2017's fight of the year was one everyone was looking forward to and it left nobody disappointed
Choosing the 2017 fight of the year was a tough task.
After a relatively unspectacular opening half, the action really picked up towards the tail end of the year. By the time the first bar of Auld Lang Syne was being belted out across the globe, we had five nominees for the greatest fight of 2017.
Unsurprisingly, brawls such as Yancy Medeiros vs Alex Oliveira and Eddie Alvarez vs Justin Gaethje dominated the list. From the casual fan that only watches the marquee events to the bleary-eyed hardcore supporter who stays up until ridiculous o'clock in the morning every weekend, everyone can appreciate the white-knuckle fury of a good old-fashioned slobberknocker.
🚨 Fights of 2017 🚨
2. What a scrap between Yancy Medeiros and Cowboy Oliveira at UFC 218 🔥 pic.twitter.com/HKG4rJtA6U
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) December 31, 2017
The regional scene also delivered on this front. The Cage Warriors bantamweight title fight between Nathaniel Wood and Josh Reed was a one-round war that some of you may have missed, but everyone should really check out.
TJ Dillashaw vs Cody Garbrandt was extremely close to taking the top spot. The defence and tactics implemented in that UFC 135 lb title fight contest meant it was undeserving of the brawl tag. While the build-up became annoyingly repetitive and cringey, the fight itself was one of the tensest and entertaining duals the division has ever seen.
However, our winner was a couple of weight classes up. It was a UFC debut that was a long time coming, but it was certainly worth the wait. The fight was so captivating in its brutality that it actually made people forget some pure crapola that preceded it. Even Conor McGregor, who was training for his professional boxing debut against the greatest pugilist of a generation, tuned in and was thoroughly impressed.
That was a good contest. Two fighters, fighting.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 8, 2017
Our pick for 2017 fight of the year was Justin Gaethje's successful promotional debut against UFC veteran Michael Johnson. When it was booked, the matchmaking was deservedly praised, but somehow, it managed to surpass the hype.
Garbrandt vs Dillashaw's two-rounder wasn't enough to erase the memory of the sparring knockout video saga, the painfully hackneyed trash-talk or *shudders* the Ultimate Fighter. However, Gaethje and Johnson put on such an amazing spectacle that everyone forgot 'the Menace' accusing the eventual victor of being a product of incest.
"Did your Mom have sex with her brother to have you or was it your cousin or something? Coz you're the most inbred piece of shit I've ever seen in my life. So who fucked who? Did your Mom fuck her brother or her sister's brother or somebody? Who in the family had sex with each other to have you?"
Insults don't come much worse than that, but nobody was talking about it after the fact. Once fists started flying and skulls started rattling some sort of wonderful amnesia spell was cast over everyone.
🚨 Fights of 2017 🚨
1. Justin Gaethje's UFC debut was absolutely epic vs. Michael Johnson...
Take a bow boys 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/yw9HL68Rol
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) December 31, 2017
In 2017, Gaethje was the most high-profile lightweight in the world that had yet to fight for the UFC. The WSOF champion amassed a staggering record of 17 fights, 17 wins, 14 knockouts and one submission on the regional scene. His disinterest in defence and penchant for putting people to sleep meant that the hype was huge, but his lack of top-tier competition also had people doubtful over whether he belonged in the UFC or not.
On July 7, Gaethje more than proved he was worth his place in the world's largest promotion with a performance that perfectly-encapsulated his fan-friendly approach to combat. Eight seconds in, he was sent back-tracking after eating a body kick and two left hands from Johnson.
It took less than a minute for the momentum to shift back in his favour. Two right hands followed by a knee to the dome changed the course of the fight. Suddenly, Johnson became less willing to stand and bang out in the open. Gaethje took the centre of the Octagon while Johnson circled along the fence to stick some big shots from the outside and move out of the path of the tornado.
Gaethje's vaunted leg kicks hampered this movement and forced Johnson to give the fans what they wanted. Both men engaged in a firefight from the pocket. Usually when this happens, whoever lands with bad intentions first emerges as the victor, but Gaethje is no ordinary fighter. Despite being cracked with a haymaker towards the tail end of the round, he was still standing when the buzzer sounded.
Johnson clearly had the wind in his sails at the beginning of the second, but his respect for Gaethje's knockout power and granite chin meant that he reverted back to scoring from the outside. More light on his feet, he danced away as Gaethje marched forward, but the intensity of the strikes being thrown did not decrease.
One minute into the second stanza, Johnson found home with a huge hand up top which stumbled his adversary back to the fence again. Gaethje let him know that his fight was far from over in the clinch by cracking him with a knee to the head as they separated.
Gaethje's recovery was quick and his super-human resilience must have disheartened Johnson, who would have dropped plenty of other fighters on the roster with some of the shots that found their mark. With his energy levels sapping rapidly, Gaethje unloaded an uppercut that had Johnson in all sorts of trouble.
Once he had him against the fence, Gaethje remained patient but nasty. He threw with less volume, but more soul-shattering power. He had only one goal - to render this warrior unconscious. When Johnson tried to turn this war into a ground battle, Gaethje casually rejected the offer.
Bloodied, beaten, exhausted - both men soldiered on. Another punishing leg kick encouraged Johnson to showcase his wrestling prowess, but his depleted gas tank was never going to generate enough force to make Gathje take a seat. He took his time getting back to his feet as Big John McCarthy warned him to get back up. He must have known what was coming next.
Gathje charged in with a flying knee, held his prey against the fence and kneed him until he simply couldn't take any more. There were just 12 seconds left in the round, but that would have felt like an eternity to the spent Johnson. He had given Gaethje his best and it wasn't enough.
A star was born in Gaethje as he planted his flag on UFC soil. This knockout artist's ride in the big leagues was going to be an entertaining one. That was plain for all to see.