2018 is in the rear-view mirror, which means it’s time to reflect on another whole year of mixed martial arts. Thousands of fights took place across the globe among the sport’s numerous promotions. MMASucka would like to recognize and award the sport’s fighters, promotions and personalities that provided us with another entertaining year. As a staff, we voted on who the publication should recognize in each category. These are the MMASucka 2018 MMA Awards.
Fighter of the Year
Winner: Kyoji Horiguchi
(© RIZIN FF)
RIZIN’s star, Kyoji Horiguchi, had a successful 3-0 run in MMA competition this year. In May, he retired former Tachi PF flyweight champion Ian McCall with a nine-second knockout. He followed that up in July with a dominant unanimous decision over Shooto flyweight champion Hiromasa Ogikubo. However, his best win of the year (and probably his career) came in December against Bellator bantamweight champion in a RIZIN champ vs. Bellator champ bantamweight title bout. Horiguchi submitted Caldwell, a wrestler with a significant size advantage, with a guillotine 1:13 into the third round. It’s also noteworthy that Horiguchi went toe-to-toe in a kickboxing match with Tenshin Nasukawa and made it to a decision, despite losing. A successful 2018 for “The Gooch” with three big wins makes him our fighter of the year.
Michael DeSantis- Daniel Cormier
Jeremy Brand- Kevin Belingon
Wesley Riddle- Daniel Cormier
Patrick Auger- Daniel Cormier
Mike Skytte- Kyoji Horiguchi
Eddie Gallo- Kyoji Horiguchi
Matt Bricker- Dustin Poirier
Ryan Wagner- Kyoji Horiguchi
Connor Deitrich- Kyoji Horiguchi
Sasha Moksyakov- Daniel Cormier
Brian Gerson- Kyoji Horiguchi
Mitch Banuelos- Kyoji Horiguchi
Omar Villagrana- Daniel Cormier
Anand Thumbayil- Max Holloway
Fight of the Year
Winner: Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
GLENDALE, AZ – APRIL 14: (R-L) Dustin Poirier throws an elbow at Justin Gaethje in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Gila River Arena on April 14, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
April’s Battle in the Desert between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje was a night to remember at UFC on FOX 29 in Glendale, AZ. The two lightweights were vying to advance in the crowded UFC lightweight title picture. Poirier, in the midst of his rejuvenation at lightweight, took on former World Series of Fighting lightweight champ Gaethje. The two went at it for over three fast-paced rounds of action in a back-and-forth fight, combining for 289 significant strikes.
Poirier went to the head for 89 percent of his significant strikes, while Gaethje chopped up Poirier’s legs; 26 percent of Gaethje’s strikes were leg kicks. Just 33 seconds into Round 4, it was Poirier who got his hand raised when he TKO’d Gaethje with a flurry of punches after dazing him with a left hand.
The frenetic, high-octane pace, combined with momentum shifts and a spectacular finish, earned this classic its spot as MMASucka’s 2018 Fight of the Year.
Michael DeSantis- Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Jeremy Brand- Yair Rodriguez vs. Chan Sung Jung
Wesley Riddle- Tomasz Narkun vs. Mamed Khalidov I
Patrick Auger- Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II
Mike Skytte- Aung La Nsang vs. Ken Hasegawa
Eddie Gallo- Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II
Matt Bricker- Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Ryan Wagner- Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Connor Deitrich- Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Sasha Moksyakov- Yair Rodriguez vs. Chan Sung Jung
Brian Gerson- Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Mitch Banuelos- Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II
Omar Villagrana- Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II
Anand Thumbayil- Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis
Knockout of the Year
Winner: Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung via elbow
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 10: Chan Sung Jung is hit with a knock-out elbow from Yair Rodríguez with four seconds left in the fifth and final round to end their Featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night 139 at the Pepsi Center on November 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Talk about doings things at the last second. In a fun, featherweight main event bout commemorating the UFC’s 25th anniversary, Rodriguez and “The Korean Zombie” went back-and-forth for nearly 25 minutes. Many fans had “The Korean Zombie” up comfortably on the scorecard heading into the fifth frame. With about 15 seconds left, the two began to raise their arms in appreciation of the crowd-pleasing fight they’ve had to that point.
