2013 gave us some of the best fights in MMA’s history. There was a little something for everyone this year. If you wanted a technical violent chess match, an old-fashioned Jim Ross slobber knocker, or one that combined elements of both – 2013 had you covered. In a year where it seemed like each month brought us a new FOTY candidate it is best to look back at them in chronological order. Then my choice, which re-watching these fights has altered a couple of times now.
I am not going to get into scoring controversies and judging except to say sometimes that is what makes a great fight. Sometimes a fight is truly difficult to tell who really won even after multiple viewings. Instead it is about appreciating the beauty of these masterpieces, and the artists who created them. The tools they used are different from traditional artists but in the end they did what all great artists strive to achieve. They created indelible images, and sounds that will resonate with us into 2014. There will be new fights coming and these are the ones they will be measured against for skill, heart, toughness and sheer will to win.
This fight back in January of last year got things started with a technical display of speed and movement from these two fast flyweights. They just might be the two fastest fighters in the UFC. Dodson was able to rock Johnson several times in this fight but could not finish him off nor stop the takedown consistently. They battled all over the cage and showcased all elements of MMA with their striking and grappling. This fight had some of the best footwork and head movement of the year as these two put on clinic. They were very close in skills and toughness but Johnson was just a tick quicker and better on this night. It did not have the visceral connection of other fights but it was technical beauty it its own way.
This was the next entry and kind of got lost this year. It happened early in the year and at UFC 157, which was all about Ronda Rousey, but it was still one of the best fights of the year. This was more about heart and guts than technique. There was a lot of skill displayed especially in the grappling area but it was overshadowed but the sheer will we saw in this fight. It was the definition of back and forth fight. They hit each other with big shots throughout the fight right up until the end. They both were in trouble but somehow found a way to keep fighting. It was one of those three round fights that you badly wanted to go two more rounds.
This one was for the next shot at Georges St-Pierre and his welterweight title. Condit was looking to erase the bitter taste of his first fight with GSP in which he felt he fought too cautiously. For Hendricks, he was Johnny Gasparini, GSP and the belt were “his two dollars,” and he would takedown Condit to get it. Literally twelve times in the fight with an equal four every round. It was the difference in a close fight that gave you a little taste of all that MMA sweetness. Hendricks bombing away with big shots and Condit throwing spinning strikes and flying knees. The first two rounds were close in striking with Hendricks’ takedowns making the difference. Condit came on strong in the third but could not get the finish and Hendricks got closer to that elusive “two dollars.”
This was a match up between the consensus number one and two in the world at atomweight. Coming into the fight Penne’s only loss was to a flyweight and Waterson had gone 8-1 in her last nine fights. The lone loss during that stretch was to a strawweight and she was riding a four-fight win streak. It was a fight that lived up to the expectations as these two well-rounded highly skilled fighters gave us one of the best technical battles of the year. Their striking and movement in the standup was crisp and sharp. They also put on a clinic on the ground and Waterson displayed insane flexibility that was the difference. Penne had her in a deep armbar in the third that was bent sickeningly the wrong way. Instead of tapping, Waterson escaped and survived the round. In the fourth she slapped on a quick slick armbar of her own and got the tap, the upset and the title. They are still ranked one and two with their positions being flipped and a rematch is coming soon.
This was about the introduction of Zingano to the wider MMA audience. You may not see a more emotional entrance to a UFC fight than Zingano’s. You will definitely not see one as emotional followed by a win like this one. The first round saw Zingano looking like she was fighting underwater. Tate doubled her in strikes and scored two takedowns to dominate the round. Tate started strong in the second but Zingano quickly shook off the octagon jitters and found her rhythm. Zingano took control of the fight in the second. She then dominated the third round landing 60 of 63 total strikes to Tate’s 2 0f 3, and 10 of 12 significant ones to Tate’s 1 of 2. When Kim Winslow mercifully stopped the fight the greater MMA world now knew that there was a real threat and test awaiting Rousey. Cruelly we did not get it in 2013 but it is coming.
|Image credit – Sherdog/Wilson Fox|
This one was like Regis Philbin and Martin Scorsese on coffee in a fast talking contest. It was filled with insane, intense and highly skilled MMA action. They threw and landed kicks, punches, elbows and knees throughout the fight. If you wanted submissions attempted and defended to go with sweeps and reversals this fight also had it. This fight went to the judges only because both Birchak and Benoit were too tough and slick to be finished. They filled all fifteen minutes with pure excitement and action. In the end they left the crowd wanting more.
Honestly. all of Leslie Smith’s fights from this year were amazing but this was the best of the three. Coming into the fight one of the questions was how would Maia react to the volume of punches that Smith brings. Her response was to bring almost the same volume of strikes right to her. Maia came close but she could not quite match the pace that Smith set. This was a great aggressive, technical brawl. After two hard-fought rounds these two literally charged across the cage to start the third one. It was another three round fight that left fans wanting two more. This is another fight where there is a good chance we will get a rematch in 2014.
