With Ronda Rousey now having all but retired from the sport and Conor McGregor essentially having taken a year out to focus on his boxing superfight with Floyd Mayweather, there’s been a general feeling that the UFC has been running at a low ebb in 2017.
However, while it’s undoubtedly true that there’s nowhere near the same buzz, excitement, and enthusiasm surrounding the sport as there was a year ago, the reality is that there’s still been a lot of UFC events this year that delivered big in the entertainment category with plenty of memorable knockouts, slick submissions, stand-out performances and all-out wars.
The problem is that without those superstar names topping the bill, these events have often slipped under the radar, resulting in those talented fighters who have been putting it all on the line each week not getting the audience and attention that they deserve.
With that in mind, in this article, we’ll endeavor to shine a spotlight on 10 of the best UFC fight cards in 2017 that no one bothered to watch.
- 1 UFC On FOX 23: Shevchenko vs. Pena
- 2 UFC Fight Night 106: Brazil
- 3 UFC Fight Night 107: London
- 4 UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis
- 5 UFC Fight Night 108: Nashville
- 6 UFC Fight Night 109: Stockholm
- 7 UFC Fight Night 110: New Zealand
- 8 UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway
- 9 UFC Fight Night 116: Pittsburgh
- 10 UFC Fight Night 117: Japan
UFC On FOX 23: Shevchenko vs. Pena
After an exciting end to the previous year, MMA’s New Year hangover seemed to last all month long in January, with there being a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the end of month UFC on FOX 23 card, which slipped under many people’s radars and barely scraped above 2 million viewers.
However, those paying attention would have noted that the four main card match-ups always looked like they could deliver a fun night of fights.
Valentina Shevchenko secured a bantamweight title shot in a strong main event showing, proving that she was more than just a striker with a well-executed armbar finish against former TUF winner Julianna Pena.
The co-main event featured what should have been a must-see welterweight encounter between in the in-form Donald Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal, and it was exciting stuff for as long as it lasted, with ‘Gamebred’ flooring ‘Cowboy’ late in the first round and then finishing him off early in the second.
Fans also got to witness major heavyweight prospect Francis Ngannou notch up the most significant win of his career to date with a TKO finish in 92 seconds against Andrei Arlovski, while the main card opener got the proceedings on ‘big’ FOX off to a good start with Jason Knight, aka ‘Hick Diaz,’ outgrappling Alex ‘Bruce Leeroy’ Caceres for a second-round submission finish.
UFC Fight Night 106: Brazil
UFC Fight Night 106 in early March wasn’t a complete flop on the TV ratings front, but it still failed to breach the million barrier on FOX Sports 1, despite some high-profile Brazilian stars featuring on the top two fights.
The main event marked another impressive performance from Kelvin Gastelum, who proved he had the firepower to hang at middleweight by TKO’ing Vitor Belfort in less than four minutes, though frustratingly his good work was then undone due to a positive marijuana test that would lead to a no-contest result.
There were big finishes in three of the other main card bouts, including Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua proving he’s still a threat by extending his winning streak to three with a TKO victory over Gian Villante, while Edson Barboza landed a perfectly-timed flying knee to knock out Beneil Dariush and Alex Oliveira gained vengeance over Tim Means in their rematch with a second-round submission.
Two more fights on the night would end up having title implications, with Ray Borg booking a shot at the flyweight strap with a decision win over Jussier Formiga, while Kevin Lee ending Francisco Trinaldo’s seven-fight winning streak in the prelim headliner would help him land an interim lightweight title opportunity later in the year.
UFC Fight Night 107: London
UFC Fight Night 107 in March saw the promotion return to London with a card that struggled to find an audience given its relative lack of star power and the fact that it was airing exclusively on the ‘Fight Pass’ service during the day in North America.