With the fight in hand, “The Korean Zombie” took one last rush in in an effort to punctuate his victory with a stoppage. But with literally one second remaining, however, Rodriguez ducked under Jung and raised his right elbow into Jung’s face, which face-planted “The Korean Zombie,” shocking everyone. It was an incredible maneuver by Rodriguez to win himself the fight in emphatic fashion, putting the cherry on top of the memorable UFC Fight Night 139.
This fight is probably on top-5 lists for knockout of the year, fight of the year and comeback of the year. For our website, it was pretty dominantly the Knockout of the Year.
Michael DeSantis- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Jeremy Brand- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Wesley Riddle- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Patrick Auger- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Mike Skytte- Mzwandile Hlongwa def. Torbjorn Madsen
Eddie Gallo- Yoel Romero def. Luke Rockhold
Matt Bricker- Wagner Prado def. Lukasz Parobiec
Ryan Wagner- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Connor Deitrich- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Sasha Moksyakov- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Brian Gerson- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Mitch Banuelos- Lyoto Machida def. Vitor Belfort
Omar Villagrana- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Anand Thumbayil- Yair Rodriguez def. Chan Sung Jung
Submission of the Year
Winner: Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn via heel hook
INGLEWOOD , CA – DECEMBER 29: Ryan Hall, blue, defeats B.J. Penn, red, via first round heel hook during UFC 232 at the Forum in Inglewood Ca, Saturday, Dec 29, 2018. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Digital First Media/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)
Ryan Hall showcased why his nickname is “The Wizard” when he submitted BJ Penn with a nasty heel hook at UFC 232. Penn, the former UFC lightweight and welterweight champ, started the fight off stronger than he had in years, looking to snap a five-fight, seven-year losing drought. Hall ended that when he rolled onto his back and grabbed Penn’s legs. It took just a few seconds for Penn to tap to the heel hook. It marked the first time Penn had ever been submitted.
Michael DeSantis- Kazuyuki Miyata def. Erson Yamamoto
Jeremy Brand- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Wesley Riddle- Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn
Patrick Auger- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Mike Skytte- Kazuyuki Miyata def. Erson Yamamoto
Eddie Gallo- Aljamain Sterling def. Cody Stamann
Matt Bricker- Tomasz Narkun def. Mamed Khalidov
Ryan Wagner- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Connor Deitrich- Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn
Sasha Moksyakov- Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Brandon Davis
Brian Gerson- Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn
Mitch Banuelos- Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Brandon Davis
Omar Villagrana- Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Brandon Davis
Anand Thumbayil- Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn
Comeback of the Year
Winner: Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 06: Derrick Lewis beats on Alexander Volkov of Russia in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
In a year with comebacks aplenty, there’s one in particular that stood out to most of the MMASucka staff. At UFC 229 in October, Lewis and Volkov what fought in what turned out to be a heavyweight title eliminator. Volkov had been piecing “The Black Beast” up for the better part of three rounds (out-striking him 77-30), and the Russian appeared well on his way to victory. But with 25 seconds left in the fight, Lewis started landing on Volkov, who stayed in the pocket. With just 18 seconds left, Lewis dropped Volkov with a right hand. Lewis followed him to the mat and uncorked heavy ground and pound, putting Volkov out at the 4:49 mark.
Lewis went on to earn a heavyweight title shot at Daniel Cormier on the back of the Comeback of the Year, as well as the memorable post-fight interview where he took his pants off because “my balls was hot.”
Michael DeSantis- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Jeremy Brand- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Wesley Riddle- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Patrick Auger- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Mike Skytte- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Eddie Gallo- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Matt Bricker- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Ryan Wagner- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Connor Deitrich- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Sasha Moksyakov- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Brian Gerson- Paul Craig def. Magomed Ankalaev
Mitch Banuelos- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Omar Villagrana- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Anand Thumbayil- Derrick Lewis def. Alexander Volkov
Comeback Fighter of the Year
Winner: Daniel Cormier
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 03: Daniel Cormier celebrates after his submission victory over Derrick Lewis in their UFC heavyweight championship bout during the UFC 230 event inside Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
In July 2017, following UFC 214, it appeared Daniel Cormier’s time as a UFC champion could be over. Jon Jones had just knocked him out and re-claimed the light heavyweight championship. Cormier, who had just been knocked out by his rival, cried on camera, spawning gifs and memes. It looked like the potential end for a fan favorite. However, in September, Jon Jones was stripped of his title for failing a drug test for turinabol. Cormier was reinstated as the light heavyweight champ, but many felt he had to earn it back with a win–Cormier included.
