2016 UFC Fighter of the Year rankings: A surprise at No. 1 ahead of Conor McGregor
The Irishman may be the loudest in UFC, but he wasn't the best fighter in 2016
This year in fighting proved to be one of the more action-packed we've seen in some time. Whether it was the antics from Conor McGregor or the power of Cody Garbrandt, just about every UFC card produced one of those jump-out-of-your-chair moments that fight fans live for.
With that, we've decided to rank the top 10 fighters of the year with a few stipulations. We ranked the fighters based solely on their action in 2016, meaning they needed to have a very active year in the octagon. Also, TKO/KO/submission results weigh heavier than decisions. So while a fighter might have gone 3-0 in 2016, if all were unanimous or split decisions, they aren't likely to make this list. Finally, championship fights carry more weight than other fights.
Pretty self explanatory, right?
With that, let's get to the definitive rankings that I'm sure nobody will have a problem with!
10. Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson, Welterweight, 2-0-1
Results: TKO vs. Johny Hendricks, unanimous decision vs. Rory MacDonald, majority draw vs. Tyron Woodley (c)
Thompson had one of the more interesting years in 2016. The "Wonderboy" came into the year looking to make a splash after having his scheduled bout in November 2015 rescheduled, giving him more of a spotlight in February against veteran Hendricks.
That fight was easily the highlight of his year, dropping "Big Rig" in the first round with a flurry of punches. After a hard-fought decision win over MacDonald, Thompson earned his long-awaited title shot against Woodley in November.
After taking the fight to the ground, Woodley locked in a choke on Thompson, which looked like something that would have forced any fighter to tap out instantly. Instead, Thompson battled through, somehow breaking free and surviving all the way to the final bell of the fifth round. Although it was ruled a majority draw and Woodley kept his belt, Thompson earned fans respect with his rugged style.
9. Gegard Mousasi, middleweight, 4-0-0
Results: Unanimous decision vs. Thales Leites, TKO vs. Thiago Santos, TKO vs. Vitor Belfort, TKO vs. Uriah Hall
Mousasi probably had the quietest 4-0 record of any fighter this year. The Iranian fighter started things off slow enough with his unanimous decision win over Thales Leites. Mousasi then went on an incredible run, scoring three knockouts to end the year - including a top-10 knockout of Uriah Hall in November.
8. Cody Garbrandt, bantamweight 3-0-0*
Results: TKO vs. Augusto Mendes, TKO vs. Thomas Almeida, TKO vs. Takeya Mizugaki
* Title fight vs. Dominick Cruz still to come in 2016
Talk about riding the wave. The young Garbrandt is one of the most exciting fighters in UFC, and he showed why in 2016, scoring three brutal knockouts to earn a title shot against Cruz at UFC 207.
He went into his most recent fight against Mizugaki with the mindset of stopping him faster than Cruz did -- and he accomplished that rather easily.
While none of his opponents were ranked in the top 10 of the bantamweight division, Garbrandt could easily shoot up to the top five of these rankings with a win over Cruz on Friday.
7. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, women's strawweight champion, 2-0
Results: Unanimous decision vs. Claudia Gadelha, unanimous decision vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
This is where we must weigh in championship fights for these rankings. Jedzrczyk is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA, so even though she only fought two times in 2016, she battled through two five-round fights to defend her 115-pound title.
Jedrzcyzk coached a season of "The Ultimate Fighter" ahead of her second fight against Gadelha, escalating their feud. In the opening rounds of their bout, Jedzrczyk struggled with Gadelha's ground game and looked for a bit like she might suffer her first career defeat. But as the fight wore on, the Polish fighter kept things standing up and used her precision offense to keep Gadelha at bay and land the strikes needed to earn the unanimous decision win.
Jedrzczyk then implemented a similar tactic against Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205 to earn another decision victory. While she may not show off the flashy knockouts, Jedzrczyk is one of the top precision strikers of all time and picks apart just about every fighter's standup defense with ease.
6. Max Holloway, featherweight interim champion, 2-0
Results: Unanimous decision vs. Ricardo Lamas, TKO vs. Anthony Pettis
The Flyin' Hawaiian may have only fought twice in 2016, but he sure made those two fights fun to watch. Holloway's first fight against Lamas ended with the two fighters looking at each other, knowing there was only 30 seconds left in the fight and agreeing to just swing with everything they had just to see where things ended.
