Islam Makhachev, Alex Pereira, and Max Holloway | Getty Images, MMA Fighting

Time flies when you’re having fun, and as usual, there’s been plenty to have for fight fans.

Just past the midway point of 2024, there’s no shortage of talking points. The UFC machine continues to roll on in the face of injuries, a major lawsuit, and Conor McGregor being Conor McGregor. PFLator is on its maiden voyage. And BKFC has emerged as one of the most talked-about promotions in all of combat sports, carving out its own path while the likes of KSW, ONE Championship, and RIZIN continue to work for their pieces of the pie.

MMA Fighting’s Shaheen Al-Shatti, Mike Heck, Alexander K. Lee, and Jed Meshew take a look back at what went down over the past six months and pick out some of 2024’s best, worst, and weirdest moments so far.

Fight of the Half-Year: Max Holloway vs. Justin Gaethje — UFC 300

UFC 300: Gaethje v Holloway
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Max Holloway and Justin Gaethje

Meshew: Rewind the clock a few months back to the beginning of this year. Fans were slowly working themselves into a lather about UFC 300 and how it wasn’t any good because the UFC didn’t book any incredible fights for it. And even though those fans were dumb at the time, just about every one of them shut up when UFC announced Justin Gaethje would fight Max Holloway for the BMF title.

Is the BMF belt real? No. Did anyone care? (Mike) Heck no. This was violence nirvana: The most exciting fighter in MMA history (Gaethje) vs. a top-20 exciting fighter who is also one of the most beloved (Holloway). Before the fight even happened, I declared with absolute certainty that it would be the Fight of the Year. I didn’t know how right I was.

For 24 minutes and 50 seconds, Gaethje and Holloway beat the bejesus out of each other. Gaethje was repeatedly hurt and battled back. Holloway got dropped (unofficially) for the first time in his career. The two men combined for nearly 300 significant strikes and not one second of control time. And then, with 10 seconds left, it happened.

I won’t waste more digital ink on the knockout as someone else will discuss it momentarily, but in the waning seconds of an incredible fight, one that Max Holloway was going to win by decision after dominating the fifth round, Max etched himself into history with one of the greatest finishes to a fight any of us have ever seen. It was the exclamation point that turned a phenomenal battle into an unforgettable one.

When we look back on 2024, the Fight, the Moment, the Knockout, the Everything of this year will all stand in the shadow of two of the most exciting fighters to ever do it.

Honorable Mention: Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier — UFC 302

It may not be entirely fair, but perception plays a big role in how fights are received. Case in point, the runner-up this year.

Heading into UFC 302, the mood was strange. Poirier pretty obviously did not deserve this title shot, but he’s so beloved, no one much cared. Plus, everyone was confident he would get run over, as Makhachev’s mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov had done to him previously. Instead, “The Diamond” showed just how good he is.

After a tough opening frame, Poirier gave Makhachev a hell of a time in the cage. He showed vastly improved takedown defense (always a weakness) and busted Makhachev open with a nasty elbow. Both literally and metaphorically, it was the first time we’ve seen the champion bleed. And then, Makhachev responded how champions do: He finished the fight with brutal authority.

With the fight in the balance against a surprisingly difficult opponent, Makhachev elevated himself in the final round, trapping Poirier into a sequence that allowed him to transition into a fight-ending D’Arce choke. It was a perfect conclusion to some terrific drama, with the champion asserting himself as the best fighter alive, while the beloved figure managed to impress in defeat.

Fighter of the Half-Year: Alex Pereira

UFC 303: Pereira v Prochazka 2
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Alex Pereira

Heck: At the mid-way point of 2024, it’s “Poatan” at the front of the pack.

There are a lot of great options thus far, but Alex Pereira, the unicorn of a UFC light heavyweight champion, takes the lead into the second half of the year.

