10 Most Impressive MMA Performances Through the 1st 4 Months of 2014
Renan Barao's rise toward stardom has been one of the more notable stories inside the Octagon over recent months.
In February, the bantamweight champion became the first fighter in over five years to stop Urijah Faber. Barao extended his incredible winning streak with the win and hasn't lost since his MMA debut back in April 2005.
Faber is not easy to finish. Great titleholders Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz weren't able to do so, but Barao found a way to put The California Kid away in the opening round. That made Barao's performance at UFC 169 one of the best over the past four months.
Heading into May, here are the best showings thus far in 2014.
10. Fabricio Werdum
Matchup: Travis Browne at UFC on Fox 11
Heading into his title shot eliminator with Travis Browne at UFC on Fox 11, Fabricio Werdum appeared to have a huge edge on the ground, though not many gave the Brazilian a shot at beating Browne in a striking match.
Nonetheless, Werdum spent a good amount of time standing with Browne and landed more than double the significant strikes over five rounds. Vai Cavalo was also able to score two takedowns, showing he has grown into one of the more well-rounded fighters in the heavyweight division.
He'll need to be strong in all areas, as a clear decision victory over Browne earned Werdum a shot at UFC champion Cain Velasquez.
9. Jon Jones
Matchup: Glover Teixeira at UFC 172
At UFC 172, Jon Jones reasserted his dominance in the light heavyweight division.
The heavy hitting Glover Teixeira was billed as one of the most dangerous threats to Jones, but he landed 85 fewer strikes than the champion and surrendered three takedowns. Stuffing all five of Teixeira's takedown attempts, Jones cruised to a decision victory and moved closer to becoming the greatest fighter in MMA history.
Soon, Jones will have an opportunity to prove he is on another level than all light heavyweight contenders. He's now expected to meet Alexander Gustafsson, who gave him his toughest test as champion, in a rematch.
8. Dan Henderson
Matchup: Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Rua 2
With three straight losses entering his rematch with Mauricio Rua, Dan Henderson needed a win to remain relevant in the light heavyweight division.
Through the opening two rounds, it didn't look good. Hendo was rocked badly and barely survived to see the third stanza. That is where things turned around, though.
As Rua looked to break away from a clinch, Henderson cracked the Brazilian with a right hand. The punch led to a knockout win for Henderson and a badly broken nose for Shogun.
Shogun's camp tells me the broken nose is his only injury from last nite, & he'll have surgery to fix it within days http://t.co/WqdJtrVVVQ— Mike Chiappetta MMA (@MikeChiappetta) March 24, 2014
Despite taking a lot of damage against Rua, Henderson is already lined up to meet Daniel Cormier at UFC 173.
7. Donald Cerrone
Matchup: Edson Barboza at UFC on Fox 11
Facing one of the more talented strikers in the lightweight division, Donald Cerrone may have gone into UFC on Fox 11 with plans on taking the fight to the ground.
While he ultimately did win with a submission, Cowboy set up his win with striking. Midway through the opening round, Cerrone tagged Edson Barboza with a jab. The Brazilian dropped to the canvas and couldn't recover in time to defend against the rear-naked choke applied by Cowboy.
The impressive victory gave Cerrone three straight finishes. He'll look to keep the momentum going against Jim Miller in July.
6. Alexander Gustafsson
Matchup: Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa
Following a classic with Jon Jones at UFC 165, Alexander Gustafsson needed only one win to put himself back in position for another shot at the light heavyweight champion.
That victory would come against Jimi Manuwa. Despite the dangers Manuwa presented to him when standing, Gustafsson got it done with his stand-up. In the second round, the Swedish contender hurt Manuwa with a knee and finished the fight with punches.
Although his rematch with Jones has not been booked, Gustafsson's strong showing against Manuwa was enough to earn him another crack at the 205-pound king.
5. Roy Nelson
Matchup: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Nogueira
With back-to-back losses to Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic, Roy Nelson was slipping out of title contention in the heavyweight division. A fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira gave him a chance to turn things around, but it also came with a chance that he could be released with a loss.
Big Country did more than return to the win column. After dropping Nogueira once, Nelson floored the Brazilian a second time, ensuring Minotauro didn't get back up again.
The win added another spectacular knockout to Nelson's highlight reel. While Big Country is on his way back toward the top of the heavyweight division, Nogueira might have to start contemplating his next career move, as he hasn't won consecutive fights since February 2008.
4. Luke Rockhold
Matchup: Tim Boetsch at UFC 172
Coming off of a win over Costas Philippou, who had defeated Tim Boetsch not long ago, Luke Rockhold was going to have a tough time impressing in a UFC 172 matchup with The Barbarian.
However, he found a way.
In case you missed it: Luke Rockhold vs. Tim Boetsch video highlights http://t.co/j6fphVDfbx— Shaun Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) April 27, 2014
As he stuffed a Boetsch takedown attempt, Rockhold locked up an inverted triangle choke. Although he wasn't able to cut off Boetsch's blood flow, Rockhold controlled his opponent until he was presented with an opening to secure a kimura.
3. Luke Rockhold
Matchup: Costas Philippou at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Philippou
Following a loss to Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold needed a win over Costas Philippou in January to prove he could be a legitimate title threat in the middleweight division.
Though Philippou is a solid boxer, Rockhold made a big statement with his striking. In the opening stanza, Rockhold blasted Philippou with two hard body kicks. The second folded Philippou, who wasn't able to continue fighting.
Rockhold proceeded to earn a nearly equally impressive win over Boetsch in April and might now be a big win or two away from a shot at the 185-pound championship.
2. Ronda Rousey
Matchup: Sara McMann at UFC 170
With submission wins via armbar in her first eight MMA bouts, Ronda Rousey was being called a one-trick pony despite beating some of the best in the women's bantamweight division.
At UFC 170, Rousey proved she had more than an armbar in her arsenal. The UFC champion clinched with an Olympic wrestling medalist, Sara McMann, and came out on top. With a sharp knee to the body, Rousey dropped McMann and recorded her first knockout victory.
If she can now start finishing multiple opponents without having to hit the canvas, Rousey might have the ability to dominate the female bantamweight division for years.
1. Renan Barao
Matchup: Urijah Faber at UFC 169
The stoppage may have been controversial, but Renan Barao's knockout win over Urijah Faber has been the most impressive performance in 2014.
With four straight wins, Faber looked to be on a mission to avenge his prior loss to Barao, which came via decision at UFC 149. Faber was able to go the distance in that meeting despite breaking his rib early on.
Although Barao was a favorite to beat Faber again, The California Kid figured to keep it competitive against the Brazilian. Instead, Barao stopped Faber in under four minutes after knocking the former WEC champion down with a right hand.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.