I sat cageside at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on Jan. 26 after Henry Corrales’ breathtaking, and seemingly out-of-nowhere, knockout of Aaron Pico thinking that if there were any more fights like that, 2019 would be a very good year.
And, yeah, 2019 was a very good year.
The Corrales-Pico fight at Bellator 214 showcased much of what makes mixed martial arts so great. It was Pico, a heavily hyped prospect, being put in a tough test against an unacclaimed — but dangerous — veteran.
It was Pico showing what made him almost universally regarded as the best prospect to enter the sport in years when he was outstriking Corrales. He dropped Corrales with a crushing right uppercut and went in for the kill.
And then, in another example of MMA’s greatness, Corrales bounced up, but he was in obvious trouble. He backed up, momentarily, to regain his senses and began exchanging with Pico, fighting on instinct. Pico landed another right and Corrales was in jeopardy again.
Corrales just kept fighting. He landed a wide right on the butt of Pico’s chin that turned the tide of the fight, and perhaps of Pico’s career. He came back with another right that put Pico down, and seconds later, Corrales finished him. He went from being one shot away from being finished himself to ending the fight spectacularly.
If you had to describe what makes MMA so unique and so compelling, that moment would do a pretty good job.
But as good as that fight was, it wasn’t the best of the year, which is fortunate for those among us who are MMA fans.
Nothing could come close to topping the action, the momentum swings, the drama, the skill and the pure violence of the interim middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236 in April in Atlanta.
The bout might have been the Fight of the Year if it had ended after four and they didn’t bother to fight the fifth and deciding round.
The fifth round was one of those special ones that anyone who was there or who saw it live will never forget.
It was two men putting everything on the line to fight for the biggest prize in their sport. A UFC title is life-changing for most fighters, and both Adesanya and Gastelum fought that bout as if they knew that.
The fifth was a remarkable battle that ended with Adesanya getting the unanimous decision victory.
The drama and sustained action were unmatched, which is why Adesanya-Gastelum is an obvious choice as the 2019 Yahoo Sports Fight of the Year in MMA.
There were many other great bouts in 2019, including Corrales-Pico. Paulo Costa-Yoel Romero was a wildly entertaining scrap at UFC 241, as was the rematch between Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway at UFC 236 for the interim lightweight title.
Vicente Luque’s late knockout of Bryan Barberena was one for the books, as was Luque’s victory over Mike Perry. And no Fight of the Year list is complete without Donald Cerrone, whose battle against Tony Ferguson at UFC 238 was typically jaw-dropping.
There were many more, but none could match Adesanya-Gastelum.
That’s why it’s the choice as the 2019 Yahoo Sports MMA Fight of the Year.
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