What a tumultuous year its been. A global pandemic, geopolitical uncertainty, the brink of world war three, Russian collusion, Derrick Lewis main eventing a fight night, Bellator still existing, it truly has been difficult for us all. However, in the face of adversity we at the Combat Hub offices would like to look at some of the positives. Credit where credit is due the UFC and some other promotions have managed to put on some great fights and overall great cards, the former even spending millions to create an entire “Fight Island” which sounds like a forgotten Steven Seagal epic where our speedo toting hero single handily dispatches an entire kumite of Vietnamese, Islamically radicalised terrorists with his masterful aikido, or some shit. It’s actually cage fighting in Abu Dhabi so not too far off really. So, from the rubble of this broken year we thought we’d pick our top 5 fights of the year so far. This isn’t necessarily what we feel are the best or most technical (although that obviously factors in) and this isn’t a technical breakdown, these are our personal favourites and why we love them, so if you’re favourite fight isn’t on here calm down, don’t lose your shit, nobody’s a casual and nobody’s saying you’re stupid. This is a matter of opinion, so chill the fuck out. Now let’s get to it.
5. Josh Emmett vs Shane Burgos
If you missed this one then I feel sorry for you. Tucked away as the Blaydes vs Volkov co-main this booking saw 8th ranked Emmett take on 10th ranked Burgos in a featherweight clash that has lasting implications for the division. As we all know FW is insanely stacked and both of these guys are ranked, on impressive win streaks and have the potential to climb the rankings. This was always an exciting fight from the get-go, Burgos’ only loss coming to the hands of Calvin Kattar and a trail of impressive KO and submission victories behind him. Emmett also coming off back to back KO victories, the most recent being a performance of the night, we know neither of these fighters are shy to exchange some leather and that became evident as soon as that bell rang.
Emmett started the first round incredibly strong landing some big right hands, one twos and slipping inside for advantageous pocket exchanges. Burgos displayed his toughness with his iron chin taking the brunt of the force, but he retaliated well with punishing calf kicks and kicks to the body which visibly hurt Emmett and slowed him down. In the second round both fighters started upping the pace and letting their hands go, Burgos’ chin is honestly made out of whatever Captain America’s shield is because he was taking it all, overhands, hooks, stiff jabs and still stood there firing back combinations of his own and a unrelenting calf kick that was consistently staggering Emmett. Honestly it was nonstop action, a lot of it back and forth but more often than not Emmett was coming out on top of the exchanges, landing a huge left hard in the last round to drop Burgos. This little three round firecracker had it all. Huge shots, combinations, knockdowns, drama, takedowns, one of the best chins I’ve ever seen and even a little bit of blood. If you have a spare 15 minutes do yourself a favour.
4. Deivi Daniel Oliveira de Almeida vs Shamil Shakhbulatov
Not only has ACA cemented themselves as the promotion with the longest fighter names no one can spell or pronounce, they’ve also cemented themselves as the second best promotion in the world when it comes to talent in the lighter weight classes. Boasting alumni such as Petr Yan and Zabit Magomedsharipov it is easy to see they are orchestrating a golden era of Russian talent hopefully we’ll see fighting in the UFC in the coming months and years. ACA has put on some of the best fights in recent memory (our good pal Dominick has a dynamite playlist don’t worry we got’chu) and this barn burner for the coveted bantamweight championship was no exception. This fight shows how great 135 is anywhere on the planet. The more experienced Oliveira was riding an impressive 6 fight win streak coming into this fight whereas Shamil had back to back KO victories against two veterans in Lopes and Mirzaev. This fight was always going to be fireworks.
