MMA’s 2023 All-Star Team: Who were the most violent fighters in each weight class last year?

[ad_1]

The 2023 MMA All-Star Teams have finally been announced!

As I said last year, the great Jordan Breen used to do an “All-Violence Team” for Sherdog, and I loved it so I’ve co-opted it. Every other sport has an All-Pro or All-Star team, so why not MMA? Especially when it’s so easily broken down by weight class.

The concept is simple: The three fighters in each weight class who had the best year based on excitement, activity, and accomplishment. We’re not just talking about who are the best fighters, but which fighters delivered the most entertainment throughout the year, with brutal knockouts, slick submissions, and vicious beatdowns. Losses aren’t disqualifying so long as the fight was great, and decisions aren’t either if it’s a world-class fight. No lay-and-pray artists here, we want the most violent fighters of 2023.

So without further ado, here are the 2023 MMA All-Star Teams.


UFC 295: Prochazka v Pereira

Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Heavyweight

First Team: Tom Aspinall. Coming back off injury, Aspinall fought twice in 2023, scoring first-round wins both times out and doing so in a combined 2:22 seconds. Oh, and the second of those wins came over last year’s First Team heavyweight, Sergei Pavlovich, and earned Aspinall an interim heavyweight belt. No heavyweight accomplished more in less time than Aspinall did last year.

Second Team: Jailton Almeida. Last year’s Second Team heavyweight holds his position with another strong showing in 2023. Yes, his final fight of the year was a snoozer with Derrick Lewis, but Almeida was dominant in that fight and his first two bouts of the year were one-sided thrashings of Shamil Abdurakhimov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (they landed a combined one significant strike against him). That’s enough to warrant a return to this list.

Third Team: Alexander Volkov. PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira nearly snuck in here after delivering three brutal KOs through his tournament run, but his decision loss to Rizvan Kuniev (later overturned to a no-contest) at the start of the year hurt his case. Meanwhile, Volkov scores two good finish wins this year, showcasing an improving ground game, including the very rare Ezekiel choke win he got over 2022 Third Teamer Tai Tuivasa.

Honorable Mentions: Phil De Fries, Renan Ferreira, Shamil Gaziev, Denis Goltsov


2023 PFL 7: Playoffs

Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Light Heavyweight

First Team: Impa Kasanganay. In another year, the Kasanganay might not be a First Teamer but light heavyweight had a strange team and you cannot deny his output: Five fights, five wins, three stoppages, one forgettable fight, and one five-round ass-kicking that earned him $1 million and a ton of respect. No light heavyweight did more than Kasanganay in 2023.

Second Team: Vitor Petrino. Coming off the Contender Series last year, Petrino fought and won three times in his first year in the UFC, scoring two stoppages, one Performance of the Night bonus, and one Fight of the Night award for his battle with Anton Turkalj in March. That was good enough to earn Rookie of the Year consideration from several MMA Fighting panelists and good enough for Second Team All-Violence.

Third Team: Khalil Rountree Jr. A violence standout since he joined the UFC in 2016, Rountree is on the best run of his career and finally gets a Violence Team spot after obliterating Chris Daukaus and Anthony Smith this year, earning Performance of the Night bonuses for each of those devastating knockouts.

Honorable Mentions: Alex Pereira, Rodolfo Bellato, Josh Silveira, Carlos Ulberg


UFC 293: Adesanya v Strickland

Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images

Middleweight

First Team: Sean Strickland. Strickland took home Fighter of the Year honors this year and it’s pretty easy to see why. Three dominant wins, one Performance of the Night, one Fight of the Night, and one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, leading to him holding the undisputed middleweight title. That’s an all-timer of a year and comes from a guy who everyone was writing off in December, and who was largely known for winning slightly tedious decisions. Not this year though. Strickland was extremely exciting to watch and (Mike) Heck, he even took his fighting outside of the cage this year! He’s the clear choice for First Team.

Second Team: Dricus du Plessis. Simply put, DDP is one of the most electric viewing experiences in MMA these days. Since joining the UFC in 2020, DDP has fought like a middleweight Justin Gaethje who is prone to getting tired. This year though, after a surgery to fix his nose, DDP just fought like a demon, running over Derek Brunson and Robert Whittaker to earn his shot at the middleweight title later this month. The quality of those two wins puts him on the Second Team ahead of our next winner.

Third Team: Brendan Allen. Three fights, three finishes, two Performance bonuses, it doesn’t get much better than that. Allen is still only 28 years old and in 2023 he began to establish himself as a legitimate title threat with dominant showings against talented fighters. Expect more of the same from Allen in 2024.

