Fightland’s Best UFC Moments of 2016

Our pick for the top three fighters, KOs, submissions, events, upsets, bouts, and botched weight cuts of the year.
January 4, 2017, 8:50pm
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Total UFC Fights in 2016: 493
Total UFC Events in 2016: 41
KOs: 53
TKOs: 99
Submissions: 90
Unanimous Decisions: 183
Split Decisions: 54
Majority Decisions: 4
Draws: 7
No Contests: 3


Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Fight of the Year

Cub Swanson vs Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206
Featherweight, Unanimous Decision win for Swanson

With 30 seconds remaining in the third round, both fighters had each landed exactly 97 significant strikes. With both fighter using their entire arsenals including spinning, flying and even cartwheel strikes, the two both landed massive shots and managed to stay standing throughout the fight.


Both fighters landed approximately 50% of their respective strikes, and defense was nowhere to be found in this barnburner. Coming into the fight, Choi was 3-0 in the UFC with all three fights ending by knockout in the first round.

Second Place: Fight of the Year

Maestro" Dong Hyun Kim vs Marco Polo Reyes at UFC 199
Lightweight, KO (Punches) win for Reyes at 1:52 of round 3

Joe Rogan affectionately called this fight a "movie fight," where someone watching the fight would expect it to take place in an action movie and not in real life. Both fighters gave it their all and then some, throwing wildly and seemingly non-stop, with both fighters getting rocked several times during the fight.

In the end, Kim was the recipient of two solid right hands from Reyes that put him on the canvas, and referee Mike Beltran mercifully waved off the bout. After 41 events in 2016, only four fights on the early preliminary card have earned a "Fight of the Night" bonus, none of which more deserving than this wild battle between these two warriors.

Third Place: Fight of the Year

Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit at UFC 195
UFC Welterweight Championship, Split Decision win for Lawler

In the first main event of 2016, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit delivered an instant classic as the two went toe to toe for five hard rounds. Despite out landing Lawler by over 80 significant strikes, Lawler managed to pick up the controversial split decision, a fight in which most media outlets had scored in favor of Condit.


Lawler, potentially knowing he was down on the scorecards, hit Condit with everything he had in the fifth round, and Condit managed to survive despite getting knocked down in the round. In the end, Lawler kept his title and started 2016 off with a bang.


Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Knockout of the Year

Lando Vannata over John Makdessi at UFC 206
Spinning Wheel Kick

In his second UFC bout, and first with a full training camp, Lando Vannata scored just the second spinning wheel kick knockout in UFC history. The first was famously performed by Edson Barboza against Terry Etim, which is a staple for most UFC knockout highlight reels.

Makdessi became the first fighter in UFC history to both win and lose a fight by a spinning strike, with Makdessi previously knocking out Kyle Watson by spinning back fist at UFC 129.

Second Place: Knockout of the Year

Michael Bisping over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199

In what may be viewed as the most important knockout of 2016, Michael Bisping did the unexpected and not only beat Luke Rockhold, but knocked him out in the first round. Going into this fight, the odds for Bisping winning the fight by knockout reached +1000, and the odds for Bisping winning in the first round were at a staggering +2500.

The KO was the first pure knockout Bisping has scored since November 2004, in unquestionably the most important fight of Bisping's future hall-of-fame career.

Third Place: Knockout of the Year


Yoel Romero over Chris Weidman at UFC 205
Flying Knee and Punches

With the knockout of Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero became the first fighter in UFC history to record two wins with a knockout from a flying knee. In a sudden explosion of movement, Romero leapt into the air and struck Weidman in the head three times during the course of his flight, silencing the raucous NY crowd almost instantly.

With 8 straight UFC wins under his belt, six of those by KO/TKO, it is expected that Romero will finally get a title shot against champion Michael Bisping.


Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Winner: Submission of the Year

Ben Rothwell over Josh Barnett at UFC on Fox 18
Gogo Choke

It took 42 professional fights over 19 years, including bouts against Randy Couture, Dan Severn, Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, for Josh Barnett to be forced to tap out from a submission hold. Previously, Barnett had always been on the giving end of submissions and not the receiving end, with 21 of his 34 wins ending by submission in eight different ways.

With his submission over Josh Barnett, Rothwell picked up his second consecutive Gogo Choke finish, which is essentially a modified guillotine choke used only by Rothwell. Coming into this bout, the betting lines for Rothwell to win this fight by submission were a whopping +1300, and no one had any expectation going into the fight that this would or could happen.

Second Place: Submission of the Year


Nate Diaz over Conor McGregor at UFC 196
Rear Naked Choke

A massive underdog coming into this fight, Nate Diaz took this fight on short notice with nothing to lose and only a big payday to gain. McGregor was originally slated to face lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in an attempt to claim a second belt, but less than two weeks before the fight dos Anjos was forced to withdraw from the fight due to injury. In an effort to save the card, the UFC allowed the fight to be contested at 170 pounds instead of 155, and Diaz took the fight.

