In honor of the UFC’s 20th anniversary this year, I figured it only appropriate that my year end fight countdown involved the top 20 fights from the calendar year 2013. Although not all of these fights took place in the UFC it’s hard to ignore the UFC’s place at the head of the class in terms of mixed martial arts promotions. Although there are a number of other promotions represented in the list including Bellator, Maximum Fighting Championship, ONE FC and Invicta. Enough rambling, let’s get to the year’s top fights.
#20 – ONE Fighting Championship: Moment of Truth – Featherweight Championship Bout: Honorio Banario vs. Koji Oishi – December 6, 2013
#19 – Maximum Fighting Championship: True Grit – Bantamweight Bout: Anthony Birchak vs. Ryan Benoit – May 10, 2013
This fight was the debut of Maximum Fighting Championship’s Bantamweight division and granted the winner a future title shot. Both men carried winning streaks into the bout and put it all on the line in this bout. The result was a fast and furious scrap that had action both on the feet and on the mat. Each man had their chances to end the fight, either with submission attempts or ground and pound, but each man was able to hang tough. Eventually, the two warriors made it to the final bell and in the end it was Birchak that took home the Unanimous Decision victory.
#18 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on FOX 7 – Lightweight Championship Bout: Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez – April 20, 2013
Entering into this contest, many people were intrigued to see how the fight would play out. The long-reigning and final Lightweight champion of the Strikeforce promotion crossing over to battle the UFC’s reigning Lightweight champion, this would had the feeling of a champion vs. champion bout. Melendez was fighting in front of his hometown crowd in San Jose and the fans backed him relentlessly throughout the fight as Melendez shrugged off numerous takedown attempts and used leg kicks and a steady jab to throw the UFC’s champion off balance. In the end, the result was a hotly contested Split Decision victory that went to Benson Henderson.
#17 – Bellator Fighting Championship: Bellator 85 – Featherweight Championship Bout: Pat Curran vs. Patricio Freire – January 17, 2013
At Bellator 85 there were a number of title contests, one of which was a Featherweight Championship tilt between champion Pat Curran and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Despite both fighters coming off of long layoffs, the bout still delivered. Freire pushed the action early and often, which left Curran stumbling and reeling at times. But Curran seemed to get better and better as the fight wore on and began to take control of what was mostly a kickboxing contest. In the end Curran took home a very close Split Decision victory to retain his Featherweight title.
#16 – Invicta Fighting Championship: Invicta FC 4 – Women’s Strawweight Bout: Tecia Torres vs. Paige Van Zant – January 5, 2013
This was an entertaining women’s scrap that opened quickly. Torres showed an impressive striking acumen in the opening stanza, battering Van Zant’s face with a strong jab and several creative elbow strikes. The second round featured some exciting grappling as Van Zant took the bout to the mat to try and slow the striking prowess of Torres. With nearly four minutes remaining, Torres was able to reverse the position and took her opponent’s back, working for a choke finish but Van Zant was able to hang tough. The final few minutes of this fight was excellent as both women just turned it into a slugfest and let it all hang out in the middle of the cage. In the end Torres took a Unanimous decision victory.
#15 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on Fuel TV 8 – Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve – March 3, 2013
This Heavyweight bout could have gone a number of ways, Hunt promised a slugfest, but most experts expected the grappling savvy Struve to take the bout to the ground quickly. In the first round, that’s exactly what happened, as Struve quickly pulled guard and did his best to work for a submission. In the second Hunt took over and kept the bout standing, where he tagged Struve with a number of big punches, while the massive Struve seemed to fade and gas out. In the third round, Hunt really took over. With Struve’s defensive striking wavering Hunt began to land power shots at will. A huge combination of punches put Struve down for good, and lead to a long layoff for Struve as he suffered significant damage to his jaw from the punches in the knockout loss.
#14 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 168 – Women’s Bantamweight Championship Bout: Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate – December 28, 2013
There was a lot of hype heading into this bout, a full season’s worth of feuding on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter. Not to mention the built in rivalry of this being a rematch from both ladies’ Strikeforce days. With all of that in mind, Miesha Tate was sold as a credible challenger to Rousey’s throne, but the odds makers in Vegas didn’t buy in, billing the challenger as a 7-to-1 underdog. In the end Tate put up a decent fight, and was able to hang tough, hanging in the Octagon with the champion longer than anyone else in history. At the end though, it was more domination from the champion and despite Tate’s ability to survive, she eventually succumbed to yet another Rousey arm bar.
