It’s the most feared and decisive ending in all of combat sports. Unlike a submission, where a fighter may be working for position or already have a hold applied, a fight-ending knockout is almost impossible to see coming.
And perhaps that’s what makes it so exciting. A knockout can cause an entire arena to gasp in unison, or force a once prominent fighter to forever change his strategy or weight class.
From Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic’s near-death experience at the foot of Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70 to the pinpoint precision of Anderson Silva’s dismemberment of Chris Leben at Ultimate Fight Night 5, a knockout can come in all shapes and sizes.
And 2008 was full of them.
Trying to find the ten best was no easy task. I didn’t want to just bring you a list of ten highlight reel knockouts that had a nation of MMA fans utter "Oh damn he got caught " because there are a lot more than ten of them. Instead I tried to look at each KO and its significance on not just the fight, but the aftermath it had or may eventually cause.
With that said, I present to you the ten best knockouts of 2008.
Crush Hour: Rob Emerson vs. Manny Gamburyan - UFC 87
Starting us off are a couple of TUF veterans mixing it up to determine who is the least relevant contestant to emerge from Season 5. Emerson had just squeaked out a split-decision win over Keita Nakamura at UFC 81 while Gamburyan was coming off two dominant submission victories over Jeff Cox at Fight Night 13 and Nate Mohr at UFC 79. They traded early and Emerson clipped him with a right. When Gamburyan hit the floor Emerson followed. "Pitbull" sat up like the alarm clock just went off and from his knees, Emerson put him out by spot-welding his fist to Manny’s chin. Not since Andrei Arlovski knocked out Mauricio Cruz during an in-fight game of pattycake at UFC 66 has a knockout been so impressive from three inches off the ground.
Rating: Imaginary guest Richard Kiel gives this KO three out of five chompers. Not one of the harder KO’s, but one of the harder ones to execute.
Aftermath: Unknown. Gamburyan may have lost some of his confidence as well as some of the mystique he was riding after his successful run on TUF 5 and the two fights that followed. Time will tell.
The token black (out): Anthony Johnson vs. Tommy Speer - UFC Fight Night 13
Johnson’s surprise head kick over Kevin Burns at the TUF 8 finale may be the fresher of the two, but for me his lobotomy of TUF finalist Tommy Speer at Fight Night 13 was much more chilling. Speer was highly touted for his raw talent despite being choked out by Mac Danzig at the TUF 6 Finale and Johnson was coming off a disappointing submission loss to Rich Clementi at UFC 76. Speer thought it was a good idea to use his head as a welcoming committee and Johnson made him pay dearly. "Rumble" softened him up with a few shots to the dome and then dropped him with a vicious right against the fence. Speer just sat motionless against the cage with a pursed lip, like one of those faux-gangster prison poses.
Rating: Imaginary guest Rocky Dennis gives this KO four out of five masks. A stillborn Speer looked frozen in time like one of the characters from that painting in the ‘Good Times’ credits.
Aftermath: Falling star. Speer had the eye of fans and UFC brass alike. He was full of potential and had the strength of a silverback. Speer would fight three more times in 2008 and go 2-1, but has yet to return to the UFC.
Ceiling is believing: Junior Dos Santos vs. Fabricio Werdum - UFC 90
Nothing says "I just got housed" like opening your eyes and seeing the roof. I had a hard time choosing between this and Jeremy Stephens vs. Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 91, but I eventually went with Dos Dantos because his KO was much more meaningful. There was a point perhaps a day or two before the fight that Dos Santos was -500 as an underdog. During one of the video blogs of UFC President Dana White, the camera caught some footage of Junior working the bags ala Rocky in the meat locker and those numbers dropped faster than MMAmania’s pants at Rawhide 2010. Werdum had his eyes on a Spring 2009 title shot and not Dos Santos, which is probably why he never saw the most crushing uppercut of 2008 headed straight for him.
Rating: Imaginary guest Ann Coulter gives this KO four wired jaws out of five. Werdum executed a perfect jack-knife. Too bad he wasn’t in a diving competition.
Aftermath: Probably the year’s most damaging in terms of career direction. Werdum was in line for a Spring 2009 title shot with a win. Instead he got the pink slip with the loss. Easy come, easy go.
