I can’t recall a year in the past with as many good fights as 2013. Now, the math behind how many fights took place in 2013 might be behind that in some way, but I found myself claiming that the fight that I had just seen was the ‘fight of the year’ on numerous occasions. I also can’t recall a year where there was so much nuance involved in determining which fight actually was the best of the year. It starts to become a matter of taste at a certain point, much like choosing which fine wine you prefer over the others.
Back-and-forth brawls where both guys were nearly knocked out and came back swinging? Brian Stann and Wanderlei Silva have just what you need. Super-heavyweights taking turns beating the living hell out of each other? Mark Hunt vs Antonio Silva might be right up your alley. Dramatic title fights where both men came out looking like winners? How about Chandler vs Alvarez or Jones vs Gustafsson to cure what ails you? There was a lot of violence enacted over the past year, so let us now sort through the haystack and find the needles that were 2013’s fights of the year.
Frankie Edgar vs. Charles Oliveira – UFC 162
Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit – UFC 158
Brian Stann vs. Wanderlei Silva – UFC on Fuel TV 8
Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett – UFC Fight Night 26
5.) Michael Chandler vs Eddie Alvarez 2 – Bellator 106
This fight was billed as the co-main event up until a week out from what was intended to be Bellator’s first pay-per-view event. When Tito Ortiz pulled out of his main event fight with Quinton Jackson, the lightweights got the call to headline the show and it was moved to Spike TV. This fight also had extra attention on it because it was the first time Alvarez had been back in the cage since the year-long legal battle that Alvarez went through with Bellator when he wanted to leave the promotion for the greener pastures of the UFC. It was a very close fight, with Alvarez regaining the Bellator lightweight title by a split decision, though most of the media gave the fight to Chandler.
Chandler took the first round on all three judges’ scorecards, by controlling the center of the cage and keeping Alvarez moving backwards. He also got a big body lock takedown and took Eddie’s back at the end of the round to seal the deal. It was more of the same in round two, with Chandler landing a few takedowns and taking Eddie’s back once again, but Alvarez was able to mark up Chandler’s face with a few quick and well-placed jabs.
The third round went to Alvarez, as he rallied back and was able to land strikes on Chandler slightly more often than Chandler landed on him. The champion came out for the fourth round with a second wind, and landed a flying knee on Alvarez. He got a takedown and busted Alvarez up with some vicious hammerfists and elbows and dominated for nearly the entire round. Alvarez came out swinging in the fifth, but soon found himself with Chandler on his back looking for a neck crank. He showed a lot of heart when he got the fight standing again.
With one minute left Alvarez was on Chandlers back punching him in the face. Chandler somehow escaped and in the final seconds had Alvarez pinned to the mat. Eddie left with the belt and Chandler left with a bruise/cut/hematoma of similar size and dimensions under his eye. The two will presumably run it back in 2014 for a third time.
Compustrike stats for Chandler vs Alvarez 2 here
4.) Matt Grice vs. Dennis Bermudez – UFC 157
This fight makes the list because of its fast-paced nature and the sheer will displayed by both men. Within the first minute, Bermudez was in full-mount raining down punches and elbows. Grice got back up to his feet and they went back and forth for the rest of the round, before Grice dropped Bermudez with a beautiful left hook at the end of the round. The action continued in the second round, where both men were moving quickly and loading up on everything they threw. Bermudez latched onto an arm-in guillotine at the very end of round two that might have finished the fight had he only gotten it a few seconds earlier.
Bermudez unloaded a fury of punches and kicks that dropped Grice at the start of the last round, and continued the barrage while Grice was turtled up on the canvas. Grice was able to wall-walk and return to his feet just in time to stuff another takedown attempt from Bermudez. Bermudez rocked Grice with a serious of looping hooks and uppercuts that had Grice looking like he was out on his feet. Grice showed some serious resiliency by staying in the fight, and the two finished out their three-round battle by swinging for the fences until the final horn. Bermudez left with the unanimous decision win in one of 2013’s best fights.
3.) Mark Hunt vs Antonio ‘Bigfoot’Silva – UFC Fight Night 33
This fight wasn’t on a lot of folks’ radar, partly because it was taking place in Australia and the American viewing audience pays less attention to things that go on outside of the US, and partly because I for one thought it would end by an early knock out or TKO finish for either man. These are two of the hardest hitters in the heavyweight division, and have very clearly established technical ceilings. The fight that they put on however, was one for the ages. It really picked up about halfway through the fight, and there were spots where both men were nearly putting the other away with strikes.
