With 2017 nearly in the books, our staff takes a look back at the best fights of 2017.
(*This list was compiled before UFC 219.)
(**To hear an audio review of 2017 in MMA, check out the Dec. 25, edition of “MMA Talk for Pro Wrestling Fans.”)
FRANK HYDEN, MMATorch Columnist
I think Justin Gaethje vs. Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218 is the best fight of the year. It was beyond ridiculous the amount of punishment these guys were able to dish out and absorb. This is the type of fight you show people when you’re talking up how exciting MMA is and can be.
RAFFAEL IGLESIAS, MMATorch Contributor
Last year’s harvest of high-quality fights was quite bountiful. Three fights in particular really stick out in my mind. These were Jim Miller v, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje vs. Alvarez and Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson. All these fights had equal and similar qualities. All at one point were slugfests, a lot of back and forth, diversity, and never lacked for action. I rewatched all three fights to tried to come to a definitive conclusion. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to watch three awesome fights again to write about them.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson on July 7, at The Ultimate Fighter Redemption Finale for me takes my imaginary trophy this year. What takes this one over the top for me is that there can be no doubt that these guys gave everything they had. Perhaps saying that these guys left everything out there can be cliché but these two were the quintessential example of that fighting/sports trope. Gaethje took this war of attrition by battling through some awful punishment. The official decision could have read TKO via complete exhaustion. Either combatant could have been taken out several times. This was one of those fights that made me break a sweat watching it. This was a real-life Rocky fight. Justin Gaethje for me is appointment watching from now on. This guy has had three of the best fights this year, including the fight against Eddie Alvarez.
DAVE KOULA, MMATorch Contributor
I always have a tough time with this category. Does it refer to the most entertaining fight, the best display of all round mixed martial arts, the most important fight that delivered, or the most memorable fight? I’d likely pick four different fights depending on how I was interpreting it… so, let’s do that.
Most entertaining fight of the year: Dustin Poirier vs Anthony Pettis. The lack of a decisive finish in this one may diminish this for some, but as for second by second entertainment value, this one tops the list for me. A back and forth bloody battle on the feet and the floor from bell to bell, this was everything you could ever ask for in a fight. This fight also reaffirmed what we thought we learned in the Alvarez fight, Dustin Poirier is absolutely one of the best lightweights in the world.
Best display of Mixed Martial Arts of the year: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero. This fight isn’t likely to be high on a lot of people’s lists, but this fight really showed what this sport is all about. Romero is so scary dangerous from bell to bell be it in the feet or the floor, and with the momentum he was carrying into the fight you’d have to have one hell of a strategy combined with high competency in all areas of the game and a true fighting spirit. Enter Robert Whittaker. Romero took the first two rounds with ease, beat up Whittaker’s leg something awful and had some close calls on the floor as well. Despite the adversity, Whittaker used strategy, cardio, and all-around grit to take over the fight and sweep the last three rounds. If this one doesn’t stick out in your mind, give it another watch.
Most important fight that delivered: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. The aftermath has taken some of the luster off what was one of hell of a fight. Would Jones be at his best after his latest layoff and setback? Would Cormier be able to overcome his greatest adversary? I suppose the answer to both is yes and no. Jones looked every bit as good as he’d ever looked, but Cormier was at a level we hadn’t seen since he was throwing heavyweights all over the place in Strikeforce. Cormier had worked at all the right parts of his game and brought the fire to Jones without hesitation. It just wasn’t enough. We can debate all day about whether Jones performance was “enhanced” and what that really means, but at the end of the day, Jones weathered the storm and was able to put Cormier away in spectacular fashion. This fight has all the drama you can ask for from a big fight.
Most memorable fight: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson. This fight surpassed Anderson Silva vs Chris Leben as the most “star-making” debut performance in history. Johnson is a tough dude with some great performances but was last seen getting completely manhandled by a very verbal Khabib Nurmagomedov. He’d fallen short against the best in the world, and this fight would decide where his place moving forward would be. Gaethje came in riding a lot of hype as the lightweight king of the independents, but like most outsiders you just don’t know what’s going to happen when they do make it to the big time. Round one had some great back and forth, reminding everyone that Johnson had earned his spot and showing that Gaethje was definitely the real deal. That first round was unforgettable. The second was just as fun, with both guys feeling the effects of the first both on their bodies and on their lungs. The scene of Johnson crumbling against the fence as Gaethje was one hell of a way to announce to the lightweight division that this is a guy that cannot be ignored. He talked the talk, walked the walk and despite his recent loss, he’s here to stay. That’s how you make a debut.
SEAN COVINGTON, MMATorch Contributor
Alex Oliveira vs Yancy Medeiros. Haven’t seen a slobber-knocker like that in quite some time.
Paul Felder and Charles Oliveira get an excellent honorable mention as well with Felder pulling off an amazing come from behind victory after weathering an all-out assault from Oliveira. There are plenty of back and forth fights; but the ones that have a finisher are the good ones because someone rose to the occasion.
COLE HENRY, MMATorch Contributor
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson!
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