6 of the best UFC fights of 2024, so far

Here are six of the best UFC fights that have taken place in 2024 ... so far.
Holloway Gaethje
Holloway Gaethje / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It is amazing to see months can go by so quickly. They say time flies when one is having fun. It has surely been fun to be a fight fan so far this year. Though baseball is America's favorite pastime, MMA is getting more popular, and it runs every month throughout the year. The UFC has put together fights that have delivered well for fight fans. Entertaining fights have happened in different ways. Some fights will be dominated as one fighter wins all rounds, but they may be in brief trouble at times while the opponent shows heart not getting finished when they should. Other fights are so back and forth, that the judges are split on each fighter winning different rounds. There may even be a one-round fight that earns fight of the night due to the drama of it being anyone's fight in that round. Six of the best fights of this year, so far, will be discussed.

1. Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa - UFC 298

Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa delivered as the co-main event for UFC 298. It should have received a Fight of the Night bonus, but it did not. The UFC and fight fans were happy this fight finally took place, as they were scheduled to fight two previous times. They were first scheduled to fight in April 2021, but Costa pulled out a month before due to illness. The second time the fighters were scheduled was in Feb. 2023 at UFC 284, in Perth. However, the fight was canceled due to Costa never actually signing the contract and refusing to do so. The third time's the charm as the fight finally happened at UFC 298. Leading up, all the pressure was on Costa to show up, as he was the main reason the fight had never happened in the past three years.

Though Costa lost, he put up a strong fight against Whittaker. He immediately threatened danger in the first round as he threw fast head kicks that nearly landed. Besides those, Whittaker was getting the better of the striking exchanges and was on track to win the first round. That was until Costa landed a clean, spinning head kick that wobbled Whittaker badly. Costa was ready to try and finish him with a flurry of punches until the bell rang. He stole the first round last minute. Whittaker proceeded to recover well and win the next two rounds. It was not as easy though as Costa busted him up with his punches. Both fighters, at the same time, had a back-and-forth battle of battering each other's legs with hard kicks.

Though Whittaker was awarded the decision, both fighters won in some way. Whittaker bounced back from his knockout loss to now-champion Dricus Du Plessis from months ago. Some questioned whether he would ever be the same again, and/or is washed up. Whittaker showed his durability and elite striking. He was fast with his blitz striking and counter striking. Costa won in the sense of showing he can fight well when he is active. He was coming off a layoff of around a year and a half, due to injuries and contract dispute. Costa showed his durability and danger throwing anything.

2. Trey Waters vs. Billy Goff - UFC Louisville

One of the most exciting fights of 2024 occurred in the early prelims of a Fight Night card. The fight was Trey Waters vs. Billy Goff at UFC Louisville. These are two fighters in their 20s with not much MMA experience, but still managed to put on a great war. It was a clear win for Waters as he won all three rounds outboxing Goff, but he had to work hard for the win. Waters had to defend takedowns and survive hard punches landing on him. Both fighters were exhausted in the last moments of the final round, but they both showed great durability and heart to stay until the end. These fighters are young and are still improving. It would not be surprising if they meet again for a rematch when they both are top contenders one day.

3. Sean Strickland vs. Dricus Du Plessis - UFC 297

The first PPV main event of this year delivered one of the best fights of the year as Sean Strickland and Dricus Du Plessis battled it out for the middleweight title. Both fighters were coming off some of the biggest upsets of 2023 and were looking to show their wins were not flukes, as they were legit contenders. Du Plessis knocked out top contender Whittaker, while Strickland outclassed champion Israel Adesanya. The fight between Strickland and Du Plessis was held in Toronto, Canada at UFC 297.

Strickland started off difficult for Du Plessis in the first round, as his jabs and striking defense seemed hard for him to get on the inside. As the fight went on, Du Plessis adjusted and began landing the harder, damaging punches on the inside of Strickland's defense. He also had success taking Strickland down the majority of the time, where he got good ground strikes in. Strickland had the better cardio, so Du Plessis had to work to win rounds. Du Plessis won rounds two through four and his hard work made Strickland, a cardio machine, tired by the fifth round. By the fifth round, it was anyone's fight on paper as people could make the case for it being either two to two or three to one, with Du Plessis winning. A tired Strickland edged out the fifth round, and it then went to unpredictable judges to release their scorecards.

Du Plessis ended up as the new middleweight champion as he won a split decision. Two judges scored rounds two, three, and four for him, while Strickland got rounds one, three, and five from one judge. Both stocks from both fighters went up from this fight, as both are seen as legit contenders to this day.

4. Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier - UFC 302

Islam Makhachev vs. Dustin Poirier seemed like a predictable fight at first. Makhachev was a major favorite, and many thought his wrestling would be too much for Poirier. This was based on Poirier being submitted in the last two title fights he fought in against great grapplers Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira. Poirier's takedown defense has never been the best due to various reasons. He has bad hips due to injuries, which required surgery and have since hindered some mobility. Poirier is also one of those fighters who have mostly relied on jiu-jitsu, instead of solid takedown defense. He has loved to pull guillotines, which have failed every time he has attempted them. On paper, it should have been favored to be an easy night for Makhachev while Poirier still possessed a puncher's chance, especially since Makhachev has been knocked out by a southpaw before and Poirier is a skilled, southpaw boxer.

