MMA 2023 Year in Review: Knockout of the Year

Justin Gaethje, UFC 291
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - JULY 29: Justin Gaethje celebrates his KO victory over Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight for the BMF belt during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again — time to hand out the (virtual) hardware for our 2023 MMA awards. Knockout of the Year had plenty of contenders, including human highlight reel Justin Gaethje, lightweight champ Islam Makhachev, and recent entrant Josh Emmett, who crushed Bryce Mitchell just weeks ago.

Let’s get right to who our staff feel stood out above all others in the past 12 months!

Knockout of the Year 2023

Eddie Law: Israel Adesanya KO’s Alex Pereira at UFC 287. After not being able to get over the Poatan hill for years, Izzy finally exorcised the demons by landing a powerful counter right hand that ended Pereira’s reign and put Stylebender back on track. Until UFC 293 of course.

Gabriel Gonzalez: For a moment in April, it looked as if Alex Pereira simply had the number of Israel Adesanya and was about to get the job done for the fourth time in their careers. Instead, Adesanya emphatically turned the tables to stop Pereira and exorcise his demons. While Pereira’s victories were exciting in their own right, Adesanya’s reaction and celebration became an instantly more iconic image that added to the moment.

Jay Anderson: In terms of getting a very personal monkey off his back, I might have picked Israel Adesanya’s KO of Alex Pereira. As good as that was, Justin Gaethje’s head kick KO of Dustin Poirier was better. “The Highlight” continues to live up to his nickname and prove he is the most violent man in MMA.

Jamie Theodosi: Islam Makhachev KOs Alexander Volkanovski. After such a close first meeting between the two, for Islam to come into the second fight and make easy work of Volk, despite the late notice, that’s why it’s my no. 1 pick. Justin Gaethje’s headkick over Dustin Poirier made me consider that one, but the stakes of this fight outweigh it.

Val Dewar: Justin Gaethje vs Dustin Poirier. Many may give Israel Adesanya this award, or even Josh Emmett for his devastating knockout just before the deadline. Yet it was Justin Gaethje who had the most remarkable knockout of the year in my opinion. Dustin Poirier had not been knocked out since before he started his renaissance, back in 2016, so for Gaethje to avenge himself with a clean head-kick knockout of one of the best fighters on earth? It does not get much better than that.

Cade Morehouse: Justin Gaethje winning another award from me. The rematch with Poirier was 5 years in the making and boy the hype leading up to this fight was special. The BMF title on the line between literally the two baddest dudes in the world made it that much more special. For Justin Gaethje to land a head kick knockout exactly one year after Leon landed the same kick in the same arena to put a Stamp on the Dustin Poirier rivalry was Knockout of the year for me.

Patrick McCorry: Justin Gaethje KO’s Dustin Poirier: Headkicks and Utah, name a better combination. Beautifully set up, knocking out one of the best lightweights to ever do it.

Shawn Bitter: Josh Emmett OVER Bryce Mitchell. There may have been better knockouts when it comes to the ascetics. For pure knockouts the best is Emmett putting Mitchell in the shadow realm. The knockout was so brutal Mitchell was down for minutes and even appeared to have a mini seizure.

End Result: Islam Makhachev, Israel Adesanya, and Josh Emmett all made an impression, but it’s Justin Gaethje claiming the Cageside Press 2023 Knockout of the Year!