Fruit punch: Jason Lambert vs. Wilson Gouveia - UFC 80
After a debut loss to Keith Jardine at Ultimate Finale 3, Wilson Gouveia had made some noise in the light heavyweight division by winning three straight. Lambert had gone 4-1 since his debut and had just stunned the division by knocking out Renato "Babalu" Sobral at UFC 68. Gouveia was doing his usual shtick of ignoring his ground skills and going for the highlight reel finish. He got it. Lambert did a good job of working over the usually venerable Gouveia in the first round and was in control early in the second. That is until a Gouveia left hook send Lambert headfirst into the canvas. Normally a piledriver requires two participants but this solo act would have made Mr. 1derful proud.
Rating: Imaginary guest Sonny Landham gives this KO four out of five swollen chins. I had a harder time watching Lambert’s head hit the canvas than I did the actual KO. I haven’t seen anything bounce that hard since I tried to cash my last MMAmania payroll check.
Aftermath: Not pretty. Lambert may not be the same. His next fight was a TKO loss to Luis Arthur Cane at UFC 85 and a submission loss to Jason MacDonald at UFC 88. Here’s to hoping "The Punisher" can get back into the win column.
In case of emergency, break glass (jaw): Matt Riddle vs. Dan Simmler - The Ultimate Fighter 7
Before we had a chance to despise Jeremy May on The Ultimate Fighter Season 7, Matt Riddle had the pleasure of annoying the viewers with his failure to obtain a driver’s license and dependency on his mother. That all changed when he met Leonidas-in-training Dan Simmler in the TUF qualifying rounds. Simmler went into open guard - on his feet - and walked right into a Riddle hook that sent the bearded brawler flat on his back. Riddle did the requisite celebrating and Simmler started moaning like he was auditioning for the role of ‘Uncredited Zombie’ in Resident Evil 5. It was a disturbing start to a season that never came close to recapturing the impact of Simmler’s collapsible jaw.
Rating: Imaginary guest Piltdown man gives this KO five out of five fraudulent jaws. Legend has it that Simmler is still moaning.
Aftermath: While no one expected Riddle or Simmler to threaten Anderson Silva’s reign of terror, Simmler had no prior accomplishments to diffuse his trip to the hospital. He hasn’t fought since and may never fight again.
Friday night lights (out): Yves Edwards vs. James Edson Berto - EliteXC ‘Street Certified’
Yves Edwards knows a thing or two about highlight reel knockouts. He’s given them (Josh Thompson, UFC 49) and taken them (Jorge Masvidal, Bodog Fight). His match against James Edson Berto was an opportunity to try and build on his potential as a serious threat to the EliteXC lightweight kingpin KJ Noons. It was a damn good start. Berto had Edwards by the leg and was working for a takedown. The master of Thugjitsu used one hand to push down Berto’s head and in one fluid movement, jumped into the air with his free leg and drove his knee straight to the face of "Little Tiger". It was a risky maneuver but one of the most technically beautiful KO’s to come out of 2008.
Rating: Imaginary guest The Crimson Chin gives this KO three Jay Leno’s out of five. A lot of flying knees have been delivered with double the force, but Edwards improv was a damn near work of art.
Aftermath: Grim. Berto tried to rebound by jumping right back into combat against Conor Huen at EliteXC ‘Heat’ and found himself obliterated midway through the second round. Now without EliteXC and two punishing losses, Berto may be headed back to Real Fighting Championships.
Foot-in-mouth disease: Gegard Mousasi vs. Ronaldo Souza - DREAM 6
Mousasi and Souza met in the final of the 2008 DREAM middleweight grand prix and fans expected a fight that would be a back-and-forth war. Both Mousasi and Souza were riding a ten fight win streak and early action saw Souza controlling the Armenian on the ground, repeatedly looking for some big punches or a transition to mount. When Souza pulled back to reposition and go for broke, he met a perfectly executed upkick that knocked him silly. Souza simply collapsed into Mousasi’s lap. It could be the greatest upkick knockout since Renzo Gracie gave a case of the stupids to Oleg Taktarov at MARS.
Rating: Imaginary guest Takeru Kobayashi gives this KO five undigested weiners out of five. Souza was lunging forward and Mousasi was kicking upward. I half-expected the windows to shatter on impact. Ouch.