When I first saw this fight I was speechless, as I often am with ACA fights. Do you enjoy two men standing in front of each other, biting down on their mouth pieces, throwing caution to the wind and throwing shots with reckless abandon? Check. Do you like high level grappling with BJJ transitions and slick counters, with fighters having chokes locked in tight yet still they escape? Check. Do you like back and forth offence with both fighters getting rocked, coming back, and investment to the body from both men? Check, check, check. If you haven’t watched any ACA before, this would be a great starting point because honestly this is one of the best fights on the year and one of the best bantamweights fights your likely to see (I know there are many). A lot of rounds were very hard to score in this fight, but I do feel like Olivera deserved it. He nearly had the fight won a couple of times and showed his grappling dominance throughout. Not that Shamil didn’t have his moments, landing several takedowns with a decent amount of top control. In the striking department Oliveira landed more superman punches than, well, superman I suppose, and an overhand right that kept finding the mark. Shamil consistently fired back however, rocking Oliveira on several occasions with heavier hooks than a butcher’s freezer. Overall, both men exchange some of the most exciting pocket exchanges you’re ever likely to see. An absolute gem of a fight
3. Weili Zhang vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk
As soon as the final bell sounded after this epic, people were already calling it the greatest WMMA fight of all time, and honestly I think I’m in that camp. Sure, we’ve had great, high level, close fights before (Nunes vs Shevchenko 2 comes to mind) but this had that little bit extra; drama, heavy shots, combinations, back and forths. Both ladies really left it all in there and if you needed any shining example of how the woman can be just as exciting as the men, this one’s it. This was a storied encounter, with JJ’s shall we say, whether you agree or not, borderline racist actions fuelling the fire of this feud. Zhang had just destroyed Andrade with sheer power but great technical stand up to boot to win the title, and her hype train was in full Johnny Walker before embarrassing Scotty 2 Hotty worm arm break mode. JJ is the most successful strawweight we’ve seen, and with her Joseph Stalin like ability to rewrite history, in her eyes no matter how many times she loses is still the legitimate champion. This wasn’t just the biggest test for Zhang so far, this was probably the best strawweight ever standing opposite her.
Unsurprisingly, this was a stand up masterclass from both ladies and it really brought to light how great JJ really is at timing, creating angles and judging range, as well as adjusting to her opponent’s movements. Overall, she connected with more shots, but Zhang wasn’t far behind her. She had a reputation as a powerhouse coming into this, which was obviously justified, she’s knocked out more Chinese women than Hong Kong riot police, but her patience and technique really shined here. She landed the more damaging shots, or maybe a better way to phrase it would be her shots dealt more damage when they landed. That cross was consistently finding a home on JJ’s watermelon of a forehead and by the end of the fight she looked more like a large cantaloupe than she did human. Watching this live I scored it 3-2 for Zhang, she seemed to land the bigger, more damaging shots. On rewatch, I was leaning towards 3-2 JJ. She just landed more consistently, made Zhang miss more than you’d think and even pushed the pace whilst landing some aggressive counters. Every time I watch this I’m on the edge of my seat. It really could have gone either way. Both women must be praised for their technique and granite chins. This really is the best WMMA fight I’ve ever seen.
2. Dustin Poirier vs Dan Hooker
Even though this matchup made every MMA fan salivate at just the thought of it, this still came out to be a pleasant surprise, and tremendously closer than basically all of us anticipated. Now here’s why the story of this fight is so good. We all love Dustin, his high level, exciting fighting ability, he’s a great man, a great athlete with a great story and if you were to ask me who I was most likely to have confusing yet intimate dreams about he’d be near the top of that list. Hooker on the other hand has cemented himself as an MMA twitter super heel. He argues with fans, insults people, and dishes our more blocks than a Lego retail store. If only he blocked punches as well as he blocked twitter accounts, he might have won this fight. This is a textbook face vs heel dynamic; we were all pumped for this. We all love Dustin, and hate Hooker, for the most part. We put up a poll a few days before the fight and over 80% of you picked Dustin to win. Makes sense. Arguably Hooker’s biggest win up until that point was Felder and that was, well not the most convincing of wins, although a great fight. But there’s one factor everyone forgot about. City motherfucking kickboxing.
