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Roundtable: Recapping MMA’s first quarter of 2016

What’s your fight of the year through the first three months of 2016?

Riley Kontek: Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit is still my Fight of the Year so far in 2016. That fight was seriously one of my favorite bouts of all time. Those two guys always bring it. Neither would go down, neither would back down. It was a beautiful, artful display of violence, martial arts and sportsmanship. Would love to see them rematch and try to top themselves again.

Go Paolo: Well, this is between Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit and T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz I would guess? But I’ll actually give it to Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz for a number of reasons. The first being this fight had a definitive non-controversial ending, whereas the prior two had iffy decisions, which took a little bit away from how great the fights were. Secondly, it was a monumental upset. It’s not in the same category as Holm over Rousey or Serra over GSP, but it’s damn sure right below it especially given how hyped McGregor was and Diaz coming in on very short notice. Last but not the least, it is a fantastic story for Nate Diaz. It was for Cruz as well (more on him later), but Diaz finally got his crowning moment. This fight further cemented his legacy as one of the greats of the sport even if the UFC or some fans may not recognize him as one.

Daniel DeMarco: Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit from UFC 195.

We’ve had some excellent fights so far this year; Dominick Cruz vs. TJ Dillashaw was a technical masterpiece and MMA’s answer to boxing classics like Ray Leonard vs. Wilfred Benitez, James Toney vs. Mike McCallum I and Pernell Whitaker vs. Buddy McGirt I. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor was a balls-to-the-wall fight from the first second to the last, culminating in a shocking upset which saw another one of the UFC’s superstar fighters fall.

But Lawler vs. Condit was just a classic fight in every sense. It had both tactical striking and gritty brawling. It was action-packed as you would expect from two of the most dangerous welterweights in UFC history. It was an incredibly close fight throughout, resulting in a highly controversial decision. And it closed out with one of the best rounds in UFC history, where both men emptied the tanks trying to finish their opponent. It was a fight which encapsulated the duality that is the beauty and horror of a classic prizefight.

Travis Wakeman: It’s hard to recall every fight, but I feel pretty confident in saying it was Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit. Though I feel Condit actually won the fight, I’m fine with Lawler still being the champion. It was just a five-round, back-and-forth war between two of the most skilled fighters of our time. Seeing them go all out for that welterweight title made you respect both men and that’s what the sport is all about. The world of MMA, and its fans, deserve a rematch.

Fighter of the Year? 

Dominick Cruz celebrates with the title belt after his win against TJ Dillashaw in their mixed martial arts title bout at UFC Fight Night 81, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Boston. Cruz won via split decision and is the new UFC Bantamweight Champion. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

RK:  It’s really hard to have a fighter of the year so early, but based on the biggest win of his career, you have to go with Nate Diaz. The guy topped Conor McGregor, and though it was two weight classes above Conor’s normal fighting weight, it was nevertheless a win that has put much wind in his sails.

GP: This is really tough. So I will cheat a bit here and say Nate Diaz is my fighter of the year. Diaz gets his big payday and earns one of the biggest upsets in MMA history judging by the circumstances surrounding all of this.

DD: Dominick Cruz.

As high as Nate Diaz rose before and after UFC 196, you cannot deny the astonishing story of Dominick Cruz, climaxing in his fight against T.J. Dillashaw. What a rough four years it had been for Cruz, going through a relentless string of injuries which forced him to sit out as the division went on and developed into a whole new environment. Up comes T.J. Dillashaw who seemingly adopted a heavily Cruz-inspired fighting style and goes on to conquer Renan Barao at his peak. And then Cruz finally gets his title fight to compete for the title he was forced to vacate years earlier. Cruz becomes maybe the only fighter in recent memory to make a mockery of the concept of “ring rust” and partakes in a classic fight with Dillashaw, winning back his title.

You just cannot deny that story; it’s something few people would even find believable in a movie.

TW: I’m going to go with Nate Diaz. His win over Michael Johnson came at the very tail end of 2015, and that was a fight many experts thought he’d lose. He then talked his way into a big-money fight with Conor McGregor and almost no one gave him a chance to win that fight, but he not only did, he finished it. Of all the fighters in the entire world, none have made a bigger jump from where they were at the beginning of 2016 to where they are now, than Diaz.

Do you expect the Q2 of 2016 (April-June) to bring about as much change as either Q1 of 2016 or Q4 of 2015?

Miesha Tate accepts the belt after victory over Holly Holm during their UFC 196 women’s bantamweight mixed martial arts match Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

(AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

RK: I think there is already bigger change coming in the fact that New York has now legalized MMA, Cyborg will be debuting in the UFC and there are so many threats to each champion’s titles. MMA is so unpredictable, I don’t want to say Q2 will be more change than has already happened, but with the pattern it’s definitely possible. I look into the future with much intrigue and excitement.

GP: No, I don’t but I will be just as pleasantly surprised if major changes do happen and we may not have to wait too long. UFC 197 has both the No. 1 and No. 2 pound-for-pound fighters in Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson, respectively. If they both lose, that will shock the MMA world. Faber upsetting Cruz will also be very surprising given how Faber has consistently lost title fights. But this is why we love this sport so much. No one is invincible for too long. At some point, defeat will find even the strongest fighter. It is a great time to be an MMA fan.

DD: No way, the last six months in MMA have been utterly wild. It may be the most turbulent stretch of time in MMA history. There are some high-profile match-ups in the coming months, but the only two fights which hold the weight to rock the boat quite in the same manner as it has been rocked recently are the two championship bouts at UFC 197 — Demetrious Johnson vs Henry Cejudo and Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux.

TW: It’s hard to imagine that it would, so I’ll say no. Having Rousey and Holm lose was hard enough to imagine, but watching McGregor get tapped out was shocking. That doesn’t even include the upset losses by other up-and-coming future pay-per-view draws in Paige Van Zant and Sage Northcutt. The UFC has seen a tremendous amount of upsets in the last six months. Of course, there are some that wouldn’t call them upsets at all. That said, the Q2 of 2016 will be more favorable to the betting odds in Vegas.

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