It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2016. Throughout the next few weeks, 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.
If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.
From Carlos Condit challenging Robbie Lawler for the welterweight strap at UFC 195 on Jan. 2, to female bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes disposing of Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds at UFC 207 on Dec. 30, the year of 2016 provided a plethora of great bouts and events, but none as big as UFC 205.
As Combat Press narrowed down a winner for this category – the other nominees being UFC 199 and UFC 206 – it really came down to the significance of UFC 205.
UFC 205 was the UFC’s debut event in New York City. The struggle to get MMA legalized in The Big Apple was an ongoing battle for years, and while fans, fighters and executives had hope every now and then, we usually had our chances crushed. At times, UFC President Dana White, who backs down from no fight, was not optimistic about the UFC setting up the Octagon in the famous Madison Square Garden. When Governor Anthony Cuomo signed the bill, which lifted a 20-year ban on MMA in the state, the UFC had a green light to organize the biggest event in the promotion’s existence, and arguably the most stacked event in MMA history.
Love him or hate him, placing Conor McGregor in the main event was a no brainer. Even though he came in as a challenger to then lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez’s title, McGregor was the biggest draw in the promotion. On top of that, the Irishman was given the opportunity to do what no other UFC fighter has ever done by holding two belts at the same time, being that he was already the featherweight champ. McGregor made the most of the opportunity, taking out Alvarez via TKO in round two, and then apologizing to absolutely nobody in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. It was the apex of a night that will go down in the history books.
Putting together the main event was the easy part. For the UFC, constructing the rest of the event is where they had to gamble. As all MMA fans know, what looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily transfer to exciting fights. The UFC beefed up the card with two other title fights and a series of bouts that could headline a pay-per-view show or a Fight Night event, and all of them delivered.
In the co-main event, UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley battled Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to a majority draw in an outrageous back-and-forth fight. Prior to that bout strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk went to work against her Polish counterpart, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and retained her title in a five-round affair.
Filling out the main card were two significant bouts that changed the landscape of their respective divisions.
A middleweight tilt that had Yoel Romero taking out former 185-pound champion Chris Weidman wasn’t overly surprising, but the way in which it ended was startling. I’m not sure anyone expected Romero to execute a flying knee with that kind of athleticism. The Cuban looked like a featherweight the way he soared through the air, which all but cemented his spot as the No. 1 contender.
Opening the main card was a women’s bantamweight fight between Raquel Pennington and former champion Miesha Tate. Pennington earned a unanimous decision victory, but the shocking part was Tate announcing her retirement only one fight removed from being champ. Tate’s choice to walk away from competing in MMA was not expected. Her own corner even seemed to be caught off guard.
The preliminary card was also excellent. Frankie Edgar and Jeremy Stephens did exactly what we all expected. Khabib Nurmagomedov wrecked Michael Johnson – no, he literally wrecked him. Tim Boetsch crushed Rafael Natal in the first round, while Vicente Luque knocked out Belal Muhammad in 79 seconds. Fan-favorite Jim Miller edged Thiago Alves, and Liz Carmouche returned from an 18-month layoff to win a split decision against New Jersey-based fighter, Katlyn Chookagian.
After the years spent lobbying for the legalization of professional MMA the UFC finally made their mark in New York on that historic night in November 2016 and it couldn’t have gone any better.
Other finalists: UFC 199, UFC 206
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 MMA Award winners.