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.
In the history of mixed martial arts, 2015 was, by far, one of the top five years in terms of shifting landscapes in the sport. Starting at the top, seven of the current 10 divisions crowned new undisputed champions by way of total domination, legends made major comebacks, some of the old guard produced all-time best performances, and several promotional newcomers have staked their claims. However, only one fighter was truly the “Breakout Fighter of the Year.”
The obvious first name that comes to mind is Conor McGregor. As fast as the McGregor hype train has been rolling, and with plenty of steam to back it up, he was already on a 12-fight winning streak and had run through his first four UFC opponents, including the likes of Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway. For “The Notorious” one, 2015 was more of a technicality. The other candidates were not quite at “breakout” status.
Newcomer Thomas Almeida is on a fast rise, but he hasn’t fought anyone truly significant. And the seemingly unstoppable Joanna Jędrzejczyk continued to do what she has done her whole career, it’s just that nobody was paying attention until now. In terms of breakout fighters, these athletes are all well deserving, but the 2015 Combat Press “Breakout Fighter of the Year” is the new undisputed women’s bantamweight champ, Holly Holm.
To the mainstream fan, Holm was always just a former professional boxing champ who was one submission away from a potentially short and unsuccessful career as an MMA fighter. She entered the UFC in 2015 with a seven-win undefeated career as a professional, three Legacy stoppages, including a title win in the promotion’s inaugural women’s bantamweight title bout, and a TKO in Bellator. But still, even at 33-2-3 as a pro boxer, nobody gave her a chance as an MMA fighter at the upper echelon. The Mike Winkeljohn protégé has never been one to back down from a challenge, though.
After a split decision over veteran Raquel Pennington in February and another decision over Marion Reneau in July, both mainstream and hardcore fans were shocked to see the No. 8-ranked Holm get the nod over top-ranked Miesha Tate for the November title contest against Sports Illustrated’s “Most Dominant Athlete,” Ronda Rousey. Holm showed up, threw down, and, on Nov. 15, was crowned the new, undefeated, undisputed UFC women’s bantamweight champion of the world.
In 2015, the 34-year-old Holm did what most people felt was an impossible feat when she knocked out Rousey after previously scoring only two UFC decisions, and for that, she truly is the breakout star of the year.
Other finalists: Thomas Almeida, Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2015 MMA Award winners.