We’ve ripped off the last page of the calendar, assuming anyone actually uses paper calendars that hang on their wall or sit on their desk anymore. Yet even if we’re now over a week into 2019, mixed martial arts is still in its annual reboot mode, where we wait a couple of weeks for promotions to gain their bearings and start staging cards again so we can descend into another 52 weeks of MMA madness. Each year, you know what fills this void: The All-Violence Team.
In fact, this is the ninth annual All-Violence Team on Sherdog.com, the year-end article celebrating the best and brightest when it comes to MMA’s offensively gifted gurus. At this point, I’m hoping you’d be an adherent and know exactly what you’re in store for. If not, I’ll do my best to explain. To wit, here is this team’s mission statement, from famous poet Ezra Pound, a man who sparred in the ring with a drunken Ernest Hemingway and, true to this sport’s spirit of trash talk, once made fellow poet T.S. Eliot cry by pointing out his pen name was an anagram of “Toilets”: “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.”
Yes, we watch MMA to divine an answer as to who is the “best fighter,” but what truly magnetizes all of us to this sport is the diversity of technique which permits an almost infinite palette of violence to the artist. This list, year-in and year-out, celebrates the athletes who in a calendar year were able to thrill us beyond belief with what they did in the cage and ring. It’s not necessarily about the “best” fighters, though there’s often a close dovetailing relationship. This is about fighters who got themselves turned into animated gifs, who made you jump off the couch and scream, who sent you sprinting to Twitter to express your disbelief and had you thirsting for their next fight to be announced, waiting with bated breath.
Before we get into brass tacks, I will say that this is a unique year for the All-Violence squad. As always, the list is determined by my own subjective formula of excitement, competition level, activity and overall style points. With that said, owing to the sport’s own complexion in 2018, many of MMA’s biggest stars were notably absent for political, promotional or medical reasons and weren’t as present as we could have hoped for. This year’s list welcomes 20 new first-team All-Violence team entrants, which is also aided by the fact that this is the first time we have welcomed the atomweight division to the squad. May the 105-pound weight class live long and prosper in the realm of violence.
Also, this year is notable in that we have a new all-time leader in All-Violence Team appearances, notching his fifth straight appearance on the squad to best Jon Jones’ previous record of four. Let’s begin, shall we?
2018 All-Violence First TeamHeavyweight: Daniel Cormier
Light Heavyweight: Anthony Smith
Middleweight: Thiago Santos
Welterweight: Curtis Millender
Lightweight: Dustin Poirier
Featherweight: Alexander Volkanovski
Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes
Flyweight: Deiveson Figueiredo
Strawweight: Jessica Andrade
Atomweight: Yu Ri Shim
HEAVYWEIGHT: Who else would take the cake for heavyweights this year? Ongoing Jones drama aside, Cormier cemented his legacy by moving back to the heavyweight division, where he is still undefeated, and positively whipped streaking champion Stipe Miocic, taking the UFC heavyweight title with a ripping right hand that put Miocic on his back before pounding him out. This was all after having successfully having creamed top 205-pound contender Volkan Oezdemir in January with a lopsided seven-minute beatdown in which he took top crucifix and pounded out his adversary. The American Kickboxing Academy captain ended his year by taking a fight on three- to four-weeks’ notice with fearsome puncher Derrick Lewis at UFC 230, where he choked out “The Black Beast” in barely over seven minutes. Cormier not only claimed the heavyweight mantle and proved he is the best in the division, but his level of activity and the diversity of MMA skills he showed against elite opposition in two weight classes easily affords him the top spot in this division and his third All-Violence selection.