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.
Fight of the Year – Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald (UFC 189)
The obvious winner for 2015 “Fight of the Year” started off with such a tepid, uneventful, “feeling-out process” initial round that it prompted UFC commentator Joe Rogan to ask his co-host “who the hell wins” said round. However, it quickly evolved into a dramatic showdown with multiple momentum shifts and a brutal finish that will go down not only as the “Fight of the Year,” but as one of the greatest UFC title fights of all time.
From the opening of the second round to the final minute of the third, defending welterweight champ Robbie Lawler dictated the pace with his measured, yet high-tempo approach with technically crisp punch combinations that left challenger Rory MacDonald’s face bloodied and broken.
Toward the end of the third, MacDonald landed a flush head kick that stunned Lawler and then he completely swarmed the champ for the final 30 seconds, leaving Lawler in a daze as he returned to his corner in between rounds. The tables were turned and it was now the Canadian challenger who would have a turn at brutalizing the champ throughout the fourth round, splitting Lawler’s lip open almost to the point that it was reminiscent of Ichi the Killer. It looked that unreal.
The penultimate round closed out with one of the most captivatingly intense mid-fight staredowns in MMA. At a point where many fighters are so exhausted that the act of merely getting to their stools in between rounds can be a chore, neither fighter’s spirit was anywhere close to being broken, and they both communicated that to each other in the most silent, picturesque way possible.
Going into the final round, facing the possibility of a two-round deficit, Lawler raised his arms to the crowd and looked like he was chomping at the bit for the action to resume. Both fighters at this point had visibly damaged faces, with MacDonald worse for wear, Lawler’s ghastly split lip notwithstanding. The champ appeared to be managing his proverbial gas tank masterfully, and as the fifth round commenced, he once again stepped up the tempo and put on a boxing clinic, aggressively landing crisp shots while evading the majority of MacDonald’s offensive offerings. With a minute elapsed in the round, MacDonald’s face, and specifically his nose, took the very last blow it was capable of receiving. Defying his relentless mentality, his body crumbled to the ground in a manner reminiscent of Bob Sapp’s K-1 loss to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
When Rogan asked the “and still” champion about his thoughts upon landing the final punch that shattered what little remained of MacDonald’s nose, Lawler said it was “accumulation of a beatdown. That wasn’t one punch, that was years of fighting right there, coming to fruition.” That’s quite a few years, and every one of them was on full display.
On a pay-per-view main card consisting of a stunning Thomas Almeida flying-knee knockout, an impressive Gunnar Nelson submission, a brutal TKO win from Jeremy Stephens, and Conor McGregor’s relatively easy dispatch of a perceived stylistic nightmare in Chad Mendes, the UFC welterweight title showdown between champ Lawler and challenger MacDonald still managed to stand head and shoulders above everything else. It will definitely end up on many short lists as one of the greatest fights this sport has ever seen.
Other finalists: L.C. Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro (Bellator 135), Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne (UFC 187)
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