Honorable Mentions: Ikram Aliskerov, Roman Kopylov, Bo Nickal, Jun Yong Park, Joe Pyfer, Gregory Rodrigues


UFC 285: Jones v Gane

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Welterweight

First Team: Shavkat Rakhmonov. No man better embodies what these All-Violence teams are all about than Shavkat. Entering the year with a professional record of 15-0 with 15 stoppages, Shavkat kept right on rolling despite facing an increasingly difficult level of opposition. Three more fights this year, three more submissions added to the resume, one Performance of the Night, one Fight of the Night, runner-up for Submission of the Year, and top-five in Fight of the Year. If there was an All-Violence MVP, Shavkat would win it and you can probably also expect him to have a stranglehold (even worse than the one he had on Geoff Neal) over this First Team spot for the foreseeable future.

Second Team: Ian Machado Garry. Garry had a lot of success in making people hate him in 2023, but it wasn’t for his fighting style. “The Future” delivered three impressive wins last year, stopping Kenan Song violently, earning a Performance bonus for doing the same to Daniel Rodriguez, and then capping his year off with a one-sided thrashing of Neil Magny that saw one judge score the fight 30-24. If Machado Garry had fought Vicente Luque at UFC 296, he might have even given Shavkat a run for his money this year.

Third Team: Magomed Magomedkerimov. The structure of the PFL means that year-end champions are always going to have a shot at an All-Star inclusion because of the sheer volume of fights they have, but you still have to impress with those fights. Last year’s champion, Sadibou Sy, didn’t even earn an honorable mention because he was a decision merchant. That wasn’t the case this year for Magomedkerimov who put together four dominant wins including submitting Sy in the tournament championship.

Honorable Mentions: Sadibou Sy, Jack Della Maddalena, Nicolas Dalby, Kevin Holland, Bryan Battle, Mike Malott, Myktybek Orolbai, Gabriel Bonfim


UFC 295: Frevola v Saint Denis

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Lightweight

First Team: Benoit Saint Denis. 2023 will be remembered for many things, but somewhere on that list is that it was the year that “BSD” arrived. The pride of France, BSD became a household name with nasty finishes over Ismael Bonfim, Thiago Moises, and Matt Frevola, the latter two which earned Performance bonuses. With Justin Gaejthe probably close to the end of his career, BSD appears poised to take up the mantle of the next god-tier action fighter.

Second Team: Justin Gaethje. If Shavkat is the Violence MVP this year, Justin Gaethje is Vince Lombardi of this endeavor: the guy you name the trophy after because he won it so often. Gaethje missed out on last year’s team because he only fought once, but he made up for it this year with a win over Rafael Fiziev in the No. 5 Fight of the Year, and a brutal knockout of Dustin Poirier in their rematch which was No. 5 Knockout of the Year. If you make two End of Year lists for two different fights, you probably made an All-Star team.

Third Team: Olivier Aubin-Mercier. We need more All-Star teams for lightweight. It’s simply too good. Just look at the people who got bumped to honorable mention this year! Islam Makhachev had the Fight of the Year, one of the best knockouts of 2023, and he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he’s not even making an All-Star team?! That’s crazy. But ultimately, Makhachev fought the same person twice and the second time was short notice, which was just enough for me to allow sentimentality to win out.

While “OAM’s” run in PFL won’t be the most memorable feel-good moment of the year, it is still one of the few times in history than an MMA fighter ended his career on a high note. OAM went 10-0 in PFL and won two tournaments, meaning he’s a multi-millionaire, before hanging up his gloves, and this year he did it in style. Four wins, two finishes, two dominant performances, and a retirement for the ages. That’s enough to send the man out with one more accolade.

Honorable Mentions: Islam Makhachev, Arman Tsarukyan, Bobby Green, Terrance McKinney, Mateusz Rebecki


UFC 295: Lopes v Sabatini

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Featherweight

First Team: Diego Lopes. Lopes took home 2023 Rookie of the Year honors and deservedly so. After nearly pulling off a massive upset against top 10 featherweight Movsar Evloev in his short-notice debut, Lopes proceeded to beat the brakes off of quality fighters Gavin Tucker and Pat Sabatini. Both fights earned him Performance of the Night honors and the Evloev fight took home Fight of the Night honors. If you have a 100 percent bonus rate for the year, you’re doing something right.

Second Team: Jesus Pinedo. Another man who got love in the 2023 Rookie of the Year race, Pinedo started the year off poorly, dropping a split decision to Gabriel Alves Braga in the first fight of the PFL season, but from then on the Peruvian fighter delivered beatdowns, stopping Brendan Loughnane and Bubba Jenkins to earn a spot in the PFL Finals. There, he rematched Braga and left no doubt, finishing his rival in the third round. It was a breakout year for Pinedo and well-deserving of his All-Star selection.