McGregor had the striking advantage in the first round, but gradually Diaz started to land on McGregor. After some more exchanges and into the second round, Diaz hit McGregor with several combinations and started taunting him, which eventually forced McGregor to shoot for an ill-advised takedown. Diaz took McGregor's back, and McGregor was forced to tap in an upset that sent shockwaves through the MMA community.

Third Place: Submission of the Year

Chas Skelly over Maximo Blanco at UFC Fight Night 94
Anaconda Choke

In just 19 seconds, Chas Skelly had managed to not only deliver a flying kick but also submit Maximo Blanco with a rare submission. In only seven seconds, Skelly had the correct grip and it was just a matter of time until Blanco tapped. Blanco refused to tap, and was promptly put to sleep by the Anaconda choke.

It was just the third time in UFC history a fighter has been rendered unconscious due to an Anaconda choke, and the 13th performed overall. It was actually the second Anaconda performed that night, becoming the only event in UFC history to feature more than one Anaconda choke. Skelly is just the second fighter to perform an Anaconda choke within one minute, the first of which being Yoshiyuki Yoshida over the fighter formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver.



Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Winner: Event of the Year

UFC 199, June 4

In a card that featured twice as many KO/TKOs as decisions, the night appropriately began and ended with a KO. In a rare instance of an early preliminary bout winning a "Fight of the Night" bonus, Marco Polo Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim deserved every penny of that bonus money following their war that ended with Reyes getting the knockout. The card was also highlighted by a contender for "Knockout of the Year," when Dan Henderson stopped Hector Lombard by a head kick and reverse elbow.

The main card featured two grudge matches, with the rubber match between champion Dominick Cruz and rival Urijah Faber, as well as the phenomenal upset knockout of Luke Rockhold by Michael Bisping. Cruz managed to cruise to a wide unanimous decision victory over Faber, and then Bisping shocked the world in the main event in under four minutes.

Finally, UFC 199 was the first event to feature early weigh-ins, which has actually shown to be detrimental from a matchmaking standpoint thus far as fighters have missed weight over twice as often than before with the new policy in place.

Second Place: Event of the Year

UFC 206, December 10

From start to finish, UFC 206 delivered action. On the Fight Pass prelims, Lando Vannata scored a "Knockout of the Year" victory over John Makdessi. On the FS1 prelims, Misha Cirkunov emerged as a contender in the struggling light heavyweight division with a submission of Nikita Krylov.


On the main card, self-proclaimed "Viking" Emil Meek made a successful UFC debut against Jordan Mein, who had returned from retirement. Kelvin Gastelum managed to become just the second fighter to stop Tim Kennedy with strikes. Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi combined for one of the greatest UFC fights of all time and most certainly the greatest fight of 2016. In the co-main event, Donald Cerrone became the first fighter to KO the durable Matt Brown in 36 fights. Finally, in the main event, Max Holloway became the first fighter to beat Anthony Pettis inside the distance, earning an interim belt for his troubles.

Third Place: Event of the Year

UFC 205, November 12

The UFC debut in Madison Square Garden was a massively successful one, smashing the gate and domestic attendance records for the UFC and MSG itself. In a card that featured three title fights, all three managed to entertain the fans, unlike the last time the UFC put three belts on the line at the tragic UFC 33 card.

Conor McGregor became the first UFC fighter to hold two belts simultaneously, the Tyron Woodley/Stephen Thompson draw became the fourth draw in UFC championship bout history, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk extended her dominant championship reign to a fourth successful defense. Additionally, Yoel Romero pulled off a "Knockout of the Year" candidate with his flying knee of Chris Weidman, and Raquel Pennington retired former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate.



Photo by John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Fighter of the Year

Stipe Miocic

Stipe Miocic managed not only to win the heavyweight championship in 2016, but he also ended up knocking all three of his opponents out in the first round with a combined fight time of 8 minutes and 8 seconds. Miocic won post-fight bonuses in all three of those bouts, with his knockouts of Andrei Arlovski and champion Fabricio Werdum earning him "Performance of the Night" honors, and his knockout of Alistair Overeem winning him a "Fight of the Night" bonus.

Going into those three bouts, Arlovski was ranked #2, Werdum was the champion, and Overeem was #3. The UFC celebrated Miocic's championship victory by granting him his first title defense in his hometown of Cleveland, boldly going where the UFC had never gone before. After overcoming some early adversity by Overeem, Miocic managed to come back and knock the Dutchman out in the first round, to the delight of his friends, family and beloved city.

