It’s the holiday season, and with the new year quickly approaching, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of 2014. Throughout the week, Combat Press will announce its award winners in 16 different categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
Event of the Year – UFC Fight Night 55: Rockhold vs. Bisping
UFC Fight Night 55 easily could have been the forgotten fight card of the past year. Airing on UFC Fight Pass on a Friday night due to the time difference and smashed into a three-week stretch that featured two UFC PPV’s and a fight card airing on television the very next night, it seemed likely that a card that underwhelmed on paper outside of the Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping main event would end up being overlooked by most fight fans. Instead, Nov. 7 ended up being one of those nights where the Octagon turns into a magical place where violence comes in spades, leading to a record setting 11 stoppage wins that night in Sydney.
The night started off with a bang when Marcus Brimage ended Jumabieke Tuerxun’s night early with a head kick knockout less than three minutes into their bantamweight contest, and things never really slowed down from there. Of the seven fights on the preliminary card, only one of them made it past the seven minute mark inside the Octagon, and five of those finishes came in the opening frame. The highlight of the prelims came when Louis Smolka channeled his inner Shawn Michaels and landed a side kick that looked straight out of a WrestleMania main event to set up his finish of Richie Vaculik. By the time that the main card came around an hour later, fight fans were crossing their fingers that the action wouldn’t slow down.
Luckily, it didn’t. Soa Palelei got things started off right by taking out a game Walt Harris with some ground and pound late in the second round, and his performance was followed up by an even more impressive effort by his fellow fan favorite, Robert Whittaker. Looking to put on a show with family in attendance, Whittaker came out strong and ended up putting his opponent, Clint Hester, in trouble multiple times during the first round. The TUF 17 veteran was able to survive the round, but Whittaker was on a mission that night and followed up his dominant opening stanza with an equally brutal second, landing a huge knee against the cage that sent Hester to the floor and then added the finishing touches en-route to a “Fight of the Night” performance.
Following back-to-back wins by crowd favorites, the Allphone Arena was already on the MMA version of cloud nine when Al Iaquinta and Ross Pearson hit the cage, and the two lightweights put on a solid show for the first five minutes to keep the crowd happy. A huge counterpunch from Iaquinta sent Pearson reeling in the second round, and by the time the New York native forced the referee to step in, the Twitterverse was buzzing about the under-the-radar event that had suddenly produced ten stoppages in as many fights. With the only truly anticipated bout on the card between Rockhold and Bisping still to come, the night was already being viewed as a monstrous success and the middleweight grudge match was expected to just be the icing on the cake.
Of course, this card just seemed to keep one-upping itself at every turn, and the main event was no exception. After peppering the longtime 185-pound contender Bisping with punches and body kicks in the first round, Rockhold continued to use his legs to his advantage in the second when he landed a slick head kick that quickly put “The Count” in trouble. As Bisping looked to get rid of the cobwebs, Rockhold pounced on his fallen opponent, grabbing a hold of a guillotine choke with just one arm and jumping into mount in order to secure his position. The submission win earned Rockhold a “Performance of the Night” bonus and ensured that there was no use for judges that night.
It’s always the inconspicuous fight cards that take us by surprise and give us the most action, and UFC Fight Night 55 proved that and more. Over the past year we’ve seen over 15 UFC title fights, a handful of stacked Bellator cards and a few WSOF events with three title fights on the same night. But in the end, it was an overlooked fight card from Australia that ended up producing the most explosive (and best) MMA event of 2014.
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