2018 All-Violence Second Team
Heavyweight: Philipe Lins
Light Heavyweight: Aung La N Sang
Middleweight: Israel Adesanya
Welterweight: Ray Cooper III
Lightweight: Justin Gaethje
Featherweight: Yair Rodriguez
Bantamweight: Petr Yan
Flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko
Strawweight: Maycee Barber
Atomweight: Ayaka Hamasaki
HEAVYWEIGHT: Lins, a former light heavyweight, made the smart move to bump up to the heavyweight division, and it netted him a cool million dollars for winning the Professional Fighters League’s tournament. He went 4-0 in 2018, finishing all four of his opponents, three of whom were UFC veterans. Though it was not a great year for heavyweight violence on the whole, Lins showed his well-roundedness, and while it was seldom pretty, it was highly effective. His long right hand dropped Alex Nicholson like timber, and he used the same punch to drop tournament favorite Jared Rosholt on his face. It took him less than a minute to lock up a guillotine on Caio Alencar for the win. In the final, with the seven figures on the line, he showed some diversity to his standup by going to the clinch and drilling Josh Copeland with vicious knees. Lins’ 2018 run is more proof that skill beats size, but “Monstro” made sure there was savvy violence all the way.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Sang’s weight is all over the place, not just due to One Championship’s shadowy and clandestine weigh-in procedures but because he is now a two-division champion for the promotion. For serious intents and purposes, Myanmar’s finest fighter is largely a 205-pounder at this point, even if he could still be a proper middleweight. For our intents and purposes, however, all that matters is that Sang was One Championship’s MVP in 2018. In fact, the only country that One is more popular than the UFC is Sang’s native Myanmar, where they literally erected a bronze statue of “The Burmese Python” in his hometown of Myitkyina. There is nothing particularly flashy about Sang’s game. He is a through-and-through brawler, which made for wildly entertaining scraps all year long, as he knocked out Alexandre Machado, Ken Hasegawa and Mohammad Karaki. In particular, his five-round slugfest with Hasegawa was emblematic of his style. By no means is Sang a truly elite light heavyweight, but he is able to beat quality fighters with his indefatigable spirit, relentless punching and surprisingly nifty kicking offense. When you debate whether or not to wake up early for a One Championship card, Sang being on the bill should erase all doubt and send you straight to setting an early-morning alarm.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: It should come as no surprise that “The Last Stylebender” ended up on the list. The sport-wide unanimous selection for MMA’s “Breakout Fighter of the Year,” Adesanya was 4-0 in 2018, and he did it with style and panache. Adesanya’s combination of savvy kickboxing and high-flying offense has made him such an immediate fan favorite that the UFC leaped at the chance to line him up against arguably the best striker in MMA history: Anderson Silva. Over his four fights in 2018, Adesanya outlanded his foes 241-111 in significant strikes, and 46 of those against him came in his fight against Marvin Vettori, who managed to take him down and ground-and-pound him for periods. He lands 4.51 significant strikes per minute to his opponents’ 2.08, and he is not just doing it with punches but with spinning and flying attacks to boot. He is not just a high-flying dynamo, though. Adesanya is vicious with his body shots and clinch knees. The 29-year-old has the whole kit and caboodle in his striking arsenal and is just scratching the surface of his overall potential.
WELTERWEIGHT: I know that Cooper blew it in his PFL welterweight tournament final against Magomed Magomedkerimov, which is a noteworthy example of the fact that the 25-year-old still needs to improve his lacking ground game. Even still, “Bradda Boy” went 4-1 on the year and absolutely destroyed his previous four opponents, including two demolition jobs on the perennially underrated Jake Shields, who is at worst one of the 25 best modern MMA fighters ever. Of course, it is not just that he generated stoppages. Cooper is a positively savage, two-handed puncher with serious power. While he polished off the heavy-hitting Pavel Kusch in a mere 18 seconds in August, he is not necessarily a one-hitter quitter. What makes Cooper more than a standard puncher is that he has a natural knack for finishing opponents on the ground. Look at how he finished Shields both times, as well as how he pounded out Handesson Ferreira. Cooper’s accurate, swiping blows on top are the kind of thing you just cannot teach. I may be biased since I cut my teeth in this sport watching his father smash dudes in the face in Shooto, but this Cooper appears to be the finest, most violent form of the fighting family.
LIGHTWEIGHT: This is Gaethje’s third straight year on the All-Violence Team, and barring some kind of catastrophic injury that keeps him out for a calendar year, it is hard for me to imagine that his streak is going to snap anytime soon. Yes, “The Highlight” ended up on the wrong end of his own nickname against Dustin Poirier, but he still landed 115 strikes in just over 15 minutes against “The Diamond” and more than held his own in at worst the second most thrilling fight of 2018. There is an ever-present fear the Gaethje’s devil-may-cry style may run him into an early retirement, but he rebounded four months later by absolutely decking surging contender James Vick in a mere 87 seconds with a positively devastating overhand right. Gaethje is immune to monotony, a constant source of thrilling violence, and so long as he remains active, even if he goes 1-1 in a calendar year, he is likely to find a warm place on this list.
