Fighter of the year: Conor McGregor hands down

Conor McGregor dropped more sound bites in 2015 than perhaps any fighter ever has in a 12-month period.

He saved one of his best for last. On Dec. 9 in Las Vegas, three days before he would unify the UFC featherweight champion with a 13-second knockout win against Jose Aldo, McGregor (19-2) posed a question.

"What can [the critics] say after Jose falls?" McGregor asked.

In combat sports, there is nothing quite like an athlete who talks louder than anyone in the room and backs up every statement he makes. That's what McGregor, 27, did in 2015. A lot of "trash talk" seems forced in a sport that is constantly required to sell itself to the public, but there was never anything forced about McGregor's claims. He described exactly how he would knock out Aldo at UFC 194, then proceeded to do so.

And boy did the industry respond to McGregor's appeal. Just to name a few of McGregor's accomplishments this year:

The 13-second knockout over Aldo set a UFC record for fastest finish in a title fight, edging the previous mark of 14 seconds set by Ronda Rousey in February. Aldo had not lost in 10 years.

McGregor-headlined events set the U.S. record for live gate twice. UFC 189 set a new high in July, bringing in $7.2 million. That record fell five months later, when UFC 194 took in $10.1 million.

Just the weigh-in for UFC 194 drew a (mostly Irish) crowd of 9,000 to the MGM in Las Vegas. According to reports, the weigh-in also drew a live television audience of 294,000 viewers on cable.

"At 27 years of age, I stand here as the unified world champion," said McGregor, following UFC 194. "Back-to-back gate records at the MGM. This is trending as the highest pay-per-view of all time for UFC. I'm 27 years of age with every record in the book."

Two years ago, McGregor was widely viewed as mostly a talking head. One with a powerful but limited skill set the UFC would need to protect in terms of matchmaking. Today, he's ranked as a pound-for-pound best, with a knockout finish against one of the greatest fighters of his era and a legitimate threat to become only the third man to ever win UFC titles in multiple weight classes. And he is your Fighter of the Year.

Honorable Mentions:

2. Holly Holm, 3-0 in 2015; Raquel Pennington (SD), Marion Reneau (UD), Ronda Rousey (KO2)

Holm's UFC debut fell short of expectations at UFC 184 in February, as she barely squeaked out a split decision against Raquel Pennington to keep her undefeated MMA record intact. That same night (in the very next fight on the card, actually), Ronda Rousey submitted Cat Zingano in 14 seconds, before a star-strewn Los Angeles crowd. If there was one sentiment after that event it was this: Holm ain't ready for Rousey.

That was the sentiment again in July, when Holm earned a dominant (but relatively quiet) unanimous decision against Marion Reneau. When the UFC announced Holm would fight Rousey the following month, it felt as if it was way too much, too soon. We all know how that turned out.

3. Rafael dos Anjos, 2-0 in 2015; Anthony Pettis (UD), Donald Cerrone (TKO1)

In his 18th UFC appearance, Dos Anjos dominated one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport in Anthony Pettis to win the UFC lightweight championship. No other champion in UFC history has required that many appearances before winning the belt (and as he later revealed, Dos Anjos won that fight against Pettis with a bum knee). In reality, Dos Anjos "arrived" well before this year, but his dominance against Pettis and a 66-second knockout against Donald Cerrone on Dec. 19 have forced him onto everyone's radar. He won't be overlooked in 2016.

4. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, 3-0 in 2015; Carla Esparza (KO2), Jessica Penne (TKO3), Valerie Letourneau (UD)

A popular candidate for Breakout Fighter of the Year in 2014, the Polish 115-pounder followed last year's campaign with a thoroughly dominant run in 2015. Few fans even knew how to pronounce Jedrzejczyk's name coming into the year. Now, some might even be able to spell it. She has been terrific under the spotlight and co-headlined UFC 193 last month, which set a new UFC record for live attendance.

5. Ronda Rousey, 2-1 in 2015; Cat Zingano (Sub1), Bethe Correia (KO1), Holly Holm (KO2 - Loss)

Before you lose your mind -- you'll put Rousey on any and every list imaginable, just because she's Rousey! -- consider what she did in 2015. She took female MMA, which was already in the UFC solely because of her, to a new level. She drew a combined live audience of 88,591 across three continents, announced a fight on Good Morning America, became the first female athlete to guest host SportsCenter and reportedly headlined the second most-successful pay-per-view in UFC history last month, at the time it aired.

Had McGregor not done what he did at UFC 194, Rousey would have set the record for fastest finish in a UFC title fight this year. She recorded the first one-punch knockout of her career, rendering Bethe Correia unconscious with a right hand. Her comeback story from last month's loss to Holm will be the most-followed plotline of 2016. Knockout loss aside, she was one of the most influential and successful fighters of 2015.