MMA Fighter of the Year: Cody Garbrandt

2016 saw many fighters ascend to heights that made them deserving of being labeled Fighter of the Year.

Conor McGregor made history by becoming a two-division champion. Amanda Nunes destroyed the two most famous female fighters ever to cement herself as champion. Michael Bisping beat an all-time great and then achieved a life-long dream by winning the middleweight title as massive underdog, before avenging a loss to Dan Henderson to round out his year. Stipe Miocic fought three times in 2016, including a heavyweight title win and a defense in his hometown, knocking out all three opponents in the first round.

But no one had a more meteoric rise from the bottom to the top like recently crowned bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. From unranked to champion all in one year, Garbrandt is our choice for 2016 Fighter of the Year.

Garbrandt fought four times in 2016, more than any of the fighters mentioned above. In February he knocked out Augusto Mendes in the first round in Pittsburg. Then, in the first true test of his career, he faced the terrifying undefeated striker Thomas Almeida. Entering the contest as the underdog, Garbrandt ran through the Brazilian prospect in one round.

He made even easier work of Takeya Mizugaki in August, knocking him out in under a minute. Three 2016 knockouts earned Garbrandt what he had been chasing for much of his life: a shot at bantamweight king Dominick Cruz.

Few believed in Garbrandt’s chances against the best 135er of all time, who had a reputation of defeating Garbrandt’s Team Alpha Male compatriots throughout the years. If Cody was to win, he would have to catch Cruz with a lucky shot, surely. But even that was considered unlikely: Cruz is the greatest defensive fighter in the game, and the hardest to hit. Too much, too soon for the young Garbrandt.

Not only did Garbrandt defeat Cruz at UFC 207, he beat him at his own game. Garbrandt made Cruz miss, toyed with him, danced after evading strikes, and landed devastating counters. By outclassing Dominick Cruz in a five-round fight, dropping him multiple times in the fourth, Cody Garbrandt did what no fighter had ever done.

Many fighters had great victories in 2016, but only Garbrandt dethroned a pound-for-pound great. The three knockouts beforehand only solidify his position as the year’s top fighter.

At only 25 years of age, the sky is the limit for Cody Garbrandt in 2017.

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