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2015 Yahoo Sports MMA Fight of the Year: Lawler-MacDonald II (Yahoo Sports)
January 06, 2016
( Yahoo MMA )

View gallery . Rory MacDonald (L) and Robbie Lawler slug it out. (AP) Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald made this one simple. There is no need to explain the criteria for Fight of the Year. There is no need to pore over a dozen or more videos. There is no need to agonize over whether it's the right choice.

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Rory MacDonald (L) and Robbie Lawler slug it out. (AP)

Their welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas at UFC 189 on July 11 was so good, so memorable and fought at such a high level of skill, courage and determination that it deserves to be regarded as one of the greatest mixed martial arts fights ever held.

It’s easily the choice for the 2015 MMA Fight of the Year, a timeframe for which there were numerous other outstanding matches.

Seven weeks earlier in the same arena, it seemed almost unthinkable that the heavyweight bout on May 23 at UFC 187 in which Andrei Arlovski finished Travis Browne wouldn’t win the honor.

Arlovski won the fight with a late first-round stoppage. He hit Browne with a right hand about eight times before finishing him with an uppercut. But Browne had a few moments of his own and decked Arlovski with a left as Arlovski was coming in for the finish.

UFC color analyst Joe Rogan shrieked, “Oh!” about a dozen times in the bout.

It was a sensational, exhilarating bout that brought fans out of their seats.

And yet, when taken as a whole, it can’t touch Lawler-MacDonald II. The level of skill in that fight was extraordinarily high, pitting two of the finest talents in the world, each at the top of his game. They also showed exceptional conditioning, resilience, planning, competitiveness and just plain courage in a bout that had a mind-boggling number of momentum shifts.

It would appear that Lawler was seconds away from victory, only to have MacDonald rally. And as MacDonald was pouring it on, Lawler would land something that would punish MacDonald.

Lawler won it by fifth-round stoppage, retaining his welterweight title and earning a permanent place in the UFC history books. He had many moments along the way in which he looked as if he were on the verge of becoming the former champion, but he always managed to steady himself and come back with another shot.

View gallery . A bloodied MacDonald stalks Lawler during their epic fight. (AP) The sad part for MacDonald, who had long been viewed as the heir to the welterweight throne, is that he was so good on this night that he probably would have beaten anyone except the man he faced.

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A bloodied MacDonald stalks Lawler during their epic fight. (AP)

It’s a hard reality to accept. He did more than enough to win the belt on most nights, but it wasn’t nearly enough on this one.

He took the kind of beating that often haunts a fighter long after his career is over. A body can’t withstand many of those kinds of bouts, and MacDonald has wisely rested since then.

But whether he’ll ever be the same after that night is a legitimate question.

Both men left a piece of themselves in the cage that night. It was one of those moments in sports that those who watch won’t forget. It was reminiscent of Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by teammates after a 1982 overtime playoff victory by his San Diego Chargers over the Miami Dolphins.

And it was like the great boxing battle, “The Thrilla in Manila,” in 1975 when the legendary Muhammad Ali stopped Joe Frazier after 14 brutal rounds in scorching heat. Frazier trainer Eddie Futch wouldn’t let his man come out for the 15th.

But if Frazier were able to answer the bell, he might have been the champion because Ali would later concede that he wasn’t sure he would have been able to make it out for the 15th round.

The Lawler-MacDonald bout, a rematch of a 2013 bout, is in that kind of a class. They put on a fight for the ages, one MMA fans won’t soon forget.

It is the easy choice, and the only choice, as the 2015 Yahoo Sports MMA Fight of the Year.


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