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Sure, Smith opened the year with a knockout loss to Thiago Santos at 185 pounds, and Jones came back just hours before we entered 2019 to reclaim the UFC light heavyweight title. That does not tell the tale, though. Following his loss to “Marreta,” Smith opted to bump up to 205 pounds; and it made all the difference. With the added quickness, “Lionheart” knocked out former UFC champs Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua, both in positively brutal fashion and in less than half a round combined. The wins over Evans and “Shogun” earned him his first main event assignment against recent title challenger Volkan Oezdemir at UFC Fight Night 138 in Moncton, New Brunswick. Unlike the Evans and Rua fights, where he outlanded his foes 29-5 in significant strikes in brief bouts, Smith showed his mettle in outlasting the Swiss fighter, inceasingly marching him down, landing his punches and showing a well-rounded game before choking him out. With a 3-0 mark since moving to 205 pounds, the man is now a bona fide contender courtesy of his high-offense style. Two years ago, he was a virtual unknown. Smith is an all-out eight-point striker, and few fighters bring the standing elbows like he does. No matter what the future holds, Smith is appointment viewing.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: This is three of four years on the All-Violence squad for Santos, but this his first time claiming first-team status; and frankly, as the sole author and arbiter of this endeavor, it seems overdue given that “Marreta” has established himself as one of the most terrifying strikers in all of MMA. The caveat: Yes, he was shockingly clobbered by veteran David Branch in April, but the Brazilian went a muscular 4-1 on the year, with three stoppages. The one fight he did not finish was against Kevin Holland at UFC 227 in August, and it was a colossal beatdown. He used his left liver kick -- arguably the most single dangerous strike in MMA right now -- to thwart fellow All-V entrant Anthony Smith in February. He pounded top prospect Eryk Anders like a tent pole in September. Then, like his former victim Smith, he moved up to 205 pounds to end the year and won a violent train wreck of carnage against perennial Top 10 light heavyweight Jimi Manuwa at UFC 231. Santos may never be a top contender, but if you are a fight fan, there is no way you can skip one of his fights, just knowing that one single left kick to the head could be a coma, or one left kick to the body could mean a stoma.
WELTERWEIGHT: “Curtious” -- sic implied -- isn’t exactly the nickname you would expect for a first-team All-Violence Team entrant, but Millender’s 2018 was not only a breakout year but an offensively thrilling one, to boot. Yes, Millender is far from a finished product, and if he is ever going to be a legitimately threatening 170-pound contender, his defensive grappling will need to improve, but this team is not about long-term prognostications or even becoming a contender. In 2018, Millender went 4-0 while registering nasty knockouts of Nick Barnes in the Legacy Fighting Alliance and former UFC title challenger Thiago Alves in his Octagon debut. His two most recent bout against Max Griffin and Siyar Bahadurzada were both decision wins, but they were commanding to say the least. Griffin even outlanded him 44-38 in significant strikes in their July bout, but it did not matter. Millender’s dynamic kickboxing managed to take all of his opponents to task all year long. He is rangy, ambidextrous and has quickly established himself as one of the most sudden and impactful kickers in the entire sport. On a fight-by-fight basis, no welterweight was more thrilling than Millender.
LIGHTWEIGHT: Between two weight classes, this is Poirier’s third All-Violence selection but his first on the elite team; it is well-deserved. While it is not my personal preference, many media outlets selected his win over Justin Gaethje as the “Fight of the Year,” and even if I do not agree, you cannot overlook the fact that Poirier landed a staggering 174 significant strikes in less than 16 minutes against one of the most violent fighters in MMA -- and prevailed. More than that, Poirier’s follow-up bout came against one of the most vicious fighters in this sport’s history in Eddie Alvarez, a test he completely aced, doubling up on significant strikes 56 to 24 in just over eight minutes to get the former Dream and Bellator MMA champ out of the cage. Each year, lightweight tends to be one of the hardest categories to flesh out first-team or any-team status for this list, but in 2018, “The Diamond’s” shine left no question. Poirier is on the doorstep of a UFC title shot, not just because he has gone 8-1 with one no-contest in his last 10 bouts, but because he has metamorphosed into one of the sport’s most calculably thrilling fighters, a reality which was vividly displayed this year.
