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2015 Knockout of the Year: Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey, UFC 193

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It is a testament to the wickedness of the blood gods that after a rise dotted with precision and prediction, Ronda Rousey ultimately foretold her own demise, spelling it out with painful accuracy to the very audience she invited into the MMA bubble.

It sounded so innocuous back then. Still awash in the afterglow of her triumph in Brazil, Rousey laid out how her latest challenger was different than all the rest. She lauded the boxing accolades. She lauded the athleticism. She called Holly Holm the biggest threat to the title she ever faced. Then she did her best to sell the event's $59.95 price tag, explaining to the mainstream eyes tuned to Jimmy Fallon why such a price would be worth paying, even if the entire fight could inevitably wind up on Instagram like all the rest.

"She's the type of fighter you have to be very, very patient with," Rousey said. "I feel like she's going to try and, like, keep distance. Keep far away from me, and get me frustrated to a point where I'll make a mistake, and she can try and kick me in the head."

Rousey then raised a finger. Here was the punchline, the drop of sass expected from the baddest woman in the world. "But it's not going to go like that." Cue, audience laughter. And just like that, the moment passed. Another drop in a bucket that would eventually overflow with retroactive glee.

One month later, with the Australian skies blotted out by flies, the world learned exactly who Holly Holm was and how apt Rousey's hunch had been.

Holm never charged. She never panicked. She simply circled. The distance control Rousey feared proved to be impeccable, and Holm gradually melted the UFC queen into a woman we had never seen before. Calm replaced by urgency. Confidence replaced by apprehension. Countdown to an explosion we all knew was coming, even if we couldn't believe.

In retrospect, it is obvious. Holm always had the tools and the coaching to tear down the curtain from the Rousey myth. But in the moment, things felt different. Twelve masterpieces stretched over five years had told us something like this was impossible. Even poor Mike Goldberg struggled to understand, the wiring in his head short-circuiting as he grasped for something to say. "It takes a lot of energy to be a rock star!" Indeed it does, Mike.

The world finally changed with the most elegant car crash the sport has ever seen. Rousey swung a left hook and missed badly, toppling to one knee as Holm sprinted behind her. Seconds later, a straight left dropped Rousey to the canvas. As she staggered back to her feet, she had no idea that the moment to come would live forever.

The biggest betting upset in UFC history, against the biggest mainstream star in UFC history, in front of the biggest crowd in UFC history. In a year where "holy s**t!" moments erupted seemingly every other weekend, no one else had a chance.

Congratulations to Holly Holm, MMA Fighting's 2015 winner for Knockout of the Year.

Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey

(Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)


2. Conor McGregor def. Jose Aldo at UFC 194

Thirteen seconds to forever change the legacy of a legend. It tells you what kind of year it's been that UFC 194's cruel masterpiece tops out at second on our list.

Conor McGregor certainly called it, didn't he? For the better part of two years, the man whose story will consume 2016 told anyone and everyone that he would be featherweight's reckoning, and that Jose Aldo's day was coming. The internet scoffed. It deflected and sang the praises of the Brazilian champion whose dominance stretched over 10 indomitable years. Then the time finally came when the talk ceased to matter, and with one left hook McGregor ended an era.

Many of the Irish fans told me through their the haze that night that they wept. Tears of pride and joy and relief at their countryman who followed a dream and succeeded in every way imaginable. Meanwhile, McGregor, from the podium of his own post-fight press conference, promised that this madness was only beginning.

At this point, who can truly say he's wrong?

Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo

(Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)


3. Uriah Hall def. Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night 75

In retrospect, it was inevitable that Uriah Hall would eventually make one of these lists. The man fights like a Street Fighter character, for heaven's sake. But a jumping spinning back kick, straight into a flying knee? On freaking Gegard Mousasi, of all people?! Things like that just don't happen in real life.

Watch it back in slow motion and it still doesn't make much sense. Hall begins spinning before Mousasi even makes a move. By the time Hall completes a full revolution, Mousasi is ducking into Hall's foot, which is primed to explode at the perfect chest-level target that is poor Mousasi's head. It's uncanny, and the fact that Hall accomplished it on short notice, after dropping a near 10-8 first round, only makes it more impressive.

Thirteen years without suffering a knockout loss, erased with one Hollywood stroke of violence.


4. Stephen Thompson def. Jake Ellenberger at TUF 21 Finale

It was going to take something special to stand out the day after UFC 189 torched Las Vegas to the ground, but special ain't nothing to that boy Stephen Thompson. On a hazy hangover of a Sunday afternoon, "Wonderboy" made his only fight of the 2015 count, annihilating Jake Ellenberger with not one, but two dazzling spinning hooks kicks in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale.

Ellenberger dared to play the range game with Thompson, and he paid dearly for it. The first kick landed flush to the right side of Ellenberger's face and dropped the veteran midway through the opening round. The second kick was a thing of beauty -- a fluid and dramatic flourish that simultaneously sent Ellenberger reeling and announced Thompson's presence as a contender in the shark tank of the 170-pound division.

Johny Hendricks awaits in 2016.


5. Hisaki Kato def. Joe Schilling at Bellator 139

What do you get when you throw a kickboxing star turned MMA fighter against an unheralded former Japanese handball player? Some good old fashioned MMA weirdness. Yes, for the second year in a row, No. 1 ranked GLORY middleweight Joe Schilling graces our list, though in this case he likely wishes he hadn't.

Schilling's meeting on June 26 with Hisaki Kato was always classic Scott Coker. Give your striking specialist a willing stand-and-bang partner and wait for the highlight-reel moment. And good lord, that moment certainly came. Just 30 seconds into the second round, as Schilling circled with his hands down, Kato lunged forward and reminded everyone the difference four-ounce gloves makes, downing the world-class kickboxer with a super missile of a left-handed Superman punch. Schilling was out before his head smashed back onto the canvas, and Kato simply held his hands aloft, a five-to-one underdog vindicated in his own self-belief.


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