#13 – Bellator Fighting Championship: Bellator 106 – Lightweight Championship Bout: Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler – November 2, 2013
It was the biggest rematch in the history of Bellator’s existence as undefeated Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler defended his title against former champion Eddie Alvarez. Their first scrap was a highly entertaining bout, which left big shoes to fill. I’d have a hard time describing the blow for blow coverage for this five round brawl, but it was a highly entertaining fight with tons of action on the ground and on the feet. While this fight failed to live up to the excitement that their first contest did, it was still an incredible fight that highlighted everything that MMA is about and despite the controversial Split Decision victory for Alvarez it remains the best fight in Bellator’s 2013 calendar year.
#12 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on FOX 7 – Welterweight Bout: Matt Brown vs. Jordan Mein – April 20, 2013
“The Immortal” Matt Brown made a career resurgence in 2013 and this bout was a big part of his statement year. Many expected the brawling style of Brown to struggle with the crisp and technical kickboxing of young Jordan Mein. The bout was contest mostly on the feet and Brown outworked his younger opponent with a stronger jaw and big power punches. After dropping Mein at the end of the first and having him saved by the bell, Brown continued to swarm the youngster in the second round. An onslaught of strikes against the cage and on the ground eventually led to Brown earning the TKO via referee stoppage.
#11 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on Fuel TV 7 – Featherweight Bout: Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier – February 16, 2013
Cub Swanson bouts tend to be highly entertaining contests, Dustin Poirier fights tend to be highly entertaining scraps, both of those statements remained true in this contest. Swanson used a plethora of kicks to keep Poirier off-balance and keep the fight standing. In the second round, Swanson began to show some of his underrated grappling skills as both men exchanged in some excellent transitions on the ground. The final round started with a number of exchanges on the feet, before both men went to the ground. Swanson dominated the final minutes on the ground, en-route to sealing the deal on a hard fought Unanimous decision victory.
#10 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 156 – Featherweight Championship Bout: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar – February 2, 2013
Fresh off of losing consecutive decisions to Lightweight champion Benson Henderson, both in somewhat controversial fashion, Frankie Edgar made the drop to the Featherweight division for an immediate title shot against reigning kingpin Jose Aldo. What followed was a highly entertaining scrap that went the full five rounds, with every minute being filled with action. Through the early rounds Aldo used thudding leg kicks and a stiff jab to keep the challenger at bay, but as the rounds went on, the challenger seemed to get stronger as the champion slowly faded. The final two rounds were highly entertaining as Edgar tried to battle his way back and began to swing the fight in his favor. In the end his comeback bid fell short, and Edgar lost yet another close decision in a title fight.
#9 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 160 – Heavyweight Bout: Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt – May 25, 2013
Junior dos Santos was a heavy favorite heading into this contest, and most expected JDS to show off his improved wrestling skills and exploit the subpar grappling skills of Mark Hunt. Instead he decided to slug it out with the heavy-handed former K-1 champion. Early on JDS nearly cracked the iron jaw of Hunt and in the second round when he finally took the fight to the mat, he nearly stopped Hunt with a barrage of ground and pound. In the third, with the fight likely secure in his favor, JDS continued to pressure his highly dangerous opponent and the result was one of the best knockouts of the year. Dos Santos used a highlight reel spinning back kick to drop Hunt with under a minute left in the fight.
#8 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on FOX 6 – Flyweight Championship Bout: Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson
Despite the fact that the UFC’s Flyweight division has failed to catch on with the casual fan, it has continued to produce top quality contests. After steamrolling through a number of top fighters in both the Bantamweight and Flyweight divisions, most people wondered if anyone would be able to stop the Flyweight Champion. However, Dodson who’s speed would allow him to match up well with Johnson and who held big time knockout power. In the opening few rounds, the fight was quite close, with Dodson actually dropping the champion in the second round. But as the fight continued to wear on the champion seemed to get stronger and ran away for an eventual decision victory.
