So I am a man who loves history and in the fight game it’s particularly fascinating to look at how the past, present and future intertwines – when you take these factors into account its pretty easy to see what the most divisionally relevant and entertaining fights in any year are.
The build up to a fight, the fight itself and the fallout future ramifications of the fight all marry together to make certain fights unforgettable. So today at the MMAGateway, we are breaking down the top ten fights that had the best build up, meant the most in the division and were the most exciting of 2018.
Every year in MMA seems to produce better and better fights as the sport of MMA becomes more refined – so 2018 was full of skill, trash talk, excitement and future fight set ups better then any year before in my opinion.
The key word there is opinion, because you may agree with many fights on the upcoming list, but then some you may not, because that’s the beauty of being a fight fan, we all can enjoy certain fights more then others based on our own life experience – so lets start with number ten and slowly make our way to the most relevant and exciting fight of 2018 –
10. Rose Namajunas vs Joanna Jędrzejczyk II
So there is only two female fights that made this list, but that is mainly due to the youth of Women’s MMA in general, so in my opinion this is because Men have much more experience in MMA it’s not easy for women’s fights to always be as exciting as the men’s fights.
So some people may not agree with this addition to this top ten list, but this was one of the rematches I was most excited for in 2018 and was really high level striking from both women.
Namajunas vs Jędrzejczyk II was one female fight in 2018 that got me just as excited as any men’s fight – a big part of the excitement was because Rose Namajunas beat Jedrzejczyk so easily in their first fight via first round KO. This was so shocking and exciting when it happened because Jędrzejczyk had been so dominant as the UFC champion of the Strawweight division.
So it was what happened in the first fight that made this rematch so exciting – I Remember leading up the the fight I kept questioning myself – was Rose’s first win a fluke? Joanna seemed to think so and I found myself going back and forth in the lead up as to whether I believed Joanna or not.
It made for some really interesting verbal sparring leading up to the second fight, and the fight itself while not as definitive as the first was still a clear unanimous decision victory for Rose, who really solidified the passing of the torch of a new undisputed champion at 115 – she blew away all the excuses Joanna had about the first fight and out in a beautiful striking overall MMA expression that left no doubt this time.
Also it made the future feel exciting to have such a fresh faced new champion and gives a lot of possibilities for great fights moving forward – On that note I think someone needs to call Jessica Andrade, who is the clear number 1 contender.
Here’s some highlights –
9. Tyron Woodley vs Darren Till
No it wasn’t very competitive in the end, but in the lead up to the fight I was incredibly excited for this fight as an English man who has met Darren Till, I was really hoping that Till could become the first UFC champion at 170 and the first ever UFC champion from Liverpool.
Also even if you didn’t have the links to Darren Till that I have – I think that every MMA fan was fascinated to see if he could maintain his perfect undefeated record as the man has really had a mystique about him since walking into the UFC.
Tyron Woodley completely smashed that mystique dropping Till in round two with a big right hand after some feeling out from both men in round one – Woodley then proceeded to pound on Till on the ground with big punches and elbows, before finishing the fight with an impressive D’arce choke to retain his UFC Welterweight title.
So while it was one sided for the most part, the build up gave me butterflies, the fight was exciting and after the fight it made me feel like Woodley is on his way or is already the best Welterweight in MMA ever and I was left with interesting questions about if Till will stay at 170 or go up to 185 – but I know Darren Till will learn from this devastating loss, the first loss is always the toughest in any MMA fighters career, but Till will come back stringer be that at 170 or 185, I would not want to be his next opponent!
Here’s some of the fight highlights –
8. Robert Whittaker vs Yoel Romero II
So what’s scarier then fighting Yoel Romero for five rounds in MMA? Fighting Yoel romero for another five rounds! I don’t know any man that has ever achieved this and im not sure any man in MMA will ever do that again.
But Robert Whittaker did it, not only did he do it, he actually won both fights although this rematch at UFC 225 was much more controversial as many thought that Romero won this rematch – but either way this fight was a true classic of 2018.
It really is so special what Whittaker did, because most men could never manage such a feat -the fight itself was a back and forth war, Romero did drop Whittaker twice, but could not follow up effectively, then Whittaker rocked Romero a couple of time and generally won the five round war with having a higher striking volume and better accuracy then Romero.
Also I genuinely feel that Whittaker may have taken years of his life with this fight and it may have even factored into some of his injury woes that have plagued him after this fight.
So in the build up I really could not imagine Whittaker lasting another five rounds with Romero but I was so excited to see, then the fight was a brutal back and forth war, then after the fight I was left with questions about what Yoel Romero will do next and I also felt that Robert Whittaker is well on his way to the UFC hall of fame off the back of ten, yes I repeat ten rounds with Yoel Romero!
