It’s the holiday season, and with the new year quickly approaching, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2015. Throughout the remainder of the year, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.

Comeback of the Year – Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald (UFC 189)

In MMA, the ability to come back from a near-certain finish is far more streneous than in boxing. There are no standing eight counts to collect one’s thoughts, and there are no big gloves for fighters to shell up behind. It’s the ability to withstand the best your opponent has to offer and not only come back with your own offense, but take victory from the jaws of defeat which is the mark of a champion.

We saw just how incredible that kind of moment can be at UFC 189 when Robbie Lawler looked to defend his title against Canada’s Rory MacDonald. The fight initially fell under the radar heading into UFC 189. The hoopla surrounding Conor McGregor’s showdown with José Aldo, and then Chad Mendes on short notice, sat atop the media headlines for weeks prior to the event. Both Lawler and MacDonald seized the opportunity to provide one of the greatest fights in MMA history along with producing one of the greatest comebacks as well.

The opening round saw both fighters play the distance-measuring game. MacDonald looked to use his piercing jab and keep the fight at length while the champion failed to mount any significant offense. Lawler turned up the intensity in the second round, causing a cut to the challenger. Lawler was seizing the momentum and continued to do so into the third round. It’s one thing to take an opponent’s best punch and keep moving forward, but it’s quite another to take the best shots from someone with the power of Lawler, which MacDonald was doing.

MacDonald’s toughness would pay off as he put Lawler on wobbly legs in the closing minute of the third frame with a head kick. Lawler managed to block some of the strike, but it was clear he was feeling the effects of the kick. MacDonald sought to capitalize on the opening and came very close to finishing the fight, but the champion survived.

The challenger once again looked to press forward in the fourth round, attempting to capture his first UFC title and bring the belt back home to Tristar gym. Lawler survived the early onslaught and pushed through the fourth frame. In between the fourth and final round, the two men engaged in perhaps one of the most epic moments in UFC history when they squared up before heading to their respective corners.

MacDonald was minutes away from victory before collapsing to the canvas when a Lawler straight crashed into his face. It was a war of attrition that MacDonald was unable to finish. The judges’ scorecards had MacDonald up on points. If he’d survived the final round, we may very well be talking about MacDonald vs. Carlos Condit II, not Lawler vs. Condit.

Lawler showed that the cliche “heart of a champion” is not a trait to disregard. Many fighters would’ve been unable to survive MacDonald’s onslaught after the head kick. Even fewer would survive and have the ability to take home a victory after being seconds away from defeat.

Other finalists: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes (UFC 189), Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock (Bellator 138)

Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2015 MMA Award winners.