Aftermath: While it was a stunning defeat, "Jacare" could be the least affected. His first loss since 2003, Souza is in his prime and simply got caught on the way in. Expect more great things from this talented Brazilian.
Lights, camera, traction: Brodie Farber vs. Rory Markham - UFC Fight Night 14
Brodie Farber was making his UFC debut after a successful run in MMAX where he was 6-0 with three submissions and three (T)KO’s. Rory Markham was also making his first appearance in the Octagon after a pretty good run in the IFL. Things got started fairly early in the first round and Markham was eating some big shots. Farber was stalking his rattled opponent, got a little too relaxed with his hands and Markham nearly beheads him with a kick. It was the most unexpected headkick since Bad News Brown betrayed Bret Hart at Wrestlemania IV. It was also another reminder of why you shouldn’t sleep on the matches that don’t always have big names.
Rating: Imaginary guest Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa gives this KO five Islamic villages out of five. Like the aforementioned Jaww, Farber’s facial holocaust was a painful movement.
Aftermath: The beginning of the end? Farber came back against Luigi Fiorivanti at ‘Fight for the Troops’ and lost by unanimous decision. 0-2 is not a place you want to be in the UFC.
Waking up is hard to do: Josh Koscheck vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida - UFC Fight Night 16
This is probably the most entertaining knockout of the year. Koscheck isn’t exactly known for his KO power but he did something you rarely see in today’s world of mixed martial arts: He knocked his opponent out twice in one round. That’s the baseball equivalent of striking out a batter on a passed ball and then throwing him out at first. Kos had a lot to prove after getting manhandled by Thiago Alves at UFC 90 and Yoshida was looking to build off the momentum he was riding from his win over War Machine at UFC 84. Koscheck tagged him hard and "Zenko" popped up like an unconscious turkey timer and Kos followed it up with basically a free shot on the loopy import. Yoshida went down in a heap and Kos was back in a big way.
Rating: Imaginary guest Zoramthanga gives this KO four Christian Chins out of five. "Zenko" looked like someone out of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est poem after that first punch. Even more so after the second.
Aftermath: Still early, but Yoshida has an uphill battle. No one is going to remember his Judo accomplishments or his choke on War Machine. They’ll remember he got KTFO by Josh Koscheck.
Notify his next of chin: Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans - UFC 88
The best knockout of 2008. Despite the fact that Rashad Evans dances around the cage like that spastic robotic in Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’ video, he beat the man of ice at his own game. This was no lucky punch, no wild haymaker launched in a torrid exchange. This was a punch that started at the same time as a Liddell uppercut - Evans just got there first. Not only was his KO one of the year’s biggest upsets, it catapulted Evans into a title shot against Forrest Griffin at UFC 92, and may have ended Chuck’s chances of ever getting his hands on the light heavyweight strap again. The sight on an unconscious Liddell lying prone inside the cage is one I won’t soon forget.
Rating: Imaginary guest Jim Mouth gives this KO five smoked cigarettes out of five. Chuck made a career out of putting people to sleep. I wonder if he woke up feeling guilty?
Aftermath: Potentially devastating. Liddell was on track to get back into the title hunt despite being 1-2 going into the Evans fight. Now that punch may have solidified what many were already thinking: Chuck’s best days may well be behind him.
That my friends has just about wrapped it up. Stay tuned next Sunday as I present the second part of my "Best of" series as I bring you my picks for the best submissions of 2008.
And who knows, with UFC 92 less than a week away, we may have to amend the KO list. In fact with guys like Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva fighting, I can almost guarantee it.
In the meantime, go ahead and sound off in the comments section about who you think belongs or doesn’t belong on the list of ten best KO’s in 2008 - and make sure you can back it up!
See you in seven.
Nice article, good to remind yourself of some of these vicious KO's, personally I wouldn't have Koschecks so high, it was nice, but I think there are more on the list that were nicer.
I agree with the winner though, Rashad KOing Chuck was probably the biggest "OMG" moment of the year, for me anyway.
Holy poo, remembering the Gouveia KO of Lambert, that was a face plant right there.
I think Johnsons KO of Speer should be higher, Speer was so out against that fence, it was crazy. I think he still might be sleeping against it.