October was fun, but not quite as fun as it could have, or should have, been.
Of the five fights we’d listed to watch in 2015’s 10th month, only two of them actually took place. That’s right; we didn’t get to see Johny Hendricks take on Tyron Woodley, Marcos Galvao vs. Eduardo Dantas or Dustin Poirier vs. Joseph Duffy. A real shame, really, because you could’ve anticipated any, if not all, of those three fights to make the hindsight list.
Looking back, only one of the five listed made it onto this list. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t Ryan Bader vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 192. Partially because it didn’t offer much in the “excitement” category, but mainly because so many other fights did.
Here are the top five fights you, hopefully, didn’t miss in the month that was:
5. Sage Northcutt vs. Francisco Trevino
This wasn’t quite as much of a back-and-forth contest as any of the other fights listed, but it was still an exciting fight to watch. Sage Northcutt, previously an unknown 19-year-old MMA figther, is now a well-known 19-year-old UFC fighter. He made the transition after spending just 57 seconds in the Octagon.
OK, his crazy physics-breaking front-flip in the minutes after may have helped, too. Still, the kid (again, 19) was about as impressive as any newcomer the UFC’s had in quite some time. Despite having a whopping six years of professional experience over the UFC youngster, Francisco Trevino was no match. It wasn’t even close.
4. Paddy Holohan vs. Louis Smolka
Paddy Holohan had quite a bit on his plate going into UFC Fight Night 77. Perhaps too much.
Considered part of the second tier of Irish mixed martial artists competing inside the UFC — a tier consisting of names like Neil Seery, Cathal Pendred and Aisling Daly — Holohan was forced into the main event slot on just a few days notice after fellow countryman Joseph Duffy pulled out citing a mild concussion. That came about a week after he’d been notified he was moving into the co-main event slot because of an injury suffered by Stipe Miocic. He wouldn’t be fighting any extra rounds or anything, but he’d suddenly be solely responsible for maintaining the Irish faithful’s attention in the most important act of the night.
Technically he did, but only because Louis Smolka agreed to play his game and grapple on the canvas. It was all a blur, as far as most of us can remember. Kneebar attempts followed by heel hooks, followed by rear-naked chokes. Suddenly the two 125-pound men were on their feet, leaving Smolka to get better of the exchanges.
Before you knew it, Holohan was tapping out to a rear-naked choke and the Irish fans were in disbelief. It was nothing like the year prior, when Conor McGregor raised the colors of the Emerald Isle to a shower of cheers.
3. Brandon Halsey vs. Rafael Carvalho
As if it hasn’t been mentioned a thousand times already, very few people expected Rafael Carvalho to do what he did at Bellator 144. Despite being undefeated in his last 11 at the time — and looking damn impressive in doing so — Carvalho was seemingly overmatched heading into his first attempt at Bellator gold.
Technically not the champion because of weight-cutting issues during his first title defense months prior, former titleholder Brandon Halsey was supposed to do what he’d done in all nine of his previous victories: move forward and impose his will against a lesser opponent. He did that for most of the first round, nearly submitting his Brazilian counterpart with an arm triangle just minutes into the contest.
Halsey didn’t get the tap, but it certainly looked like he was well on his way to victory going into the second round. The “Bull” was present, and he would not be denied of an opportunity to reclaim what was rightfully his.
One swift kick to the liver and it was all over for the Huntington Beach native.
Carvalho didn’t quite shock the world because, well, the world wasn’t necessarily watching Bellator 144, but it was an impressive victory in its own right.
2. Nicolas Dalby vs. Darren Till
Nicolas Dalby vs. Darren Till at UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin was a particularly one-sided affair. You know, until it wasn’t.
For two full rounds, Till managed to outstrike the shorter man from a distance. It didn’t matter if it was a low kick to the calf, or a jab to the nose — Till landed hard and often. Dalby couldn’t do much to: 1) stop Till or 2) offer any sort of offense. Shorter in height and range, Dalby struggled to contend with Till’s superior footwork — footwork that allowed him to keep close enough to land, but distant enough to not be landed on.
Again, that only told the story of Rounds 1 and 2. Round 3 was something different, entirely.
Till reportedly entered the third round with an injured shoulder that prevented him from: 1) stop Dalby or 2) offer any sort of offense. The injury may not have been obvious, but we all knew something had changed coming into the final frame. Dalby landed awfully heavy strikes against the taller man, often throwing him on his back, only to capitalize on the canvas, too. Two of the three judges awarded the Danish fighter a rare, but contextually appropriate, 10-8 round. The two walked away neither a winner or loser, keeping their undefeated records intact.
1. Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson put on a relatively peculiar fight, when you really think about it. As plenty of contests featuring an elite wrestler tend to go, we were supposed to find out how this main event was going to play out just minutes into the first round. Right on cue, Cormier lifted Gustafsson overhead, and slammed him down to the canvas just like he’d done to Dan Henderson, Josh Barnett and plenty of other poor souls.
That’s how this fight was going to go, we thought.
But then Cormier decided to keep things standing. Surprisingly enough, that venture benefitted him quite a bit. What’s more, it was the only way he could feasibly retain his title considering Gustafsson inexplicably began dominating the Olympic wrestler in the grappling exchanges.
An instant classic according to many, falling just a few notches shy of the greatest light heavyweight title fight featuring Gustafsson and one Jon Jones.