This Thanksgiving, UFC fans have a lot to be thankful for after an action-packed year of fights with so much more Octagon melees still on the horizon. Here’s a look at five things the fighting faithful should thank their lucky stars for when chomping down on a turkey leg.
#1: Women will war
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A much needed adrenaline shot to the UFC roster came with an estrogen chaser.
Everyone knows the story that UFC President Dana White said he’d never have women fight inside the Octagon then fast forward a year later and the UFC women’s bantamweight division is headlining pay-per-views and coaching The Ultimate Fighter. And, it’s the best staunch flip-flop White could have ever made as the women have brought a crazy amount of excitement into their fights and, now, rivalries.
It didn’t take long at all, the women of the UFC are talking trash and losing it on each other to the point that it would make Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock blush. The entire TUF 18 season has been a prolonged proverbially bra measuring contest between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, which will lead to these two lady rams butting heads in the cage at UFC 168 and, most likely, at the weigh-ins or pre-fight press conference.
But the division isn’t all about it’s terrific and terrifying champion Rousey, the rest of the women have filed in, traded fists and feet, and filled out an interesting weightclass of lionesses sharpening their claws to earn title shots. Also, fans love feuds and they’re starting up too like Sarah Kaufman and Jessica Eye arguing on Twitter about their split-decision ending following their scintillating striker’s duel at UFC 166. The success of 135 pound fighting females has been so drastic that White announced the start of a 115 pound division sooner than later.
The UFC’s fighting femme fatales are elegant and deadly, and their fights don’t require stoppages for accidental kicks to the cup.
#2: Champions get a reality check
This year, title fights got a lot more interesting.
From flyweight to heavyweight, those that wear the crown have had to work harder than ever to keep it or they’ve been viciously knocked off their pedestal, which has resulted in some incredible battles for these belts. Demetrious Johnson almost got KOed twice by John Dodson, Cain Velasquez had to duplicate his epic five round beating of Junior dos Santos to get by him again, and, even, Ronda Rousey felt the squeeze as Liz Carmouche nearly choked out the ‘Rowdy’ one.
But the most memorable tests came in the lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, and light-heavyweight divisions.
Prior to Alexander Gustafsson, the highlight of UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones’ year was playing second fiddle to Chael Sonnen as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 17 or Joe Rogan noticing Jones’ toe pretty much got ripped off in the forgettable first round finish of Sonnen. Then came ‘The Mauler’. At UFC 165, Jones and Gustafsson put on one of the greatest fights the Octagon has ever held and definitely the best title bout. Gustafsson forced one of the most dominant champions in company history into a five round war and even Jones thanked him for it when it was over.
The UFC has a middleweight champion that’s not named Anderson Silva for the first time since 2006. The unthinkable happened in July as Chris Weidman knocked out arguably the greatest MMA fighter ever and they’re scheduled for one of the craziest rematches at the end of next month. Meanwhile, at 155 pounds, Anthony Pettis ripped the belt from Benson Henderson’s waist with a first round armbar that left an entire arena speechless. After several questionable decisions with this title on the line, Pettis is the emphatic champ of probably the most talent rich weightclass.
Most recently, Johny Hendricks battered UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre like none has ever done. The belt didn’t switch hands in a controversial decision, but it sets up a great rematch for next year and shows that the longest running champion in the UFC is fallible.
As for the remaining two belts owned by Nova Uniao, Jose Aldo had a Fight of the Night against Frankie Edgar and an odd win over ‘The Korean Zombie’, which is strangely an off year for the featherweight champ. Then there’s Renan Barao at bantamweight who has solidified his place among the top of the active bantamweights and has to have Dominick Cruz shaking in his boots a little bit for their highly anticipated unification bout next year.
This year, Team Alpha Male turned it up to 11.