In most years, Pereira going 2-0 — with two absolutely vicious knockouts in less than nine minutes of combined octagon time — in defenses of his second divisional title would put him in pole position, but consider that he saved two of the UFC’s biggest cards of the year in the process and the feat becomes even more impressive. Jamahal Hill looked like an absolute world-beater in his win over Glover Teixeira in January 2023, and yes, while he was returning from injury at UFC 300, Pereira obliterated him.

Jiri Prochazka is an absolute lunatic and one of the three best 205-pounders on the planet. Pereira, on two weeks’ notice and with a pair of broken toes, arguably looked better than ever as he delivered an absolutely ridiculous knockout in the opening seconds of Round 2 in the main event of UFC 303.

Question is, can he hold on to the spot?

Honorable Mention: Max Holloway

If Pereira didn’t step up at UFC 303, Holloway would be the leader in the clubhouse without question after moving up in weight, dominating Justin Gaethje for 24:59, and then delivering one of the most memorable knockouts in UFC history to win the BMF title. With that win, “Blessed” likely has the opportunity next to reclaim another championship.

Despite the hot starts out of the gate from Pereira and Holloway, 2024 could end up being one of tougher votes for this category.

If Holloway gets the featherweight title shot against Ilia Topuria and delivers, “Blessed” will get A LOT of first-place votes. If Topuria beats Holloway and Volkanovski in the same year, that’s ridiculously impressive. One name many may be forgetting is Arman Tsarukyan. If the outstanding lightweight can end the year with wins over Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev, while winning the most difficult title in MMA in the process, he will have a thing or two to say about this conversation.

Knockout of the Half-Year: Max Holloway def. Justin Gaethje — UFC 300

UFC 300: Gaethje v Holloway
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Al-Shatti: Ilia Topuria’s reaction said it all.

On the night of UFC 300, I wrote that someone is going to have to send a skull into orbit with a rolling thunder in the final milliseconds of a title fight to dislodge Max Holloway from this perch, and my friends, you don’t need me to tell you that hasn’t actually happened. And frankly, even if it had, we’d probably still be giving Holloway his flowers here. That’s how absurd the single most enduring image from one of MMA’s greatest ever cards is.

Once every few years, if we’re lucky, the type of moment arrives in that instantly etches itself into the sport’s all-time pantheon. The type of moment that stops time and becomes a benchmark for MMA fandom, that remains a part of our lives from now into infinity. Stick around long enough and you know exactly what I mean. Conor McGregor’s 13-second coronation. Anderson Silva’s fifth-round heroics. Fedor vs. Cro Cop in a duel of the almighties. The nights you either remember exactly where you were when they happened or hear wistful tales ad nauseam about how you’d never understand because you weren’t there. And make no mistake, Holloway’s point-down throwdown with Justin Gaethje is the latest to join that sacred list, destined to endure long after we’re all six feet in the ground.

Holloway was already a first-ballot Hall of Famer before UFC 300. Afterward, he transformed into something else entirely: An icon. Sorry to the rest, but this category is locked up until award season rolls around in full in December. Everyone else is competing for second place.

Honorable Mention: Ilia Topuria def. Alexander Volkanovski — UFC 298

All good things ends badly, otherwise they wouldn’t end at all.

That cliche may not apply to all facets of life, but more often than not it rings true in the fight game. Alexander Volkanovski can attest to that. At UFC 298, the fifth-longest consecutive title reign in UFC men’s history ended with one perfect right hook to the jaw. Volkanovski is either the greatest or second-greatest featherweight champion of all-time (depending on how you view Jose Aldo), but time is undefeated and Ilia Topuria arrived in Anaheim with the aura of a grim reaper. The charismatic Spaniard told the world what was going to happen and even changed his Instagram bio to anoint himself as the new UFC 145-pound king well before he ever stepped foot in the Honda Center and starched a legend.

Whether Topuria is a flash in the pan or can harness the same staying power of many of featherweight’s great champions before him remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt “El Matador” authored one hell of a first chapter to wherever this story ends up leading.

