There has been a lot of talk this week about whether or not this sport we love really constitutes “one of the arts.” This is the All-Violence Team, and these are MMA’s truest artists.
If you are uninitiated and need a thorough account of the All-Violence Team and its goals, you can get your questions answered here. If all you want is a short explanation, I’ll refer you to this team’s mission statement, courtesy of poet Ezra Pound: “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.”
From strawweight to heavyweight, these are the 27 athletes who authored the knockouts, submissions and battles that won our hearts and minds in 2016. This is a roster comprised of the fighters who most intimately and personally made MMA worth watching, whether with textbook fundamentals or exotic techniques. They kicked the most ass and did it in the most thrilling, engrossing way. That is not to say there are no master strategists on this list, as many of MMA’s most violent athletes are clever tacticians, but this team is more about the politics of confrontation than contemplation.
Of the 27 members on this All-Violence Team, seven return from the 2015 squad while 16 are making their first All-Violence appearance. There has been considerable shake-up and turnover during the last two years, but certain folks just keep racking up the laurels.
From the inaugural All-Violence Team in 2010 until 2013, Jon Jones took first-team honors at 205 pounds every year, racking up four straight berths. Unfortunately, owing to his inability to stay focused on his MMA career for an entire calendar year, “Jonny Bones” has not made the team since; however, until 2016, no one had been able to match his number of appearances.
Anthony Johnson and Robbie Lawler have now tied Jones by making their fourth All-Violence Teams. One of Lawler’s prior appearances actually came at 185 pounds in 2010, meaning he has earned All-V honors in two weight classes -- a distinction once shared only with Joseph Benavidez. With Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone taking first-team status in new weight classes, Lawler and Benavidez now have some historic, violent company.
Some old things have been made new again on this list, too. Russian spinning s--- master Alexander Shlemenko makes a surprise third appearance for 2016, while another man who was featured on the first-ever All-Violence Team in 2010, Eddie Wineland, punched his ticket to a second bid with a sensational comeback year. Plus, Michael Bisping earned All-Violence honors -- on the first team, no less -- at 37 years old. I can scarcely believe it, and I write this thing.
2016 All-Violence First TeamHeavyweight: Stipe Miocic
Light Heavyweight: Anthony Johnson
Middleweight: Michael Bisping
Welterweight: Donald Cerrone
Lightweight: Conor McGregor
Featherweight: Max Holloway
Bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
Strawweight: Jessica Andrade
HEAVYWEIGHT: Miocic was not just the most violent heavyweight of 2016; he was one of the calendar year’s best fighters, period. Between his three knockouts of Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem, Miocic polished off three historically noteworthy heavyweights, took the UFC heavyweight title in hostile Brazilian territory in front of over 45,000 fans and then made his first defense in front of his Cleveland faithful in thrilling fashion. The entirety of Miocic’s exploits took a combined 8:08, and over half of that time was the Overeem fight. Given how quickly and nastily Miocic did in Overeem after he was rocked early on, he might have done it all in under six minutes if he had not eaten one of the Dutchman’s left hooks. Also, since Miocic’s wrestling and ground-and-pound skills remain an underappreciated part of his game, it was all the better that he actually tripped Overeem to the canvas and pounded him silly from full guard, dribbling his head like a basketball inside the home of the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Making his third straight All-Violence appearance and his second berth on the first team, Johnson remains the sport’s most devastating hitter. So terrifying is Johnson’s power that when he fought the usually physically imposing Ryan Bader in January, Bader instantly shot a desperate takedown and then pulled guard, only to have “Rumble” blast him unconscious from back mount in 86 seconds. Johnson embarrassed another perennial top-10 light heavyweight in August. Not since his first pro fight in August 2002 had Glover Teixeira been knocked out. Johnson changed that in just 13 seconds -- it was the fastest win in the UFC in 2016 -- with a crushing right hook. Johnson threw only 23 strikes in 2016, landed 17 of them and spent all of 99 seconds in the cage. On top of that, his fourth All-Violence appearance ties him with Jon Jones and Robbie Lawler for the most all-time; and since power is one of the last traits a fighter loses, it’s hard to imagine Johnson will not stay a fixture of this list.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: Never in a million years did I think Bisping would be a UFC middleweight champion, let alone an All-Violence first teamer. Yet here we are. There are a couple of factors to consider here, not the least of which being that he earned his UFC title by coming in on two weeks’ notice against Luke Rockhold, who had absolutely clobbered him in the recent past. “The Count” took the strap by essentially one-shotting Rockhold with a massive left hook, which is contrary to Bisping’s typical high-volume, attrition-based style. When he wasn’t authoring the “Upset of the Year,” Bisping prevailed, albeit controversially, in two of the year’s best fights, winning decisions over legends Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson. In the Silva fight, Bisping was basically knocked out at the end of the third round, and in his first title defense against Henderson, he was almost nuked in round one. While it would be wrong to say Bisping abandoned his trademark style -- he threw 320 total strikes against Silva and 348 against Henderson -- at 37 years old and though he is still suffering through the impact of the detached retina he suffered back in 2013, the Brit threw caution to the wind more often in 2016, and it helped him make thrilling, blood-and-guts history.