FEATHERWEIGHT: This one was difficult for me. Rodriguez spent most of the year on the shelf. He went through a string of injuries, allegedly declined fights and was momentarily released by the UFC. He then pulled out of an anticipated fight with Zabit Magomedsharipov. It was not exactly an All-Violence start to the year. However, at the end of the day -- or year, in this case -- he fought one of the most calculably violent men in the sport in Chan Sung Jung in the UFC Fight Night 139 main event and, down on the cards with literally one second to go, landed an insane, no-look upward elbow that knocked “The Korean Zombie” senseless, sealed the “Knockout of the Year” and crystallized the “Fight of the Year,” for my money. This is the All-Violence Team. Even if you only fight once in 365 days, if you are one half of my “Fight of the Year” and lace a come-from-behind knockout for the ages with one second left on the clock, well, I would be an idiot and hypocrite not to draft you to the squad.
BANTAMWEIGHT: Have you seen Yan fight? Holy smokes. To recycle a comment I previously made on Twitter, I know that Dutch kickboxer Ramon Dekkers was nicknamed “The Turbine from Hell,” but I wholly support re-appropriating this nickname for the Russian. The former Absolute Championship Berkut champ was a sought-after prospect before the UFC signed him, and in 2018, fans saw why. Yan ripped through Teruto Ishihara, Jin Soo Son and Douglas Silva de Andrade, and it is only through the sheer ruggedness of Son’s chin that “No Mercy” did not knock out all three of his opponents on the year. Through three UFC bouts, Yan has landed a staggering 7.06 significant strikes per minute, perpetually overwhelming his opponents with swarming punching and clinch combinations. There is no escape from his offense. Yan switches stances effortlessly, lands with all eight points and tries to destroy you in every single exchange. Consider this: How often do you see an MMA corner throw in the towel? Not nearly often enough, yet Andrade’s corner after 10 minutes immediately decided it needed to save its fighter from another five minutes of terror from Yan. Not only is he an imminent 135-pound title contender in 2019 or early 2020, but he is easily one of the most vicious, entertaining fighters the UFC has on its roster.
FLYWEIGHT: Shevchenko is not a natural All-Violence entrant. She is as well-rounded as it gets, but she is more of a contemplator inside the cage; she is never out for blood. With that said, when you are as offensively gifted as the “Bullet,” sometimes things line up in your favor. In this case, Shevchenko got lined up against Priscila Cachoeira in February, and what resulted was possibly the most lopsided, high-level beatdown of the year, as she hammered the Brazilian every way imaginable, landing an insane 230 total strikes to three. If Shevchenko had not taken Cachoeira’s back and choked her out, the situation could have become far worse. In more serious competition against former strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejcyzk at UFC 231, Shevchenko put on an exemplary performance, using her jab, kicks, counters and clever takedowns over 25 minutes to take the vacant UFC flyweight title, easily taking four rounds on all scorecards in an exhibition that showed off the true versatility of her offensive game.
STRAWWEIGHT: Barber is the hottest prospect in this division and may also prosper in the imminent future at 125 pounds. The 20-year-old not only went 4-0 on the year but showed a finishing ability we seldom see at 115 pounds, as she polished off all four of her opponents. More than that, she did it in devastating fashion. Prior to her UFC debut, she choked out Kaila Thompson in 31 seconds and she savagely broke down Audrey Perkins and Jamie Colleen on the feet with her ambidextrous standup before pounding them into the ground. When she finally made her UFC debut against Hannah Cifers in November, it took her a few minutes to get going, but “The Future” wound up using a clever, nasty array of standing elbows to slash open Cifers before putting her on the mat and absolutely hammering her with vicious ground-and-pound. Barely out of her teens, Barber has been training martial arts most of her life, and it shows. However, that is not what sets her apart. She is just straight up nasty, smashing opponents on the feet with her rangy kickboxing and then assaulting them with unrelenting ground-and-pound. She is a plus athlete and offensive prodigy, but for our cagefighting purposes, she is a shark when there is blood in the water.
ATOMWEIGHT: I know this whole shebang is called the “All-Violence Team,” and admittedly, Hamasaki is not exactly the most “violent” fighter in the world in the strictest sense. However, that is not how we use this word around here. After a miserable 2017 in which Hamasaki tried to step back up to 115 pounds and got her face punched in by Livinha Souza in under two minutes, she rebounded in style this past year. Not only did she go 3-0, but she beat three high-quality opponents in Alyssa Garcia, Mina Kurobe and Kanna Asakura. The Megumi Fujii understudy did it with her rugged wrestling and highly sophisticated top-position grappling game. While she could not polish off Garcia, she took home arms from Kurobe and Asakura with relentless top pressure and submission attempts. There is a misconception that this team is all about fighters throwing spinning and flying striking attacks, but there is always a place for fighters, like Hamasaki, who just bulldog their opponents to the floor and treat them like transgressive younger siblings, taking submissions by force and dummying them into submission and defeat. Hamasaki is still one of the most skilled women in the sport, and frankly, when she locks up a submission, it is seldom slick and usually courtesy of some big sister nastiness.
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