All in all, I’d consider 2017 to be a pretty good year for the UFC. Maybe not as good as 2016, but at least as good as 2015 and substantially better than 2014 by a large margin. With all time classic cards like UFC 218 and UFC 217 giving us PPV-calibre matchups that actually delivered for a change and free-on-cable offerings like UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis and UFC Fight Night: Bermudez vs. Korean Zombie giving us MORE than we (didn’t) pay for, there’s certainly no shortage of great UFC fights from the past calendar year to trudge through.
It wasn’t easy narrowing the list down to just ten fights, but I reckon the following countdown does as good a job as any of paying tribute to the best brawls and donnybrooks the 800 pound gorilla of MMA gave us in ‘17 …
10.Tim Elliott vs. Louis Smolka (April 15)
Every now and then you see a fight that just feels like a preview of where the sport is headed over the next 15 years. Pushed low down the UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Reis card, these two 125-pounders gave the listless Kansas City audience a technical masterpiece, with both men delivering a striking and grappling clinic, displaying the type of grace, finesse, cardio and sheer athleticism that the Ultimate Fighters of 2028 will undoubtedly exhibit. Elliott would go on to score a unanimous decision victory, and the bout itself would be named the fight of the night – no small feat, considering how stacked the show was from top to bottom.
09.Chase Sherman vs. Rashad Coulter (May 13)
The best heavyweight fight of 2017 and it isn’t even close. These two mountains of men just whaled on each other for nearly 10 minutes, with Sherman coming dangerously close to kicking Coulter’s legs off in round one. Amazingly, Sherman rebounded in round two and ALMOST managed to K.O. Sherman twice before his opponent dropped him dead as a doornail with a walkoff right elbow. If you like your MMA plodding yet powerful, this is about as good a contest as you’re gonna’ find from the UFC in ‘17.
08.Chris Weidman vs. Kelvin Gastelum (July 22)
After three consecutive losses (including a bullshit T.K.O. defeat at the hands of Gegard Mousasi), the former UFC Middleweight Champ looked to get back in the win column in his hometown against Kelvin Gastelum. The Uniondale fans were hot all night long, cheering on every takedown and sub attempt their hometown boy Weidman went for. And the fans certainly went home happy, as Weidman squelched an attempted Gastelum comeback in the middle of the third with a beautiful arm-triangle choke finish; you can definitely find more competitive matches from 2017 than this, but the sheer drama and atmosphere nonetheless made this one of the most captivating UFC contests of the year.
07.Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje (Dec. 02)
This was a fight genetically engineered for an explosive finish and it did not disappoint. Gaethje dominated the first round with leg kicks, but Eddie came roaring back in the second with a barrage of heavy body shots that left Gaethje’s torso looking pinker than a slab of uncooked beef. They stuck to their guns in the third, with each fighter desperately attempting to close the gap – up to the moment Alvarez dropped Gaethje with a standing knee out of nowhere with barely a minute to go in the fight.
06.Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone (July 29)
The single fightiest fight of all-time on paper definitely lived up to the hype in motion, too. A volley of Lawler jabs closed Cerrone’s eye early in the first, but Cowboy made it a fight in the second with a series of counter lefts and some brutal kicks to Lawler’s legs and stomach. Each competitor swung for the fences in the third, but it was ultimately Lawler who walked away with the unanimous decision victory – and, naturally, immediate calls for a rematch somewhere down the road.
05.Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson (July 07)
Former World Series of Fighting combatant Justin Gaethje definitely made a splash in his UFC debut, putting on a back and forth slugfest with Lightweight division stalwart Michael Johnson that made him a star in his very first Octagon appearance. It was ALL standing action in the first, with Johnson ultimately dropping the WSOF import with a hard right and a series of haymakers against the cage that almost got the ref to stop the fight. Alas, Gaethje made a mad comeback in the second, surviving yet another barrage from Johnson en route to dropping his opponent with a series of brutal uppercuts, leg kicks and – the coup de grace – a series of nasty knees to the face that left Johnson’s kisser looking like three-day old roadkill.
04.Jessica Andrade vs. Angela Hill (Feb. 04)
The most hellacious women’s fight in UFC history? This seriously underrated barnburner from early February very well could be, as these two combatants mercilessly pummeled each other for 15 minutes with nary a second of inaction. Andrade may have gotten the unanimous decision win, but give Hill all the credit in the world for making this one of the most surprisingly competitive – and vicious – UFC bouts of 2017.
03.Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero (July 08)
The best men’s UFC title fight of 2017, and the only one that truly resembled a classic, tit-for-tat, hyper-competitive Championship chess match. Romero’s excellent ground game more or less nullified Whittaker’s outstanding striking – and vice versa – forcing each fighter to play a game of inches while anxiously awaiting an opportunity to take a mile. Indeed, Whittaker’s performance that night might just be the biggest UFC comeback of 2017 – after getting drubbed for the first two rounds, his strategic jabbing in rounds three, four and five eventually paved the way for his hard-earned (and well-deserved) unanimous decision win.
02.Nicco Montano vs. Roxanne Modafferi (Dec. 01)
Not since Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia has there been a fight where the UFC cosmos so direly wanted the underdog challenger to score the upset, and this cobbled-together-at-the-last-second main event gave us quite possibly the most exciting women’s match ever. This thing went back and forth for a full 25 minutes, with fan favorite Modafferi coming dangerously close to stopping the heavily favored Montano several times. Alas, it was Montano’s more consistent striking in the fifth that arguably gave her the edge – and with it, one of the most hard-fought unanimous decision victories in recent memory.
01.Yancy Medeiros vs. Alex Oliveira (Dec. 02)
And just when it looked like Montano/Modafferi was our FOTY, Medeiros and Oliveira come along and snatch away the crown less than 24 hours later. This UFC 218 undercard bout had IT ALL. Medeiros scored a knockdown on Oliveira early in the first, only for Oliveira to come back and drop him two more times before the round expired – in addition to giving him what appeared to be a nasty broken nose. Then Medeiros got a crucial takedown in the second, nearly finishing Oliveira with ground and pound right then and there. Oliveira weathered the storm, however, and managed to secure a takedown of his own to begin the third … only for Medeiros to pop right back up and finish Oliveira with a brutal combination of elbows and jabs against the cage around the two minute mark of the round.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS: Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo (Dec. o2); Brian Ortega vs. Renato Moicano (July 29); Jimmie Rivera vs. Thomas Almeida (July 22); Felice Herrig vs. Justine Kish (June 25); Enrique Barzola vs. Gabriel Benitez (May 13); Darren Elkins vs. Mirsad Bektic (March 04); Iuri Alcantara vs. Luke Sanders (March 04)