Fight Club: UFC takes major steps forward in 2015

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Star quality: Conor McGregor.

It was a pivotal year for the UFC after a rocky 2014 that was beset with injuries and the loss of the sport’s biggest stars. Out of its ashes, though, came big changes both in and outside of the Octagon.

– FIGHT CLUB: McGregor completes UFC takeover with Aldo knockout
– FIGHT CLUB: Pacquiao snub opens door for Khan vs Brook
– GALLERY: Rousey to St. Pierre – The UFC’s biggest upsets

The introduction of the landmark deal with Reebok ensured all fighters would sport the brand and new drug testing procedures enforced punishments of huge severity for those caught.

Misbehaviour outside of the cage, like that exhibited by Jon Jones, would no longer be tolerated as the promotion moved to align itself into the consciousness of the mainstream media and supporters.

When it came to the fighting there were seven new champions crowned – Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Rafael dos Anjos, Holly Holm, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Luke Rockhold and Fabricio Werdum. And continuing with the numbers trend, 2015 saw the largest event in UFC history at UFC 193 (more of that later), the quickest end to a title fight in the promotion’s history and crucially, consistent and big pay-per-view numbers.

It’s a brand new world for the UFC heading into the New Year but taking a look back it’s been a thrilling ride. We pick some of the biggest winners and highlight the moments that reminded us why we love the sport.

Fighter of the Year: Conor McGregor

Three knockouts in three of the biggest events of 2015. Conor McGregor says it best himself “there can only be one” and undoubtedly it is the Irishman.

Last year the promotion was ruined by injury and recovered, with McGregor at the forefront, to put on some of the most iconic and historic fights in its history. Love him, and many do, or hate him, the divisive Dubliner had the most meaningful year of any fighter in the UFC.

He may not have fought or won the most fights, but everything McGregor touched in 2015 turned to gold, including the belt around his waist. It started with a demolition of Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59, and ended with him becoming undisputed featherweight king after a stunning 13-second KO of Jose Aldo at UFC 194.

Sandwiched in between that was an unprecedented ‘World Tour’ for the originally scheduled Aldo fight at UFC 189, which ended with him KOing Chad Mendes, an elite wrestler with a style viewed as one to cause him problems.

This was the year the 27-year-old lived up to his trash talk in prophetic fashion. Luke Rockhold deserves an honourable mention following his ruthless, tactical and brilliant battering of middleweight champ Chris Weidman.

Young Fighter of the Year: Sage Northcutt

He is 19 years old but Northcutt is already chalking up wins in the UFC having been scouted by president Dana White on his TV show Looking For A Fight.

The darling of White’s eye, his hype train picked up steam with two victories inside the Octagon, the first of which lasting just 57 seconds.

Northcutt’s model good looks and effervescent personality have made him a hit with some and drawn ire from others but there’s no denying the teenager has talent and an ability to deal with the mountain of pressure that sits on his young shoulders. 

Fight of the Year: Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald, July 11

All the ingredients were there and on the night they blended together to create a fight oh so sweet for the viewer. With a title on the line in a rematch between two fighters with zero back-down, it was little surprise this turned out to be something special.

The close of the fourth round was indicative of it all as the two bloodied warriors stood nerveless face-to-face, eyes emblazoned. Lawler would get the stoppage in the fifth, dropping MacDonald with a crunching left onto the Canadian’s already shattered nose.

It was a display of chin, grit and dogged determination, Dana White hailed it “The Best Ever”. That’s debatable but it was 2015’s Fight of the Year.

KO of the Year: Thiago Santos vs Steve Bosse, June 27

It was labelled the ‘Headkick from Hell’ and never has a title been more befitting. At UFC Fight Night 70, Santos viciously and instantaneously KO’ed Steve Bosse with a picture-perfect headkick that was cringe-worthy in its connection.

Bosse, a light-heavyweight prospect for years making his UFC debut, carried his hands low and held his chin high. Santos, an opportunistic finisher, identified the opening and cracked him with a brutal kick that landed shin-to-temple.

It was oldest trick in the book, set your opponent up for one thing then do another. Bosse was out before he hit the canvas at the 0:29 mark of the first round. 

Upset of the Year: Holm vs Rousey, Nov 15

Ronda Rousey was viewed as indestructible. She became a crossover star and propelled the UFC to the levels of mainstream popularity it craved with stunning submissions and rapid KOs.

Holm was seen as a footnote heading into UFC 193, as someone who could box a little but would end up being tossed on her head in the first 30 seconds. Oh how wrong they were. Not only was Holm’s dominant performance the most significant upset of the year, it was also one of most flawless, ending with a beautifully violent head kick.

Round of the Year: Andrei Arlovski vs Travis Browne, Round One

Epic. There’s no other way to describe it. When two heavyweights collide you expect fireworks. But instead of easing fans in with bottlerockets they just went straight for the grand finale.

An early combination forced Browne backwards as the ‘Pitbull’ looked for a finish. It didn’t come. Then a backfist by Arlovski hurt Browne again and put him on wobbly legs.

No finish then either. Another backfist dropped Browne and had him in huge trouble but out of nowhere, the Hawaiian floored Arlovski with a right hand. The Belarusian recovered and forced the stoppage.

The commentary from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg is equally as frantic. A truly epic round

Submission of the Year: Ronda Rousey vs Cat Zingano, Feb 28

The fastest submission in UFC history and arguably one of the best ever too. At UFC 184, Zingano was supposed to provide the undefeated Rousey her most significant challenge to date. Wrong.

The then bantamweight champion dispelled the notion in emphatic fashion as Zingano unwittingly and unwisely charged Rousey at the opening and simply sped up the inevitable.

The champ used Zingano’s momentum against her and flipped on her head in an inventive scramble. She then caught the armbar at a nasty angle and ended the fight in 14 short, sweet and sensational seconds.

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