The fight ended up as a competitive war where both fighters showed underrated improvement in areas they were not the most skilled. Poirier's takedown defense and scramble ability looked improved as he trained hard grappling with fellow lightweight contender and skilled grappler Mateusz Gamrot. Gamrot was in Poirier's corner for the first time in both their careers, and he certainly played a part in Poirier's improvement. Another part of Poirier's success was caused by Makhachev not being 100 percent with a staph infection. Despite the staph, Makhachev still pushed through to submit Poirier in the fifth round by D'arce choke. Makhachev's striking looked improved as he out-boxed Poirier in some moments of their fights, helping him win rounds.

UFC 302 was a lackluster card as there were mostly boring decisions and no knockouts. This main event war saved the night and gave fight fans their money's worth. Two judges had Makhachev up three rounds heading into the fifth round, while one judge had it tied. Either way, the judges were split on who won each round as it was so competitive. Poirier sustained injuries such as a broken nose and hurt knee as he pushed Makhachev to the limit. In addition to staph, Makhachev bled the most he had ever bled in his entire career as he fought hard to eventually get a finish for victory. Some have accused Dagestan wrestlers of being boring with their lay-and-pray style, but Makhachev is building a name for himself as champion. He is getting great finishes and putting on entertaining fights with his improving skills to raise his stock. Though Poirier lost, he won at the same time as he gave the champion a tough fight in what was supposed to be an easy loss for him. It is impossible for Poirier to be in a boring fight, and he showed it that night.

5. Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis 2

A highly entertaining fight of 2024 was a main event that was also not awarded Fight of the Fight when it should have been. This was the week before UFC 300, the biggest card of the year and in the company's history. It was the perfect warm-up fight for fight fans ahead of the PPV, as it had everything one could hope for in a war. The fight had close rounds and close moments of danger for both fighters. That fight was the rematch between Brendan Allen and Chris Curtis.

Allen is a young, up-and-coming contender in the middleweight division. He was on a six-fight winning streak, with five of the wins coming by submission. The last time he lost was to Curtis back in Dec 2021 by second-round knockout. Allen was preparing for another contender in Roman Dolidze, but he got sick, forcing a pullout. Curtis stepped in on six days' notice, which gave Allen a completely new style to face. The rematch came about as Allen was scheduled to face top contender Marvin Vettori in a main event to attempt to get himself a top-five ranking. Vettori unfortunately suffered an undisclosed injury, resulting in him pulling out. Curtis stepped in on three weeks' notice in a unique situation. Curtis may not be top-ranked, but he is an anyone, anytime type of fighter, while Allen gets an opportunity to avenge a short-notice loss with more time this time. After his hard-fought victory over Marc-André Barriault, Curtis called for an Apex main event, believing he could put on a good show. He would not only get an opportunity to prove everyone right, but he could advance himself into the top 10 rankings with a win.

The fight ended as a competitive war as Allen got the better of Curtis outstriking him at range and taking him down multiple times. Curtis did not go down without a fight, though, as he was a difficult fighter to hold down and find a submission attempt against. He landed many solid, significant strikes and hurt him a few times while standing. Curtis suffered a hamstring injury later in the fight, which was part of what prevented him from fully letting his hands go in the last round when Allen was most vulnerable and tired. Allen won by split decision, as one judge had it three rounds to two and another judge had it four rounds to one. That extended his win streak to seven, straight wins. Curtis received a nod from one judge, who had it three rounds to two. Though both fighters showed they were not top-five material, they still put on a fun show to prepare fight fans for the major treat they would receive a week after.

6. Justin Gaethje vs. Max Holloway - UFC 300

The best fight of the year so far was none other than the most anticipated fight at the time with two fan favorites. Justin Gaethje attempted to defend the BMF belt for the first time as Max Holloway made a return to lightweight. The fight came about uniquely, as Holloway was beating most featherweight contenders, and he could not fight for the title in the weight class. That was from a business perspective, as then-champion Alexander Volkanovski had beaten Holloway three times already. Gaethje was in a situation as he was a top contender bored, waiting around for a title shot. Holloway entertained the idea of moving up to lightweight to fight Gaethje, as a means of giving both something to do and put on a show for fight fans. Gaethje was hesitant as he respected Holloway, but eventually agreed as the UFC loved the idea. This was a guaranteed banger as both fighters always put on shows.

Holloway was greatly underestimated coming into this fight, as he struggled when he last fought at lightweight against Poirier. He was undersized and his granite chin was not as great, reacting to shots. Many failed to realize the fact that it was a short-notice fight for Holloway, and he did not have much time to bulk up properly. Since Holloway had more time for lightweight bulking up this time, he always had a better chance than many gave him.

He showed out when he faced Gaethje at UFC 300 in April. It was not just his bulk-up, but his game plan was great, as he learned from his mistakes from fighting Poirier. Holloway did not brawl with Gaethje early as he did with Poirier, preventing momentum from leaving him early. He also did better checking calf kicks and decreasing the number he took. That was a concern of many coming into this fight, as Holloway's leg is always open and Gaethje kicks so hard. Holloway was too fast and defensively responsible for Gaethje. Though the fight was slow at times, the anxiety and tension were there as either fighter could shut the lights off the opponent at any moment.

Gaethje had adversity in the fight as Holloway broke his nose with a spinning back kick, affecting his cardio and durability for the remainder of the fight. He still pushed through to win the fourth round while becoming the first fighter to unofficially drop Holloway. It was likely not credited, as Holloway was not on the floor for too long. Everyone saw it as a knockdown in their own eyes, though. Holloway recovered and had his best round in the final round, where he hurt and teed off on Gaethje. In the final seconds, he took a big risk as he invited Gaethje to trade with him in the middle. The risk paid off as he knocked him out cold with one second to go. That became the front-runner for knockout of the year.