WELTERWEIGHT: I marvelled in 2014 when Cerrone clinched a first-team spot at 155 pounds: It was the first All-Violence appearance for a fighter widely considered one of the most entertaining in the sport. Well, he has first-team honors for a second time and in an all-new weight class. When “Cowboy” came in on short notice in February and triangled Alex Oliveira at 170 pounds, we had no idea what was in store. Cerrone opted to stay at 170, took on surging vet Patrick Cote in June and destroyed the always-sturdy Canadian, becoming just the second man to stop “The Predator” in his 14-year career. The jab, right cross to the body, right head kick combo he used to set up the beginning of the end on Rick Story in August was sublime and video game-like. Capping the year against another violent man, Matt Brown, Cerrone was knocked down and nearly submitted early in the bout before he put his left shin across Brown’s face in the third round. Jumping up in weight into another great division and going 4-0 with four outstanding stoppages? It is amazing that Cerrone has only been on two of these teams.
LIGHTWEIGHT: I’m aware that much of McGregor’s 2016 campaign was bound to his feud with Nate Diaz. He was submitted by his sudden rival at UFC 196 in March before earning a majority decision over Diaz in one of the year’s best fights at UFC 202 in August. More critically, the Diaz fights were both at 170 pounds; you can disregard them if you wish, or you can give them some credence based on both fighters essentially being lightweights. Regardless, the Irishman had one actual lightweight fight this year and it was a historic beating, as McGregor humiliated Eddie Alvarez to take the UFC’s 155-pound title and become, if only briefly, the first simultaneous two-division UFC champion ever. Alvarez, a noted puncher with a history of vicious wars, was officially dropped three times, though you could make the argument for four. McGregor’s left-handed counters crushed the former Bellator MMA champ for the entirety of the eight-minute bout, which felt like a lifetime of punishment for Alvarez. If you think his fights with Diaz matter in this case, then the beating from which he recovered in the third round of the rematch and the fact that he roared back in the fourth to ultimately win shows exactly the kind of moxie this list rewards. If you don’t, well, he went 1-0 and punched one of the best lightweights of all-time senseless while making history.
FEATHERWEIGHT: Holloway has made the All-Violence Team three straight years, but this marks his first time with first-team honors. Holloway fought just twice in 2016 but in both cases showed off the flashy, high-volume offensive style for which he has become known and continues to perfect. Against Ricardo Lamas in June, he won every minute of every round, defending takedowns, threatening chokes in ensuing scrambles and mostly just punching and kicking “The Bully” repeatedly. When he clearly had the fight won in the waning 20 seconds, he opted to bite down on his mouthguard and just trade punches with Lamas, pushing for the knockout. In December, he crushed Anthony Pettis in a way no one ever has. While Pettis failed to make the 145-pound limit for their UFC interim featherweight title fight, the bout’s lopsided nature seemed to have much more to do with Holloway. For all of Pettis’ faults, he has never been a poor defensive striker, and Holloway landed unprecedented volume on the former UFC lightweight champion. In the decisive third round, where Holloway finished the Roufusport star with 10 seconds on the clock, the Hawaiian threw 88 strikes and landed 46 of them, with 15 going straight to the body. The body attack of “Blessed” came out in full force in the Pettis finish, as he hurt “Showtime” with a series of kicks to the body and then ripping him with hands to the torso along the fence in the fight-ending salvo. Incredible volume, eight points of striking, scrambling submissions and a bunch of spinning s---? Holloway is certainly “Blessed,” but we are, too. We get to watch him.
BANTAMWEIGHT: Typically, if you go 4-0 with three knockouts and win a UFC title in a given year, this list will be critically interested in said stoppages, but that is not the case here. Yes, what Garbrandt did to Augusto Mendes, Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki was impressive: He knocked all of them out in the first round and brutally so, especially the previously unbeaten Almeida, who took first-team All-Violence honors at 135 pounds last year. However, what sealed Garbrandt’s place here was his December title capture over Dominick Cruz. “No Love” took Cruz -- a brilliant, high-volume offensive fighter with historically outstanding defense -- and embarrassed him, stopping all seven of his takedowns and bashing him with heavier, cleaner counters for 25 minutes. In the fourth round, Garbrandt even dropped “The Dominator” twice and looked like he might finish him. While Garbrandt is still largely an offensive boxer-defensive wrestler, he combined those two elements brilliantly to damage Cruz in a way no one could have dreamed; and he did it while literally mocking and taunting Cruz to his face. For All-Violence purposes, a performance like that is just as good if not better than a trio of first-round starchings.
FLYWEIGHT: Johnson does not always knock out his challengers, but when he does, it tends be nasty. At UFC 197 in April, many wondered if then-undefeated 2008 Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Henry Cejudo would be able to offer a stiff test, but instead, “Mighty Mouse” showed a different wrinkle to his game, going to the collar tie and destroying Cejudo with knees to the body in less than three minutes. Johnson returned from injury in December and overcame tweaking his knee and a surprising first round from “The Ultimate Fighter 24” winner Tim Elliott to dominate his ninth successful UFC title defense. Johnson was increasingly effective over the final 20 minutes, running Elliott out of gas and continuing to remind us that violence comes in different packages. Few people in MMA can make a guard passing and scrambling exhibition look as one-sided and demoralizing as the sport’s finest flyweight; that’s why he has earned three All-Violence berths, all on the first team.
STRAWWEIGHT: Andrade dropped to strawweight in 2016, and that decision lands her in our top All-Violence spot at 115 pounds. In her divisional debut in June, she treated former UFC title challenger Jessica Penne like a heavy bag, landing a whopping 117 significant strikes by FightMetric count in less than eight minutes. Andrade crushed Penne to the head and body with insane salvos of hooks and likely would have finished her at the end of the first round as Penne crumbled along the fence, if she had a few extra seconds with which to work. Three months later at UFC 203, she slammed Joanne Calderwood all over the cage and pounded on her with ease before grabbing a guillotine choke and forcing her to tap. In 2016, Andrade showcased exactly what sort of dual violence threat she is now that she has made 115 pounds her home.
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