The highly unofficial half-year awards season concludes with our picks for the best fighters of the first half of 2023, with a look back at their defining moment thus far this year…
5 – Islam Makhachev
Vs Alexander Volkanovski
Islam Makhachev called his shot and followed through, venturing to Perth, Australia and defeating pound-for-pound king and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski to successfully defend his lightweight title for the first time.
The surging Russian standout showed his skills on the feet through the first three rounds, spending long stretches of the initial 15 minutes trading with Volkanovski and getting the better of the exchanges. While “Alexander the Great" had success of his own and showed an impressive ability to contend with Makhachev’s takedown attempts, the lightweight champ was just too much.
In the fourth, Makhachev timed a perfect level change that resulted in his climbing onto Volkanovski’s back and staying there for the duration of the frame. In the final frame, Volkanovski tried his damnedest to rally and finish, taking the fight to Makhachev and hurting him with a left hand late, finishing the bout in top position, much to the delight of the capacity crowd in Perth.
Makhachev earned the unanimous decision win and successfully defended his title, but Volkanovski lost nothing in going 25 minutes with the lightweight ruler.
This was an incredible fight between two standout talents, and it’s going to be amazing seeing them continue to lord over their respective weight classes going forward.
4 – Amanda Nunes
Vs Irene Aldana
Amanda Nunes is still the queen of the bantamweight jungle, successfully defending her title against Irene Aldana to close out UFC 289 in Vancouver.
“The Lioness” was never bothered, peppering the challenger with jabs and kicks to the midsection while mixing in heavy combinations and demoralizing takedowns whenever she felt like changing the location of the action. She battered Aldana in every phase, cracking her with heavy shots in the championship round that served to show the gulf that separates not only these two, but Nunes from everyone else in the division.
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This was a commanding performance from the champion, who moved to 23-5 with the victory and showed that those questions about her motivations and ability to still dominate the division were unfounded.
After the bout, Nunes announced her retirement, ending the greatest career of any female fighter in UFC history.
3 – Jon Jones
Vs Ciryl Gane
Jon Jones is the new undisputed UFC heavyweight champion of the world, and it didn’t take long for him to get there.
“Bones” took Ciryl Gane down just over a minute into the contest, and the French heavyweight was never able to get back to his feet. Jones climbed into a mounted position and started fishing for a guillotine choke, and after “Bon Gamin” fended off the first attack, he locked in the second attempt, drawing out a quick tap from Gane.
After three years away, Jones needed less than a round to claim the heavyweight throne. In the process, he pushes his record to 27-1 with one No Contest, extending his winning streak to five. This was an absolutely dominant effort from the 35-year-old, who continues to be one of the most incredible talents to ever step into the Octagon.
2 – Alexa Grasso
Vs Valentina Shevchenko
Alexa Grasso is the new UFC flyweight champion!
The Mexican challenger took full advantage of a tactical mistake by Valentina Shevchenko in the fourth round to secure the rear-naked choke finish.
This was an ultra-competitive fight the whole way through, with Grasso surprising Shevchenko in the first by fighting from a southpaw stance. While the champion turned to her grappling to build a lead heading into the championship rounds, Grasso remained focused and continued to make the most of her opportunities.
When Shevchenko missed a spinning back kick, Grasso instantly climbed onto her back and attacked the choke, getting her hooks in, flattening her out, and eventually drawing out the tap.
This was an incredible performance from Grasso, who became the third fighter from Mexico to claim championship gold this year, joining Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez. Just an amazing effort from the new champion!
1 – Israel Adesanya
Vs Alex Pereira
Israel Adesanya is the UFC middleweight champion again after knocking out Alex Pereira in the second round.
The bitter rivals went one-for-one through much of the first two rounds, with Pereira chopping at Adesanya’s legs, and the challenger fighting with more forward pressure and urgency than in their last meeting. Just when Pereira pressed forward, looking to punish a seemingly hurt Adesanya, “The Last Stylebender” uncorked a right hand that landed flush and dazed the champion, with the follow-up right putting him on the canvas, out cold.
Just an absolutely tantalizing finish from the Nigerian-born, Auckland-based standout, who reclaims the middleweight title in style.