MMA is one of the fastest rising sports in the world for a number of reasons, but the thing that makes it so great in the end are the fights. From a pure fighting perspective, 2013 has got to be the best year in the history of the sport. In a year where we saw plenty of grudge matches and slugfests, the fight of the year came in an unexpected technical masterpiece between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165.

There are plenty of things that made this fight stand out, but one factor that rises above the rest is the shear fact that no one expected how the fight would ultimately play out. Coming into the fight, Gustafsson was seen as having barely a chance to put up a strong challenge against Jones. The Swede was the clear No. 1 contender, but most thought that Jones would simply run through him. Jones even fielded questions during fight week about when he would meet the Joe Frazier to his Muhammad Ali. Jones probably was asked more about Daniel Cormier and Glover Teixeira than about Gustafsson in the days leading up to the fight. Gustafsson took all of this in stride and quietly and confidently kept repeating that he knew he could beat Jones.

The fight itself was nothing short of a masterpiece. MMA is an art, and when that is on display inside the Octagon, it doesn’t get much better. Jones and Gustafsson told a compelling story in an event that was completely unscripted. Jones, the heavy favorite and champion who had never been taken down in his career, was taken down by the heavy underdog, Gustafsson, in the first round. It was all the more stunning since Gustafsson is not particularly known for his wrestling. The fight did not stay on the ground for very long, but it let Jones and everyone watching know that the champ was in for a fight on this night.

A big part of the promotion of this bout focused on how Gustafsson was the first man that Jones faced who could possibly hold an answer for his huge reach. That certainly played a role in the fight. The two traded blows in an extremely technical first three rounds, and many thought Gustafsson was in the lead on the judges’ scorecards heading into the championship rounds.

The fight had its major plot twist with about a minute remaining in the round. Jones turned the tables on a close one with a spinning elbow that had the challenger wobbly. Gustafsson survived, but the tide had certainly changed. The final round was all heart from both men. Jones was exhausted and beat up, and Gustafsson hadn’t fully recovered from that elbow. Jones won that round and won the fight en route to setting a record for consecutive light heavyweight title defenses.

Jones found his “Frazier” in the most unexpected fashion possible. He showed the heart of a champion, and Gustafsson showed the gumption and fortitude that it took to give a man like that the challenge he needed. In a year where there were so many great fights, it is still clear that this classic was the best one, and a possible rematch looks to be the biggest fight that the UFC could make in 2014. Only time will tell if these two gentlemen can deliver a repeat performance.

Honorable Mention: Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez (UFC 166), Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler (Bellator 106), Mark Hunt vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (UFC Fight Night 33)
The MMA Corner’s 2013 Awards were selected by our staff of writers and photographers. Unless noted otherwise, the nominations were open to all fighters, promotions and events that took place during 2013.

About The Author

Trey Downey
Staff Writer

A Central Florida native, Trey Downey's interest in MMA came after a trip to Blockbuster and the rental of UFC 47 on VHS. He has been blogging about the sport since 2011 and hosted a podcast called The TD Experience focusing on football and MMA (touchdowns and takedowns). Trey studied radio and television at the University of Central Florida and will soon be attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Trey enjoys watching sports, pro wrestling and is an avid runner.