Invicta FC fans were very familiar with Hyatt by this fight. She had already showed her fighting spirit by agreeing to take on Carla Esparza on less than a weeks notice. Despite training for a three round fight she easily defied the critics and gave Esparza a battle for five rounds. She then destroyed Jasminka Cive in her next fight. However. Inoue was more of an unknown to North American fans and her opponents, with the exception of a couple, had less than stellar records. What we learned after this fight was that Inoue has maybe the best boxing in MMA and an amazing ground game as well. It was a close back and forth three round fight that echoed the sentiment of wanting two more rounds. Inoue won a very close battle but Hyatt was coming on in the end and left the fans wondering what kind of greatness these two would have found in the later rounds.
My personal favorite from this card as these two fighters have the complete MMA package and we saw it all during this fight. They combine great cardio, high level striking skills, and insane ground games. They mix that all up with their creative, aggressive, fearless fighting hearts, extreme athleticism and great mental toughness. The result was one of the best fights of 2013. Again, another back and forth fight with each fighter gaining the momentum only to have the other fighter comeback to regain it. The action took place in the standup and on the ground and it was fast paced and high leveled. Like rereading a great novel and finding something new, re-watching this fight reveals a new reason to appreciate it. Since they both will be in the TUF 20 house we may get a chance to see this rematch in 2014. If we do I predict that it will again be one of the FOTY contenders.
This fight had a little bit of everything including the surprise element. No one expected this fight, not the way it went down. Jones was supposed to run through Gustafsson like he had his other opponents to date. The thinking was that even if Gustafsson was able to use his reach to do well in the standup that Jones would take this fight to the ground. It did go to the ground in the first round only it was Jones who was taken down for the first time in his UFC career. He was also sharp on his feet with great footwork, head movement and quick hands. Just when it seemed like Gustafsson had seized the fight in the fourth round Jones dug deep and somehow found that nasty spinning elbow that rocked Gustafsson. From there Jones maintained control of the fight but Gustafsson battled right until the end. It was close and could have gone to either fighter. It had everybody but Jones calling for an immediate rematch. We will get one soon. Hopefully in 2014.
|Image credit – Sherdog/Dave Mandel|
This was the choice for many people and it might have been the most visceral of these fights. It was definitely more on the brawl side but it still had a lot of skill and technique. There were critics of this fight because they felt that it was too one-sided for Melendez. I cannot agree with them. Yes, Melendez out struck Sanchez but he did not dominate this fight. Sanchez had two rear-naked-choke attempts, the second coming late in the third round. It was right after Sanchez had just stunned and dropped Melendez with an uppercut. The fight ended with the two fighters standing in the pocket landing huge haymakers. If that image did not stay with you it might have been one of the times after getting drilled that Sanchez gestured for Melendez to bring it. To his credit, Melendez did bring it every single time, as did Sanchez. This is also the easiest fight to show someone who has never watched one before. It was a primal masterpiece that resonated down deep with everybody who has watched it.
This fight, unlike the Jones and Gustafsson one, had all the expectations in the world. It was originally supposed to co-main event of the first ever Bellator PPV. It was also the reason why fight fans had any interest in the PPV. Their first fight has been called one of the greatest fights in MMA by Ariel Helwani and others. It also had the intrigue of Alvarez versus Viacom. People were wondering if they wanted Alvarez to win or lose. So, just the weight of the future of the company that one half of the fight had been feuding with and one of the greatest fights in MMA to live up to for this one. It somehow managed to live up to it all and maybe even exceed it. This became Bellator MMA’s most viewed fight in their history, and might have been better than their first one. They each were in trouble and escaped. They also rocked each other repeatedly and at the end of this close, evenly matched fight they had matching swollen left eyes. Chandler’s was almost swollen shut and Alvarez’s was just a little less. At the end of this fight everybody was thinking trilogy. It is all even and the third one will be another epic.
This two huge heavyweights did not want to fight each other and they came together to give us one of the best heavyweight fights in the UFC. It started out like a typical heavyweight fight with a measured pace and big shots knocking each other around the octagon. That was the case for the first two rounds. Then came the third round and they thought they were lightweights all of a sudden. Hunt landed 68 of 77 strikes in the third round. Silva came back in the fourth to land 49 of 82. Hunt almost finished the fight in the third and Silva almost had it in the fourth. The fifth was another high paced round in which Hunt was more accurate, He landed 60 of 79 strikes to Silva’s 39 of 69 in the final round. By the end of the fight Hunt’s dyed blonde hair was now red and his hand was busted up. It was one of the best displays of heavyweight toughness you will ever see in the octagon.
Now comes the time to make the call. For me I keep coming back to the Alvarez and Chandler fight. It is rare that the second fight equals or exceeds the first one. It had all of the weight and pressure coming into it with the outside intrigue of Alvarez versus Viacom. The last-minute changes to the card, moving into the main event slot, the pressure of the future of Bellator MMA, all this and more and it still delivered. It is one of several that I just keep going back to but this is the one that sticks with me the most. Tell us which one is your FOTY, either in the comment section below or on Twitter.
Honorable mentions: Leslie Smith vs Sarah Kaufman, Leslie Smith vs Barb Honchak, Joanne Calderwood vs Katja Kankaanpaa, Gilbert Melendez vs Benson Henderson, Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann, Jim Miller vs Pat Healy, Sam Alvey vs Elvis Mutapcic, Frankie Edgar vs Jose Aldo, Mark Hunt vs Junior Dos Santos, Jessamyn Duke vs Raquel Pennington, Johny Hendricks vs GSP, Alexander Shlemenko vs Brett Cooper, and Ray Sefo vs Dave Huckaba