With six of the seven preliminary fights going to a decision, those who’d skipped the show may have felt vindicated, though they’d have missed out on one of the UFC’s most electrifying strikers, Marc Diakiese, conjure up a truly stunning highlight-reel KO of Teemu Packalen.
The main card delivered more drama, including Brad Pickett coming agonizingly close to retiring on a decision victory, right up until Marlon Vera connected with a head kick in the final 90 seconds of the fight.
Meanwhile, Gunnar Nelson looked sharp on the feet before bringing an end to Alan Jouban’s winning run courtesy of a guillotine choke, while Jimi Manuwa terrorized Corey Anderson on the feet in the main event, sealing the deal with a walk-off KO finish midway through the opening round.
UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis
It’s a crying shame that the man who currently stands atop the UFC’s official pound-for-pound rankings, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, hasn’t become a major draw, with UFC on FOX 24 in April only narrowly missing out on being the lowest rated event of the series on FOX after only 1,996,000 viewers tuned in.
Those who did watch were treated to a masterful display of mixed martial arts from ‘Mighty Mouse,’ as he beat Wilson Reis at his own game by tapping out the submission expert by armbar to tie Anderson Silva for the most title defenses in UFC history (10).
Fans who skipped the show also missed out on Rose Namajunas proving why she’s worthy of another title shot as she logged in a dominant performance against Michelle Waterson, capped off by a submission finish.
The card had strength in depth as the third fight on the bill saw Robert Whittaker line up an interim middleweight title opportunity with an impressive upset victory over Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, while in the prelims Tim Elliott and Louis Smolka served up one of the most entertaining grappling battles we’ve seen this year, notching up ‘Fight Of The Night’ honors for their efforts.
UFC Fight Night 108: Nashville
On paper, UFC Fight Night 108 in Nashville’s headliner in April was a head-scratcher as the in-form top five-ranked featherweight contender Cub Swanson somehow found himself being paired up with the unranked Artem Lobov.
That probably explains the subpar ratings the show experienced on FS1, but those who opted out made a big mistake as the main event proved to be far more competitive than anyone had expected, with also a robust card leading into it.
The hard-headed Lobov managed to go five full-blooded rounds against Swanson in what would prove to the be the ‘Fight Of The Night’, while Al Iaquinta was a combustible ball of energy as he KO’d Diego Sanchez in less than two minutes in the co-main event.
Elsewhere on the main card, Ovince Saint Preux was registering a rare Von Flue choke submission against Marcos Rogerio de Lima, while Mike Perry produced one of the best knockouts of the year when he rendered Jake Ellenberger unconscious with an earth-shattering elbow.
UFC Fight Night 109: Stockholm
Given that it was airing in the U.S. on a Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend against other sporting events, UFC Fight Night 109 from Stockholm, Sweden in May was always doomed to deliver dismal ratings, ticking up just 496,000 viewers.
That meant a lot of people missed out on some big performances on the night, including a re-energized Alexander Gustafsson’s returning to title-contention form at 205 pounds with a slick performance against Glover Teixeira, capped off in style by a fifth-round KO finish and then a marriage proposal to his girlfriend.
The co-main event also featured major goings-on in the light-heavyweight division, with Volkan Oezdemir confirming himself as a force to be reckoned with as he knocked out another rising star on the roster, Misha Cirkunov in just 28 seconds.
Throw in a exciting scrap between Peter Sobatta and Ben Saunders proceeding that and big ‘Performance Of The Night’ bonus winning stoppages from Bojan Velickovic and Damir Hadzovic in the prelims and you’ve got a card that was well worth a watch.
UFC Fight Night 110: New Zealand
International UFC cards often don’t gain as much traction as domestic ones and together with a lack of big name fighters on the line-up, the UFC’s only trip to New Zealand in 2017 was another to add to the list of shows that didn’t breach the one million viewer barrier on FOX Sports 1.
However, the Auckland show made up for a lack of stars by delivering five impressive stoppage victories in a row on the main card – making this one of the sleeper events of the year.