Holloway would win with a unanimous decision over Holloway and get a shot at the interim featherweight title against Pettis at UFC 206. Pettis missed weight for the fight, but it didn't matter. Holloway was just too much for Pettis when he crushed him in the third round for the TKO.
At only 26, Holloway has a bright future in the 145-pound division.
5. Amanda Nunes, women's bantamweight champion, 2-0*
Results: Unanimous decision vs. Valentina Scevchenko, submission vs. Miesha Tate (c)
* Title fight vs. Ronda Rousey still to come in 2016
Talk about bursting onto the scene. When Nunes got her title shot at UFC 200 for the women's bantamweight title, most fight fans had no idea what to expect. The Brazilian crushed Tate in a similar style to that of Holly Holm against Rousey in 2015.
Now, she will get her own chance at Rousey on Friday and could rise even higher in these rankings.
4. Michael Bisping, middleweight champion, 3-0
Results: Unanimous decision vs. Anderson Silva, TKO vs. Luke Rockhold (c), unanimous decision vs. Dan Henderson
Give the veteran some respect. While he tends to rub fans the wrong way, Bisping's success in 2016 can't be denied. The Englishman earned a decision victory over the legendary Silva in February, earning Fight of the Night honors.
Then, Bisping got inserted on two weeks' notice into a middleweight title fight against Rockhold after Chris Weidman was forced to pull out with injury. Nobody expected him to even really compete, but the 37-year-old veteran stepped in and knocked Rockhold out cold in the very first round, earning Performance of the Night.
With one more chance to fight available in 2016, Bisping stepped up and took on and old foe in Dan Henderson in October, who knocked Bisping out in 2009 at UFC 100. Bisping got his revenge, earning a unanimous decision over Hendo and taking home another Fight of the Night award.
Bisping may have had to wait longer than most to get his title run, but he's definitely taking advantage of the spotlight now.
3. Conor McGregor, featherweight; lightweight champion; welterweight, 2-1
Results: Submission loss to Nate Diaz, majority decision vs. Nate Diaz, TKO vs. Eddie Alvarez (c)
Now, before you start throwing stones, please remember that McGregor is the only fighter on this list to even suffer a loss in 2016. The Irishman continues to do some of the craziest things in the sport, bringing in more fans than any other fighter. McGregor fought twice at 25 pounds above his original weightclass. People questioned McGregor's decision to take on Diaz at 170 pounds originally in March and those calls got louder after he lost via submission.
But when he came back in August and earned a majority decision win, as has been the case throughout his UFC career, Conor got the last laugh. Then, when he got the chance to take on Alvarez for the 155-pound belt, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to attempt to become a two-division champion.
And his quote after earning the TKO victory, "I want to take the opportunity to apologize ... to absolutely no one," may have been the line of the year in one filled with McGregor gems.
2. Donald Cerrone, welterweight, 4-0
Results: Submission vs. Alex Oliveira, TKO vs. Patrick Cote, TKO vs. Rick Story, TKO vs. Matt Brown
Cowboy up. After deciding what many people had been telling him to do for years in jumping up from 155 pounds to 170, Cerrone looked like a completely different fighter.
Cerrone earned four stoppage victories in 2016 (and has decided to fight again early in 2017), each more impressive than the last. His final TKO of Brown was as vicious as you will see this year, landing a brutal headkick that dropped Brown instantly.
Cerrone may soon earn his shot at the 170-pound title and should if he keeps knocking out every fighter in his path.
1. Stipe Miocic, heavyweight champion, 3-0
Results: TKO vs. Andrei Arlovski, TKO vs. Fabricio Werdum (c), TKO vs. Alistair Overeem
There might not be a fighter on a better roll than Stipe. The Cleveland native was an absolute beast in 2016. In a division that many people left for dead, Miocic continued to grind through some early career difficulties and rose in the heavyweight rankings.
Miocic earned a beautiful first-round TKO of Arlovski, taking home Performance of the Night honors. That win earned him a title shot against Werdum in Brazil. In enemy territory, Miocic walked in and silenced the Brazilian crowd with a right hook that dropped Werdum as he backed away, earning heavyweight gold for the first time in his career.
Then, when he took on Overeem, who many thought could stand and trade with Miocic, the heavyweight champ took one shot that dropped him to the floor, but rallied quickly and had Overeem literally running away from his punches. Miocic eventually connected and dropped Overeem in the first for his fourth straight TKO victory and third of the year.
While the love all goes toward McGregor and his brandish style, Miocic may finally bring stability and fun to the heavyweight division.
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