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Fighting:

Counting down the top 10 UFC fights of 2013

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fans cheer at UFC 168 Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Getting a handful of fights worthy of the highest recognition is an issue in most calendar years.

Narrowing it down was the problem in 2013. After 2012 seemed to feature more big fights getting canceled than actually taking place, the UFC received the infusion of good luck it needed for the past 12 months.

“I personally think 2013 was the best year of fights we’ve ever had,” UFC President Dana White said.

Hard to argue with the boss. It's also difficult to debate against the merits of reliving the past year’s best bouts, especially now that they’re all so easy to watch again.

The company is offering a free trial of its new digital network, UFC Fight Pass, for the next two months. The service features every fight in the UFC’s library, including those not seen in years, as well as live international events.

Take the Sun’s 10 best fights of the year as a starting point for what to check out on Fight Pass as well as a way to wrap up a momentous period for the promotion.

Click through below for the list.

    • 10. Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar

      UFC commentator Mike Goldberg dubbed 2013 “The Year of the Superfight” back in January, a proclamation that went down in infamy after the UFC 156 main event turned out to be the only example of inter-divisional stars challenging each other.

      At least the headliner of the promotion’s Super Bowl weekend card in Las Vegas delivered — in the same manner Edgar fights always do, nonetheless. Edgar, in his first fight at featherweight, gave the champion all he could handle in the final three rounds by keeping a fast pace and varied attack.

      The problem for Edgar was in the first two rounds, where Aldo busted his nose and blackened his eyes with powerful striking. A few thought Edgar did enough to win a title in his second weight class, but the judges sided with the majority and gave Aldo a unanimous-decision win.

    • 9. Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano

      The first women’s fight in the UFC got all the attention. The second brought all the action.

      Seven weeks after Ronda Rousey’s historic victory over Liz Carmouche at UFC 157, Tate and Zingano squared off for the right to become her next challenger at “The Ultimate Fighter 17" finale April 14 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. A frenetic, back-and-forth affair ensued with Tate using takedowns and ground-and-pound to win the first two rounds before getting smashed in the third.

      Referee Kim Winslow had to call Zingano, who memorably burst into tears as she walked to the octagon, off of Tate after she landed several unanswered knees to the face. A torn ACL kept Zingano from cashing in on her opportunity to face Rousey, but the undefeated brawler’s performance left fans amped for her eventual return.

    • 8. Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks

      Lost in the kerfuffle over the judges awarding St. Pierre a split-decision victory and the champion subsequently declaring he would “go away for a little bit” was the fact that the UFC 167 main event provided a great fight.

      Hendricks validated all the claims that he was St. Pierre’s greatest threat. He came closer than anyone over the past six years, during St. Pierre’s 12-fight winning streak, to beating the Canadian superstar Nov. 15 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

      Almost everyone watching believed Hendricks had in fact defeated St. Pierre. He certainly disfigured St. Pierre’s face with a brutal ground-and-pound dosage in the fourth round. Hendricks also rocked the champion for a near-finish in the second round.

      But St. Pierre controlled the third and fifth rounds, meaning it all came down to interpretation of the first. The judges appeared to put more stock into St. Pierre’s submission attempt than Hendricks’ elbows against the cage.

    • 7. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate II

      Round of the Year is a topic for another time, but the opening five minutes of Saturday’s co-main event at UFC 168 belongs in the conversation.

      Moment of the Year, for better or worse, gets the same distinction with the end of Rousey’s third-round submission victory over archrival Tate clinching a spot in the discussion.

      Rousey finally had to fight beyond the first round for the first time in her career after Tate kept her upper limbs away from the armbar specialist and got some big shots to land in the process. Rousey still won the round, but the MGM had a surplus of energy with a sold-out crowd of 15,650 chanting “Miesha” throughout the stage.

      It set up a surreal spectacle seven minutes later, after Rousey wore Tate down and eventually forced a tapout with an armbar. Tate extended her hand to congratulate Rousey, who stared blankly and refused to shake it.

      Rousey’s unsportsmanlike attitude drew boos five times louder than St. Pierre’s ultra-controversial decision had a month and a half earlier.

    • 6. Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann

      Tell any fan after UFC on Fuel TV 8 that the main event wouldn’t crack the top five fights of the year and they would have allowed Silva to punch them to see the bouts ranked ahead.

      Or maybe not. Not if Stann was around to dispense any advice. The two middleweights, who fought up a class at light heavyweight for their bout, met in the middle of the octagon March 3 in Saitama, Japan, and traded punches relentlessly for more than nine minutes.

      Silva, as high as a 3-to-1 underdog, was the one left standing. The 37-year-old local, who became legendary by competing in Japan with Pride Fighting Championships, clocked Stann with a right hand near the end of the second round.

      Both fighters came back from knockdowns early, but Stann never recovered from that one. It ended up being the last fight for “The All American,” a decorated veteran of the Marines Corps, as the 33-year-old retired to transition into broadcasting.

    • 5. Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice

      Perhaps White’s long-held belief that mixed martial arts will someday become the biggest sport in the world wouldn’t sound so outlandish if all fighters competed with as much spirit as these UFC 157 undercard featherweights.

