As we kick off 2019, Sporting News takes a look back at the best of 2018 and give out our combat sports awards for Fighter of the Year (MMA), Fighter of the Year (Boxing), Fight of the Year (MMA), Fight of the Year (Boxing), Knockout of the Year (MMA), Knockout of the Year (Boxing), Submission of the Year (MMA), Match of the Year (Pro Wrestling) and Wrestler of the Year (Pro Wrestling).
2018 was jam-packed with Fight of the Year candidates in the wonderful world of mixed martial arts. From Justin Gaethje’s war with Dustin Poirier to Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo’s technical masterpiece. But only one fight would take the honors for fight of the year. And it was a fight that wasn’t supposed to take place in 2018.
And the winner is…
Yair Rodriguez vs. Chan Sung Jung (UFC Fight Night 139)
Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung weren’t supposed to be fighting in 2018.
The main event for the UFC’s 25th anniversary in Denver was slated to be Jung taking on Frankie Edgar. But the former champion bowed out two weeks beforehand due to injury.
In stepped Rodriguez and fans were gifted with a showdown for the ages. The fight had non-stop action for the 24:59 it lasted. You had great scrambles, hard kicks by Rodriguez and “The Korean Zombie” throwing every punch with evil intentions that rocked Rodriguez on more than one occasion.
The fifth and final round began with Jung and Rodriguez bloody, battered and bruised. Yet, they continued to stand in the middle of the Octagon and trade heavy punches and kicks. With 10 seconds left, Rodriguez and Jung touched gloves as a nod of respect to each other for the war that they had for nearly five rounds. But just when it looked like the bout being decided on judges’ scorecards was a formality, Rodriguez ducked under Jung’s left hand and caught him with a devastating upward elbow from one of the most unique angles you’ll ever see and Jung, who was knocked out at the point of impact, landed face first onto the canvas.
The scintillating KO tied the UFC record for the latest finish and that is why Yair Rodriguez vs. Chan Sung Jung from UFC Fight Night 139 is the Sporting News 2018 MMA Fight of the Year. — Steven Muehlhausen
Runner-Up: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II (UFC 225)
Something magical happens whenever these two step into the cage together.
After their first meeting at UFC 213 produced a Fight of the Year contender, Whittaker and Romero squared off for a second time this summer in Chicago and the sequel proved to be just as good — maybe even better — than the original. The roles were reversed this time around, as Whittaker rushed out to an early lead, only to have Romero rally to draw level heading into the final round, where the Cuban Olympian had the Australian champion on the ropes.
The back-and-forth affair went the distance and Whittaker got the nod, but there was no real loser in this fight. I honestly think if these two fought 10 times, all 10 would be electric and the vast majority of them would be ultra-competitive, too-tough-to-call battles. — E. Spencer Kyte