Submission of the Half-Year: Brian Ortega vs. Yair Rodriguez 2 — UFC Mexico City

Lee: Brian Ortega just couldn’t catch a break.

When Ortega stepped into the octagon for a rematch with Yair Rodriguez this past February, nobody knew what to expect from the two-time UFC featherweight title challenger. His first fight with Rodriguez ended in a disastrous shoulder injury for Ortega, long bouts of inactivity left him winless since October 2020, and then in a darkly comical moment, he appeared to tweak his ankle moments after entering the cage.

Suffice to say, Ortega’s misfortune didn’t appear to be anywhere close to coming to an end.

Rodriguez blistered him with his lethal standup in the first round, notching a 10-8 on one judges’ scorecard. However, Ortega’s famed resilience kicked in and he took Rodriguez to the mat in Round 2 and bludgeoned him for his own 10-8 round. Then, in the third, Ortega grounded Rodriguez for good. The submission specialist tied Rodriguez up with an arm-triangle choke and forced the tap to add another Round 3 finish to his résumé.

Given that Ortega recently came under fire for a weight debacle that led to the cancellation of his UFC 303 bout with Diego Lopes, it’s hard to remember what a cathartic moment this was, but it was inspiring to see Ortega back in the win column after facing so much adversity.

Honorable Mention: Liz Carmouche vs. Kana Watanabe 2 — PFL 4

Our honorable mention goes to another rematch with its fair share of drama, though under vastly different circumstances.

Liz Carmouche and Kana Watanabe’s rematch in this season’s PFL flyweight tournament took place three years after their first encounter at Bellator 261, when Carmouche handled Watanabe en route to a 35-second TKO win. Carmouche went on to become Bellator flyweight champion and eventually run off nine straight wins, with no marks in her loss column since dropping a regrettable decision to Valentina Shevchenko in 2019.

That unbeaten run — and just as importantly qualification for the PFL’s $1 million postseason — was in jeopardy after two rounds with Watanabe, with the Japanese veteran stifling Carmouche’s best attempts at offense. With time ticking away and Carmouche facing a loss on the cards, she went for broke with an armbar from bottom position and was rewarded with a clutch tapout.

Officially, there was only eight seconds remaining in the contest.

Carmouche doesn’t always get the respect she deserves, but with two league wins under her belt and pending matchups with Taila Santos and, potentially, prized PFL prospect Dakota Ditcheva, she could soon have a seven-figure bonus to remind everyone what she’s worth.

Coolest Thing: Eddie Hall has the strength of two men

Meshew: Hey, I don’t know if y’all missed it, but back in June, former World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall did this.

Yes, that is Eddie Hall fighting two people, and yes, that is the world’s first powerbomb-into-right hand combo. (Not seen in that clip, after ending that one guy, the fight was restarted with Hall against just the other man; it was over moments later.)

Circus fights are dope and circus fights with the World’s Strongest Man are doper. Plus, afterward, Hall called for an MMA fight with former umpteen-time World’s Strongest Man Mariusz Pudzianowski. This is what MMA was supposed to be like when our Founding Fathers envisioned it.

Most Insane Thing: The Bite

UFC Fight Night: Severino v Lima
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Al-Shatti: Here’s how bizarre things have gotten in 2024: Igor Severino actually violently bit a dude (Andre Lima) on a random APEX card, and that dude then went to a tattoo parlor and inked a same-night “Bite of the Night” souvenir on top of an extra $100,000 he collected from the sport’s most visible authority figure, and the whole saga was old news like three days later.

If Draymond Green bit a random player on the Minnesota Timberwolves on a random Tuesday night, and that dude then went and tattooed it up to the tune of a six-figure bonus from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, it’d be a story for the next four months! Anytime you think MMA has evolved past its Wild West era, it only takes a weird night like March 23 to remind you that the lawless spirit of 1993 is still embedded deep into the fabric of this dumb, beautiful sport. Nowhere else could this have been a thing. How can you not love it?