FEATHERWEIGHT: This is one I would not have anticipated, but I cannot deny it: Volkanovski has established himself over this year as one of the most calculably entertaining fighters on the UFC roster. Featherweight was a difficult category to call but not at the top, as the champ was not in question. Volkanovski went a sterling 3-0 against difficult, high-level opposition inside the Octagon, recorded two resounding stoppages and retired former title challenger Chad Mendes to close out 2018. Quite simply, “Alexander the Great” is the best fighter out of Australia as we dive into 2019, and he is entertaining in every sense of the word. His relentless wrestle-boxing style just makes you get up out of your seat. Jeremy Kennedy had an unblemished record until Volkanovski pummeled him to death, outlanding him 73-8 in significant strikes in less than 10 minutes. He outstruck and outwrestled the ever-rugged Darren Elkins to a 15-minute decision, taking him down and landing another 100 strikes. Then, he overcame three takedowns from Mendes to nearly outstrike him by a 2-to-1 margin while knocking him out in the third round and ultimately retiring him. If not for Israel Adesanya, Volkanovski could have easily taken the unanimous “Breakthrough Fighter of the Year” mantle, but if nothing else, he has firmly announced his arrival among the 145-pound elite, and no one did it more forcefully and stylishly this year.
BANTAMWEIGHT: Do I even need to explain this? Sure, Nunes’ greatest accomplishment this year came at 145 pounds, so some sticklers may want to gripe about my not being scientific or pragmatic. Let me rebut. First of all, she is a largely a bantamweight, never mind her holding and defending UFC gold in that division. On top of that, she defended against Raquel Pennington, battering her so badly that “Rocky” begged her corner to allow her to quit in May. Then, Nunes fearlessly went up to featherweight and ripped off Cristiane Justino’s face in 51 seconds, affirming her status as the most achieved -- and probably most violent -- woman to ever put on four-ounce gloves. Let us not waste one another’s time. Nunes made herself a fighting icon in 2018, and even if her greatest professional achievement came at 145 pounds, she did it as a fighter who has competed most of her career as a bantamweight. “Lioness” is at the top of this food chain, regardless of gender, and I accept no debate. She knocked out “Cyborg,” undefeated in over 13 years and the most terrifying woman in the sport, in less than a minute. Whatever contrarian argument you might have is specious and ridiculous, and no one wants to hear it. Move along.
FLYWEIGHT: Inside the Octagon, just over 58 percent of flyweight fights go to decision and just under 22 percent of those are finished with strikes. Figueiredo stands in firm opposition to that, as in 2018, he absolutely smashed two high-quality flyweights and got them out of the cage. Previously unbeaten Joseph Morales and two-time All-Violence Team member John Moraga both got smoked in style by “The God of War,” giving the Brazilian three knockouts in his four UFC bouts. It is not just that Figueiredo has power in his hands; it is the way he utilizes it. His rapier-type slashes to the body, which he used to destroy Morales and Moraga, are among the best in the sport, and he is incredibly adroit at following his body-wounded foes to the floor and smashing them into oblivion with hammerfists.
STRAWWEIGHT: This is three straight first-team nods for Andrade and with good reason. Against Tecia Torres in February, she absolutely tossed around a fantastic athlete. Andrade did not settle for blast double-leg takedowns, but locked her hands, loaded Torres on her shoulder and repeatedly dished out vintage Matt Hughes-type slams. However, to seal the deal in 2018, Andrade showed off the brutish, otherworldly power she possesses at 115 pounds by ripping off Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s face at UFC 228, landing a devastating pair of hooks that completely removed “The Polish Princess” from consciousness. It is hard to imagine someone, man or woman, coming along and deposing Andrade from her first-team All-V throne.
ATOMWEIGHT: Easily the most unknown talent on the entire All-Violence Team this year, Shim is a name worth monitoring, if only for your own entertainment. The South Korean kickboxer is still a work in progress and, if anything, is far too willing to try to flex her nascent ground game. However, when Shim goes to her natural striking instincts, she is a savage. She went 3-0 on the year, dropping and pulverizing Erika Saziki before dominating Seo Hee Lim. However, she saved her best -- and the purest example of her violent style -- for last. Against Ming Shi in December, she worked a classic double collar tie and simply kneed Shi’s face inside out. She is nowhere near ready for the likes of Seo Hee Ham, but Road Fighting Championship has a dynamic prospect on its hands, with Shim’s relentless forward pressure, constant punching and vicious knees. The promotion should feed and nurture her violent tendencies.
Continue Reading » All-Violence Second Team