MMA 2018 Year In Review: Fighter of the Year

Daniel Cormier UFC
Daniel Cormier Credit: Jason Burgos/

2018’s Fighter of the Year was a nearly unanimous pick. One fighter stood head and shoulders above the rest, accomplishing feats so rarely seen in MMA you can count on one hand the number of fighters to reach such heights.

Five. That’s the number of UFC fighters to have held belts in two weight classes (Joe Warren did it in Bellator, Aung La N Sang and Martin Nguyen in ONE). Two. That’s how many held them simultaneously in the UFC. And one. Exactly one man has defended the titles he held simultaneously in the UFC. Daniel Cormier holds both the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles currently, at least for a few more days. And he defended both in 2018. Sure, he didn’t hold the heavyweight title when he defended the 205lb strap, but we won’t hold that against him.

So it comes as no surprise that Daniel Cormier was selected by our writers as the 2018 Fighter of the Year. It wasn’t even close. In fact, only one staff member bucked the trend, putting Israel Adesanya up for consideration.

Fighter of the Year:

Heath Harshman: There’s only one correct answer for 2018 Fighter of the Year: Daniel Cormier. Kicking-off the year with a dominant win over Volkan Oezdemir, becoming the heavyweight champ after defeating Stipe Miocic in July, and closing 2018 with a similarly impressive showing against Derrick Lewis, the two-division title-holder has somehow managed to add to his already legendary legacy. He’ll have a couple more chances to continue that trend in 2019, with the likes of Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones as potential future opponents.

Mike Straus: Daniel Cormier As much as I want to say Anthony Smith here, I can’t. DC has had one heck of a year. He defended his light heavyweight title and earned a Performance of the Night bonus in the process. Then went on to KO Stipe Miocic to become a double champ. Come on.

Jay Anderson: Daniel Cormier is going to be the pick for many here. Max Holloway only fought once. Rose Namajunas only fought once. Amanda Nunes has a fight pending that, because of how late it comes in the year, will count towards 2019 as far as these awards are concerned. Same with Cris Cyborg. Over in Bellator, there’s an argument to be made for Gegard Mousasi, who captured middleweight gold and defended the title against Rory MacDonald, who moved up in weight for the opportunity. Even Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. But yeah… in the end, D.C. makes the most sense. He defended his light heavyweight title, won the heavyweight title, then defended that. Making him the first champ-champ in the UFC with defenses of both belts.

Josh Evanoff: Daniel Cormier started off the year as a champion that wasn’t embraced by many people and ended the year as a double champion who is staring at a potential Brock Lesnar showdown. First he started off the year taking out the last possible contender at 205 in Volkan, then he comes back and defeats arguably the best UFC heavyweight champion by knockout earning himself a Brock Lesnar payday in the process. He then saves one of the biggest UFC shows of the year beating Derrick Lewis on short notice. DC had an amazing year.

Jesse Gillette: Daniel Cormier was perfect in 2018. He started the year by TKO’ing the dangerous Volcan Oezdemir and retaining the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 220, then seven months later he became the UFC Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Stipe Miocic at UFC 226, and then he even capped the year off by taking an extra fight against Derrick Lewis — and he made relatively short work of ‘The Black Beast’ and his hot balls, as ‘Champ Champ’ submitted Lewis in the second round.

Eddie Law: Is there really any debate here? Two-division champ, actually defended both titles, is THE example of what an MMA champion should be, and on top of it multi-talented with skills in the booth. Family man, baddest man on the planet, Daniel Cormier is the fighter of the year.

Paarth Pande: D.C. Became two-division champion. Defended both the titles. At this age managing to pull all of this is beyond wow.

Farzin Vousoughian: Daniel Cormier: not only did he become a champ-champ, but he defended the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles in 2018. No fighter has ever defended two titles, let alone doing it in the same year.

Mike McClory: Hard to deny Daniel Cormier on this one. The man not only defended his Light Heavyweight belt, he then moved up to Heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic, the man who held the record for most title defenses at Heavyweight… and won by KO. Cormier then ended year by defending his new Heavyweight Championship against Derrick Lewis who he choked out. Three title fights, three wins, two belts. 2018 was all DC’s.

Dan Doherty: Israel Adesanya. I know Cormier is the obvious pick here but I want to give some love to a man who wasn’t even in the UFC last year. The single-discipline prodigy is a fighter-type that doesn’t always work out in the UFC in 2018, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing (Brian Ortega is an example of this). Adesanya came in as one to watch according to those familiar with his kickboxing career and unique style, but contrarians always had the “wait until he fights a wrestler” card ready to go. He took out sacrificial lamb Rob Wilkinson with ease, then scraped by Marvin Vettori who tested but did not quite challenge his wrestling chops.

The breakout came against Brad Tavares, whom Adesanya took to school for 25 minutes. It was then time for a wrestler in the form of top-10 middleweight Derek Brunson. Try as he might, Brunson could not bring down the lankier Adesanya and eventually succumbed to some beautiful combinations in the first round. Through all this, Adesanya’s personality has shined brightly, and the promotion knows they have a star on their hands. Up next is the legendary Anderson Silva, but the gauntlet of top middleweight talent awaits.

Gabriel Gonzalez: The Double Champ put in work this year and I think defined his legacy in 2018. Surviving Volkan Oezdemir and dominating in January, taking out Stipe Miocic for his second belt in July, then on three weeks notice stepping up and dominating Derrick Lewis. I know the prevailing thought has always been whether or not DC would have achieved what he has if Jones has been around. This year proved that regardless of what you think of Jones, Cormier’s nothing less than one of the best light-heavyweights of all time.

The end result: Daniel Cormier was a near-unanimous selection for Fighter of the Year 2018, and threw his name in the hat for consideration at the GOAT while he was at it!

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