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.
It was a rematch that every mixed martial arts fan wanted, or rather needed. Two fan favorites with impossibly exciting styles who have been at the top of the lightweight division for years. Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje’s first meeting back in 2018 was a thriller, with Gaethje brutalizing the legs of Poirier for nearly four rounds while taking tremendous punishment due to the precise boxing of “The Diamond” until taking too much to handle and falling via fourth-round TKO.
Since that fight, both men fell short in multiple undisputed title bids. Nonetheless, they remained fan favorites and relevant names at 155 pounds. always being one or two wins away from another crack at the championship. They had both fought all the big names in the division, reminiscent of the days of the Four Kings in boxing with a decade-long round robin between some of the greatest talent the sport has ever seen. Always circling around each other, the stars aligned in 2023 at UFC 291, and the two sluggers squared off with the ever prestigious “BMF” title on the line.
The first round of the rematch was just what was to be expected – back and forth on the feet with Poirier landing the bigger punches, and Gaethje chopping away at the legs from an absurdly low distance that seems to defy physics. Then, just a minute into Round 2, came the jaw-dropping head kick. Eerily similar to the kick that Leon Edwards landed to knock out Kamaru Usman in the very same building in Salt Lake City, Gaethje perfectly hid the kick behind a jab, and it landed flush on the side of Poirier’s head. A probably unnecessary follow-up shot landed, because Herb Dean was out of position. But, in reality, the kick sealed the deal, and fans around the world leapt out of their seats. A dynamic finish, befitting a BMF title fight, certainly earns Justin Gaethje the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Knockout of the Year.
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