Second Place: Fighter of the Year

Michael Bisping

Michael Bisping fought three times in 2016, against two legends of the sport and one champion of the division in Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, and Luke Rockhold, respectively. In each of those bouts, Bisping emerged victorious, and earned a post-fight bonus, with two "Fight of the Night" bonuses in his Silva and Henderson bouts, and the "Performance of the Night" for his shocking upset of then-champion Luke Rockhold.


Bisping became the fifth fighter to win his season of The Ultimate Fighter and then go on to win a title. Also in 2016, Bisping picked up records for the most number of wins in UFC history with 20, he tied Frank Mir and Tito Ortiz for the most number of UFC appearances with 27, and he became the winningest fighter in UFC middleweight history with 16 wins at 185 pounds.

Third Place: Fighter of the Year

Conor McGregor

No matter what side you are on regarding Conor McGregor, it is hard to deny his achievement in 2016. McGregor became the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold a belt in two different weight classes. Although McGregor did start off the year with a submission loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, he managed to get revenge by defeating Diaz by majority decision at UFC 202.

Less than three months later, he headlined the UFC's first event in Madison Square Garden, winning that second belt and writing his name in the history books. McGregor stopped lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the second round by TKO, and subsequently was forced to relinquish his featherweight belt two weeks later to keep the division from being held up.


Photo by Jake Roth-USA Today Sports

Winner: Upset of the Year

Michael Bisping over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199

With Bisping a +400 underdog going into his match against Rockhold, fans and MMA writers alike assumed Rockhold would be assured an easy first title defense. Rockhold had defeated Bisping 19 months prior by a guillotine choke in the second round.


Despite a three-fight win streak including a controversial decision win over Anderson Silva, Bisping shocked the MMA world at 37 years young by scoring a first round knockout over Rockhold. It took Bisping 25 fights in the UFC to earn a title shot, and he capitalized in a way that no one could have expected.

Second Place: Upset of the Year

Miesha Tate over Holly Holm at UFC 196

Despite Tate coming in as a +250 underdog against newly minted champ Holly Holm, and despite Tate being down on the scorecards going into the fifth round, Tate performed some grappling magic against the undefeated Holm. In the second round, Tate managed to get Holm to the ground and earned a 10-8 round from the judges for her efforts.

If Tate had not submitted Holm in the fifth and final round and instead rode the round out, the fight would have likely been scored a draw and Holm would have kept the belt. Tate did not want to see it that way, and pulled off a miraculous technical submission, putting the champ to sleep by rear naked choke with just 90 seconds left.

Third Place: Upset of the Year

Brandon Moreno over Louis Smolka at UFC Fight Night 96

Coming into this fight on just over a week's notice, and a large +350 underdog, Brandon Moreno kept smiling fresh off his unsuccessful TUF Season 24 appearance as the lowest ranked fighter on the show. Smolka, the 9th ranked flyweight and 5-1 favorite came into this fight riding a four fight win streak with three stoppages, with two of those earning "Performance of the Night" bonuses.


Despite the odds, inexperience and youth working against Moreno, "The Assassin Baby" snatched Smolka's neck and made short work of him in less than two and a half minutes of the first round by guillotine choke.


Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Winner: Botched Weight Cut of the Year

Charles Oliveira, missed by 9 pounds, at UFC Fight Night 98 against Ricardo Lamas
Lost by Submission

Oliveira missed weight by basically an entire weight class coming in to his bout against Lamas. This was the fourth time Oliveira had missed weight, and the commission in Mexico stated that Oliveira could not weigh more than 165 pounds on fight day, which he successfully made.

Second Place: Botched Weight Cut of the Year

Thiago Alves
Missed weight by 6.6 pounds at UFC 205 against Jim Miller
Lost by Unanimous Decision

New York implemented a weight difference policy where no two fighters could have a difference in weight of greater than five pounds. Alves missed by over six pounds, so to keep the match together, Jim Miller actually rehydrated to gain weight and officially hit the scale at 157.6 pounds. It was the third time Alves missed weight in his career, and the NY commission stated that Alves could not weigh more than 173 pounds on fight day, which he successfully made.

Third Place: Botched Weight Cut of the Year

Anthony Pettis
Missed weight by 3 pounds at UFC 206 against Max Holloway
Lost by TKO

In addition to forfeiting a percentage of his purse to Holloway and losing the opportunity to earn a post-fight bonus, Pettis became ineligible to win the belt if he won his fight. Holloway, in response, famously stated that he would be willing to take the bout at heavyweight if that was needed to make sure the fight happened. As such, the bout was a championship fight only for Holloway, who managed to not only win but become the first fighter to stop Anthony Pettis en route to becoming the Interim UFC Featherweight Champion.