Of course, one of those finishes was inevitable given that the heavyweight main event pairing of Mark Hunt and Derrick Lewis don’t really do decisions, and on this occasion, it was ‘The Super Samoan’ who was able to TKO his tiring opponent with heavy-handed blows in the fourth round.
Earlier, Derek Brunson had derailed Dan Kelly’s winning streak by KO in just 76 seconds, while Dan Hooker sent Ross Pearson’s mouthpiece flying as he rendered him unconscious with a brutal knee strike.
Proceeding that Ion Cutelaba had lived up to his nickname, ‘The Hulk’ as knocked out Henrique da Silva in 22 seconds, while Ben Nguyen shocked grappling specialist Tim Elliott by submitting him with a rear-naked choke in the opening minute.
UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway
UFC 212 may not have been the most stacked pay-per-view, but registering only 200,000 buys seems dishearteningly low for given that it was headlined by a dream match-up for striking afficionadoes as featherweight champion Jose Aldo went up against interim titleholder Max Holloway.
In the end, it was Holloway who showed just how good he is as he got the better of the Brazilian in the competitive stand-up exchanges to claim a third-round TKO.
Nine of the 12 fights on the card ended inside the distance, with Claudia Gadelha’s first round rear-naked choke stoppage against Karolina Kowalkiewicz being one of four on the PPV portion of the card alone.
The others saw Paulo Borrachinha extend his unbeaten record to 10-0 with a second-round TKO against Oluwale Bamgbose in a full-blooded scrap and Yancy Medeiros drop Erick Silva with a hook to also pick up a TKO victory.
UFC Fight Night 116: Pittsburgh
The lure of witnessing ex-UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold return to action against former WSOF middleweight and light heavyweight titleholder David Branch apparently wasn’t enough for the people of Pittsburgh earlier this month, as only 7,005 people showed up for a total gate of just 6,190.75 – the lowest haul of the year so far.
The TV ratings were also below average as many turned their attention to the blockbuster boxing action between GGG and Canelo Alvarez on pay-per-view instead.
That’s unfortunate, as Rockhold placed himself firmly back in title contention as he battled back from some early adversity to end Branch’s 11-fight winning streak via ground and pound strikes in the second round.
There was a lot to like elsewhere on the card too, with no less than eight finishes on the 10-fight lineup.
For instance, ‘Platinum’ Mike Perry marked himself as a rising star with another highlight-reel KO courtesy of a knee against late replacement Alex Reyes in the co-main event, while Anthony Smith left it until the third round to TKO Hector Lombard.
Meanwhile, Gregor Gillespie and Jason Gonzalez put on a worthy ‘Fight Of The Night’, and on the prelims, Uriah Hall registered one of the comebacks of the year as he TKO’d Krzysztof Jotko after being battered from pillar to post in the opening round.
UFC Fight Night 117: Japan
There wasn’t much hype behind the UFC’s September visit to Japan to begin with, and even less so when headliner Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua pulled out injured on short notice, while a rare Friday night live slot on the FXX channel had an impact on the TV ratings too, resulting in just 502,000 viewers catching the card from the Saitama Super Arena.
Yushin Okami returned to the Octagon as a main event late replacement, but it wasn’t to be a fairytale comeback for him as Ovince Saint Preux instead treated fans to only the third Von Flue Choke finish in the history of the promotion.
On paper, the co-main event between Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade looked like a fun one and if anything the bloody battle exceeded expectations as ‘Claudinha’ took the fight to her opponent early, only for Andrade to then produce the best performance of her career to dominate her rival on the feet and the mat en-route to a decision victory.
The main card was also memorable for the debut of kickboxing ace Gokhan Saki, who firmly put himself on the UFC map by blasting Henrique da Silva with heavy strikes, then being put on the ropes himself before retaliating with a two-piece combo that brought about a KO finish followed by a raucous post-fight speech for good measure.