It’s the end of the year again and we like to do these silly things like apply a numerical value to our favorite fights. This is much easier said than done. A fantastic year of MMA has come and gone, and narrowing down the fights to just 10 took me weeks of back and forth arguing with myself, the kind that draws crowds at the grocery store. As a result, I have ranked the following ten fights as the best of 2008.
The qualifications for this top ten list of top fights were a combination of pre-fight drama, excitement during the fight itself, and the greatest repercussions of the results. As with most of these lists, everyone will complain and make a pitch for their own opinions. I welcome your arguments in the comments section; let me know what I missed!
10. Nate Diaz vs. Kurt Pellegrino – UFC Fight Night 13 – 04/02/2008
Diaz was riding a 3 fight win streak in the UC after winning The Ultimate Fighter season five, and begging for a step up in competition. Pellegrino was going through a bit of an up-and-down stretch in the UFC, apparent distractions outside of the UFC keeping him from showing his true potential. Pellegrino had claimed his personal issues were taking care of and he was the man who would bring Nate Diaz back down to reality and show him his place in the UFC lightweight division pecking order. What followed that night was a high paced back and forth affair. Pellegrino dominated the first round and came close to ending the fight with some vicious ground and pound. Diaz came out in the second round and used Pellegrino’s over aggressive approach against him as he caught him in an obscenity-laced triangle choke. A better finish could not have been scripted.
9. Matt Wiman vs. Thiago Tavares – UFC 85 – 06/07/2008
Wiman was another from The Ultimate Fighter season five quietly on a win streak, and taking a major step up in competition. Tavares was a highly touted prospect who came into the UFC undefeated until Tyson Griffin gave him his first loss, although questionable it may have been. Some thought this fight was meant to be another higher profile step up for Tavares towards title contention, but apparently no one told Wiman. After a spirited first round where both fighters sustained damage, Wiman came out guns blazing in the second and gave us a highlight reel knockout of Tavares against the fence.
8. Gina Carano vs. Kaitlin Young – EliteXC Primetime – 05/31/2008
All of Carano’s fights are so exciting that it is hard to choose one. But this fight with Young set the stage for the first national televised broadcast of MMA in the US, and it put women’s MMA on the map by stealing the show that night. You can argue that women should be able to fight within five minute rounds just like the men, but three minute rounds may have saved Young serious injury that night as the pounding that Carano put on her in six minutes was absolutely devastating. Carano put on an MMA clinic and became the lifeline of a dying promotion to boot.
7. Demian Maia vs. Jason MacDonald – UFC 87 – 08/09/2008
I am a grappler deep down in my heart, so whenever I see a fight with this magnitude of grappling prowess I smile long and hard as well as show it to every grappling critic I can find. This was an absolute Brazilian jiu-jitsu clinic put on by Maia. In my estimation he is by far the most technical and most explosive bjj practitioner to ever step into the cage. But the major credit for the fight has to go to Jason MacDonald. We all knew, including MacDonald, that Maia was a wiz on the ground. MacDonald showed no fear and immediately clinched and took Maia to the floor and gave him a run for his money. Although a lot of the trouble that MacDonald looked like he was getting Maia into was actually Maia setting up MacDonald for counter moves, it still took incredible skill and heart to fight Maia on the floor for as long as he did. Although almost no strikes were thrown for minutes at a time, you could not help but be on the edge of your seat. Maia is going to give Anderson Silva fits, you heard it hear first. Or second.
6. Frank Shamrock vs. Cung Le – Strikeforce Shamrock vs. Le – 03/29/2008
Shamrock was the legend in the sport with the big resume and the even bigger mouth. Le was the converted San Shou fighter with a ton of hype behind him. Critics said that Le had not fought anyone of note and that he had not been tested yet. In total Shamrock style, he stated that he would not take down Le to his comfort zone on the ground and try to submit him but he would stand and trade with the devastating striker. True to his word Shamrock put on a fantastic kickboxing display with Le but eventually was outclassed by Le as he was picked apart with big kicks. A broken arm from blocking Le’s kicks at the end of the third round ended this gem of a fight two rounds too soon.
5. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Tim Sylvia – UFC 81 – 02/02/2008
The former Pride fighters were taking a verbal and physical beating at the time of this fight. They were not doing well as a whole in their transition over to the UFC. This was the first title fight involving a former Pride Champ, and the battle lines were drawn between the Pride fanboys and the UFC fans. And it looked like it was going to be another case of “I told you so” as Tim Sylvia was laying a ‘whuppin’ on Nogueira for the first two rounds of the fight. Beating and battering him with his jab and multiple combinations, ‘Nog seemed to be a step behind him all night long and the damage was starting to get serious. But in true Nogueira fashion, he defied the odds and came out in the third period with a new fire. He pulled Sylvia down and submitted him, pulling a win from the clutches of defeat.
4. Miguel Torres vs. Yoshiro Maeda – WEC 34 – 06/01/2008
Miguel Torres was the newly crowned champ with the gaudy record, the last pupil of the famed Carlson Gracie Jr., Yoshiro Maeda was the new recruit to the WEC, the long time Pancrase veteran stepping in last minute to take on the champ. No one really knew what to expect from either of these fighters. Wow, what a treat we received. A fight that went everywhere and anywhere in the cage, at one point stalled as both men had foot locks on each other at the same time. Torres finally calmed down and started to impose his will in the striking department, ending the fight by closing Maeda’s eye with his jab. While not officially a coming out party for Torres, it solidified him as the champion of the 135 lbs. division.
3. Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture – UFC 91 – 11/15/2008
Dana White dubbed it “the greatest fight in UFC history.” While this may have been over exaggerated, it was the biggest heavyweight fight of the year and the introduction of a new regime in the division. Brock Lesnar is now not only the heavyweight champion of the UFC but the biggest box office draw in the promotion. The pre-fight hype on ESPN and mainstream media were benchmarks for the sport to this point, and thankfully the fight produced. Lesnar and Couture fought a spirited first round and Couture and Lesnar both showed they belonged in the title fight. The odds finally caught up with Couture late in the second round as one of Lesnar’s lunch box fists caught Couture behind the ear and ended the reign of the five-time champ.
2. Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson – UFC 86 – 07/05/2008
Griffin was the inaugural winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and had just defeated the consensus number one fighter in Mauricio Rua. Rampage had defeated the icon Chuck Liddell for the title and defended it once against Pride champion Dan Henderson. They were both installed as coaches of season seven of The Ultimate Fighter series. It was the perfect recipe for a blockbuster title match, and the fight didn’t disappoint. It was a twenty five minute back and forth battle between two fighters at the peak of their skills. The fight took place on all levels in the cage and at the end the winner was still in doubt. Griffin took a extremely controversial unanimous decision over Rampage, leaving the fan base waiting and wanting a rematch.
1. Eddie Alvarez vs. Joachim Hansen – DREAM 3 – 05/11/2008
Alvarez was the up and coming prospect who reached a certain amount of notoriety in BodogFIGHT. Hansen was the high ranked veteran who had fought many of the top fighters in the world. This was Alvarez’s first time on the big stage of MMA and Hansen was a favorite to win the whole tournament. They faced off in the second round of the Lightweight Grand Prix in DREAM and it turned into an instant classic. It had everything that MMA fans love, knockdowns to sub attempts and both defending and coming back for more. In the end, Alvarez outworked Hansen for the win, and earned himself instant celebrity in Japan. There is hope for a rematch early in 2009.
Honorable mention – a few fights fell in and out of my countdown several times, so I thought they warranted at least a mention.
- Eddie Alvarez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri – DREAM 5 – 07/21/2008
- Miguel Torres vs. Chase Beebe – WEC 32 – 02/13/2008
- Shinya Aoki vs. Gesias “JZ” Calvancante – DREAM 2 – 04/29/2008
- Carlos Condit vs. Hiromitsu Miura – WEC 35 – 08/03/2008
- Hideo Tokoro vs. Darren Uyenoyama – DREAM 4 – 06/15/2008