2015 All-Violence Third TeamHeavyweight: Alistair Overeem
Light Heavyweight: Glover Teixeira
Middleweight: Uriah Hall
Welterweight: Demian Maia
Lightweight: Justin Gaethje
Featherweight: Marat Gafurov
Bantamweight: Holly Holm
Flyweight: Louis Smolka
Strawweight: Junji Ito
HEAVYWEIGHT: It was tough to leave sentimental favorite Andrei Arlovski off of this list. On the one hand, he was the victor and catalyst in the “Round of the Year” against Travis Browne, an insane five-minute explosion of train-wreck violence. On the other hand, he and Frank Mir collaborated for this monstrosity. As a result, Overeem’s understated-yet-commanding 2015 campaign earns him his second All-Violence berth and his first since the inaugural 2010 list. His UFC 185 bout with Roy Nelson was a one-sided wipeout for “The Demolition Man,” who connected with 73 percent of his significant strikes, outlanding Nelson 62-23, though the Dutchman had to overcome a flash knockdown to win. Overeem firmed up his place on the squad in December, blasting out former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in the second round. Working under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, Overeem’s more patient style paid off on the year, especially against “Cigano,” as he circled away, got a feel for his left hand before landing it harder and harder and then finally blew off dos Santos’ doors with a perfect left hook to put himself in a favorable position as a current free agent.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: After a one-year absence from the roster, Teixeira nabs his third All-Violence appearance with a resurgent and characteristically violent 2015 run. In August and November, the 36-year-old Teixeira took on solid opponents in Ovince St. Preux and Patrick Cummins and in both cases made his men look like rank amateurs. St. Preux had flashes of success with his athletic body kicking and aggressive scrambling, but Teixeira’s tried-and-true combination of size, punching power and grappling fundamentals was simply too much, as the Brazilian battered OSP, ran him out of gas and then choked him unconscious in the third round before he could even tap. Cummins got the same treatment but even faster, with Teixeira stuffing the former All-American wrestler’s takedowns and battering him en route to a second-round knockout. If you’re a light heavyweight looking to take a leap up into the upper echelon at 205 pounds, history and previous All-Violence team rosters suggest that Teixeira is not the mark for which you are looking.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: I consider this the most agonizing decision in my half decade of All-Violence awards. In 2015, few things thrilled me more than the re-emergence of the feral Tamdan McCrory, as “The Barn Cat” went 3-0 with three exciting, varied stoppages, ripping off a pair in Bellator MMA before successfully returning to the UFC after a six-year absence. It was beautiful. While Hall was 3-2 in 2015 and had a garbage fight that he lost for himself against Rafael Natal, he destroyed Gegard Mousasi in one of the most jaw-dropping, breathtaking sequences I’ve ever seen in mixed martial arts. It’s also lovely that Hall fought five times, and his quick-and-dirty stoppages of Ron Stallings and Oluwale Bamgbose help his case; still, his first All-Violence berth is all about that Mousasi moment. Its greatness cannot be overstated. It somehow figures that the passive, enigmatic Hall sprang to life suddenly against the best fighter he has ever fought in the UFC by miles, this after enduring a 10-8 beatdown in round one. It’s astonishing that his flying, spinning back kick to Mousasi’s chin did not torch him entirely, let alone the picture-perfect flying knee right after it. Undeterred, the violence-filled Hall somehow found the resolve to knock out Mousasi with his hands. If not for the magnitude of Conor McGregor-Jose Aldo and Holly Holm-Ronda Rousey, Hall’s efforts would have swept “Knockout of the Year” and “Upset of the Year” voting. For a few seconds, we watched a nearly perfect expression of transcendent martial arts. I’m sorry, Tamdan.
WELTERWEIGHT: You thought Tim Means was strange? I said it was hard to put Hall on this list? For years, I’ve joked that Maia is MMA’s “Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner,” so prior to a few months ago, I would have appraised him as one of the least likely All-Violence candidates in the whole sport. We’re talking borderline hell-freezing-over territory. Yet 2015 was beautiful and strange, just like this sport itself, and now we have 38-year-old jiu-jitsu king Maia in UFC welterweight title contention after a commanding 12-month showing. He blanked the previously unbeaten Ryan LaFlare, took him down five times and registered 14 guard passes, which is fantastic but hardly All-Violence material. To follow that, however, Maia choked out surging Neil Magny and mauled hyped prospect Gunnar Nelson, both outstanding grapplers. More insanely, Maia outlanded Magny and Nelson by a combined 60-2 in significant-strike margin; Magny did not register one in seven minutes. While Magny got choked out, Nelson was punished for 15 minutes with a non-stop choke, punch and elbow assault from back mount, resulting in two 30-25 scorecards and a 30-26. Maia is still one of MMA’s foremost gentlemen, but he showed in 2015 that fighting him can be like a citizen’s arrest from hell.
