MMA 2017 Year in Review: Fighter of the Year

UFC Rose Namajunas female fighter of the year
Rose Namajunas Credit: Dave Mandel/

Naming the Female Fighter of the Year for 2017 was easy — on the men’s side, not so much.

For our MMA year-end review, the staff here at Cageside Press has opted to award two Fighters of the Year — one on the male side, and one on the female side of the sport. It’s hard enough to choose a single fighter; it would have been near impossible to do it with the genders mixed.

So we’ve split it up. It was an easy pick when it came to the women’s side, as one fighter stood head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, she secured one of the biggest upsets of the year. On the men’s side? Well, Max Holloway, Robert Whittaker, and Volkan Oezdemir were all in the running. Making the call was no easy task — lets see how we did.

Fighter of the Year: Male

Heath Harshman: Lots of guys had great years in 2017. Robert Whittaker realized his potential and topped the 185-pound division, and Rafael Dos Anjos worked his way to a title-shot at welterweight. But Swiss light heavyweight Volkan Oezdemir had the best year of any fighter in 2018. Going from obscurity to title-shot, the former Bellator fighter and current UFC contender took advantage of a short-notice opportunity against Ovince Saint Preux, and turned it into a chance for gold against Daniel Cormier in less than 12-months.

Jay Anderson: GSP’s comeback, Robert Whittaker’s ascent to the top of the middleweight division, and the continued dominance of Might Mouse all factored in to who might take the Fight of the Year category on the men’s side. Yet there was one man who stood above all those names, defeating one of the greatest featherweights of all time — twice. Max Holloway’s domination of Jose Aldo in 2017 cemented his status as one of the best 145lb’ers of his era. That’s not an exaggeration. Holloway is now on a 12-fight win streak, and defeated the man considered the best the division had to offer. Sure, Conor McGregor starched Aldo in just 13 seconds, but Holloway has now finished the former champion twice. Should he beat Frankie Edgar sometime in 2018, we could very well be in for a long reign for the Hawaiian. He’s only twenty-six, after all.

Paarth Pande: Robert Whittaker. He entered as the underdog against both Souza as well as Yoel. Yet he managed to put up amazing performances.

Dan Doherty: First, he was interviewed by yours truly before what would have been his Titan FC debut, but I must have turned his year around because he got the short notice call to drop to light heavyweight and fight Ovince St. Preux in the Octagon. So he never fought for Titan FC but that interview is out there somewhere. Oezdemir looked great in the first round before understandably tiring out in the later rounds. Dude was set to fight at heavyweight in Titan, not 205. Then he derailed the hype train of Misha Cirkunov with a short hook in the first 30 seconds. Jimi Manuwa suffered the same fate and his climb to the top of the division was booped as well. Oezdemir is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant light heavyweight division, and he received a well-deserved title shot for his efforts.

Mike Straus: This was close, I thought about RDA, and Francis Ngannou, but I went with Volkan Oezdemir. He burst onto the scene this year, dropping top 10 guys in mere seconds and earning a title shot in early 2018.

Eddie Law: Max Holloway. The man is on a 12-fight winning streak, he took the belt from the greatest featherweight champion in UFC history in Jose Aldo IN BRAZIL. Holloway thought nothing of going to another man’s country to take everything from him! WARRIOR!!! Also, not flinching at defending against Aldo and finishing him once again — Holloway is by far the male fighter of the year.

Mike McClory: Is there more of a sure thing on this list? Max Holloway. He went to Brazil and came back with the title after finishing Jose Aldo and if there was any doubt — he did it again by finishing the Brazilian at UFC 218.

Gabriel Gonzalez: Max Holloway. The fact that Max only fought one man in 2017 doesn’t change that he took home gold with style. Holloway has many wondering if he could go down as the best featherweight of all time. Considering he is perhaps a year from completing a virtual sweep of the division, 2017 is his culmination of years of work and an award well earned.

The end result: Max Holloway gets the nod as Male Fighter of the Year 2017!

Fighter of the Year: Female

Mike McClory: Like Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise, Rose Namajunas faced off against a monster in then-champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 217. Like Ripley, against all odds she succeeded when she TKO’d Joanna in the first round. But seriously lets make this a thing (she even has the Alien 3 look down).

Heath Harshman: Yeah, Cynthia Calvillo and Tecia Torres both recorded three wins in 2017 (written before UFC 219). But no female fighter achieved anything as impressive as UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. Dethroning Joanna Jedrzejczyk and stopping her impressive streak of victories at UFC 217 was among the biggest surprises of the year. Now, she heads into 2018 as the champion of one of the deepest divisions in the promotion.

Jay Anderson: It’s really, really hard to go against the woman who dethroned one of the most dominant female fighters in history. So, Rose Namajunas it is, for obvious reasons.

Dan Doherty: Rose learned her lessons from a tough loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in 2016 and came out firing this year. Namajunas put down a game Michelle Waterson with a beautiful head kick and vicious rear-naked choke, just as the UFC was going to put the marketing train behind The Karate Hottie. Then she defied all odds by knocking out the seemingly unbeatable Joanna Jedrzejczyk. And to ensure that it was no fluke, Namajunas threw in a couple knockdowns in the first round to seal the deal. Very interested to see who she will face in her first defense, which is looking like a rematch of the great upset at the moment.

Mike Straus: Rose Namajunas has been incredible. She has beat everyone all of us thought she would lose too, she just keeps getting better and better, and she’s a real breath of fresh air at strawweight.

Paarth Pande: Rose. Two big wins. Both finishes.

Eddie Law: Rose Namajunas. Rose was on a three-fight winning streak when she lost to Karolina Kowalkiewicz with split-decision and halted her progress. A submission finish of Michelle Waterson earned her a title shot against the only UFC strawweight champ ever. Rose finished the Boogiewoman in the most improbable of ways via TKO in the first round scoring the biggest upset of the entire year in MMA.

Gabriel Gonzalrez: Cris Cyborg. Cyborg earns this award for many of the same reasons as Holloway. The only difference is her years of work took place outside of the UFC. While she’s won every accolade a female fighter can, she has admitted that winning UFC gold is validation of the work she has put into the sport. To finally add that final trophy to her collection nets her the 2017 female fighter of the year.

The end result: Rose Namajunas was a near-unanimous selection for Female Fighter of the Year 2017!