It's not hard to figure out how Rousimar Palhares got his All-Violence spot. | D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
2014 All-Violence Third TeamHeavyweight: Mark Hunt
Light Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier
Middleweight: Ronaldo Souza
Welterweight: Rousimar Palhares
Lightweight: Will Brooks
Featherweight: Max Holloway
Bantamweight: Mike Richman
Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez
Heavyweight: Any time Hunt can squeeze two fights into a calendar year, you are looking at a potential All-Violence team berth, and this year is no different. In Stepember, the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix champion returned to Japan for the first time since breaking Stefan Struve's jaw in half in March 2013, as he took on Roy Nelson in a UFC Fight Night main event engineered for fisticuffs. We got exactly that, with Hunt taking apart Nelson with jabs, chopping right hooks and massive uppercuts. The “Super Samoan” used that jab to set up a beautiful submarining right uppercut that turned the typically punch-immune Nelson into 265 pounds of pancake batter, splatting face first on the canvas. It was just the second time in his 30-fight, decade-long career that Nelson had been knocked out, and unlike Andrei Arlovski in the EliteXC cage, Hunt did not need a referee's stand-up assist to make it happen.
In his Octagon tenure, Nelson absorbed 554 signifiant strikes -- more than any UFC heavyweight ever -- without going unconscious, but the 555th from Hunt was the straw that broke the camel's back.
And just to show that he is still down to fight anyone, anytime, even at 40 years old, Hunt stepped in on three weeks' notice for injured UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez to take on Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180 in Mexico City. While he was knocked out by the All-Violence first-teamer in the second round, Hunt still managed to win the first round and smack the Brazilian around before succumbing to his picture-perfect flying knee.
Light Heavyweight: While Cormier was bested in fantastic championship fight at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, his title shot was set up by a brutish 2014 campaign. At UFC 170 in February, Cormier was set to face former UFC champ Rashad Evans in his 205-pound debut, but due to a leg injury to Evans, “DC” wound up facing former Penn State All-American wrestler Patrick Cummins. While much was made of Cummins going from being a barista to a UFC contract signee before getting blown up in 79 seconds by Cormier, Cummins turned around and ripped off three dominant wins over the rest of 2014 to prove he was not just some skull the UFC swept off the streets. However, Cormier took his violence game to a new level at UFC 173 in May, destroying the legendary Dan Henderson in a way no one had prior.
Cormier took down his fellow Olympic wrestler three times, registered 11 guard passes, landed 50 significant strikes to “Hendo's” six and 131 total strkes to Henderson's 12 before choking him out in the third round. It was a lock for Sherdog.com's “Beatdown of the Year” and firmed up Cormier as Jones' next title contender, which gave us an August press conference brawl and the greatest moment in MMA trash talk history, as Jones, unbeknownst to him, attempted to troll Cormier for ESPN cameras, which were still rolling. Jones is the only man to appear on the first four All-Violence teams, but now, courtesy of “Bones” only having one official fight in 2014, Cormier gets a small victory over the first man to defeat him in the cage.
Middleweight: If you wanted to watch one elite grappler run roughshod over his competition this year, Charles Oliveira was the guy. However, if you particularly prize professionalism and are perturbed by an athlete not making weight, then “Jacare” is your guy. He tooled the physically powerful Francis Carmont for 15 minutes on the ground. The Frenchman needed to power out of a deep rear-naked choke in the first round to even have the chance to play grappling dummy for the next two rounds.
For as technically superior as he was against Carmont, Souza put on an even more incredible display of ground wizardry in September, when he avenged his 2008 Dream middleweight grand prix final loss to Gegard Mousasi. Poetically, “Jacare” even ate an upkick similar to the one that knocked him out in Japan six years earlier before going into full-blown beast mode. Mousasi, a strong defensive grappler that had not been submitted in the last eight years, was simply run into the ground over the last 10 minutes of the fight. In round two, Souza was crushing on top, constantly threatening to finish via kimura until the horn. As Mousasi began to worry more about the takedowns, the former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion socked him in the face and moused up his eye. The Brazilian made the usually cold, emotionless Mousasi look legitimately panicked and outclassed before casually grabbing a guillotine and trapping Mousasi's right arm with his left leg to ensure the tap. “Jacare” is not just a freak athlete but a consummate, detail-oriented technician. When those traits work in tandem for Souza, he makes even textbook grappling maneuvers look both beautiful and utterly unstoppable.
Welterweight: When you see Palhares' name on the All-Violence Team, you do not need a second guess as to how he got there. Palhares was dishonorably discharged from his UFC deal in late 2013 after holding one of his knee-shredding heel hooks too long on Mike Pierce. Naturally, getting another lease on his fighting life with the World Series of Fighting would not stop MMA's most devastating leglocker from doing what he does best.
