It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2018. 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.
Picking a “Knockout of the Year” winner is rarely an easy task. There’s always debate about whether a finish was unique, whether it was a display of pure technical skill, and whether it was meaningful and memorable. This past year had plenty of candidates in each of those buckets.
At UFC Fight Night 133 in July, welterweight Randy Brown thought he was in control of opponent Niko Price along the cage. The next thing Brown knew, he was staring up at the lights. Price pinned Brown’s head against his leg and unleashed a barrage of hammerfists, turning a bad position into a $50,000 performance bonus.
Brazilian Lyoto Machida put a stamp on his UFC career at UFC 224 by embarrassing his countryman Vitor Belfort with a violent, front-kick finish. The knockout was a display of both skill and irony, as Machida’s karate has produced its fair share of finishes, but it marked the second time Belfort had been stopped via front kick.
There was more Brazil-vs.-Brazil violence on the docket at UFC 232, where UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes did not disappoint. She became the first woman to simultaneously hold two UFC titles after destroying Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in just 51 seconds. The shocking finish earned the Combat Press “Upset of the Year” award.
Yet, none of those fights took home our “Knockout of the Year” award.
That accolade goes to a fight that fell into all of our categories of consideration. On Nov. 10, the UFC returned to Denver for its 25th anniversary show, dubbed UFC Fight Night 139. In the night’s main event, Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez battled “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.
The pair engaged in a back-and-forth battle in which Rodriguez’s flashy, kicking arsenal was countered by Jung’s relentless forward pressure and flurries. As the fifth and final round began, both men showed signs of fatigue and damage. From cageside, it appeared that Jung was up on the scorecards and would just need to survive the final five minutes.
In large part, Jung controlled the final round with volume striking, but he could not put Rodriguez away. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the fight, both men paused and encouraged the crowd to cheer them to the final bell. That set up one of the most unlikely knockouts in UFC history.
Just as the 10-second clap came from the timekeeper, Jung barreled forward toward Rodriguez. Rodriguez began to back up toward the fence, but then planted his feet, ducked to his left, and threw a backwards, upwards elbow with his right arm. The unexpected — yet, deliberate and creative — strike landed flush to the jaw of Jung. With all of his momentum coming forward, the elbow rendered him unconscious the second it landed. Jung crashed face-first to the canvas just as the final horn sounded. Rodriguez celebrated wildly as the raucous crowd inside the Pepsi Center went bonkers.
The stunning, come-from-behind finish earned Rodriguez a double bonus for “Fight of the Night” and “Performance of the Night” and now earns him the 2018 Combat Press “Knockout of the Year.”
Other finalists: Amanda Nunes vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (UFC 232), Lyoto Machida vs. Vitor Belfort (UFC 224), Niko Price vs. Randy Brown (UFC Fight Night 133)
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2018 MMA Award winners.