I’ve been watching mixed martial arts most of my life, and chronicling it has been my chosen professional for nearly a decade. As time rolls on and as the Ultimate Fighting Championship schedule accelerates, MMA internationalizes and there are more and more fights happening every single day, I wonder if I’ll grow tired. I wonder when seeing two humans locked in a cage destroying their physical well-being for prizes and doing shockingly violent things to one another will sour me. Perhaps I will suddenly find myself numb and immune to the once-thrilling high.
Just kidding. People will be trapping themselves in cages for money for eons to come, and until my body is dirt and worms, I’ll be endlessly fascinated and seduced by the bloody and gruesome art that prizefighters can create on a canvas. I’m anything but alone on this accord.
This is Sherdog.com’s 2015 All-Violence Team. If you’re uninitiated or lack anything resembling intuition, here is the mandate. This is where MMA’s most vicious, technical and thrilling artists have their works hung and curated. This list knows you didn't start watching this sport to watch faceless journeymen on cable TV for hours upon hours every weekend; it knows your bloodthirsty little secret, and it will never shame you.
This year’s roster is a different sort. For the second straight year, there’s no Jon Jones, after earning first-team honors the first four years of its existence. After three straight years embodying this list’s principles, Matt Brown is absent. Not all changes, however, are for the worse: After two years of my foolish deliberating, I’ve made the long overdue decision to add the 115-pound division into the fold, bringing this team to a robust and righteous 27 entrants across nine weight classes.
After all, 115-pound ruler Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2015 became both “Joanna Champion” and “Joanna Violence” in MMA parlance, and I didn’t even christen her the latter. She’s not the only new ace displaying that grisly artistry, either. This year, Fabricio Werdum destroyed All-Violence star Cain Velasquez; Daniel Cormier earned a UFC strap by strapping on a tank helmet and going to work; and his teammate Luke Rockhold ran roughshod over a former great champion and a current great one with a staggering offensive output.
This marks the year Conor McGregor makes his All-Violence debut. If humiliating Dennis Siver and knocking out Chad Mendes was of questionable currency, he also one-shotted one of the 10 best fighters ever in a single exchange in the biggest fight of the year. Jose Aldo, the greatest featherweight of all-time, a violence master, was trounced in 13 seconds by a single left hand. Blood in, blood out.
So repeat after me the All-Violence mantra, fight freaks, and together, we’ll indulge in our annual, ritualistic bath in blood: “The modern artist must live by craft and violence. His gods are violent gods. Those artists, so called, whose work does not show this strife, are uninteresting.”
2015 All-Violence First TeamHeavyweight: Fabricio Werdum
Light Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier
Middleweight: Luke Rockhold
Welterweight: Robbie Lawler
Lightweight: Tony Ferguson
Featherweight: Conor McGregor
Bantamweight: Thomas Almeida
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
Strawweight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
HEAVYWEIGHT: It’s hard to believe a fighter who has butt scooted in so many prominent moments is now not just a three-time All-Violence entrant -- twice in a row on the first team -- but also your reigning UFC heavyweight champion. As noted last year, Werdum’s development under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro has been immense. In 2015, he fought just once, but his performance in snatching the UFC heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez at UFC 188 in Mexico City was an outrageous one. It took place at a torrid pace in which Werdum not only absorbed shots from arguably the most violent heavyweight in MMA history but overcame him with strikes. Ultimately, it was Werdum’s all-world grappling skills that got the job done, forcing Velasquez to tap to a third-round guillotine. Nonetheless, it was an unforgiving ass-whooping on the feet that stopped Velasquez from planting his flag as the all-time greatest heavyweight, putting Werdum in that very conversation. Velasquez actually outlanded Werdum 117-101 in total strikes; however, “Vai Cavalo” took the edge in significant strikes by a 79-54 margin, according to FightMetric, as he assaulted Velasquez with punches from distance and savage knees inside. Their 2016 rematch will determine whether or not the outcome of their first bout was influenced by altitude, but regardless of the result, Werdum will bring offense.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Cormier battled tooth-and-nail in 2015, and for it, he earned some slice of the UFC light heavyweight title and his second All-Violence berth. In one of the most anticipated fights of the year, Cormier came up short to the sport’s best fighter, Jon Jones, but still fought about as well against “Bones” as anyone outside of Alexander Gustafsson. When Jones’ hit-and-run legal issues saw him stripped of the UFC title, Cormier overcame two crazy knockdowns from arguably the sport’s biggest hitter, Anthony Johnson, to take the vacant UFC light heavyweight crown at UFC 187 in May. He not only overcame the howitzer shots from “Rumble” but took him down and beat him into submission, to the extent that Johnson’s trainer Henri Hooft implored him, “Don’t quit,” to no avail. When Cormier defended his strap at UFC 192 in October, he outdueled Gustafsson in a five-round, hammer-and-tong war, outlanding the Swede 140-120 in significant strikes, the 260 they landed in their encounter setting the record for a 205-pound bout in the UFC by besting the 244 of Jones-Gustafsson. Moreover, Cormier overcame a devastating knockdown from a knee late in the third round that would have obliterated most fighters.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Even when the statistics are in your favor, they cannot always tell the story, and that’s the case for newly minted UFC middleweight champion Rockhold, who earns his second consecutive first-team berth. Outlanding defensive whiz Lyoto Machida 23-13 in significant strikes does not detail the seven minutes of hell Rockhold put the former UFC light heavyweight champ through, brutalizing him with elbows on top, earning a 10-8 round and then choking him out. In taking the 185-pound title from Chris Weidman at UFC 194, he outlanded the previously unbeaten champ 126-48 in significant strikes; and yet it still somehow does not capture the visceral experience of Rockhold sitting on Weidman’s chest in the third round and plowing into his bloody, swollen face from full mount.