First, in March, he needed just 69 seconds to pull off a nasty inverted heel hook on Steve Carl to take the promotion's welterweight title at WSOF 9. In his first title defense in December, he made former UFC title challenger and longtime divisional second banana Jon Fitch scream out in agony and submit to a kneebar, the conclusion of a furious, flowing chain of leg attacks. The total combined time for both fights: two minutes, 39 seconds. At least Palhares is gentlemanly enough to destroy his foes' lower extremities so quickly that they can beat the Saturday night rush to the hospital.
Lightweight: Not many All-Violence campaigns are sentimental in nature, but Brooks' sudden ascent to Bellator lightweight gold is one of them. Just a week before Bellator MMA's first pay-per-view event, Bellator 120, then-promotional champ Eddie Alvarez pulled out of his hotly anticipated rubber match with Michael Chandler due to injury. Rather than lose the chance to use the well-promoted Chandler altogether, the company opted to insert Brooks, the Bellator Season 9 lightweight tournament winner, into the slot to compete for an interim title. With just a week of prep time to face the far-more-accomplished Chandler, Brooks entered the bout larger than a +700 underdog on some sportsbooks. After 10 minutes of Chandler domination, Brooks caught fire in the third round, taking back control and blasting Chandler to a near-stoppage. He took his back again in the fourth, suplexed him around late in the fight and won a razor-thin split decision in one of the year's biggest upsets. When Alvarez was released from his Bellator deal to head to the UFC, the promotion lined up a rematch for Bellator 131.
Again, Chandler controlled the first 10 minutes, this time dominating Brooks more thoroughly, nearly choking him out in the second round. However, it was no worry for “Ill Will,” who kept his composure, assumed control in the third round once more and proved his May triumph was no fluke. In the fourth round, he cracked Chandler's bloodied face with a right hook and swarmed with punches and knees along the cage until referee Jason Herzog stepped in. Brooks is nowhere near the natural fight finisher that many of his All-Violence cohorts are, but his combination of indomitable spirit and incredible athleticism can be the catalyst for barn-burning action.
Featherweight: Hawaiian dynamo Holloway went 4-0 inside the UFC in 2014, but, more importantly, he was the only man to finish four opponents inside the Octagon. He did not simply best his opposition, either; he clobbered them with his long-armed combination punching, heavy kicking and sneaky submission game. On the year, his plis-3.1-per-minute strike differential was the fourth-best in the UFC, and over his Zuffa tenure, the 23-year-old lands 5.86 strikes per minute. Holloway's striking alone was good enough to vanquish Will Chope, Clay Collard and Akira Corassani, but when he needed a little extra something, his grappling was there for him, too.
Holloway's best and most competitive bout on the year was his UFC 172 showdown with Team Alpha Male prospect Andre Fili. Despite Holloway lighting up Fili with clean counters to the head and body, the Californian just would not go away. The Hawaiian dialed up two clinch elbows and a seven-punch combination and then grabbed a high-angle guillotine that forced Fili out of the fight. If you see a Holloway fight and you are not thrilled, it is probably his damn opponent's fault.
Bantamweight: Megaton-punching Marine Richman did not look like All-Violence material when 2014 began. He lost back-to-back unanimous verdicts in the Bellator cage to Desmond Green and Goiti Yamauchi, and he could not quite seem to pull the trigger on his strikes. Then in September, the Minnesotan opted to cut to 135 pounds, and it was off to the races. At Bellator 126 in Phoenix, he collapsed Ed West in front of West's Arizona crowd, landing a right hook-left cross combo that sent West's unconscious corpse flying into the cage padding at warp speed; he just barely missed a right hook on West's falling body that might have actually severed his head. It was just the second time in West's 27-fight career he had been knocked out and the first time in more than 10 years.
Perhaps reinvigorated by his ghoulish handiwork, Richman got right back to business at Bellator 131 in November, torching UFC veteran Nam Phan with vicious hooks and uppercuts in just 46 seconds. Outside of Francisco Rivera, I cannot be convinced that there is a bigger puncher in the bantamweight division than Richman and his juicy mitts.
Flyweight: In spite of his successful past at 135 pounds, Benavidez is not even a particularly large flyweight. He is listed at 5-foot-4, with a 65-inch reach, and even those numbers seem inflated. Yet, when the cage door closes, few flyweights or bantamweights are more aggressive than Benavidez, and those that are tend to lack the overall well-rounded skills of “Joe B-Wan Kenobi.” Benavidez's physical shortcomings seldom seem to matter, as his quick first step gets him into the pocket to unload wild body-head combinations, to shoot takedowns or initiate scrambles, where he thrives.
That does not mean Benavidez cannot counter, though, as we saw when he turned Tim Elliott's early aggression against him at UFC 172, snagging him in a sweet guillotine into full mount, where Elliott was forced to tap with his feet because both of his arms were trapped. In November, he took on perhaps the most frenetic scrambler in the division other than himself, Dustin Ortiz, and busted his chops badly for 15 minutes. Benavidez launched a whopping 199 significant strikes and landed 94 of them, visibly wobbling Ortiz in the first two rounds with strikes that would have stopped 90 percent of the division.