The murderer’s row of lighter weight fighters with washboard abs and million dollar smiles based in Sacramento, California were already seen as some of the undeniable best ranging from 125 pounds to 155 pounds. At the start of this year, the proteges and teammates of Urijah Faber added a head coach to their outfit in former UFC fighter and K-1 kickboxer Duane âBangâ Ludwig. What sounded like a good idea on paper became the greatest hire in reality.
‘Bang’ took athletic, well-rounded winners and turned them into determined heavy hitters. Faber is 3-0 with 2 finishes, Joseph Benavidez earned a second title shot with a decision and two TKOs, Chad Mendes is dropping featherweights left and right like he’s Clubber Lang, and TJ Dillashaw scored two TKOs before losing a controversial decision, which was the first Team Alpha Male loss under Ludwig. Lastly, the next generation of Team Alpha Male made its presence known as Andre ‘Touchy’ Fili took a TKO win in his debut at UFC 166.
Between his years as a professional martial artist coupled with his use of ‘brain-enhancing’ supplements, ‘Bang’ has added new life to an already tough crew of top contenders.
#4: Conor McGregor
Just think about it, an Irish BJ Penn. Am I right? Both from small islands filled with born brawlers?
‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor has been a force of nature in his UFC rookie year, which reminds of the ferociousness inside the cage and the fan favoritism outside of it that swept through the UFC when ‘The Prodigy’ arrived over a decade ago. McGregor went from a local hero to an international celebrity following a 67 second KO of Marcus Brimage and a series of unforgettable post-fight interviews in April. And, ‘The Notorious’ has sunk his teeth into his newfound fame like he’s Chael Sonnen on Adderall.
Inside the Octagon, McGregor’s taut muscular frame has shown a mix of Bruce Lee front kicks from ‘Enter the Dragon’ and Brad Pitt’s one punch power from ‘Snatch’. On the mic, ‘The Notorious’ cuts promos like he’s ‘The Rock’ with a lilt and accompanied by a hyena laugh that shows McGregor is enjoying taking a piss out of the UFC. Add to that, McGregor has fought and won twice as a featherweight, but is busy on Twitter calling out lightweights like Diego Sanchez because he simply wants to fight everyone.
‘The Notorious’ has the personality to nab headlines and the physicality to earn victories.
#5: HEAD KICKS! HEAD KICKS! HEAD KICKS!
Everybody getting Cro-Cop’d.
There is nothing more visceral than a good headkick knockout. Actually, every headkick knockout is a good headkick knockout; there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Whether it is a baseball bat like shinbone to the side of a head, a pointed foot slicing into an untucked chin, or an unstoppable heel hammering into an unfortunate opponent’s cheek, nothing causes fight fans to erupt from their seats faster than a highlight reel headkick. And, this year has absolutely spoiled Octagon enthusiasts with gorgeous concussive blasts from a lower extremities to someone’s dome.
All anyone needs to say, Vitor Belfort. Amazingly, ‘The Phenom’ has fought 3x in 2013 and each one has had the exact same outcome: Belfort kicks his opponent in the face and they fall down and he wins a Knockout of the Night bonus. First it was Michael Bisping then a spinning one to Luke Rockhold then he KOed the un-KO-able Dan Henderson. Who cares about Belfort using TRT or not? Way more concerning, ‘The Phenom’ may have implanted skull-magnets into his feet.
Finishes via kicks in general are on an epidemic incline. Lyoto Machida against Mark Munoz, Jeremy Stephens against Rony ‘Jason’, Junior dos Santos KOed Mark Hunt with a spinning back calf muscle to Hunt’s forehead, and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis and Brandon Thatch are brutalizing folks with body kicks. What about knees? What about Yoel Romero’s ‘Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting’ flying knee on Clifford Starks?
Last but not least, Uriah Hall’s picture-perfect spinning hook kick to Adam Cella’s face, which is still causing butterfly effect aftershocks throughout the world. With flashy martial arts moves proving to be effective inside the Octagon, we’re probably 6 months away from someone landing a jumping helicopter roundhouse kick that would make Jean Claude Van Damme weep.