In some ways, it’s hard to determine whether an MMA event will be exciting or not. As many fans know, some fight cards stacked with big names and high-profile athletes don’t always deliver in terms of quality. Inversely, shows that were generally expected to be boring—UFC 139, for example—often deliver in terms of action, excitement, and the importance of results (current champion Rafael dos Anjos and former champion Chris Weidman also competed at the event).
While some of the sport’s most exciting fight cards have also been stacked with huge names, the point is that these names don’t guarantee a thrilling overall event. Considering this, fans will need to appreciate—and remember—each of the best fight cards that the sport has to offer.
In no particular order, let’s take a look at the MMA events of 2015 that delivered in excitement and action.
The most anticipated fight card of the year delivered—especially in its main and co-main events.
Although there admittedly weren’t very many bloody, back-and-forth wars (outside of the co-main event), there was a consistent stream of solid action offered by UFC 194.
In the main event, Conor McGregor dispatched Jose Aldo via knockout in just thirteen seconds—a result that very few, if any, saw coming.
The co-main event was much more competitive, and the rightful Fight of the Night, as Luke Rockhold captured the middleweight title by beating Chris Weidman via fourth-round TKO.
The rest of the main card was solid, albeit not particularly action-packed. Yoel Romero controversially defeated Jacare Souza via split decision, in a fight that many scored in favor of the Brazilian, or as a draw.
Demian Maia did what he does best, in implementing his ground game and outstanding grappling skills against fellow elite grappler Gunnar Nelson. For as good as Nelson is on the ground, Maia is simply on another level—just as we’ve seen as he’s faced excellent grapplers throughout his entire career.
The main card kicked off with a solid contest between Max Holloway and Jeremy Stephens, which saw Holloway secure a clear unanimous-decision victory as a result of his superior volume and speed.
Simply put, UFC 194 was one of the best cards of the year—even if its action wasn’t quite as crazy as many fans envisioned.
Although UFC 187 was originally scheduled to feature Anthony Johnson battling Jon Jones for the title, the former champion’s infamous hit-and-run incident forced him to withdraw from the event and vacate the strap. Daniel Cormier stepped up to battle for—and ultimately secure—the belt.
It might not have been as much of a commercial success as a result, but UFC 187 was an excellent card. The main event between Cormier and Johnson was a thrilling affair, and the co-main event—another title fight, between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort—only lasted a few minutes, but was interesting while it played out. Also on the main card, Donald Cerrone entertained against late-replacement John Makdessi, and Andrei Arlovski finished Travis Browne in exciting fashion.
Original title fight aside, UFC 187 was fun to watch.
The UFC’s return to New Orleans gave fans quite a bit to enjoy.
All six of the card’s main event fights ended in a knockout or submission finish—five coming in the first round. Moreover, four of the six preliminary fights also ended in a finish.
Of course, early finishes aren’t very enjoyable when they are the result of mismatches and unfair fights, but none were to be found here. Some of the awesome main-card bouts included: Dan Henderson vs. Tim Boetsch, Ben Rothwell vs. Matt Mitrione, and Dustin Poirier vs. Yancy Medeiros.
In addition to all of this, the action aired live and free on Fox Sports 1—further cementing the event’s status as one of the best fight cards of the year.
UFC 189 was an awesome show, despite the highly anticipated initial main event between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor being pulled just days before the card, as a result of an injury to the Brazilian’s ribs.
The main event between McGregor and Chad Mendes—for the interim title—was very fun to watch while it played out over the course of two back-and-forth rounds. Additionally, by proving that he has what it takes to defeat elite wrestling-based fighters such as Mendes, McGregor legitimized himself in the eyes of many fans.
The co-main event between Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler, for the welterweight strap, stole the show and will go down in history as one of the greatest fights of all time. The champion, Lawler, retained his belt as an underdog by defeating MacDonald via fifth-round TKO, in a back-and-forth contest that demonstrated the toughness, will, and insane determination of each man.