LIGHTWEIGHT: World Series of Fighting lightweight champ Gaethje had two insane brawls with Luis Palomino this year, and that was because their first fight was so off-the-wall violent that the WSOF had no interest in anything other than running it back immediately. The pair of wins over Palomino pushed the 27-year-old’s record to 15-0, but it’s hard to believe he has not been defeated yet with the way he fights -- a real gift and a curse. The Trevor Wittman understudy was a collegiate wrestler and has a diverse muay Thai repertoire from range and especially in close quarters. Those skills are what got the job done against Palomino, chiefly Gaethje chopping out the Peruvian’s legs with low kicks. However, the fights were made thrilling by the fact that “The Highlight,” true to his nickname, was keener to trade punches and let the chips fall. I can’t say it’s smart strategy, but this isn’t the All-Academic team, either.
FEATHERWEIGHT: One Championship’s new weight cutting restrictions may force 13-0 prospect Gafurov to vacate his featherweight title and move up to 155 pounds to reign there, but in 2015, he fought at 145 and it was a joy to watch. Besides, what would lists be in this day and age without a representative of Dagestan? “Cobra” mauled Ev Ting and Martin Nguyen in May and September, hammering them with punches, slamming them to the mat and choking them out in the first round. Gafurov really turned it on in November, however, facing rugged Mongolian veteran Narantungalag Jadambaa to unify One Championship’s featherweight title. There, he absorbed heavy strikes, battered Jadambaa on top and eventually choked him out cold in the fourth round of one of the best non-UFC bouts this year.
BANTAMWEIGHT: After her first UFC bouts in February and July against Raquel Pennington and Marion Reneau, the idea of Holm making this list seemed impossible, given how she underperformed and just eked by showcase opponents in uninspiring bouts. Forgiveness is strong when you make history, especially violent history, and Holm scored the biggest knockout ever in women’s MMA. For six minutes, she trashed the most achieved woman to compete in MMA. Ronda Rousey landed 17 of the 65 significant strikes she threw, while Holm landed 38 in throwing only 53. Every left hand mangled Rousey’s face before, of course, the brutal head kick to cap it all. The left roundhouse upstairs was the perfect punctuation mark for Holm in taking the UFC crown and shocking the world, having finally put her world-class boxing on display in a cage while blending it with her penchant for highlight-reel kicks.
FLYWEIGHT: Our second 24-year-old Hawaiian on this year’s team, Smolka has developed into one of the 125-pound division’s best emerging prospects. More importantly to this roster, he is one of the sport’s most reliably entertaining athletes, hence the first of likely many All-V berths. Picking up where he left off last year after hitting Sweet Chin Music on Richie Vaculik, Smolka won every round in a thrilling fight with Irish tough guy Neil Seery, landing shots standing while constantly threatening with arm-triangle and guillotine chokes in scrambles. As if to further taunt the Irish, Smolka went to Dublin in October, when he battered and choked out Patrick Holohan in a rollicking nine-minute scrap. If heaven forbid a Smolka fight ever sucks, you can rest assured it’s not the fault of the homie himself.
STRAWWEIGHT: Unfortunately in recent years, Ito has morphed into a modern Rumina Sato of sorts in Shooto. Full of charisma and the biggest puncher at 115 pounds, Ito is an ideal fighter for promoters to push, but in November, he lost a five-round unanimous verdict to Shooto world champion Yoshitaka Naito, falling to 0-4 in Shooto title fights. Wit that said, “Sarumaru” is still exactly what I said: the most devastating puncher at strawweight and a guy whose power would likely register all the way up to 135 pounds. Against veteran Kenichi Sawada and the previously unbeaten Ken Asuka, Ito showed why he’s nicknamed after a golfing monkey, putting the driver upside both their faces and knocking them out cold with an ease you just don’t see at strawweight.