CBS Sports 2018 UFC Fight of the Year: Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier takes our top spot
For the second straight year, Gaethje was a part of our best UFC bout
A year after coming up short on big events with its biggest stars, UFC delivered the goods with all-action wars and intense chess matches. With many of its top names returning to the cage in 2018, some helped bring the best out of their opponents and give us plenty of fights that will stay in our memory banks for years to come.
Let's take a closer look at the five best from the Octagon over the past 12 months, voted on by a panel of CBS Sports mixed martial arts experts.
1. Dustin Poirier TKO4 Justin Gaethje (UFC on FOX 29) -- April 14 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona
Gaethje has a habit of ending up on these lists for one reason or another. "The Highlight" was involved in 2017's fight of the year against Michael Johnson when the two traded haymakers over a two-round battle that ended with Johnson face up on the canvas. This year, it was Poirier putting Gaethje's lights out after four rounds of insane action. Poirier seemed close to going out multiple times in the bout as he continued to press forward against the high volume of Gaethje, who, for all the damage he has taken in his career, refuses to fall.
In Round 4, Poirier finally started to wobble Gaethje, who stumbled across the cage as Poirier continued his onslaught. Once Gaethje finally dropped to a knee, Herb Dean called an end to the fight. It's the kind of fight that can turn Poirier into a superstar and hopefully get him closer to that elusive title shot.
2. Tony Ferguson TKO2 Anthony Pettis (UFC 229) -- Oct. 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
In what could only be described as a back-and-forth brawl, Ferguson and Pettis seemed prime to steal the spotlight from Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor in the co-main event of UFC 229 in October with their performances.
Ferguson looked great in the first round against Pettis before "Showtime" opened the second with a pair of hooks that dropped the lightweight title contender twice.
After getting to the ground, Ferguson busted Pettis open with a nasty elbow that had "Showtime" more excited than anything else, proving once again just how crazy these people really are. But the cut was bad enough that Pettis' corner would not let its fighter continue to get worse. In the end, both fighters knew the war they had been through and shared admiration after the bout.
Hopefully, Ferguson finally gets the title fight he deserves after having his interim title vacated when Nurmagomedov beat Al Iaquinta in April for the full belt.
3. Yair Rodriguez TKO5 Korean Zombie (UFC 25th Anniversary) -- Nov. 10 at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado
At the 25th anniversary of UFC's debut, a late replacement seemed to take some of the lust of this impressive card. An injury to Frankie Edgar brought Rodriguez into the fold and most thought the fight wouldn't deliver a performance fitting this setting. Boy were those people wrong. Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung duked it out over 25 grueling minutes with Jung landing more dominant strikes on Rodriguez, who had been out of action for over year while disputing his contract with UFC.
As the final moments wound down, Rodriguez and Jung shared an embrace at the artwork they just put forth and one last "let's go" showed just how much they wanted to give the fans. Amid the final flurry, Rodriguez bent forward and threw a no-look, behind his back elbow that landed flush on Jung's chin, dropping him out cold as the final horn sounded.
Rodriguez needed help out of the cage after suffering a foot injury midway through the fight, but fans in the arena and at home couldn't get enough of what they had witnessed.
4. Max Holloway TKO4 Brian Ortega (UFC 231) -- Dec. 8 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada
It's fairly rare to see a PPV main event deliver in the way that these two did. But the performance of Holloway was the stuff of legend. After a tumultuous year saw him step up on short notice to take on Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 only to be pulled by the athletic commission for too drastic of a weight cut, to being removed from fighting Ortega in July for what was described at the time as concussion-like symptoms, Holloway went through the ringer, leading many to doubt if he still had it given the wars he had seen in his young career.
Then, he put on a vintage performance to remind fans why he is the best at 145 pounds. Credit to Ortega, who refused to go down after taking an incredible amount of punishment and landed strong shots of his own that had many wondering if he was about to knock out Holloway. In the end, an eye injury that kept Ortega from seeing going into the fifth would not let him continue, and it was probably for the best.
5. Robert Whittaker SD Yoel Romero (UFC 225) -- June 9 at United Center in Chicago
One of the most underrated great fights of 2018 was the rematch between these top two middleweights. After their first fight brought the goods with high intensity over 25 minutes, the rematch was much of the same with Whittaker showcasing his incredible stamina and chin to survive late in the fight and score the split decision win. Romero learned his lesson from the first bout where he pushed the pace too much and went for the knockout by emptying the tank. In a more reserved and methodical approach, Romero went for the kill in Rounds 4 and 5 and seemingly had Whittaker on the way out. But the Kiwi refused to fall and continued to stand and trade blows with the former Olympic gold medalist.
In the end, Whittaker did enough damage in the first three rounds to earn the fight on two judges' scorecards, but still left enough doubt that a third bout could be in the future for both guys.
Honorable mention: Rose Namajunas UD Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 223); Dustin Poirier TKO2 Eddie Alvarez (UFC on Fox 30); Alexander Volkanovski TKO2 Chad Mendes (UFC 232); Jeremy Stephens TKO2 Dooho Choi (UFC St. Louis); Zabit Magomedsharipov UD Kyle Bochniak (UFC 223)
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