In poetic fashion, it was ruled a majority draw, with two judges giving Mark Hunt a 10-8 round in the fifth round, and the same two judges giving three rounds in total to Bigfoot. One judge gave the fight to Hunt. This was the greatest heavyweight fight in UFC history, and even prompted UFC President Dana White to have t-shirts made up sporting ‘Hunt vs Silva II’, because it was all he could think about the week following the fight. In the future, I would imagine White will be waiting until the post-fight drug screenings come back before immortalizing a fantasy rematch on a Roots of Fight shirt, as Antonio Silva tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. His draw was turned into a no-contest, he was suspended, and his fight of the night bonus was awarded to Hunt. In the general trajectory of the universe, the fight already happened, and Bigfoot’s elevated testosterone doesn’t change that. It does however add some steam to the argument against TRT and its rampant use in our sport, and bring more attention to the issue as a whole.
2.) Gilbert Melendez vs Diego Sanchez – UFC 166
Diego Sanchez is one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. We’ve all seen the epic performances he’s put on and the firefights he’s been in over the years. He always brings it, and that is what earned him a fight with one of the best lightweights in the world, Gilbert Melendez. Most of the time, when a very highly ranked fighter gets booked against someone outside the top ten, the general question people ask is ‘why?’. When this fight was announced, very few questioned the motivations of Joe Silva and the UFC. They wanted a barnburner. They wanted a back-and-forth war, and that is exactly what these two put on.
Within the first thirty seconds Diego was on Gilbert’s back. Melendez shook him off and controlled the center of the cage for the majority of the round, but Sanchez was pushing the pace and the two had a few powerful punching exchanges that left Sanchez with a cut above his eye. The round ended with both men swinging hard. Sanchez took the brunt of the beating in this fight, but fired back almost every time Melendez would hit him with something. Sanchez came back in the third round looking to kill or be killed, and unloaded a huge uppercut that sent Melendez to the floor and the crowd to their feet.
Melendez said afterwards that the shot did in fact put him out briefly, and that he woke up in a wrestling match. He was able to fight out of it and left with a unanimous decision win, after putting on an instant classic, a three round donnybrook that in any other year would easily be fight of the year, and will surely go down as one of the most violent UFC fights ever to take place.
Here’s a few more screen grabs from Melendez/Sanchez:
Here’s Sanchez’s third round uppercut that floored Melendez and nearly finished the fight:
1.) Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson – UFC 165
The UFC’s primary selling point in their 30-second TV spots for this fight was the height and reach similarities between the two, which Jones had not experienced in his past fights, always being the taller fighter with a reach advantage. The ads were criticized by fans and the media for not making the matchup a compelling one , and focusing on a simple and seemingly insignificant factor on the tale of the tape. This fight wasn’t on anyone’s radar, as far as delivering on the level that it did. Everyone was too busy thinking about the gauntlet of title fights that were going to close out 2013, and assumed this would be another dominant outing by Jones. Then the fight started.
By the end of the first round, the fight was already approaching game-changer status. The champ was bleeding over his eye from one of the numerous punches the challenger was able to land, and Gustafsson had become the first man to take Jon Jones down in the UFC, and won the round on all three judges’ scorecards. Jones returned fire in the second round, landing a powerful head kick and an elbow to the side of Gustafsson’s head. The challenger was proving to be the quicker of the two, and gave Jones by far what was his most competitive fight. It was debatable who was winning the fight going into the championship rounds.
Gustafsson had been peppering Jones with jabs and hooks the entire fight, and Jones had failed to get the Swede to the mat on several attempts. At the end of the fourth round, Jones, perhaps sensing the fight slipping from his grasp, uncorked a series of elbows to the head that cut Gustafsson and nearly finished the fight. Gustafsson didn’t look fully recovered as the fifth round started. Jones had finally beaten Gustafsson to the point where he could stuff his takedowns, and get a takedown of his own. Two head kicks from Jones later, Gustafsson looked to be approaching the brink of defeat, but made it to the final bell after absorbing a hellish amount of punishment. Jones won the fight by unanimous decision, but neither man truly left as a loser that night. Jones went straight from the cage to the hospital, where he met up with Gus and they took an instagram picture together.
Alexander Gustafsson’s Instagram: @alexthemauler
Gustafsson was recently voted to be featured on the cover of the upcoming EA UFC video game, opposite Jones, which just goes to show the impact this fight had had on the popularity of both fighters. This is my fight of the year, and in my opinion has a strong case for greatest fight of all-time.