All five of the main card fights ended on a finish. In another exciting contest, Jeremy Stephens defeated Dennis Bermudez via TKO as a result of a flying knee and punches! Gunnar Nelson defeated Brandon Thatch early, and in another truly remarkable and thrilling fight, Brazilian prospect Thomas Almeida defeated the always-exciting Englishman Brad Pickett via second-round KO. This fight would have been “Fight of the Night” at most every other event.
Even with its PPV price tag considered, UFC 189 was one of the best fight cards of the year.
Was it messy?
Was it frequently lampooned upon its announcement?
Would most fans have felt comfortable missing the event as it aired live and free on Spike?
Bellator 138 was one of the promotion’s highest-rated shows of the year, as its main event between two men who are well past their athletic primes—Kimbo Slice vs Ken Shamrock—drew casual viewers in.
Like a bad accident or uncomfortable real-world moment, many fans didn’t know what to expect from the main event but nevertheless found themselves unable to look away.
While this main event was actually rather interesting to watch, Bellator wisely planted some of the promotion’s top fighters—truly elite athletes—on the rest of the card. Watching Michael Chandler, Daniel Straus, and Bobby Lashley compete—albeit in bouts that they were expected to win—was fun.
The most exciting action of the night, though, came in the co-main event for the featherweight title. In the first round, the well-rounded German challenger Daniel Weichel had the champion, Patrício Freire, badly hurt. Looking to capitalize on this, Weichel came out guns blazing in the second, only to find out what so many others already knew: brawling with either of the Pitbull brothers isn’t advisable.
Freire finished the fight via vicious KO and made clear that he can’t ever be counted out of a fight.
Both men’s stock rose after this awesome fight. Overall, for all of the talk behind it, Bellator 138 delivered.
It might not have featured any overly violent contests, but Bellator 145 featured some of the promotion’s most elite athletes, and did well to highlight the skills of these competitors. Two belts—lightweight and featherweight—were on the line, and more importantly, they were on the line in fights which were designed to be competitive.
The event demonstrated just how awesome Bellator’s homegrown talent is to watch when competing against viable competition.
Lightweight champion Will Brooks defended his title against the talented Polish submission expert, Marcin Held, in a fight that made clear his ability to remain calm in adverse situations.
In the main event and the best fight of the night—another contest between Daniel Straus and Patrício Freire—Straus definitively captured the belt and cemented his status at the top of the division.
The featured bout of the night, a rematch between David Rickels and Michael Chandler, saw “The Caveman” demonstrate his toughness and will, only to come up short once again against Chandler (which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of). The contest was fun to watch, however.
And in the first two main-card fights, Bobby Lashley quickly dispatched James Thompson in their long-awaited rematch, and Emmanuel Sanchez bested fellow prospect Justin Lawrence in an enjoyable match.
In terms of both significance and action, Bellator 145 was one of the promotion’s best cards of the year.
The WSOF’s eight-man, one night tournament was an interesting proposition at the outset, but given the scope of it, there were certainly a ton of things that could go wrong.
And when the event rolled around, some of these worst-case scenarios were realized. An alternate was lost before the weigh-ins, and during the event, two winners— Mike Ricci and Islam Mamedov—were unable to proceed due to injuries.
During all of this chaos and unexpectedness, the event relayed one thing to viewers: fun. The entire card was enjoyable to watch, and in a mixture of good luck, circumstance, timing, and something that just can’t be explained (how Foster made such impressive adjustments in such a short amount of time is unclear), Brian Foster knocked out Joáo Zeferino—a man who had submitted him earlier that night—after defending countless attempts and positions that led to his initial demise.
As Chael Sonnen noted during the event’s broadcast, this may very well be the last time that fans get to see this large of a one-night tournament on US soil. With all of this considered, WSOF’s effort certainly made for one of the more notable and interesting fight cards of the year.
The above cards are certainly some of the best of the year, but there are still plenty more solid events that fans should enjoy. Specifically, AXS TV delivers exciting action on most Friday nights, often featuring the stars of tomorrow (it was just last year, 2014, that Holly Holm fought on AXS). Additionally, ONE Championship puts on thrilling fight cards, although they aren’t very heavily marketed here in the US.
Hopefully next year will provide for even more exciting MMA action. Enjoy the fights!