Quite possibly the best gym in the world right now, Hooker came into this fight as the best version of himself. If you look at Hooker’s past 4 fights he has looked better every single time, he reminds me of Gaethje the way he’s honing his abilities every time we see him, becoming a more disciplined and cerebral fighter. The problem is Dustin Poirier really is that good. An elite fighter amongst elite fighters, if it wasn’t for Khabib I can’t really see anyone else as lightweight champion. What to say about the actual fight? If you haven’t seen it A) you’re an idiot and B) stop reading this right now and watch it. An outstanding back and forth old fashioned war that was pure violence but didn’t skimp on technical prowess. Hooker displayed his improved boxing, slipping punches and throwing counters. He was even mixing in clever hooks and knees when Poirier was hurt, piling on the pressure and almost stopping him. Poirier responded with smart combinations and his superior accuracy showed, displaying speed timing and patience that overwhelming Hooker. Knockdowns, crazy combinations, huge shots that make you second guess what chins are even made of, back and forth action, thinking Poirier is about to lose, thinking Hooker is about to lose. Tenacity, dedication, and although we all had Poirier when the bell sounded, it was a close fight, and we all became Hooker fans that night.
- Marlon Vera vs Song Yadong
- Vicente Luque vs Niko Price 2
- Kyohei Hagiwara vs Rikuto Shirakawa
- Justin Gaethje vs Tony Ferguson
- Andre Fili vs Sodiq Yusuff
- Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway
I’m sure there are no surprises here, this to us was the best fight of the year so far. Not necessarily because it had the biggest shots, the wildest exchanges or dramatic back and forths, because it didn’t. If you’re a just bleed guy maybe this doesn’t make your top 3. But to us, the stakes of this fight were massive. Volkanovski had beaten Holloway, who many consider to be the best featherweight of all time, convincingly, and the UFC in their infinite wisdom decided an immediate rematch in one of the most staked divisions was the way to go, not because Dana White is biased or Max is a draw and the Scrooge McDuck president couldn’t really give a fuck about the sporting element, but because of, well who fucking knows really. To end my digression these are the two best FWs in recent memory and both of their runs are insanely impressive, in the first fight Holloway looked lost in a way we haven’t really seen before. Volkanovski winning the majority of the exchanges, connecting leg kicks that would make full head of hair Aldo blush, and coming out on top of all grappling exchanges. We all as fans wondered what Holloway could do to combat this, Volk seemed like his kryptonite. Oh, we were in for a shock.
Holloway started incredibly strong and, I would argue, dominated the first two rounds. We all know how good his boxing is but he really but a stamp on it here. Winning the majority of exchanges, landing shots, short, smart combinations and built up the confidence to start mixing in kicks. He even scored two knockdowns (not official) over the first two rounds, and Volk looked as lost as Holloway did in the first fight. In the third, we can’t praise Volk’s fight IQ enough as he made the relevant adjustments. He started to find better angles, opening up his hands more and kept firing off with leg kicks. Holloway stayed stoic, started investing more downstairs to the body, trying to match blow for blow and landing impressive counters. Volkanovski made the right adjustments, got busier, and although Holloway won the first 2 rounds clearly on my scorecards Volk’s investment to the legs showed in the later rounds. Holloway was slower, getting tagged, and Volk didn’t slow down. In rounds 4 and 5 Volkanovski got more confident with his combinations and saw Holloway was becoming less of a threat as time went on, which is strange as it’s usually the exact opposite. Despite this, Holloway was never scared to trade in the pocket. This fight honestly was one of the closest title fights I’ve seen in years, closer than a drunk Jon Jones is to the wheel of car. It was a chess match, with both fighters having solid plans and making mid fight adjustments. The technique and IQ from both guys is why this is our number one, plus the huge stakes of the championship of one of the best divisions in the world. We’re split here at Combat Hub, one of us scored it for Volk, one of us scored it for Holloway. It honestly all comes down to how you scored round 3 in our eyes. Holloway won rounds 1 and 2 and Volkanovski won rounds 4 and 5. I know that’s not how the judges saw it which is insane to me, but nothing really shocks me about judges anymore.
By Ben C