He did so in January with a dominant second-round TKO win over Volkan Oezdemir. In July, Cormier earned a shot at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, and knocked him out in the first round. He became just the second concurrent dual-weight champion in UFC history at the time. He defended his heavyweight title in November against Derrick Lewis at Madison Square Garden with a second-round rear naked choke. A 3-0 run on the year in three title fights, becoming a two-weight champ? Not bad for someone who didn’t have any titles for a stretch in Fall 2017. Cormier nearly won our Fighter of the Year, as well.
Michael DeSantis- Daniel Cormier
Jeremy Brand- Brandon Vera
Wesley Riddle- Anthony Smith
Patrick Auger- Daniel Cormier
Mike Skytte- Kaitlin Young
Eddie Gallo- Daniel Cormier
Matt Bricker- Daniel Cormier
Ryan Wagner- Daniel Cormier
Connor Deitrich- Daniel Cormier
Sasha Moksyakov- Daniel Cormier
Brian Gerson- Kaitlin Young
Mitch Banuelos- Daniel Cormier
Omar Villagrana- Daniel Cormier
Anand Thumbayil- Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
Upset of the Year
Winner: Ray Cooper III vs. Jake Shields I
Photo courtesy of Professional Fighters League.
Jake Shields entered the Professional Fighters League welterweight tournament as a massive favorite to win the tournament. He was looking to add one more belt to his resume, entering as the former Strikeforce middleweight champion and EliteXC welterweight champ. When he was scheduled to fight Ray Cooper III, the big story was that Shields had gone 1-1 with Cooper III’s father.
Cooper III quickly showed PFL viewers he was for real. Shields couldn’t get him to the ground to employ his grappling, and Cooper III was constantly hurting Shields with his power. Two minutes into the second round, Cooper III earned a TKO in dominant fashion over the tournament favorite. He showed this was no fluke three months later, TKO’ing Shields in a rematch in the first round. At the time of the first match, not many were expecting the emergence of Ray Cooper III.
Michael DeSantis- Amanda Nunes def. Cris Cyborg
Jeremy Brand- Kevin Belingon def. Bibiano Fernandes
Wesley Riddle- Kevin Belingon def. Bibiano Fernandes
Patrick Auger- Amanda Nunes def. Cris Cyborg
Mike Skytte- Kevin Belingon def. Bibiano Fernandes
Eddie Gallo- Ray Cooper III def. Jake Shields
Matt Bricker- Michal Materla def. Damian Janikowski
Ryan Wagner- Ray Cooper III def. Jake Shields
Connor Deitrich- Ray Cooper III def. Jake Shields
Sasha Moksyakov- Ray Cooper III def. Jake Shields
Brian Gerson- Ray Cooper III def. Jake Shields
Mitch Banuelos- Amanda Nunes def. Cris Cyborg
Omar Villagrana- Amanda Nunes def. Cris Cyborg
Anand Thumbayil- Ryan Hall def. BJ Penn
UFC Breakout Star
Winner: Israel Adesanya
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 03: Israel Adesanya of Nigeria celebrates his TKO victory over Derek Brunson in their middleweight bout during the UFC 230 event inside Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2018 in New York, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Israel Adesanya made his UFC debut in February as an unranked fighter with a lot of potential. At the end of 2018, he is set to fight Anderson Silva at UFC 234, and is possibly one win away from a middleweight title shot at the winner of Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum. “The Last Stylebender” went 4-0 in the Octagon with wins over Derek Brunson, Brad Tavares, Marvin Vettori and Rob Wilkinson. Adesanya as UFC breakout star was the only unanimous award among us.
