MMA 2023 Year in Review: Event of the Year

Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, UFC 290
Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, UFC 290 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Eddie Law/Cageside Press

2023 is in the books, and it’s time to look back at the year that was in MMA and hand out our annual awards. Event of the Year generally comes down to the larger UFC shows, Bellator tentpole events, RIZIN New Year’s Eve cards and the like. This year was no exception to that rule.

Who got the nod as our 2023 Event of the Year? Read on!

Event of the Year 2023

Eddie Law: UFC 295. Way too easy. Who had Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich fighting for the interim HW title on short notice ON their 2023 bingo card? Nobody. Add to that Poatan becoming a two-division champ in 7 UFC bouts, a nasty KO by Jessica Andrade and both Benoit Saint-Denis and Diego Lopes becoming stars in the MMA world, UFC 295 created plenty of storylines to follow going into 2024.

Gabriel Gonzalez: UFC 285. Jon Jones’ first event back since 2020 did not disappoint with a stacked undercard and arguably the upset of the year. But to many fans, the night began and ended with Jones and whether or not he would win and he did not disappoint in what was the exclamation point on an epic week

Jay Anderson: It would be easy to give this award to the annual International Fight Week event, or the UFC’s fall trip to New York. It could go with my bias and pick UFC 289 in Vancouver, the first UFC card I’ve been able to cover live since the pandemic set in. Then there was UFC 285 in March, which had the return of Jon Jones, and the clear frontrunner in Upset of the Year, Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko.

All that said, the second full-fledged Bellator MMA X RIZIN cross-promotion (and quite possibly the last now that Bellator belongs to the PFL) gets my vote. These cards show that cross-promotional can happen and is healthy for the MMA ecosystem. As for the event, few expected Chihiro Suzuki to knock out Patricio Pitbull; he would go on to claim gold in RIZIN. Vugar Karamov, the man Suzuki beat to win gold, was on the card as well. And Patricky Pitbull finished Roberto de Souza with leg kicks in the main event. Also, honorable mention to KSW Colosseum 2. The card took a hit when Marian Ziółkowski injured himself warming up for Salahdine Parnasse — but the turnout was impressive.

Jamie Theodosi: UFC 290: Volkanovski vs Rodriguez. With this being the International Fight Week event, it had a lot of expectation to live up to, and it did just that. It had two fight of the year contenders (Pantoja vs Moreno and Hooker vs Turner), and also had a huge upset in DDP vs Whittaker. Robbie Lawler also went out in the best way possible. All around, a top event.

Val Dewar: The best MMA event of 2023, UFC 290, naturally also featured the best fight of 2023: Moreno vs Pantoja 2. That was not all, however, as Volkanovski’s headlining domination of Yair Rodriguez, du Plessis’ upset of Whittaker, and a second ‘Fight of the Year’ contender – Dan Hooker vs Jalin Turner – rounded out the main card. The prelims were thrilling too, with six finishes in eight fights delivering highlights such as Robbie Lawler’s retirement knockout, Denise Gomes’ prospect KO of Jauregui, Menifield’s shock submission of BJJ expert Jim Crute, and a devastating overhand from Jesus Aguilar that put Shannon Ross out cold the second it connected.

Cade Morehouse: UFC 290 is the event of the year. The lead up to the fights were amazing and it was all around a great card. It had one of the candidates to be fight of the year on the card with the rematch between Moreno and Pantoja. It was electric.

Patrick McCorry: UFC290. Robbie Lawler going out on top, Dricus with a massive upset, Lewis’ shorts off, FOTY and Volk putting a stamp on the Featherweight division, and an insane set of prelims to add to it.

Shawn Bitter: May be some recency bias but I like UFC 295. It had the two title fights and also standout performances from Jessia Andrade, Benoit Saint-Denis, and Diego Lopes. From top to bottom the card delivered.

End Result: It had some competition from UFC 295, but UFC 290 in International Fight Week gets the prize!