      Bermudez came back from the verge of defeat when Grice savagely knocked him down in the first round at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Bermudez returned the favor several times in the third round, but Grice somehow survived.

      The decision came down to the second, where the two seemed to evenly trade in the pocket for five minutes, and two judges gave it to Bermudez for a split decision. It was a testament to the fight that no one in attendance cared who was announced the winner. The UFC gave them both their win bonuses.

      Tragedy struck Grice months later when a distracted driver rear-ended his car at a red light driving 65 miles per hour. Grice was in critical condition and a brain surgeon had to immediately remove part of his skull, but he’s made a miraculous recovery.

      Grice has since had the portion of his skull reattached but remains unlikely to ever fight again. He went out on top.

    • Johny Hendricks from the United States, right, celebrates following his UFC 158 welterweight fight with Carlos Condit, left, also from the United States in Montreal, Saturday, March 16, 2013.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

      4. Carlos Condit vs. Johny Hendricks

      The two top-ranked welterweights in the world, with Georges St. Pierre on hiatus, could easily find themselves in a rematch against each other by summer 2014.

      No one would bat an eye at the pairing after their co-main event battle at UFC 158 on March 16 in Montreal. Hendricks and Condit managed to overshadow a years-in-the-making grudge match between St. Pierre and Nick Diaz at the Bell Centre.

      It was a true mixed martial arts match — one White said embodied everything special about the sport — with prolonged striking and grappling exchanges. Both fighters nearly knocked each other out at different points of the first round but recovered in their own way, with Hendricks using his takedowns and Condit working for submission attempts off his back.

      The former proved the difference in the final two rounds, as the barnburner didn’t let up, but Hendricks repeatedly took Condit down whenever he got in trouble in the stand-up. Hendricks won a unanimous decision.

    • 3. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. Mark Hunt

      Silva tarnished the greatest heavyweight fight in UFC history from earlier this month in Brisbane, Australia, by testing positive for elevated testosterone levels afterwards.

      The failed test turned a majority draw into a no contest. But it’s hard not to sympathize with Hunt, who said, regardless of what was in Silva’s body, the two provided an unforgettable five rounds of combat. It was the 25 minutes no one ever expected.

      In 42 previous career fights between the two of them, they had reached the judges’ scorecards six times. Neither Hunt nor Silva had ever fought past the third round.

      It may have looked sloppy at times, but boy, it was fun. The behemoths took turns pummeling each other into oblivion throughout the fight.

      Blood engulfed every nook of the octagon by the fourth round, including the fighters, but Hunt and Silva found a way to carry on every time it looked like they were done.

    • Gilbert Melendez, right, and Diego Sanchez fight in the second round of a UFC lightweight bout in Houston, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Menendez won in a unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

      2. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez

      White’s favorite fight was an absolute slobber knocker, even by the standards of two men who are known for holding nothing back.

      The dream stylistic matchup of Melendez vs. Sanchez didn’t disappoint, as the lightweights threw everything they had at each other Oct. 19 at UFC 166 in Houston. Melendez got the best of the nonstop striking exchanges for the opening 10 minutes, but the image of Sanchez biting down on his mouthpiece and coming forward had the Toyota Center crowd bustling.

      Cheers turned into a full-fledged standing ovation before the third round ended when Sanchez came back to score a knockdown with a right hand flush to Melendez’s face. The UFC veteran swarmed the former Strikeforce champion looking for a submission, but Melendez eventually swept out. The raucous applause carried on for several minutes after Melendez was rightfully revealed the winner by unanimous decision.

      White wasn’t the only UFC official gushing about the middle fight on the pay-per-view card. Color commentator Joe Rogan called it the best fight he had ever seen during the broadcast.

    • Sweden's Alexander Gustafsson (left) lands a blow on American Jon Jones during their World Light Heavyweight Championship bout during UFC 165 in Toronto on Saturday Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

      1. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

      Move over, Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar. Same goes for Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Dan Henderson.

      The former had the stakes that justified many calling it the best fight in UFC history for nearly a decade. The latter had even better action, and 10 extra minutes of it.

      Jon Jones’ sixth light heavyweight title defense at UFC 165 had everything those fights boasted — and more. Jones vs. Gustafsson deserves its place atop any list ranking UFC bouts. Not just for the year. Ever.

      The energy produced at the Air Canada Centre as Gustafsson overcame oddsmakers’ 6-to-1 betting line to give Jones all he could handle felt strong enough to power all of Toronto.

      The building was engulfed in energy for the first two-and-a-half rounds, where Gustafsson attacked Jones and caught him off guard with crisp kickboxing and powerful takedowns. Little did the fans know what Jones, with his face swollen and oozing blood, had in store the rest of the way.

      The champion persevered with a hodgepodge of strikes, from elbows to head kicks, which had Gustafsson retreating for the final 10 minutes and trying to stay conscious. Jones could barely stand upright on his own as he listened to the announcement that he won via unanimous decision. Gustafsson’s shape wasn’t much better as ambulances transported both of them to hospital.

      They both have their next fights lined up — Gustafsson against Jimi Manuwa and Jones versus Glover Teixeria — but could meet again by the end of the year with victories. Welcome to 2014.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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