Biggest story: UFC 300

Heck: I know, I know, the easy answer is Conor McGregor and the drama of UFC 303, but for the sake of positive vibes, I’m going with UFC 300 for a number of reasons.

First of all, hosting the majority of the programming on the network gives me a pretty solid idea of trending topics and what people want to talk about. Throughout 2024, the most questions I was asked had to do with UFC 300, from whatever the main event was going to be, to if Dana White could reach the impossible expectations he put on the card, and countless others.

Not only did the card deliver in execution, UFC did something they rarely ever do: They actually had fun with it, although it took a hot minute to get us there.

Did the Pereira vs. Hill main event announcement “blow everyone’s socks off?” No, in fact, somehow I added more layers of clothing even living in South Carolina. But we sang the card’s praises once the lineup was finalized, calling it the best on-paper card in UFC history.

What I loved most about it? This was not the casual MMA fan’s card. UFC typically books for the casual fan, the newbies who go to the local pub and pretend they know about the sport because they follow Conor McGregor on Instagram. Those were the folks in all of the chats doo-dooing on this card. But UFC 300 was for us! It was for the fans who drudge through the quicksand of never-ending cards at “The World’s Most Famous APEX” two to three Saturdays a month, or the subpar road show Fight Night lineups, and even half of a pay-per-view calendar year that has been, quite frankly, underwhelming, and that might be too kind.

But on April 13, none of that mattered. UFC’s lack of effort in promotion, the company caring more about Power Slap than the actual entity that made them the MMA leader by about 30 global revolutions and the combat sports GOAT, the awful fight cards at the APEX, fighter pay, Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic — all forgotten. No, on that night, the quicksand became a conveyor belt, and the hardcore MMA fans floated through a time machine, of sorts, through simpler times, when Gladiator Man and Face the Pain set the table for chaos. Alex Pereira’s star continued to rise. Max Holloway delivered an all-timer. Zhang Weili continued her dominance. And so many other positive moments.

On the flip side, we also learned that a seemingly humbling knockout loss in a main event from a fighter who talked an incredible amount of trash heading into it can actually prove months later that not a single lesson was learned. UFC 300 had it all.

On that night at T-Mobile Arena, multiple generations of MMA fans came together for a blockbuster full of memories, enjoyment, and nostalgia. A night that reminded us that when UFC actually gives a shit, it can be magical.

Most MMA MMA Promotion of 2024 So Far: UFC

Lee: For the umpteenth year in a row, the MMA-iest of MMA promotions is — you guessed it — the UFC!

Through thick and thin, Dana White and company continue to trudge along, posting record profits, staying ubiquitous on social media (shout out to Power Slap!), and garnering massive mainstream interest with new broadcast deals on the horizon. At its heart, UFC promotes fights, but as a business entity, it has become so much more than that.

It’s no longer about giving fans the best individual fights, but instead about signing as much affordable talent as possible and trotting them out at the UFC APEX every week come hell or high water. When UFC goes on the road, events sell out before lineups are even close to being finalized, and the promotion is always operating in the black with expensive site fees now the norm (no more off-beat Fight Night towns anymore, sorry Moncton!). What was once an outlaw brand in the professional sports world is now a self-sustaining machine with no major obstacles in sight.

That last part is important to mention, because remember the antitrust lawsuit that has been hanging over UFC’s head for the past few years? It’s all but settled, with a just a few Is to be dotted and Ts left to be crossed before the nine-figure payout is resolved. A big hit for UFC, no question, until you remember that it’s a hit it can afford to take, one that will be swept under the rug by the time we’ve hit the midpoint of 2025.

Add in the partnership with fellow sports entertainment giant WWE under the TKO banner, and you can see why UFC is in no danger of trending downward anytime soon.

Author: Staff

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© 2021-2024 All Rights Reserved | Produced my Montillas LLC


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