Starved of star power, the beginning of 2017 for the UFC was a complete contrast to the craziest, most unpredictable and most important year in the history of the promotion in 2016.
But after a cold start, the year is ending in red-hot fashion as UFC 218 followed on from the thrilling events of 217 and 216 in providing emphatic knockouts and back-and-forth brawls.
Topped out by Max Holloway becoming the first man to beat Jose Aldo twice to retain his featherweight title, a myriad of narratives helped to shape one of the cards of 2017.
Here, we look at the four things we learned as the UFC saved some of the best for Detroit.
THE BLESSED ERA LEADS THE NEW ERA
Perhaps it’s because the spectre of Conor McGregor lingers over the 145lbs division but the promotional push for Holloway has been short of thrust.
When you consider the depth of marketing the UFC has invested in the likes of Sage Northcutt, Paige VanZant and Cody Garbrandt, you can’t help but feel Holloway has been left shortchanged.
His performance on Saturday not only provided justification for more of the spotlight, but also why the 25-year-old deserves to spearhead the new generation.
Indeed, the ‘Blessed Era’ leads the new era.
Robert Whittaker (26), Kelvin Gastelum (26) and Rose Namajunas (25) are all exceptional young fighters creating waves.
But Holloway stands apart with his livewire fighting style married to an ebullient personality which deserves a superstar promotional push.
Riding a 12-fight win streak, he now owns consecutive beatings over Aldo and is a certain contender for Fighter of the Year.
The Hawaiian is only getting better, too, with the claim of division’s best ever surely not far away.
NGANNOU WON’T BE STOPPED
Francis Ngannou launched Alistair Overeem into the air and in the process gave his own title ambitions lift off.
The 31-year-old Cameroonian slept Overeem with a violent left hand and his presence in the division has awoken the UFC’s land of giants.
It took a little over 90 seconds for Ngannou to connect with Overeem’s chin and when he did, the Dutchman’s head
defied physics to remain on his shoulders.
With six straight stoppages, Ngannou is hurtling towards champ Stipe Miocic with a speed only matched by that of his hype train.
It was the kind of scorching performance which means only the title fight makes sense and it will surely be one of the most anticipated clashes of 2018.
Miocic has more tools than other fighters in the division, but if a shot like the one which froze Overeem in time lands, there’s simply nothing he can do. If Ngannou can’t be stopped, he might be the only man no-one will want a title shot from.
ALVAREZ’S CONFIDENCE FROM CHAOS
After the devastation of defeat to McGregor was followed by the controversy of a ‘no contest’ with Dustin Poirier, Eddie Alvarez was fast losing relevance at the top of 155lbs.
But the ‘Underground King’ responded emphatically with one of the performances of the year to stop Justin Gaethje.
The whirlwind clash was a welcome deviation from fights which promise so much but in the end delivered little. In reality, with their forward-pressure style, a war was only ever going to be the outcome and they didn’t disappoint.
Gaethje’s brutal leg kicks hallmarked the early stanzas, but the former champ’s work to the body gradually wore his man down.
Battered, bruised and bloodied, the pair entered the third session in bits but Alvarez summoned the energy to banish ghosts of past to land a huge knee of the chin of Gaethje for the stoppage.
Now, Alvarez will surely cast his eye to the year’s ending clash between top contenders Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza.
INSANITY AT ITS BEST
Insanity is perhaps the only word fitting to describe Yancy Medeiros’ win over Alex Oliveira on the prelims.
With a comeback to rival Darren Elkins’ bonkers bout with Mirsad Bektic, a first round which is a contender for the best of the year and a fight which overall delivered pure savagery, Medeiros came out on top with a third-round stoppage.
It was beautiful brutality, the Hawaiian surviving two knockdowns in the opening round and yet still managing to bust the Brazilian’s nose open. In the end, Medeiros’ measured approach countered Oliveira’s all-impact style.
A Fight of the Year contender even before Alvarez and Gaethje stepped foot in the Octagon.
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