A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2023. In the coming days, 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.
Each year, an event stands out for different reasons. Sometimes it is the marquee names on the fight card, sometimes it is how the fights play out, and sometimes it is because something about the event is groundbreaking. MMA fans were given a couple of those events in 2023.
In May, ONE Championship held their first ever event on American soil. The global promotion took over the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo. with a star-studded night of fights. Colorado was the first state to approve ONE’s global ruleset, which allows knees to the head of a grounded opponent, unlike the Unified Rules of MMA that other states use for mixed martial arts promotions.
Not only was ONE Fight Night 10 headlined by perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, it also featured New Jersey native and submission grappling superstar Mikey Musumeci, the return of “Super” Sage Northcutt who hadn’t fought in four years, and Muay Thai legend Rodtang Jitmuangnon. All four of those fighters would score wins in their bouts, and the crowd was raucous from start to finish. Perhaps most surprising was the reception Rodtang got after his victory, showing that the American combat sports audience is in tune with what is happening in the Eastern hemisphere and how special it is to have someone like Rodtang fight in the United States on such a big stage. However, it is hard to give this event the MMA award, as it had bouts across three different fighting modalities.
Only a single event could eclipse the magnitude of ONE Fight Night 10, and that was UFC 285. The headlining bout saw the return of Jon Jones, who would end the night as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion after submitting Ciryl Gane in the first round. That night also saw the Combat Press 2023 Upset of the Year, as Alexa Grasso ripped the women’s flyweight title away from long-reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko by submitting her with a gnarly face-crank in the fourth round. As if those two fights weren’t enough, UFC 285 was also the promotional debut of three-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler, Bo Nickal, who opened up the main card with a first-round submission over Jamie Pickett to immediately became a fan favorite.
UFC 285 also treated fans to an instant classic between Shavkat Rakhmonov and Geoff Neal, which ended with Rakhmonov submitting Neal in the third round. The event also offered a closely contested lightweight showdown between surging prospects Mateusz Gamrot and Jalin Turner, where Gamrot won via split decision.
From top to bottom, UFC 285 delivered on all fronts and for that it takes home the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Event of the Year.
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