks, who many believed had defeated GSP in their epic clash at UFC 167. In the other corner, former EliteXC middleweight champion, Strikeforce veteran, pre- Ultimate Fighter UFC veteran, and re-emerging knockout artist “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. The slugfest played out exactly the way fight fans wanted, with Lawler and Hendricks standing toe-to-toe and each tasting the depths of each other’s power punches. It was a close battle that was decided in the final round and, in the end, a new champion was crowned. If any critics believed the welterweight division had grown stale before, a new name is at the top of the mountain and there’s an entire weight class of hungry wolves frothing at the mouth trying to make the climb.
2. Dong Hyun Kim’s spinning back elbow at UFC Fight Night: Kim vs. Hathaway
If “Stun Gun” wasn’t such a great nickname, “Knockout Gun” might be more appropriate. In the main event of Macao, China’s second UFC show, judo black belt Dong Hyun Kim was set for a welterweight war with the returning rangy-striker John “The Hitman” Hathaway. It was Kim’s previous Knockout of the Night-winning performance against Erick Silva in October in Brazil that showed the world a glimpse at a new Kim. Prior to that bout, Kim was known for his takedowns and his suffocating top game. Against Silva, Kim was eager to exchange in the stand-up and scored his first KO in the UFC since his debut five years earlier. Back to the fight in question, Kim was hunting for another knockout as soon as the fight started. No more reserved control-based fighting for Kim - quite the opposite. Kim chased Hathaway for two rounds with full-bodied strikes and was itching to make his scrap with the Brit an absolute firefight. About a minute into the third round, Hathaway and Kim were involved in a heated exchange when “Stun Gun” threw a perfectly timed spinning back elbow that floored “The Hitman” and everyone in the world that was watching on UFC Fight Pass.
1. The “H-Bomb” at UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Henderson 2
The original altercation was hailed as one of the greatest fights ever, regardless of whether it was in MMA, boxing, or kickboxing. That means there was a lot of hype to live up to as former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson clashed with former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the second time. In the rematch, “Shogun” would have home field advantage in his native Brazil as well as the momentum of coming off a Knockout of the Night-winning performance in December. On the flip side, “Hendo” was on a three-fight losing streak and had just experienced his first KO loss in 40 career bouts in November.
When it started, the tension was palpable as both fighters truly own that delicious one-punch knockout power. “Shogun” took control of the first and second rounds, as he appeared faster and more accurate with his strikes, and he was able to keep the former two-time US Olympian just out of his attacking range. “Shogun” dropped Henderson in both rounds, and it appeared “Hendo” was going to extend his already career-high losing streak to four, but Henderson is a survivor and he made it to that fateful third round.
About 90 seconds in, a scramble in the center of the Octagon ensued and, off of the break, Henderson landed a short right that landed squarely with a whack that echoed through the arena. From there, “Shogun” went heels over head and Henderson chased to deliver one more short punch to get that referee stoppage. It was an incredible come-from-behind win that cemented yet again that Henderson’s “H-Bomb” can detonate with whatever punch that lands.
Honorable mentions: CB Dollaway’s KO of Cezar Ferreira, Jessica Andrade vs. Raquel Pennington, Demian Maia vs. Rory MacDonald, Alex Caceres defeats Sergio Pettis, Ovince Saint Preux’s Von Flue choke, Alexander Gustafsson returns with a win over Jimi Manuwa, Rick Story vs. Kelvin Gastelum, Hyun-Gyu Lim’s fifth round charge against Tarec Saffiedine