Year in Review: The Best of the UFC in 2023

2023 saw some incredible moments for the UFC. We had new champions, epic knockouts and some unforgettable fights. Across 47 events, 14 of them pay-per-views, fight fans were treated to some truly incredible contests over the course of the year. The hard part is looking back at all those fights an picking out the very best of the year. I have put together my favorites in a few categories to really celebrate 2023 in the octagon.

Knockout of the Year

Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro

There were a lot of knockouts this year that had more weight behind them. Israel Adesanya’s knockout of Alex Pereira to recapture the middleweight crown comes to mind. However, this choice was made purely based on the knockout itself and not the circumstances around it. And, as you can see in the brief video above, this knockout was beyond spectacular.

2023 was a great year for Roman Kopylov, who won all three of his fights by knockout. None was more picture perfect than this head kick he landed on Claudio Ribeiro at UFC 291 in July. The way he can end a guy’s night with a single strike is nothing short of scary and the sound this kick makes when it lands will stick with you.

Submission of the Year

Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Everything I said about the ‘Knockout of the Year’ applies to the ‘Submission of the Year’ as well. Except, this one does have those incredible circumstances around it. Alexa Grasso scored one of the biggest upsets of all time when she submitted longtime dominant champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 285 to capture the Women’s Flyweight championship.

But even with all of the consequences of this submission, the submission itself was still incredible. Grasso sidesteps the spin kick, a significant weapon in Shevchenko’s arsenal, and expertly takes the back. She maintains control for some time before locking in the choke and squeezing for the tap. It was a brilliant performance for the new champ and one that earns her this title.

Fight of the Year

Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski

There were a lot of great fights in 2023, but this was an easy decision. These two guys are undoubtedly the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world in my opinion and having them meet for a championship was a dream matchup. And while sports can often disappoint when the stage is so big, these two certainly did not let the fans down in the slightest.

Fights can be great for a lot of different reasons. Last year’s winner in this category was a somewhat sloppy showdown between two exhausted light heavyweights who put on an absolute show. This main event at UFC 284 in February was the exact opposite. Both guys were so technically perfect and they showcased skills in every aspect of the sport. It was like watching an explosive and highly athletic chess match between two Bobby Fishcher-Bo Jackson hybrids. If you know someone who thinks they might be interested in watching the UFC, show them this fight to get them hooked.

Fighter of the Year

Islam Makhachev

There were a few choices I could have gone with here. Alexa Grasso pulled off that aforementioned upset. Jon Jones was dominant in his long-awaited return. Sean O’Malley and Alexandre Pantoja both captured the titles in their respective divisions. But after finishing a close second last year, Islam Makhachev more than earned this spot this year.

Not only did Makhachev win that ‘Fight of the Year’ against Volkanovski, but he double down and defeated Volk again, this time by knockout, at UFC 294 in October. Sure there are plenty of fighters out there who won more than two fights, but none who defeated opponents the caliber of Volkanovksi. And with those two wins, Makhachev has earned himself the title of top pound-for-pound fighter in the world and looks as dominant as we’ve ever seen a champion in the octagon. I can’t wait to see what he’s able to accomplish in 2024.

The UFC will return for another big year on ESPN+ in 2024.

Mike Mack
Mack is the Editorial Director for Marvel and ESPN content and he has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed "nerd."