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The year in sport 2018: MMA

2018 was a year of anniversaries for mixed-martial arts. The UFC celebrated its 25th year with a commemorative event in Denver in November and finished their contract with FoxSports, signalling the start of a new chapter with ESPN in 2019.

Bellator MMA also celebrated their tenth year with a heavyweight grand prix and welterweight grand prix that will culminate with some fascinating match-ups for the belts in 2019, with the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Rory MacDonald and Michael Page all hoping to reign supreme.

One Championship also closed the gap on the UFC with the acquisitions of Eddie Alvarez and Demetrius Johnson in a groundbreaking trade with Ben Askren.

The growth of CageWarriors in Europe also continued with their 100th event in Cardiff earlier this month where Jack Shore won the vacant bantamweight belt and Dean Trueman claimed the featherweight title.

Here are the winners of the Sports Gazette’s 2018 MMA awards.

Comeback fighter of the year Tony Ferguson

Ferguson started the year by preparing to defend his lightweight belt against Nurmagomedov.

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But less than a week before the cursed match-up was due to take place, Ferguson slipped at a media event and tore his fibular collateral ligament.

Most people would take over a year to recover. Ferguson isn’t most people though, and was back in the octagon putting on a clinic against Anthony Pettis in October with a scar that the Joker would be proud of.

Breakthrough fighter of the year Israel Adesanya

It’s hard to believe that Adesanya only made his UFC debut this year.

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Stylebender already has four UFC wins to his name and has claimed performance of the night bonuses in three of those wins, which included Derek Brunson and Brad Tavares.

Shock of the year Henry Cejudo’s split decision win vs Demetrious Johnson

Cejudo became the first Olympic gold-medallist to win a UFC belt when he defeated Mighty Mouse via split decision at UFC227.

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The current flyweight champion went into the fight as one of the biggest underdogs in recent history due to Johnson’s record-breaking 11 title defences prior to their fight in August.

Walkout of the year Al Iaquinta                                            

Lightweight Al Iaquinta started the year by giving Khabib Nurmagomedov his biggest challenge to date at UFC223.

He followed this up with a performance of the night victory against Kevin Lee in Fox’s last fight card.

But he also caught the headlines by walking out with swagger to AK3’s ‘Woke up this morning,’ aka The Sopranos theme tune in Milwaukee.

Submission of the year  Alexey Oleynik’s Ezekiel Choke vs Júnior Albini

The Boa Constrictor lived up to his name when he secured an Ezekiel choke on Albini from the bottom at UFC224, earning him the Performance of the Night.

He is the only fighter to win via an Ezekiel choke in UFC history and also landed it against Viktor Pešta in 2017.

Knockout of the year Yair Rodríguez Elbow KO vs Korean Zombie

Yair Rodríguez knocked out Chan Sung Jung with a no-look elbow in the last second of the fight in Denver last month in one of the most dramatic finishes in the company’s history.

Fight of the year Justin Gaethje vs Dustin Poirier

Every time Gaethje has stepped into the octagon he has come away with a fight bonus.

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Both fighters mercilessly exchanged blows before Herb Dean stopped Poirier from landing any more with Gaethje still just about on his feet. A fight for the ages.  

Female fighter of the year Amanda Nunes

Amanda Nunes shocked the MMA world when she defeated Cris Cyborg at UFC232 inside 51 seconds. The 30-year-old became the first woman to win and hold two UFC belts simultaneously.

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To top her 2018 off, she defended her bantamweight belt in May when she stopped Raquel Pennington in the 5th round.

Male fighter of the year Daniel Cormier

Cormier has truly embraced the grind in 2018.

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The pound-for-pound number one claimed the heavyweight title against Stipe Miocic with an emphatic first round knockout and successfully defended the title against the hardest hitter in the UFC — Derrick Lewis.

To top it off, he defended his light-heavyweight belt against Volkan Oezdemir in a dominant performance back in January.

Featured Photograph/WikiCommons/Andrius Petrucenia

Darren Barnard
Darren, 24, is a graduate of the University of Exeter, where he attained a degree in Drama. Following that, he travelled through Asia and Australia for two years, encountering entirely different sporting cultures. Unable to his watch his beloved Spurs and Chicago Bears as regularly as he was accustomed to, he was encouraged to pursue other countries sporting passions. An interest in AFL and NRL was unavoidable as he became infatuated with Australia's similar passion for sport. However it was among the corruption and chaos of Asian football, where he formed a lifelong friendship with the players and supporters of Than Quảng Ninh F.C.
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