Third Team: Edson Barboza. One of the greatest action fighters who has ever lived, Barboza may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but the man still has a penchant for violence like few others. This year that means a Performance bonus knockout of Billy Quarantillo with a devastating knee, and then a Fight of the Night earning win over Sodiq Yusuff.

Honorable Mentions: Max Holloway, Muhammad Naimov, Joanderson Brito, Morgan Charriere, Nate Landwehr


MMA: APR 22 Bellator 295

Photo by Matt Davies/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bantamweight

First Team: Patchy Mix. Though bantamweight is universally considered the second best weight class in MMA behind lightweight, this year it did not have the same wealth of elite contenders as 155 pounds did. The violence simply did not flow as readily at 135 pounds, but I’ll tell you what, it certainly did flow from Mix.

A dark horse candidate for Fighter of the Year, Mix scored one of the best knockouts and one of the best submissions of 2023 as he ran over Raufeon Stots and Sergio Pettis to win the Bellator bantamweight grand prix and claim the bantamweight title.

Second Team: Da’Mon Blackshear. Blackshear fought three times in 2023, and while he lost his most recent outing (a decision to honorable mention Mario Bautista), he gave a good fight in that bout and what he did before then punches his ticket onto the Second Team. First, he laid waste to Luan Lacerda in June scoring an upset TKO finish, and then he landed the third Twister in UFC history against Jose Johnson in August.

I have a rule, if you hit a Twister in the UFC, you’re on an All-Star team.

Third Team: Marcus McGhee. There were plenty of viable contenders for this spot but McGhee slightly edges it out here by virtue of volume and performance. Starting the year in LFA, McGhee put a beatdown on Luciano Ramos before signing with the UFC where he then scored back-to-back Performance of the Night winning finishes over Journey Newson and JP Buys. Three-for-three with three finishes and an extra $100,000 is good enough for Third Team.

Honorable Mentions: Cory Sandhagen, Song Yadong, Cody Garbrandt, Jonathan Martinez, Mario Bautista, Kai Asakura, Soo Chul Kim


UFC 296: Pantoja v Royval

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Flyweight

First Team: Alexandre Pantoja. Sure, he didn’t get any finishes this year but that wasn’t for lack of trying. In 2023, Pantoja finally claimed the UFC flyweight title and he did so by winning the second-best fight of the year, and then following that up with a dominant display in his first title defense. Pantoja has years of bonafides as a dynamic action fighter and the only reason he didn’t add more finishes to his highlight reel this year is the quality of competition was too good. Nonetheless, the flyweight champion gave you 50 minutes of high-paced action, which is good enough to make the First Team.

Second Team: Tatsuro Taira. It was only a matter of time until Taira made an All-Star team and now that he has, he’s probably here to stay. The best prospect out of Japan since Kyogi Horiguchi, Taira is still only 23 years old and in 2023, he broke out in a big way, adding three more wins to the resume, including two finishes and one Performance of the Night bonus. Taira is one of the most exciting prospects in the sport. Expect him to be a mainstay here for years to come.

Third Team: Muhammad Mokaev. Mokaev is one of the very few fighters to repeat as an All-Stars this year and, like with Taira, the expectation is that he will be in this position for the foreseeable future. While Mokaev may not be as exciting as Taira has been, he’s an exceptional grappler and this year showed a penchant for scoring late submissions, with third-round finishes of Jafel Filho and Tim Elliott. Also only 23 years old, the eventual matchup between Mokaev and Taira is one worth salivating over.

Honorable Mentions: John Dodson, Hyun Sung Park, Steve Erceg, Azat Maksum


UFC Fight Night: Holm v Bueno Silva

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Women’s Bantamweight

First Team: Mayra Bueno Silva. Technically, “MBS’s” fight with Holly Holm never happened as it was overturned to a no-contest after a failed drug test. But like, we all have eyes. We saw it. MBS ended Holm’s reign of tedious decisions by whomping her proper, and before that she did the same to Lina Lansberg. Women’s bantamweight is one of the weakest divisions in MMA (Ronda Rousey is still No. 39 in Tapology rankings, and she hasn’t fought in almost a decade!), but in 2023, the 2022 Third-Teamer gave everyone hope that maybe it can reclaim some former glory with her at the helm.