Here’s highlights of the fight here –
7. Stipe Miocic vs Francis Ngannou
I can’t remember the last time a heavyweight had such a fearsome aura of hype leading up to this fight at UFC 220 – I think most MMA fans really did expect Ngannou to KO Miocic and become the first UFC champion from Africa.
Ngannou had literally been destroying everyone since joining the UFC, most notably the scary KO of Alistair Overeem in his fight before this which is a truly legendary KO at this point – it was such an exciting build up to this Miocic fight.
Nagnnou clocked up the most powerful punch in all of combat sports which was also a part of the excitement leading up to this fight – but Miocic laughed at all the hype behind Ngannou and I can’t remember a champion being considered such an underdog in recent years.
Miocic was right, it was like he had a secret leading up to the fight and after weathering the storm early where Ngannou really did look like he was going to land his usual KO shots to finish the fight – Stipe’s secret leading up to the fight became clearer and clearer during the fight, after an aggressive round one from Ngannou, Miocic then proceeded to use his superior Wrestling to completely dominate Ngannou on the ground for 5 rounds to get a unanimous decision victory to maintain his UFC Heavyweight title, having the most title defences in UFC Heavyweight history.
Then after the fight I was excited for the future wondering who would be able to beat Miocic at Heavyweight as he became the most winning heavyweight champ ever – but I also knew that Ngannou would learn so much from this loss and would only build a better career off the back of this loss.
Here’s some of the fight highlights –
6. Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson II
No this fight like a few here didn’t make the list because it was as compelling as Poirier vs Gatheje for instance, this fight made the list for one main reason – Jon Jones. As a lifelong Jones fan, it has been painful to not get to see him fight consistently in recent years due to drug suspensions/legal battles etc.
So this bout had to make the list purely because of how excited I was to get Jones back in there against anyone really – as it turned out he was scheduled to fight Alexander Gustafsson who undoubtedly had given Jones his toughest fight to date in their first bout back in 2014.
It was strange in the build up though because the whole fight card had to be moved to California as some abnormalities came up in Jones’s blood tests, so Nevada were not willing to license him for the fight there, which was one of the most unique situations of 2018 for a fight build up.
This time at UFC 232 for an end of the year showcase Jones made it a much more convincing win, as he promised in the lead up to it by knocking out Gustafsson in round 3 to regain his light heavyweight title.
So exciting to see Jones back and it was even more exciting to know that this time we should be seeing Jones fight again really soon in 2019 – no more 2 year waits! Its Anthony Smith coming next!
Here’s the full fight –
5. Tony Ferguson vs Anthony Pettis
God damn this was easily one of the best fights of the year, it wasn’t about the hype in the build up or the ramifications of the fall out afterwards, but in a similar fashion to Gaethje vs Poirier or Rodriguez vs Jung, it was all about the fight itself.
Just back and forth madness on the feet, both men hurting each other repeatedly with neither man willing to budge an inch, honestly it was the best Anthony Pettis has looked for years and when he dropped Ferguson it really did look like Pettis might get the surprise win.
But Ferguson typically for him bit down on his mouthpiece and got straight back into the fight and started touching up Pettis more and more, then at the end of round 2 Duke Roufus threw in the towel as Pettis had broke his hand, which is the re-occurrence of a past injury for him ending this bloody conflict in a corner stoppage.
No major fallout meaning for either man, but goodness what a fight it was. Here is the highlights of the fight –
4. Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Every hardcore MMA fan knew that when Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje were scheduled to fight at UFC on Fox 29, everybody knew it was going to be absolute fireworks a real bloodbath of a fight and when the bout started, it really did live up to all the anticipation and expectations put on it.
In a matchup of top contenders at 155, after a prolonged blood back and forth war, Poirier earned a fourth-round TKO victory over Gaethje in what could arguably be one of the best fights in UFC history period. Gaethje was crippling Poirier with his trademark low kicks into big punches, while Poirier was utilising his phenomenal boxing skills and sheer heart to get the job done.
The only reason this fight wasn’t higher up on this list is purely because of after the fight, I was more confused than excited about the relevance of the fight in the division – I feel both men came off the bout looking good – it was of course fight of the night, but despite both men being such great fighters, almost a year later and still neither man has been offered a title shot.
Here’s the highlights –
3. Amanda Nunes vs Cris Cyborg
Both the co and main event for UFC 232 had to make this list for me as the build up was good big for both fights, but really in terms of the fight itself and the fallout it was this fight that really stole the show. Because not many people really expected Amanda Nunes to be able to beat Cris Cyborg.