WELTERWEIGHT: Can I give Robert Glenn Lawler his third All-Violence team berth and second consecutive first-team entry with just one fight on the year? You’re damn right I can. For the second straight year, Lawler’s bloody, grisly fight style helped author the “Fight of the Year.” Unlike last year when he fell short in a 25-minute classic against Johny Hendricks, Lawler turned up the guts and gore for his first UFC welterweight title defense against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 in July. In a brutal war of heavy attrition, both men wound up bloody and swollen beyond recognition, with Lawler’s top lip nearly split in half and MacDonald with next to no vision. Rounds three and four were as dramatic and thrilling as any 10 minutes ever in a cage. Down on the scorecards at the end of the fourth round, Lawler ate a head kick, spit blood on the mat and then proceeded to spark the most intense, morbidly beautiful staredown in MMA history before shattering MacDonald’s nose with a left cross to save his title 60 seconds into the fifth. It’s an all-time All-Violence moment, and I’m sweaty just typing about it.
LIGHTWEIGHT: Ferguson’s stride toward UFC contendership has been slowed by injury, but “El Cucuy” got in three bouts during 2015 and flexed serious offense game in all of them, emerging as one of the most entertaining fighters to watch all year long. Ferguson’s MMA violence is consummate: Witness his February destruction of perennial hard man Gleison Tibau at UFC 184, as he lit up the Brazilian with a nasty combination, forced him into a desperate shot, then took his back and choked him out in barely half a round. Josh Thomson might be a technical and savvy veteran, but Ferguson 10-8’d him with elbows, split him wide open, shut him out on the scorecards and sent him backing for Bellator MMA. Better still, Ferguson saved the best for last and turned in a “Round of the Year” contender against Edson Barboza in December before choking him out with a brabo choke in round two. Ferguson got $100,000 in bonus paper and joined Dustin Poirier as the only other dude to pull off two of Joe D’arce’s favorite choke in the UFC.
FEATHERWEIGHT: Do I really need to explain this? Dennis Siver is a respectable veteran and quality striker, and he got humiliated and used for target practice in January. Late notice or not, McGregor still got off the mat with a busted-up knee at UFC 189 in July to knock out Chad Mendes in the second round. Up to that point, Mendes had been Jose Aldo’s toughest competition. Then at UFC 194, “Mystic Mac” called his shot, knocking out the greatest featherweight ever in the very first exchange of their fight -- in just 13 seconds. McGregor trashed one of the greatest fighters ever in an instant, so thoroughly with the same side step-left hook counter he has used his whole career that it was Sherdog.com’s 2015 “Knockout of the Year.” The Irishman is such a damn poet on the feet that it feels like we were cheated watching him make history in 13 seconds rather than allowing him to flex the full extent of his exotic offensive arsenal.
BANTAMWEIGHT: If there were any doubt about his status as a blue-chip prospect headed into 2015, Almeida put it to rest. If there were any doubt about his ability to keep destroying his opponents, he put that to rest, too, because he put them all to rest. The 24-year-old Diego Lima pupil racked up three $50,000 UFC “Performance of the Night” bonuses in his three stoppages of Yves Jabouin, Brad Pickett and Anthony Birchak. It would have been four, with “Fight of the Night” in tow at UFC 189 -- he knocked out Pickett with a flying knee in the second round -- before Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald authored the “Fight of the Year.” Still, the Pickett icing was bested in November, when he lanced Anthony Birchak with a beautiful combination that was punctuated by a straight right that folded him unconscious on top of his own leg. Woof. Here’s to the first of hopefully many appearances on this list by “Little Tom.”
FLYWEIGHT: Johnson had two fights and fought nearly 50 minutes in his UFC title defenses against Kyoji Horiguchi and John Dodson. On the other hand, Johnson easily blanked two of the biggest hitters and skilled offensive fighters at flyweight, outpointing them every step of the way while showing the full complement of well-rounded MMA skills. I can’t deny this man. On top of that, I said “nearly 50 minutes,” because with time ticking down in his April bout with Horiguchi, Johnson did that insane thing he did a few years ago against John Moraga: He just willed himself to a submission with time running down, as if he could have done it all along if he wanted to. This time, the armbar ended the bout at 4:59 of the fifth round, the latest stoppage in UFC history. That was after taking down the tough-wrestling Horiguchi 14 times, a career benchmark for Johnson. Decision-prone or not, it’s hard to front on what Johnson does to his competition from year to year when he makes it look so effortless and can occasionally click his fingers and vanquish an opponent.
STRAWWEIGHT: Who better than “Joanna Violence” to take first-team honors the first year that the 115-pound division appears on the All-Violence Team? Jedrzejczyk has made herself an instant MMA fan favorite in just a year’s time with her steely, clever trash-talking and technical, brutal fight style. At UFC 185 in March, she battered Carla Esparza to win the UFC 115-pound title in just over nine minutes, but her grisly handiwork against Jessica Penne in June is what solidified the unbeaten Pole as MMA’s newest elite violent addition. She disfigured Penne’s face with punches, teeps and elbows before stopping her in the third round in what was one of the year’s biggest beatdowns. At UFC 193 in November, she couldn’t stop the physically imposing Valerie Letourneau but managed to work a nasty leg kick and counter game that showed off both her technical craft and ability to make strategic adjustments. On the year, from Dallas to Berlin to Melbourne, Jedrzejczyk outlanded her three foes 399-132 in significant strikes, with 103 of those she absorbed coming from Letourneau. All hail the bloody queen.
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