When it comes to yearly MMA awards, there is no greater honor than Fighter of the Year. It’s like the fight version of the NBA or MLB’s MVP – an extraordinary individual accomplishment that requires near transcendent performance.
In the coming weeks, nearly every major media outlet will be making their selection for FOTY. We’re going to hold off on making a pick, and instead just throw a few candidates into the conversation. And like choosing an MVP, there is more than just stats to measure for the UFC 2016 Fighter of the Year.
What Are the Criteria?
In a year-round sport, activity is one of the most important factors – you can’t be FOTY if you’ve only fought once or twice in 12 months. A fighter needs a minimum of three fights to really make their mark.
Additionally, the impact a fighter has made within their divisional landscape is key. And just like in the NBA, cultural significance has to be considered.
Let’s check out a few worthy picks for 2016 Fighter of the year. Whenever these fighters are booked for their next matchups, head over to BookMaker.eu to check out your MMA betting options.
And feel free to sound off in the comments below, as I’ll be responding in kind. There’s nothing I love more than a good MMA debate.
1. Conor Mcgregor
2016 Record: 2-1, 2 KOs
Next Fight: TBA
Based on popularity alone, McGregor is the favorite. No UFC fighter – not Rousey, St. Pierre, Bones or Brock Lesnar – has invaded mainstream consciousness the way McGregor has.
Like a combat sports version of Donald Trump, any move he makes – from getting a boxing license to a well-timed tweet – can and will become the front page article of any MMA media outlet or even open an hour of SportCenter.
Love him or hate him, he talked the talked and walked it too, becoming the first man in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in different weight classes. And he made it look easy, toying with a highly regarded lightweight in Eddie Alvarez. It’s just not supposed to look that easy.
The only thing holding him back here is his loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196. He got it back, but Mystic Mac had to dig deep to gut out a majority decision. There are other fighters on this list who went undefeated in 2016, which is the only reason that I wouldn’t consider McGregor a unanimous choice in the UFC odds for FOTY. Still, he has to be the frontrunner.
2. Michael Bisping
2016 Record: 3-0, 1 KO
Next Fight: TBA
If you predicted in MMA odds that Bisping would be a champion in 2016, then I’d like you to pick the numbers for my next lottery ticket.
At 37 years old, with more than a decade of fights weighing on his body, Bisping seemed destined to be the forever bridesmaid. Good enough to be a top-10 fighter, but just lacking in qualities deserving of a title fight.
But fortune did him a solid when Weidman pulled out of a title bout with Luke Rockhold, and the longtime soldier stepped in on less than two weeks notice for his first-ever title shot. As a -550 underdog, Bisping shocked the world and pulled off the biggest upset of the year.
Sandwich that stunner with wins over two legends in Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson, and it’s undeniable that this has been by far the greatest chapter of a Hall of Fame career.
The only drawback is that Silva and Henderson were far past their primes by the time they met Bisping, and he barely scraped by them. But who can argue against the fact that “The Count” is deserving of FOTY?
3. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
2016 Record: 4-0, 3 KOs, 1 SUB
Next Fight: TBA
It took Cerrone five years and an eight-fight win streak to earn a shot at the lightweight title against then-champion Rafael dos Anjos.
It took just over a minute for the Brazilian to demolish “Cowboy” and crush the dream of holding the 155-pound strap.
So when Cerrone announced that he would be moving up to welterweight, one could see it as an admission of defeat. That the popular fighter was giving up his title hopes in search of “fun fights” as a smaller fighter against bigger men. But Cerrone’s 2016 run has forced his name into the title mix.
Cowboy was favored against both Patrick Cote and Rick Story, but it still was eye-opening to see how easily he carved them up. I gotta admit that I thought Story, a bullying wrestler who had stifled guys like Gunnar Nelson, was an intriguing underdog pick.
But Cerrone chewed him up and spat him out like bad tobacco. And most recently he scored a knockout of the year candidate over a contender in Matt Brown.
If there’s another guy you can think of who as much success moving up a weight class as Cerrone, I’d love to hear it. John Lineker comes to mind, but he’s nowhere near as popular as Cowboy.
UFC FOTY Honorable Mentions
He recently became the first man to stop Anthony Pettis inside the distance, securing the interim featherweight championship. However, that was only his second fight of 2016 – largely due to the holding pattern caused by McGregor for much of the year.
Nunes is scheduled to defend her title against Ronda Rousey next week. Should she emerge the victor (and I think she will), that would conclude 2016 where she beat contender Valentina Shevchenko, retired Miesha Tate to capture the belt and defeated the biggest star in women’s MMA history.
For more UFC news, check out UFC 208 Odds: Cruz and Garbrandt Finally Get to Shut Each Other Up