Michael DeSantis- Israel Adesanya
Jeremy Brand- Israel Adesanya
Wesley Riddle- Israel Adesanya
Patrick Auger- Israel Adesanya
Mike Skytte- Israel Adesanya
Eddie Gallo- Israel Adesanya
Matt Bricker- Israel Adesanya
Ryan Wagner- Israel Adesanya
Connor Deitrich- Israel Adesanya
Sasha Moksyakov- Israel Adesanya
Brian Gerson- Israel Adesanya
Mitch Banuelos- Israel Adesanya
Omar Villagrana- Israel Adesanya
Anand Thumbayil- Israel Adesanya
Non-UFC Breakout Star
Winner: Aaron Pico
Photo credit: Bellator MMA
Bellator’s blue-chip prospect Aaron Pico had an excellent 2018 campaign himself, going 3-0 with wins over Leandro Higo, Lee Morrison and Shane Krutchen. Now 4-1 with four first-round finishes, Pico has seemed to erase any bad aftertaste left from his debut loss to Zach Freeman, showing the MMA world that he deserves the hype. He’s set himself up for a date with Henry Corrales at Bellator 214 next in what appears to be his toughest test yet.
Michael DeSantis- Aaron Pico
Jeremy Brand- Aaron Pico
Wesley Riddle- Aaron Pico
Patrick Auger- Aaron Pico
Mike Skytte- Aaron Pico
Eddie Gallo- Aaron Pico
Matt Bricker- Phil De Fries
Ryan Wagner- Aaron Pico
Connor Deitrich- Aaron Pico
Sasha Moksyakov- Aaron Pico
Brian Gerson- Aaron Pico
Mitch Banuelos- Aaron Pico
Omar Villagrana- Aaron Pico
Anand Thumbayil- Khamzat Chimaev
Promotion of the Year
Winner: ONE Championship
Photo courtesy of ONE Championship.
It was a big year for ONE. Not only did they put on a batch of entertaining fights, but they also made a few massive moves to set themselves up for the future. Along with the UFC, they were half of a groundbreaking MMA trade that saw them send their semi-retired star Ben Askren to the UFC for the arguable GOAT, former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. ONE also signed former UFC and Bellator lightweight king Eddie Alvarez. Both will make their debuts on March 31 at ONE Championship: A New Era. ONE also named former UFC bantamweight queen Miesha Tate as its vice president.
Exposure has long been an issue for Asian-based promotions like ONE and RIZIN when it comes to the North American market. ONE took a step towards solving that in 2019 when it struck a deal with Turner Sports to air on platforms like TNT and B/R Live.
Not to mention, the promotion saw the emergence of new champions like Aung La Nsang and Kevin Belingon, as well as the return of Angela Lee.
Michael DeSantis- RIZIN FF
Jeremy Brand- ONE
Wesley Riddle- ONE
Patrick Auger- ONE
Mike Skytte- RIZIN FF
Eddie Gallo- RIZIN FF
Matt Bricker- KSW
Ryan Wagner- K-1
Connor Deitrich- ONE
Sasha Moksyakov- ONE
Brian Gerson- ONE
Mitch Banuelos- RIZIN
Omar Villagrana- ONE
Anand Thumbayil- Brave CF
Analyst of the Year
Winner: Michael Bisping
LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 12: Former UFC middleweight champion joins the broadcast team for season two of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series at the TUF Gym on June 12, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/DWTNCS LLC)
This may be Michael Bisping’s first year as a retired mixed martial artist, but that didn’t keep him away from the sport. The former UFC middleweight champion made his debut as a color commentator on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and earned a lot of praise for his analysis. He did well enough to be hired to do color commentary for UFC events starting in 2019 with the new ESPN deal.
However, his best moment of the year came when he was interviewing Max Holloway on UFC Tonight for UFC on FOX. Holloway was gearing up to defend his featherweight title against Brian Ortega at UFC 226. Bisping noticed that something didn’t appear right with Holloway during the interview and took action. He said Holloway looked like he was ready to fall asleep on them during the interview, which raised alarm. Holloway was pulled from the fight for concussion-like symptoms. Had Bisping not brought it up, Holloway would have went on to undergo a massive weight-cut and then fight Ortega, which turned out to be a barn-burner when they met in December; it wouldn’t have been good for his health.