Not only did she beat Cyborg she knocked her out cold in 51 seconds of the very first round. Just unbelievable, I mean I literally had to rub my eyes a few times to check that I was actually seeing what I was seeing.
In MMA as a fan as much as we all love a back and forth close war, sometimes it’s just as exciting to see a quick finish like this, especially when during the build up to the fight most could not conceive that the fight would end so quickly. If you asked most people before the fight who will get an early knock out most would have said Cyborg will KO Nunes quickly if an early finish happens.
But Amanda Nunes going up a weight class to 145 really made history here, becoming the first ever female double champion in UFC history holding both the 135 and 145 UFC titles – as exciting as the build and fight was, also the prospect for the future are fascinating to think about and really the world is Amanda Nunes’s oyster now and she will without question go down in the UFC hall of fame when her career is over.
here is the highlights of the fight –
2. Yair Rodriguez vs Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung
Now flat out this would have been number 1 as the best fight of the year for me, if only it had a bigger hype in the build up and bigger meaning in the division in the aftermath. But the fight itself was probably the most entertaining close back and forth battle of 2018 and one of the most dramatic endings to a fight in MMA history really.
The Korean Zombie had been out of the UFC for years in active military service before this fight and it was great to see him back – especially when he was going against the striking phenom in Yair Rodriguez.
First of the clash of styles was so beautiful to watch play out as the high pressure boxing style of Korean Zombie was in stark contrast to the countering taekwondo flashy kick based style of Rodriguez.
It was back and forth for 5 rounds, but going into the last 20 seconds in the fifth round it definitely was looking like The Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung was likely on his way to a unanimous or possibly split decision victory – then in the last 10 seconds both mean were raising their hands believing they both had already won, but then with less than 10 seconds left Rodriguez in what will easily go down as one of the greatest finishes ever, landed a huge upward inverted elbow straight to the chin of an approaching Korean Zombie Knocking him out cold instantly.
Unbelievable fight, here’s the highlights –
1. Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov
Ok this has to be it for 2018, I don’t care what you say because the pay -perview numbers do not lie – McGregor vs Khabib was the biggest ever pay-per view event in UFC history at UFC 229. Now when you think about it, then it really does make sense – first off we hadn’t seen Conor fight in MMA for nearly two years before this and in the build up we have never seen so much animosity between two fighters and their teams with multiple scenarios helping to sell this fight.
Khabibs team picking on Artem Lobov, Conor and his team attacking Khabibs bus in Brooklyn, the heated press conference between the two, the very personal trash talk all made this easily feel like the biggest event of the year as both men approached the cage.
The fight itself was not really very competitive, Conor had his moments especially in round 3 landing some big shots on the feet, but ultimately it was a complete shutout with Khabib dominating Conor for most of the fight then in round 4 after landing some big shots on the ground, he switched to back mount then sunk in a deep neck crank forcing Conor to tap towards the end of round 4.
Then after the fight which again makes this fight the most exciting biggest thing that happened in 2018, Khabib jumped over the cage and did a flying foot stomp into Conor’s team focusing on Conors mouthy training partner Dillon Danis – all hell then broke loose as Conor hit one of Khabibs training partners on the top of the cage, then many of Khabibs team jumped into the cage attacking Conor with punches.
Conor defended himself well, before security broke everything up and there was bodies all over the cage, and the ending of the event breaking out into a street fight like this was really not surprising considering just how heated the build up was for this one.
Then in the aftermath both men have been fined and suspended for around 6 months, but Khabibs fine was considerably larger being $500,000 while Conor’s fine was just $50,000. But its gonna be fascinating to see what both men do next, Khabib is talking about retiring from MMA and trying pro boxing instead, while Conor is likely going to take another fight in MMA against someone like Donald Cerrone in the summer.
So I don’t care what you say, for the biggest build up, exciting fight and most impactful fallout this fight has to be the most exciting fight of 2018. Here’s the highlights for this one –
What is your favourite?
Here’s a few more honorable mentions that didn’t make this list, but maybe might make yours – Henry Cejudo vs Demetrious Johnson II, T.J Dillashaw vs Cody Garbrandt II, Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Kyle Bochniak, Max Holloway vs. Bryan Ortega, Thiago Santos vs Jimi Manuwa, Jeremy Stephens vs Doo Ho Choi and Paulo Costa vs Uriah Hall.
So that’s it for today’s post, so if you enjoyed it then please leave a comment or question below – also if there was some other fights in 2018 that you think should have made this list then let me know in the comments.
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