There’s no doubt that mixed martial arts fans were treated to plenty of thrills during what was an extremely busy year for the sport. With so many entertaining 2015 clashes produced in a variety of fighting promotions, it definitely wasn’t an easy task to whittle things down to a short list of the five best contests of the year.
In examining the matchups that made the final grade, they all had something in common in producing tremendous back-and-forth action and remarkable displays of skill and heart. They’re prime examples of why we love the sport. They were memorable battles that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. While there’s unquestionably more excitement ahead in 2016, let’s reflect upon a handful of contests that definitely stand out. Here are the Top 5 MMA Fights of 2015.
Honorable Mention: L.C. Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro (Bellator 135)
The March 27 co-main event at Bellator 135 in Oklahoma between L.C. Davis and Hideo Tokoro provided a little bit of everything for MMA enthusiasts. The matchup between the two bantamweight veterans featured unorthodox striking attacks, mad scrambles and multiple submission attempts. Both men were rocked at times during the fast-paced encounter. Davis would sustain a broken jaw during the instant classic, but would emerge with the split-decision victory over his Japanese opponent after three thrilling rounds.
5. Vitaly Bigdash vs. Igor Svirid (ONE Championship “Tigers of Asia”)
The Oct. 9 ONE Championship middleweight title bout in Kuala Lumpur between Vitaly Bigdash and Igor Svirid was a wildly entertaining and ferocious affair. The challenger Bigdash was knocked down multiple times in the opening frame by the defending champion Svirid but somehow managed to survive the offensive blitz. Incredibly as the first round was drawing to a close, Bigdash would land a massive knee to his opponent’s face and nearly secured the finish by rear-naked choke. A bloodied Svirid was literally saved by the bell.
The end would come in the second stanza as Bigdash sent Svirid to the deck with a powerful right hand and followed with a vicious barrage of hammerfists. Bigdash not only claimed gold, but kept his undefeated record intact in spectacular come-from-behind fashion.
4. Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 192)
While the shadow of former champion Jon Jones loomed over this Oct. 3 light heavyweight matchup at UFC 192 in Houston, both Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson delivered a terrific 205-pound title affair. There were momentum shifts throughout as the newly minted champion was pushed to the brink by the determined Swedish challenger.
Cormier established early superiority in the first round with a highlight-reel slam and ground-and-pound strikes. “The Mauler” responded in the second when he bloodied Cormier and mixed in a pair of surprising takedowns of the former Olympic wrestler. The spirited battle was taken to new heights in the third when Cormier bloodied Gustafsson’s nose with a fierce series of uppercuts in the clinch. The challenger would stage a late rally and nearly finish Cormier with a brutal knee to the face and a follow-up punch that the champion didn’t see.
Both men showed the scars of battle as they slugged it out in the championship rounds. Cormier would outhustle Gustafsson to emerge with the split-decision triumph. It was the second valiant failed title bid from Gustafsson who also dropped a decision to Jones at UFC 165.
3. Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne (UFC 187)
Sometimes when good friends collide inside the Octagon, the fights don’t necessarily make for the most fan-friendly tilts. That certainly wasn’t the case at UFC 187 on May 23 in Las Vegas as former champion Andrei Arlovksi and top-five contender Travis Browne put on a spectacular one-round war. Arlovski would stun “Hapa” early but would later be dropped by a huge right hand from his badly-wobbled foe. The “Pit Bull” would quickly recover and would go on to finish Browne with a flurry of punches at the 4:41 mark in an epic heavyweight slugfest.
2. Justin Gaethje vs. Luis Palomino (WSOF 19)
This was an incredible lightweight title affair on March 28 in Phoenix between the heavy-handed, unbeaten Gaethje and the dangerous Palomino at WSOF 19. Both men showcased their formidable punching power, sturdy chins and will to win during what proved to be a wild brawl. Both competitors were forced to dig deep after being rocked during the remarkable battle. Gaethje would eventually chop down Palomino with leg kicks in the third-round and finish him off at the 3:57 mark with follow-up punches.
Not surprisingly a rematch was booked at WSOF 23. Gaethje once again defended his title with a second-round stoppage of Palomino in what was another highly entertaining scrap.
1.Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald II (UFC 189)
Lawler defeated MacDonald in their first encounter in 2013 via split decision at UFC 167. While it was a solid welterweight contest, no one could have envisioned what was to come on July 11 at UFC 189. “Ruthless” and the “Red King” delivered an unbelievably brutal and violent 170-pound title clash in Las Vegas.
The rematch got off to a relatively tentative start before Lawler would bloody MacDonald’s nose in the second stanza. The challenger would seize control late in the third when he wobbled the champion with a head kick. The talented Tristar product actually came close to securing a finish early in round four with a barrage of punches and elbows. Lawler would manage to survive and would do some damage to MacDonald as the round progressed. The conclusion of the round featured an intense staredown between the two talented and bloody warriors.
Lawler would eventually put away the determined challenger at the 1:00 mark of the final frame when he landed a perfectly placed left hand to MacDonald’s already shattered nose. The challenger would crumple to the canvas in obvious discomfort and was finished by follow-up punches. Lawler was left with a grisly cut on his lip but emerged victorious in what was the most memorable bout of 2015. His first successful UFC title defense was truly one for the ages.