This is it – the unofficial half-year awards season is coming to a close, and all that’s left is to determine the top fighters of the first half of 2014. Will your favorite be here? Read on to find out. (Note – to be considered, a fighter must have competed in two or more bouts)
5 - Luke Rockhold
Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold got off to a rough start in his UFC career in 2013, getting knocked out in the first round by Vitor Belfort. But since then, Rockhold has campaigned for a rematch with “The Phenom” in the best way possible – by winning. In 2014, Rockhold picked up his first two Octagon victories, knocking out Costas Philippou and submitting Tim Boetch.
4 - Benson Henderson
Despite losing his UFC lightweight championship to Anthony Pettis last August, Benson Henderson rebounded in 2014 with a hard-fought five-round win over Josh Thomson in January and his first UFC finish ever in June as he submitted Rustam Khabilov. It was an emphatic reminder that “Smooth” is still one of the best 155-pounders on the planet, and that if not for Pettis, his record would sit at 21-1.
3 - Rory MacDonald
If you’re noticing a theme of redemption here, that would appear to be accurate. In 2013, highly-touted welterweight phenom lost a possible crack at the 170-pound title when he dropped a decision to Robbie Lawler. In response, “Ares” scored a come from behind Fight of the Night win over Demian Maia in February, then put on a clinic against Tyron Woodley in his British Columbia backyard in June. Now he’s knocking on the door for a shot at the belt once more.
2 - TJ Dillashaw
TJ Dillashaw’s January decision win over Mike Easton was impressive enough, but his knockout of Renan Barao in May to win the UFC bantamweight title was on a whole other level. Barao, who entered the UFC 173 bout with a 35-fight unbeaten streak, was starting to reach invincible status in the Octagon. Dillashaw put that talk to rest for the moment with a stellar effort from start to finish. It was such a dominating performance that even if Barao evens the score in their rematch later this year, you couldn’t possibly call the first win a fluke.
1 - Ronda Rousey
It was a tough call for the top spot, but when you consider that in two fights against world-class competition, Ronda Rousey spent a grand total of 82 seconds in the Octagon, that clinched it for me. Yet what may be most impressive about the UFC women’s bantamweight champion’s defeats of Sara McMann and Alexis Davis is that she finished both without her trusty armbar, instead knocking out each fighter in the opening round. “Rowdy” Ronda is scary, especially since she seems to be getting better with each fight.