Which fighters deserve consideration for “Fighter of the Year” in 2015, and why? Who would your top pick be?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The funny thing about giving an award for best anything is that when you start comparing, the candidates begin to subjectively look a lot more equal than they should. This award is really a no contest, but I suspect that over-analysis may convince some people to make compelling arguments for a pool of contenders.
Conor McGregor is Fighter of the Year. He has the requisite perfect record in 2015, fighting three times, and finishing them all by fairly spectacular stoppage. He captured an interim title, and then dethroned a man who hadn’t lost in 10 years to unify the featherweight belts. His knockout of Jose Aldo? Thirteen seconds, a record for fastest finish in title fight history.
His fight credentials and record alone are enough to justify a Fighter of the Year award, but the attention he drew to himself – and the sport – out of the Octagon easily put him over the top. McGregor did what few others in the sport have done, making casual and even non-MMA fans take notice. His larger than life personality and outrageous claims and statements built him up to near legendary status, and his performances in the cage cemented that. His fights drew huge numbers, record gates, and at 27 years old, he may just be getting started. Lorenzo Fertitta said that McGregor could be the UFC’s first $100 million dollar man, which is both an almost unfathomable amount and testament to how brightly McGregor’s star may shine.
The women of MMA did a lot to legitimize their sport in the eys of the public in 2015. Were it not for Ronda Rousey’s destruction at the hands of Holly Holm, she might have given McGregor a run for his money. Even with that loss, the transcendent Rousey put on some of the more memorable performances of 2015, with her two wins taking a combined 48 seconds. Holm herself deserve mention as a Fighter of the Year candidate, albeit a distant second at best to McGregor. She shocked the world with her head kick finish, and also was perfect on the year in her three fights. The other women’s champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, was also dominant in her three wins this year, including a beat down of Carla Esparza to win the title.
Demetrious Johnson, Luke Rockhold, T.J. Dillashaw, and Rafael dos Anjos all either took titles or defended theirs to go with perfect records in 2015. These three champs may have long runs ahead of them, as their work over the last year showed little weakness. At two fights a piece, though, their accomplishments don’t quite match up to what McGregor did in the Octagon. Outside of it, there’s no real comparison. If McGregor has another year like this one, he may already be in the running for Fighter of the Decade.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Luke Rockhold defeated both Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman this year. Rafael dos Anjos defeated Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. Holly Holm defeated Raquel Pennington, Marion Reneau, and Ronda Rousey, but the choice is Conor McGregor. He defeated Dennis Siver, Chad Mendes, and Jose Aldo. He also talked more trash than anyone ever has in MMA history. However, he backed up every single word. No one else has had the impact that McGregor has had. He did everything he said he was going to do, and did it in tremendous fashion. It was an amazing year for McGregor.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If fighter of the year was based on skills, technique, and being an overall well-rounded mixed martial artist, then the award would clearly go to Demetrious Johnson.
However, the Fighter of the Year belongs to none other than the braggadocious Irish man Conor McGregor. McGregor’s abilities inside and outside of the Octagon have brought attention to himself, his fights, and mixed martial arts in general. Having the aptitude to sell yourself for an upcoming fight as well as future events is a skill. Trust me, it’s more difficult than he would lead you to believe. It’s not just trash talking for the sake of trash talk. McGregor is a charismatic salesman that sells you on sizzle, when you thought you actually wanted the steak. He makes you care whether he wins or loses. Not only does McGregor get people to care, he gets people to spend their hard earned money to travel from Ireland twice in a calendar year and fill an arena in the United States. He puts asses in seats and eyes on pay-per-view.
McGregor has combat sports fans, media, and most of all other fighters hanging onto his every word. You can consistently go online and lurk around any MMA forum or group to see fans repeating his catchphrases and creating memes on his behalf. He’s caused people to rethink the fight game in several different ways, from movement, to visualization, self belief, psychology, philosophy, training, and now monetarily. Also, notice as McGregor talked about and flossed around in custom made suits, other fighters have collectively began to follow suit. So strong is the force around him, he often has people overlook his weaknesses as his strengths are so spectacular.
The mental warfare in which McGregor oft engages beats his opponent before they’ve ever stepped in the Octagon. Most people may think the mind games begin with McGregor when his opponent signs a bout agreement. However, I assure you it begins much earlier. The psychological warfare began with Chad Mendes over a year before Jose Aldo got injured; in fact, it occurred while McGregor himself was injured with a torn ACL. He had fighters in two different divisions consistently talking about him while he was recuperating from injury.
Any time a person can come into an organization with hype surrounding them from a much smaller promotion, theb within two years be the talk of the premier mixed martial arts promotion, they’ve done something incredible. I remember contributing to a roundtable stating there was no way he’d fight for a championship before 2016, let alone be champion. Now as we head into 2016, I’ve had to eat my words, and we’re talking about him possibly being a two division champion.
While I have spoken about all the attributes that make Conor McGregor a polarizing figure in mixed martial arts, I have yet to mention that he’s an exceptional fighter too. In my opinion, McGregor is ushering in a new era in MMA, and in order to be a Fighter of the Year or receive any outside attention or accolades, fighters will have to be market themselves and be exceptional inside and outside the Octagon. Because as we all know, the fight game isn’t solely based on skill and fighting ability alone, otherwise Demetrious Johnson would be a superstar.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
There is really only one choice for Fighter of the Year and that is Conor McGregor. He did everything that he said he was going to do, and the Irishman set some very high standards for himself. His destruction of Dennis Siver was expected, but still impressive. Much was made of Chad Mendes taking the interim title fight at UFC 189 on two weeks notice, but McGregor was clearly limited himself and overcame the drubbing Mendes put on him for about a round and a half to get the finish before the second round ended. He then topped off the year by dethroning the longest reigning champion in the UFC in Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds. How can it be anyone else?
It should be mentioned that Ronda Rousey would have been a close second had she been able to dispose of Holly Holm in a fashion that had been expected, but obviously she didn’t, and that put Holm herself in contention as she captured UFC gold less than a year after her UFC debut. Her previous two fights earlier in the year weren’t as impressive, which keeps her from the top spot, but I have my doubts that anyone else will pull off a similar achievement anytime soon.
Even with those credentials, I’d still put Holm behind Joanna Jedrzejczyk just behind McGregor; she entered the year as a talented Pole with little personality who was set to challenge the newly crowned Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza into one of the most colorful and dominant champions the UFC now possesses. You may scoff at the idea of her being dominant, but she is now the fourth longest reigning Champion the UFC has on the roster behind Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw, and Robbie Lawler, she was never in any serious trouble in any of her fights either as she rolled over Esparza, Jessica Penne, and Valerie Letourneau with little trouble. She may not have finished Letourneau, but she did land 202 significant strikes on her.
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