ESM’s 2023 UFC Fight of the Year

MMA: UFC 284 Makhachev vs Volkanovski
Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a crazy year for the UFC. We saw so many highlights, so many upsets, and so many incredible moments. Every year after the final event, I like to take a step back and look at the year that was and give out some personal awards.

For this, we are going to focus on the UFC’s Fight of the Year. 2023 has spoiled us MMA fans and we saw so many great fights from the top promotion in the world. A few that come to mind include the insane war between Shavkat Rakhmonov and Geoff Neal back in March. Neal looked like he was going to be the first to go the distance with Shavkat, but then a third round submission kept the finishing streak alive.

Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev’s fight back in March. Fiziev’s fast start halted by a tremendous second half of the fight by Justin Gaethje which led to a Gaethje win. Gaethje would then go on to win the BMF title after knocking out Dustin Poirier and July.

How can we forget the third fight between Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Moreno. While only their second official fight (the first came on TUF), this one was for all the marbles. The UFC flyweight title was on the line and both men had an insane war which resulted in Pantoja winning a split decision to capture the title which gave us one of the feel-good moments of 2023.

However, to me, there’s a clear answer to what was the Fight of the Year. When it comes down to it, the Fight of the Year took place at the second PPV of the year. UFC 284 in Australia gave us an instant classic when featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski (26-3) took on lightweight champion Islam Makhachev (25-1).

UFC’s Fight of the Year

This fight was incredible and featured two of the best P4P fighters in the world. On his route to capturing the lightweight title, nobody was able to stop Islam Makhachev. He looked like a monster that was going to dominate every opponent that was put in front of him. At the time, Alexander Volkanovski was the P4P king and dominated everyone at featherweight.

Heading into UFC 284, Volk was a massive underdog because of his size. However, when the fight started, he made it clear that size wouldn’t be a factor. It was a razor close fight with both men having big moments. The Australian crowd erupting every time Volkanovski did something big.

While Makhachev was ahead on the scorecards heading into the final round, it was Volkanovski who dominated the final frame. He dropped the lightweight champion and poured it on for a classic finish. Nobody knew who won when the final bell sounded. Makhachev won the decision, but many thought that Volkanovski won the fight given the way things ended.

This fight and this moment was so special and it’s easily the Fight of the Year in my opinion. It’s so rare to get arguably the two best P4P fighters in the world, in their prime, fighting for all the marbles. They did rematch in October when Volkanovski stepped in on less than two-weeks’ notice to face Makhachev again.

Makhachev knocked him out in the first round in the rematch. While it was a respectable for Volkanovski to take the fight, I wish he wouldn’t have. Losing the rematch in that fashion really took away the luster of a true rematch where Volk could have a full camp. We might never see that fight again, but if we don’t, we can all look back and remember just how special the first matchup at UFC 284 was.