Second Team: Irene Aldana. There simply aren’t a ton of options for All-Stars in this weight class and is the best of some tough choices. She got absolutely shellacked in her first fight of the year, against 2022 First Teamer Amanda Nunes, but rebounded by putting on one of the best fights of 2023 against Karol Rosa. Among a weak crop of contenders, that’s enough for Second Team.

Third Team: Olga Rubin. Rubin fought twice in 2023, picking up two wins in Invicta FC, and while one of them was by standard-issue decision, the most recent was by buggy choke. In the absence of any other demanding contenders, that was easily the coolest thing to happen in this division in 2023 (aside from MBS) so Rubin sneaks into the Third Team.

Honorable Mentions: Nora Cornolle, Luana Santos, Tainara Lisboa, Karol Rosa


UFC 285: Shevchenko v Grasso

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Women’s Flyweight

First Team: Alexa Grasso. Could there be any other choice? Grasso scored one of the biggest upsets ever and the Submission of the Year, and she followed that up by retaining her title in a very fun rematch with Valentina Shevchenko (judging controversy aside, it was a darn good fight). Over the past 18 months, Grasso leveled up from being a decision merchant to one of the most exciting fighters at 125 pounds.

Second Team: Dakota Ditcheva. The PFL had a big 2023 but one of the quieter victories for the promotion was the emergence of Ditcheva. The former Muay Thai champion was one of the breakout stars of 2023, winning the PFL Europe tournament with three stoppage victories, and arriving as one of the fighters to watch in 2024. This is Ditcheva’s second straight All-Star selection after a Third Team spot last year, so “Dangerous” continues to move on up in the world.

Third Team: Karine Silva. Silva has been tearing it up since her debut on Contender Series, scoring four straight submission wins. Two of those came in 2023 as Silva kneebarred Ketlen Souza in June and then hit Maryna Moroz with a buzz-beater guillotine choke in August. The Brazilian fighter has been to one decision in her 21-fight career, so she is a good bet to earn another All-Star selection in the near future.

Honorable Mentions: Erin Blanchfield, Liz Carmouche, Maycee Barber, Natalia Silva, Ariane Lipski


UFC Fight Night: Andrade v Suarez

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Strawweight

First Team: Tatiana Suarez. One of the comeback fighters of 2023, Suarez was supposed to be the Princess That Was Promised back in 2018. A series of injuries kept her out of action for years but she finally came back in 2023 and she did so with a fury, submitting Montana De La Rosa and Jessica Andrade with relative ease. If she keeps this momentum into 2024, Suarez is likely to be a repeat First Teamer.

Second Team: Loopy Godinez. Three fights, three wins, one finish, one Post-Fight Bonus, 251 significant strikes landed: that’s not a bad year for anyone. Godinez has been a darling of the hardcore fans for awhile now but in 2023 she broke out by putting her torrid pace on opponents and if she can keep it up she’s looking at a shot at moving up into the ranks of contenders.

Third Team: Denise Gomes. Sneaking into the last spot, Gomes had a strong start to 2023, stopping Bruna Brasil in April before scoring a 20-second KO of Yazmin Jauregui in July. Unfortunately, she lost her final fight of 2023 against Angela Hill, but the start was strong enough to fend off the other contenders here.

Honorable Mentions: Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Josefine Knutsson, Julia Polastri, Eduarda Moura


Seika

At-Large Bids

First Team: Seika Izawa. The best atomweight in the world and it’s not particularly close. Izawa bumps up from Third Team to All-Pro this year on back of three nasty submission wins in Japan. If the UFC ever opens a 105-pound weight class (they should), Izawa is the woman who would set the standard.

Second Team: Larissa Pacheco. Last year’s First Team At-Large All-Star, Pacheco followed up her incredible 2022 campaign with more unadulterated dominance. Four wins in the PFL, two 25-minute whompings, two sub one-minute knockouts, Pacheco is carrying the torch of Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes before her.

Third Team: Jessica Andrade. This may be a controversial selection as Andrade lost more than she won in 2023, but how can you deny the spectacle? Andrade fought five times last year, jumping between flyweight and strawweight and in between beating the absolute bejesus out of Lauren Murphy and Mackenzie Dern, she also got the same bejesus beaten out of her by Erin Blanchfield, Yan Xiaonan, and Tatiana Suarez. No fighter in all of MMA was involved in more violence this year.

Honorable Mentions: Marina Mokhnatkina, Amanda Ribas, Si Yoon Park, Chihiro Sawada, Michelle Montague


And that’s it! Congratulations to all the selections and here’s to hoping 2024 is so good it necessitates adding a Fourth Team to the mix.

[ad_2]

Source link

You May Also Like