Bisping’s success as a color commentator and work behind the FOX desk earned him our nod as Analyst of the Year.
Michael DeSantis- Michael Bisping
Jeremy Brand- Robin Black
Wesley Riddle- Jimmy Smith
Patrick Auger- Jimmy Smith
Mike Skytte- Michael Bisping
Eddie Gallo- Schwan Humes
Matt Bricker- Robin Black
Ryan Wagner- Schwan Humes
Connor Deitrich- Dan Hardy
Sasha Moksyakov- Dan Hardy
Brian Gerson- Michael Bisping
Mitch Banuelos- Michael Bisping
Omar Villagrana- Jimmy Smith
Anand Thumbayil- Robin Black
Card of the Year
Winner: RIZIN 11
Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.
From beginning to end, RIZIN 11 was a fun card. The main event was an entertaining rematch between RIZIN stars Kanna Asakura and Rena Kubota. Asakura improved to 2-0 over Kubota with a unanimous decision. Kyoji Horiguchi improved to 2-0 over Hiromasa Ogikubo with his own unanimous decision win in a fast-paced battle that saw both striking and grappling exchanges.
Takanori Gomi got back into the win column for the first time in over four years with a KO win over Melvin Guillard in a back-and-forth fight. It was a big win for the fan favorite “Fireball Kid.”
Topnoi Tiger Muay Thai KO’d Tadaaki Yamamoto almost right after nearly being finished himself in a quick comeback.
Other noteworthy performances were the new-and-improved Miyuu Yamamoto upsetting Saori Ishioka to start her current 3-0 run, Diego Brandao punching out Satoru Kitaoka while the latter attempted a leg lock, Jiri Prochzaka quickly taking care of Bruno Henrique Cappelozza, and the flashy Daron Cruickshank putting on a clinic against Brazilian power-puncher Tom Santos.
Michael DeSantis- RIZIN 11
Jeremy Brand- RIZIN 11
Wesley Riddle- KSW 42
Patrick Auger- UFC 228
Mike Skytte- RIZIN 11
Eddie Gallo- RIZIN 11
Matt Bricker- KSW 42
Ryan Wagner- K-Festa
Connor Deitrich- RIZIN 11
Sasha Moksyakov- RIZIN 11
Brian Gerson- RIZIN 11
Mitch Banuelos- RIZIN 11
Omar Villagrana- RIZIN 11
Anand Thumbayil- UFC 229
Gym of the Year
Winner: Team Lakay
Photo credit: ONE Championship.
Note: Entry written by Mike Skytte
Located in Baguio City, Philippines, the Asian MMA power team known as Team Lakay was a dark horse contender for Camp of the Year in 2017, but truly came into their own in 2018.
The camp is dominated by ONE Championship athletes, many of which made big waves in the company during the 2018 calendar year. Eduard Folayang went 3-0, and reclaimed his lightweight title. Kevin Belingon also went 3-0 and extended his win streak to seven by shocking the world and taking Bibano Fernandes’ bantamweight title from him. He also beat then two-division champion Martin Nguyen in an absolute clinic. Geje Eustaquio became the new flyweight world champion, and Joshua Pacio claimed strawweight gold.
That is four new champions crowned over the course of 12 months, all fighting out of one camp. That is no coincidence. Not to mention the rising stars fighting out of Team Lakay. Namely; Honorio Banario, Edward Kelly, Jeremy Pacatiw, and more.
Five of the above fighters have fights booked for early 2019, three of which are champions. They have an excellent shot at a repeat.
Michael DeSantis- American Kickboxing Academy
Jeremy Brand- Team Lakay
Wesley Riddle- Team Lakay
Patrick Auger- American Top Team
Mike Skytte- Team Lakay
Eddie Gallo- Team Bodyshop
Matt Bricker- American Top Team
Ryan Wagner- American Top Team
Connor Deitrich- American Kickboxing Academy
Sasha Moksyakov- Fortis MMA
Brian Gerson- Team Lakay
Mitch Banuelos- American Kickboxing Academy
Omar Villagrana- American Top Team
Anand Thumbayil- Team Lakay
View the original article on MMA Sucka: MMASucka 2018 MMA Awards