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2014 Knockout of the Year: Josh Samman starches Eddie Gordon at UFC 181

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In a year that saw the UFC's schedule expand to dizzying and often exasperating heights, it's surprising then that even after all those late Saturday nights, we're left without a clear-cut winner for Knockout of the Year. There was no Edson Barboza wheel kicking Terry Etim, no Anderson Silva demolishing Vitor Belfort with a front kick. Instead we have hundreds of little moments, each with their own storylines, all ‘holy s**t!' worthy in their own way.

And truthfully, any entry on this list (and even a handful left off it) could be talked into the top spot of a year that MMA would otherwise like to forget, one made weary by a constant cloud of injury, litigation, and failed blood tests. Yet through it all, one heartwarming subplot endured, and that is the Year of the Comeback. Cat Zingano, Robbie Lawler, Dominick Cruz (Ed. note: Dang...), Todd Duffee; stories of fighters braving immense hardship and reclaiming lost momentum were sprinkled throughout our calendars, reminding us just how magical this sport can be when it stops getting in its own way.

And though we had to wait until year's final pay-per-view to experience it, no silver lining made so many quite so misty as the serendipity that swept into Las Vegas when Josh Samman challenged Eddie Gordon at UFC 181.

In retrospect, it was meant to be.

On Dec. 6, 2014, seventeen months removed from the tragic death of the love of his life, on the same night that would've marked the 24th anniversary of her birthday, Samman made that walk alone, the memory of girlfriend Hailey Bevis and the catastrophic auto accident that took her from this world still thumping in his chest.

The moment was the culmination of a seemingly endless Shakespearean chain of events that slowly unraveled Samman's life, one that began with the accident, then compounded itself with a crippling hamstring injury and the death of Samman's stepfather all within a 12-month span.

And for a time it looked to be too much. Gordon, a recent ‘The Ultimate Fighter' winner with considerable skills in his own right, blanketed Samman, unloading a buffet of takedowns and punches onto Samman's battered brain for nearly eight minutes, handily seizing the first round then easily taking the opening stages of the second.

But son, if you haven't learned by now, this boy Samman is a survivor.

With two minutes left in the second frame, the middleweight charged forward and hoisted a massive left head kick straight into Gordon's temple, threat of the takedown be damned. Boom. Game. Set. Match. Gordon plummeted back on the canvas like he'd been shot dead (and ate another left hand for his troubles). The emotion instantly came flooding out of Samman. He dropped to his knees, pounded the mat as if to say finally, then bolted to the cameras and screamed.

I love you, Hailey.

A cathartic moment in the purest sense.

It may not have been the most consequential knockout of the year. Title shots may not have been at stake and the finishing sequence may not have reminded viewers of the second coming of Bruce Lee. But it was one of the realest moments of 2014 (and beyond violent to boot). And for that, it is our 2014 Knockout of the Year.

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2. Dong Hyun Kim def. John Hathaway -- TUF China Finale

Remember when Dong Hyun Kim used to be welterweight's unsung snuggler? How long ago that seems. The splendidly nicknamed South Korean reinvented himself as a wild-armed slugger in late-2013 with an unexpected knockout of Erick Silva, and he continued that trend into 2014, scoring -- no joke -- a spinning back elbow knockout of John Hathaway in the main event of March's TUF China Finale. Kim's run finally ended later in the year at the hands of Tyron Woodley (again in China), but it'll be interesting to see if his revamped style carries over into 2015.

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3. Joe Schilling def. Melvin Manhoef -- Bellator 131

Oh, Scott Coker, you violence fiend, you know how to give us what we want. If there was one match-up guaranteed to make this list before even taking place, it was the new-Bellator wizard's special brew of world-class kickboxer versus trucks-for-hands middleweight. On the same evening of the UFC's grand entry into Mexico, Joe Schilling and Melvin Manhoef delivered the night's most awe-inspiring moment, giving as good as they got for the better part of two rounds, trading knockdowns as recklessly as a second-grader trades his holograph Charizard, before Schilling turned the lights out for good with a picture perfect right-left. Here's to you, Bellator 2015.

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4. Dan Henderson def. Mauricio Rua 2 -- UFC Fight Night 38

Hey, let's throw together a rematch of a fight many consider to be one of the greatest in MMA history and put it atop a lackluster Brazil card... what could go wrong? Apparently nothing. Three years after Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua brought the house down at UFC 139, they repeated the favor once more, engaging in an unbelievable war of attrition that dragged both legends to the brink. "Shogun" nearly sent Henderson packing early, but the old man had one more trick up his sleeve, and (at least for one last time) the H-Bomb reunited itself with opponent's chin flush just like it always used to do.

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5. Lyoto Machida def. C.B. Dollaway -- UFC Fight Night 58

If 2013 was the year of spinning s**t, 2014 was the year of the body shot. From Luke Rockhold to Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone to Jan Blachowicz, livers were destroyed on the regular in 2014. So it only seems fitting that the final fight of the year featured the pièce de résistance of them all, when Lyoto Machida massacred C.B. Dollaway's title hopes with one well-placed kick to the gut. The most striking part of this one: how dang loud it was. Happy holidays, y'all. Be grateful you're not C.B, sucking your ham through a straw.

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