#7 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC Fight Night 33 – Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva – December 6, 2013
Are we sensing a theme yet? For a division not known for having a number of highly exciting fighters, Mark Hunt fights simply deliver. Win or lose, Mark Hunt puts on exciting fights, as he makes his third appearance on this top 20. This bout has recently come under a bit of scrutiny as Antonio Silva has since tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone from this contest, but the results remain impressive and the fight remains highly entertaining. Despite this being a slugfest between two men who weigh well over 250 pounds and possess fight ending knockout power in both their hands and feet, this contest managed to turn into a 25-minute brawl that no one knew either man had in them. Bloody, highly violent and highly sloppy at times, this is a fight that you can’t help but love.
#6 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale – Women’s Bantamweight Bout: Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate – April 13, 2013
If there’s another trend that this list seems to indicate it’s that exciting fights aren’t just for the men. The women of MMA have provided a number of highly entertaining bouts throughout the year, but this may be the most exciting of them all. This fight had it all. Technical striking exchanges, a few wild and sloppy striking exchanges and a number of impressive mat transitions. Tate used her grappling skills in the first round to control the action on the ground, using a steady stream of elbows and ground and pound to swarm her opponent. In the second it was more of the same, although Zingano showed a few signs of life. In the third, likely down two rounds to none and needing a stoppage for the victory, Zingano came out on fire. Pressuring Tate against the cage, Zingano delivered a number of brutal knee strikes that battered and bloodied Tate, before eventually earning her the stoppage and a comeback victory.
#5 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 166 – Lightweight Bout: Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez – October 19, 2013
Despite being two highly talented and technical Lightweight fighters, these two men seemed to disregard that for one night to engage in a brawl for the ages at UFC 166. This was one of the bloodiest bouts of the year, as Melendez left a cut on Sanchez’s face that probably still hasn’t completely healed. Melendez looked like the more technically refined striker and won a number of the striking exchanges, but even battered and bloodied, Sanchez never backed down. In the end Melendez took a hard fought decision victory in a bout that Joe Rogan called the “best he’d seen in all of his years of calling fights.”
#4 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 157 – Featherweight Bout: Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice – February 23, 2013
#3 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 158 – Welterweight Bout: Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit – March 16, 2013
On his way to a Welterweight title shot, Hendricks had to clear a very tough hurdle in the form of former UFC title challenger Carlos Condit. This fight had everything that a good MMA fight should have highly technical and fast paced striking exchanges, fast and furious grappling and a number of close calls. Hendricks landed a number of big punches early, but Condit showed a strong chin and was able to withstand them. Hendricks used his wrestling well in the early rounds of the bout, following up big punches with takedown attempts, which Condit struggled to fend off. Condit as always, was highly active from his back and attempted a number of submissions, but Hendricks controlled from the top and was able to defend well. In the second round Condit nailed a huge flying knee that many thought might swing the tide, but Hendricks was able to eat the shot and continue fighting. In the third round, Hendricks slowed and Condit attempted to mount his comeback. Condit threw everything he had at Hendricks, but couldn’t earn a stoppage and couldn’t do enough to sway the judge’s decision and dropped the decision to Hendricks who parlayed the win to a shot at GSP’s Welterweight title.
#2 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC 165 – Light Heavyweight Championship Bout: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson – September 21, 2013
Immediately after this fight was over, Twitter was abuzz and calling this the best fight in the history of the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division and one of the best fights in MMA history. While some of that might be hyperbole, the fact remains that this was a highly entertaining scrap and definitely has its place as one of the most entertaining fights of the year. I had a hard time ranking this fight against the eventual first place on this list, and would consider them more of a 1A and 1B. Still I wouldn’t be doing this fight justice to describe it in detail, it is something that needs to be watched in full to be truly appreciated. Alexander Gustafsson gave Champion Jon Jones everything he could handle and more in the fight and the result was a highly entertaining scrap that must be seen.
#1 – Ultimate Fighting Championship: UFC on Fuel TV 8 – Light Heavyweight Bout: Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann – March 3, 2013
During my midyear assessment of the best fights of the year, and even with another six months there hasn’t been another to surpass it. This fight is a thing of beauty for anyone who loves a good old brawl. There was little in the way of grappling or beautiful combinations, but there was a lot of punches, a lot of knockdowns and a highly entertaining scrap. One that you should find on the Internet, and watch immediately.