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Alexandre Pantoja (R) battles with UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno during UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pantoja won the title by split decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
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The Fights | The 2023 UFC.com Awards

Our Writers Vote On The Best Fights Of The Year

The highly unofficial awards season continues with the best fights of 2023 and how we saw them on fight night...

1 – Islam Makhachev vs Alex Volkanovski 1

Islam Makhachev of Russia and Alexander Volkanovski of Australia compete for the UFC lightweight championship fight during UFC 284 at RAC Arena on February 12, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Islam Makhachev of Russia and Alexander Volkanovski of Australia compete for the UFC lightweight championship fight during UFC 284 at RAC Arena on February 12, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Islam Makhachev called his shot and followed through, venturing to Perth, Australia and defeating pound-for-pound king and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski to successfully defend his lightweight title for the first time.

The surging Russian standout showed his skills on the feet through the first three rounds, spending long stretches of the initial 15 minutes trading with Volkanovski and getting the better of the exchanges. While “Alexander the Great" had success of his own and showed an impressive ability to contend with Makhachev’s takedown attempts, the lightweight champ was just too much.

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In the fourth, Makhachev timed a perfect level change that resulted in his climbing onto Volkanovski’s back and staying there for the duration of the frame. In the final frame, Volkanovski tried his damnedest to rally and finish, taking the fight to Makhachev and hurting him with a left hand late, finishing the bout in top position, much to the delight of the capacity crowd in Perth.

Makhachev earned the unanimous decision win and successfully defended his title, but Volkanovski lost nothing in going 25 minutes with the lightweight ruler.

This was an incredible fight between two standout talents, and it’s going to be amazing seeing them continue to lord over their respective weight classes going forward.

2 – Alexandre Pantoja vs Brandon Moreno 2

Brandon Moreno of Mexico punches Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Brandon Moreno of Mexico punches Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Alexandre Pantoja is your new UFC flyweight champion, defeating Brandon Moreno by split decision in an instant classic.

The challenger swarmed the champion in the first, taking the fight to Moreno, dropping him and cutting him in an effort to get him out of there quickly. The champion started utilizing his jab to start the second, clawing back to level through two rounds, and from that point forward, it was tooth-and-nail, with Moreno seemingly getting the better of the striking exchanges and Pantoja having more success in the grappling interactions.

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The final horn sounded and no one watching was certain how the scores would come back. When the nines and tens were tallied, Pantoja came out ahead, edging out Moreno to claim the title, giving Brazil its second UFC flyweight champion and returning a Brazilian to the championship class.

This was an absolutely tremendous fight between two rivals that feel like they could meet again in the future.

3 – Irene Aldana vs Karol Rosa

Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Irene Aldana of Mexico punches Karol Rosa of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Irene Aldana and Karol Rosa beat the heck out of one another for 15 minutes, throwing an insane number of strikes to set the Fight of the Night bar high heading into the main card.

Rosa opened the fight attacking Aldana’s lead leg, battering the recent title challenger for the opening five minutes. But in the second, the Mexican power hitter upped her pressure and volume, seemingly drawing level based on landing the heavier, cleaner punches. Both battered and swollen, neither showed any quit in the third, with Aldana hurting Rosa to the body and pulling away as the round progressed.

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Somehow, they both stayed upright until the final bell, with the judges tasked with determining a victor for the first time on Saturday night. When the scores were added up, Aldana came out ahead, though Rosa’s stock should surely go up following an absolute banger like this one.

4 – Shavkat Rakhmonov vs Geoff Neal

Geoff Neal punches Shavkat Rakhmonov of Uzbekistan in a welterweight fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Geoff Neal punches Shavkat Rakhmonov of Uzbekistan in a welterweight fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


Shavkat Rakhmonov just keeps winning.

The undefeated rising star picked up his fifth consecutive UFC win and 17th straight victory overall midway through the UFC 285 main card, getting the better of things in a competitive, tough fight against durable DWCS grad Geoff Neal. It was the toughest test of the 28-year-old’s career and despite some scary moments, he was able to pass.

In all three rounds, the ranked welterweights got after each other on the feet, with Rakhmonov offering greater variety and volume. Neal had him rocked early in the third, but couldn’t find the shot that put him down, resulting in Rakhmonov closing the distance and getting a chance to recover.

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Late in the frame, the undefeated “Nomad” hurt Neal with a clean right hand, compounding the punishment with knees to the body, yet somehow, the Fortis MMA man remained upright. With under a minute remaining and the pair battling along the fence, Rakhmonov latched onto a standing rear-naked choke and found the finish.

This was the most entertaining fight of the year thus far, and elevates the stock of both competitors. Rakhmonov advances to 17-0 with 17 finishes with the victory, and should be facing a Top 5 opponent next time out.

5 – Jamahal Hill vs Glover Teixeira

Jamahal Hill Octagon Interview | UFC 283
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Jamahal Hill Octagon Interview | UFC 283
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Jamahal Hill is the new UFC light heavyweight champion, becoming the first graduate from Dana White’s Contender Series to claim gold inside the Octagon.

“Sweet Dreams” was the sharper, more active fighter from the outset of his main event clash with Glover Teixeira, stinging the former champion with clean punches from both stances in the early stages while defending a number of takedown attempts. In the second, Hill wobbled Teixeira with a series of high kicks, only for the Brazilian to rally and drag Hill to the ground, doing some damage of his own.

Hill once again rocked Teixeira with a high kick in the third, and seemed poised to finish the contest as he unloaded on a bloody and fading Teixeira. While the veteran persevered, Hill closed the round landing more power shots, and came out hunting to start the fourth, trying diligently to dispatch the unrelenting Brazilian, but failing to do so.

