The Top Five UFC Fighters of 2016: Conor, The Count & Cody
You know it’s an incredible year in MMA when you have several fighters over several promotions making a real case to cement their status as Fighter Of The Year.
While many had the resume to make the cut, narrowing it down to just five will leave some overlooked. From Joanna Jedrzejczyk to Michael Chandler to Tyron Woodley to Donald Cerron and so many more, there were plenty of contenders to make this year’s list.
Regardless, here are my top five MMA fighters for the year that was 2016 — all of which happen to reside in the UFC.
5) Michael Bisping
The Count had an incredible 2016 as the UFC veteran finally captured gold when he won the middleweight title in June at UFC 199 when he knocked out Luke Rockhold in less than one round.
It was the middle of three wins this year, putting Bisping at the top of a tough division. He started the year off by taking on arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, Anderson Silva, in a fight many fans had been anticipating for years. It was a great back-and-forth battle, but one that was not without controversy. In the end, Bisping took home the unanimous decision.
The win over Rockhold was the most impressive as not only did he avenge an earlier loss in his career, but he did it on just two weeks notice. Bisping ended the year with a unanimous decision win in his first title defense, avenging another loss on his record when he defeated Dan Henderson in October.
Bisping had a great year, but the two decision wins over opponents who have seen their best days go by keep him from making him #1.
4) Amanda Nunes
Nunes capped off an incredible 2016 last Friday with the biggest win of her career.
Nunes began her fight year in March as she defeated Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 196 to earn a bantamweight title shot, a shot in what turned out to be the main event of July’s UFC 200 in July against then-champion Miesha Tate. Nunes made it look easy as she ran right through Tate, submitting her in the first round to become the new champ.
She then defended the title for the first time in one of the biggest fights of the year as she welcomed Ronda Rousey back to the Octagon at UFC 207. In wasn’t really as much of an upset as some people thought, Nunes made quick work of Rousey, dispatching the former champion in just 48 seconds with a barrage of strikes.
Nunes went 3-0 in 2016, capped with two first-round finishes, and enters 2017 with the entire division gunning for her.
3) Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor is the only man to make my top five who suffered a loss, but he also was the first fighter to consecutively hold two UFC titles at the same time.
Then-featherweight champion, McGregor expected to challenge Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight belt in March, but an injury forced Dos Anjos out. In stepped Nate Diaz on 12 days notice, and they agreed to fight at welterweight. McGregor was moving up two weight classes at the time, and it didn’t work out all that well as Diaz submitted him in the second round at UFC 196.
Obsessed with wanting a rematch, the two squared off again at UFC 202 in August, and again at 170 pounds. In one of the best fights of 2016, McGregor and Diaz went to war again, and McGregor escaped with a close majority decision.
McGregor then set his sights back on the lightweight title and challenged Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November. He made it look easy, scoring a TKO in the second round to become the new champion, becoming the first fighter to hold championships in two weight classes at the same time.
All three of the events headlined by McGregor ended up in the top four of most-purchased UFC pay-per-view events for the year.
While McGregor ended the year only holding one title after “relinquishing” the featherweight title, there is no doubt that 2016 was truly a transcendent year for the biggest star in mixed martial arts.
2) Stipe Miocic
Stipe Miocic started his 2016 fighting on the first event of the year in search of an elusive title shot, and ended the year as the most dominant heavyweight in the world.
Miocic earned his title shot at UFC 195 in January as he knocked out former champion Andrei Arlovski in just 54 seconds.
Miocic would head into enemy territory in Brazil to challenge UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 in May. It was a successful night in Curitiba as Miocic scored another first-round knockout to win the gold and establish himself as the man to beat in the heavyweight division.
Miocic followed that up with his first title defense as the Octagon debuted in his hometown of Cleveland. He defended against Alistair Overeem, and after weathering an early storm from Overeem, he came back to win again by first-round knockout.
Miocic ends the year with three first-round knockouts over top-five opponents, and he goes into 2017 as the man at heavyweight.
1) Cody Garbrandt
Garbrandt locked himself as the 2016’s best fighter with an incredible performance at Friday’s UFC 207 and heads into 2017 as an undefeated UFC bantamweight champion — incredible to see considering Garbrandt came into the year unranked.
He started his climb up the ladder in February with a first-round knockout of Augusto Mendes. That led Garbrandt to his first main event in May as he took on another undefeated prospect in Thomas Almeida. That fight ended with Garbrandt scoring another first-round knockout, cementing his prospect status.
With another first-round knockout win, this time over veteran Takeya Mizugaki, Garbrandt went from prospect to title challenger and got the nod to face Dominick Cruz for the belt at UFC 207.
Garbrandt beat Cruz at his own game, and had a star-making peformance in winning the title by unanimous decision, handing Cruz his first loss since 2007.
With three first-round knockouts and going from unranked to champion in just over ten months, Garbrandt has established himself as a force at 135 pounds, capping off an incredible 2016.