For our next installment of UFC Awards, we’ll look at Fighter of the Year. This will be the fighter we think had the most successful 2016. In case you didn’t see, we gave our pick for Fight of the Year, and KO of the Year already. Be sure to check those out!
UFC Awards: Fighter of the Year
1. Cody Garbrandt
Our pick for Fighter of the Year goes to current UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. “No Love” broke onto the scene recently by upsetting Dominick Cruz, and becoming the bantamweight champion. However, prior to his title shot at UFC 207, he put together an impressive tear of knockouts. In February, Garbrandt knocked out UFC debutee Augusto Mendes in the first round. He was then booked in a prospect vs prospect bout against 21-0 Thomas Almeida; Garbrandt KO’d the Brazilian in the first round. Following this impressive win, he made it onto the big UFC 202 card (headlined by Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz II). Here he faced veteran Takeya Mizugaki, and starched him in the first round too.
This controversially earned him a title shot against Dominick Cruz. I say controversially because former champ TJ Dillashaw had just beaten #2 Raphael Assuncao and believed he deserved another crack at Cruz. Nevertheless, Garbrandt got the ticket, and made the most of it. He out-boxed, out-moved, and out-danced Cruz for twenty-five minutes, capping off the year with the bantamweight belt. He went from unranked to champion within the 12-month period.
2. Michael Bisping
Coming in a very close second place is current UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. The only reason why Bisping a rank higher is because he was already established as a contender when the year started; Garbrandt had yet to see an 8th professional fight. However, Bisping had an equally incredible 2016 year.
To start it off, he participated in a Fight of the Year nominee performance against one of the greatest of all time in Anderson Silva. Not only did Bisping win this fight (to the dismay of many), but he fought with his heart on his sleeve and earned the respect of many. To follow this up, Bisping got a spontaneous title shot against Luke Rockhold, a man who had flawlessly dismantled him not too long ago.
Due to a short notice injury suffered by the original challenger, Bisping only had 11 days notice. Nevertheless, Bisping showed up, took advantage of Rockhold’s underestimation, and became the champion with a thrilling first round KO finish. Then, he enacted revenge over Dan Henderson with an exciting unanimous decision which saw him bounce back from extreme adversity. He conquered his Henderson demons in front of his homely London fans which capped off a brilliant year for the Brit. Bisping is one of the best career comeback stories.
3. Stipe Miocic
I think Stipe Miocic has a strong case for Fighter of the Year if you were to only consider the fighter’s individual performances. Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic racked up 3 first round knockouts in 2016. While this was an impressive feat, especially at such a dangerous weight class, you can’t ignore the current state of the heavyweight. The truth is, heavyweight is currently one of the shallowest divisions, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to break into the top rankings. Nevertheless, Miocic’s 2016 year is truly spectacular.
To begin, Stipe KO’d former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski in the first round. This was right when Arlovski was making his resurgence and was on a tear; Miocic got him out of there quickly and decisively. This warranted a title shot against Fabricio Werdum, who had just upset Cain Velasquez to win the belt. They threw down in Werdum’s native home of Brazil, and Miocic KO’d the overzealous champion with a single punch, silencing the crowd and becoming the world champ. Miocic then returned to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and defended his belt against the combat sport superstar Alistair Overeem. After getting dropped early, Miocic came back to win by KO in an action-packed first round. Miocic became Cleveland’s golden boy after this.
4. Amanda Nunes
It’s hard not to talk about 2016 without bringing up the roller coaster that happened in the women’s bantamweight division. Long-time bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey was dethroned by Holly Holm; this provoked a power vacuum between contenders. Meanwhile, Amanda Nunes took out contenders left and right.
She started off with Valentina Shevchenko, defeating her by unanimous decision at UFC 196. Then, she got the ticket to fight current champion Miesha Tate (who defeated Holm) at UFC 200. Nunes upset Tate, and put on a destructive display of striking prowess in order to become the UFC bantamweight champion. It was then announced Ronda Rousey would be making a return, and would be gunning to reclaim her title. Nunes and Rousey met at the end of the year to headline UFC 207. Nunes smashed Rousey in 48 seconds and became one of the most feared women in the sport.
5. Donald Cerrone
The last person to mention in our Fighter of the Year picks is #5 ranked welterweight Donald Cerrone. He doesn’t have a miraculous comeback story or belt to put around his waist, but that may come next year. Nevertheless, Cerrone went 4-0 in 2016 which was also the start of his welterweight career. Cerrone was a lightweight contender prior to this, but was ran over by Rafael dos Anjos. Cerrone made the decision to move up weight and quit depleting himself, and the results have been extremely impressive. He submitted “Cowboy” Oliveira in his 170 lb debut, then TKO’d Patrick Cote, pulled off a Knockout of the Year nominee finish over top 10 Rick Story, and then headkick KO’d top 15 Matt Brown. 4 fights, 4 finishes, 3 post-fight bonuses.
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