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Despite being all cut up, Teixeira happily marched to the center of the Octagon to start the fifth and quickly put Hill on the canvas, quickly finding his way to side control. Hill remained patient, found an escape, and reversed the position, keeping Teixeira on the mat until the final minute of the fight.

It was a brilliant breakthrough performance for the new light heavyweight champion, who understandably broke down into tears after the belt was wrapped around his waist.

6 – Dan Hooker vs Jalin Turner

Dan Hooker of New Zealand trades punches with Jalin Turner in a lightweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Dan Hooker of New Zealand trades punches with Jalin Turner in a lightweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Jalin Turner and Dan Hooker teamed up for a thrilling, technical, chaotic punch-up on the pay-per-view main card on Saturday night.

Two of the tallest fighters in the lightweight division, the two men stayed just at the end of each other’s range for the duration, picking at each other with sniper fire and unloading bazookas whenever they got in close. After a close first round, Turner busted up Hooker in the second, hitting him with a high kick that would have put most people out. Instead, the New Zealander ate it, fired back, and nearly choked Turner out at the end of the round.

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Both men came out trying to finish early in the third, but as Turner ran out of gas, Hooker swarmed, running him to the ground and following into his guard. Turner did good work off his back, attacking with elbows and punches, but the City Kickboxing man kept him pinned to the canvas until the final couple seconds.

The judges were tasked with determining the victor, and when the scorecards came back, they came back split, with “The Hangman” coming out ahead in what was a fantastic back-and-forth battle.

7 – Justin Gaethje vs Rafael Fiziev

Justin Gaethje Post-Fight Interview | UFC 286
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Justin Gaethje Post-Fight Interview | UFC 286
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The co-main event between Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev was everything it was expected to be and more, with the standout lightweights trading power shots for 15 wildly entertaining minutes.

Fiziev was the quicker of the two from the outset, taking the fight to Gaethje and having a good deal of success in the first before the American contender battled back in the second, leaving Fiziev bruised and bleeding heading into the third. Early in the final round, Fiziev blasted Gaethje with a clean right hand that would send everyone else in the division to the Shadow Realm, but “The Highlight” somehow remained upright, responded, and then rallied, putting it on the emerging contender in the second half of the round.

They fought tooth and nail to the final bell, leaving the responsibility to determine a winner in the hands of the judges, with Gaethje emerging with a hard-fought majority decision victory.

This was an outstanding fight between two elite lightweights, with Gaethje showing he’s still got plenty left in the tank.

8 – Edson Barboza vs Sodiq Yusuff

Edson Barboza of Brazil punches Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Edson Barboza of Brazil punches Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

What a comeback from Edson Barboza!

The Brazilian veteran appeared dead to rights in the opening round, as Sodiq Yusuff hit him with everything but the kitchen sink, leaving him battered and bloodied after five minutes. But from that point forward, the 37-year-old divisional stalwart took control, slowly working his way back into the fight in the second, and dizzying Yusuff in the third with his signature spinning wheel kick.

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The fourth was a coin flip, with each man landing good shots, and the veteran getting the better of the exchanges in the fifth and final round, despite having half of his face covered in crimson.

When the scores were totalled, Barboza took home the victory, rallying to register his second straight victory and the 18th win of his UFC career. What a gutsy effort from the tenured veteran.

9 – Alexa Grasso vs Valentina Shevchenko 1

Alexa Grasso | Crowning Moment
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Alexa Grasso | Crowning Moment
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Alexa Grasso is the new UFC flyweight champion!

The Mexican challenger took full advantage of a tactical mistake by Valentina Shevchenko in the fourth round to secure the rear-naked choke finish.

This was an ultra-competitive fight the whole way through, with Grasso surprising Shevchenko in the first by fighting from a southpaw stance. While the champion turned to her grappling to build a lead heading into the championship rounds, Grasso remained focused and continued to make the most of her opportunities.

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When Shevchenko missed a spinning back kick, Grasso instantly climbed onto her back and attacked the choke, getting her hooks in, flattening her out, and eventually drawing out the tap.

This was an incredible performance from Grasso, who became the third fighter from Mexico to claim championship gold this year, joining Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez. Just an amazing effort from the new champion!

10 – Alexa Grasso vs Valentina Shevchenko 2

Alexa Grasso of Mexico and Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan react after fighting to a majority draw in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alexa Grasso of Mexico and Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan react after fighting to a majority draw in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zu

The championship conclusion to Noche UFC was captivating, as Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko battled tooth and nail for five rounds, running level at times and trading big moments in others in a thoroughly entertaining main event.

Round 1 was relatively even, Shevchenko landing early before Grasso shifted southpaw and found success with her jab. In the second, the champ dropped the challenger with a right hand that sent her tumbling backwards, only for the former titleholder to respond by winning the third, threatening with a mounted guillotine and effective groundwork throughout.

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The championship rounds were tense and tight. In the fourth, Grasso landed a series of short knees to the head of Shevchenko before rushing a back take and losing position, with “Bullet” landing an elbow that opened up Grasso later in the frame. And in the fifth, the former champion started well, picking at Grasso before a mistake allowed the Mexican titleholder to take her back and spend the remainder of the round landing shots and threatening with choke attempts.

As the horn sounded, the crowd erupted, with the outcome uncertain. When the totals were read aloud, we had ourselves a draw, with each woman winning 48-47 on one card and the third official seeing the fight even.

Grasso retains her title in a classic encounter, and it will be interesting to see what happens from here. While not the result anyone wanted, this was an outstanding fight between two incredible talents.

Voters – Aziz Bawany, Thomas Gerbasi, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Gavin Porter, Zac Pacleb