Alright, I know right off the bat that this list is going to look weird to a lot of readers, so I want to make it clear exactly what it is that I'm talking about when I say "meaningful KO." This isn't a list of the best highlight reel knockouts, or a list of the most decisive finishes on a big stage, this is a list of KO's in which the knockout itself was instrumental in establishing the narrative between the two fighters. For instance. I'm not including Conor McGregor's KO's on this list (although I gave his one over Dustin Poirier some consideration) because, he knocked out people he was expected to knock out. He did the job he was supposed to do in the way he was supposed to do it. For a knockout to be truly meaningful, it should become the narrative for the fight.
This is a list of those KO's we witnessed in 2014 that set a clear dividing line between the two fighters involved; a line that heretofore may not have existed. (as a quick note, you may find it a good idea to mute some of these videos)
5.) T.J. Dillashaw over Renan Barao at UFC 173 - Going into this fight, the fact that Renan Barao was going to beat TJ Dillashaw was practically common knowledge. Dillashaw had looked great in his run to the top, but there was no way that Renan Barao wasn't going to be able to do what Rafael Assuncao did, but more decisively. From the first round TJ turned that narrative on its ass, stunning Barao with a beautiful overhand right. Barao was able to work himself back into the fight a bit but was never able to wrest control from the contender. Eventually, the fact that the only really large momentum swing in this bout happened in the first round, keeps it from rising higher up this list. But, Dillashaw's eventual TKO of the champ put a definitive stamp on the bout, and put a clear separation between himself and Renan Barao.
4.) Fabricio Werdum over Mark Hunt at UFC 180 - I feel like I owe some people an apology or something, because I was less impressed by this KO than maybe I should have been when it happened. I still think that Hunt tiring (he was on his way to one of the worst non-first rounds of his career) had quite a bit to do with it and that's why this isn't further up the list. But, in a back and forth battle between two of the world's best heavyweight talents, Fabricio Werdum came out after a bad first round and put a definitive stamp on the fight by knocking Hunt out. Circumstances aside, Werdum made absolutely sure to establish his spot as the no. 1 contender.
3.) Rory MacDonald over Tarec Saffiedine at UFC Fight Night: Macdonald vs. Saffiedine - This is starting to get a lot more firmly into the territory of something definitive, something that creates the entire narrative for the fight before it, something truly meaningful. I'll be honest, I picked Tarec Saffiedine to win this fight, and for the first two rounds, it looked like he might, potentially have been able to do so. He wasn't winning the fight to that point, but it was a back and forth affair, with neither man creating much offense of consequence. Then, early in the third, Saffiedine thought he'd found his rhythm and started to open up. The end came swiftly. It turns out MacDonald had been baiting him all fight into his left hook and the moment Saffiedine bit on the opening, the fight was over. It was the kind of definitive KO that tells us everything we need to know about how Rory MacDonald and Tarec Saffiedine stack up right now.
2.) Matt Brown over Erick Silva at UFC Fight Night: Brown vs. Silva - Opinion was pretty firmly divided leading up to this bout, with a large camp, firmly of the opinion that Erick Silva would sub Matt Brown out with a quickness, and an equally large camp certain that Erick Silva couldn't handle the level of unadulterated violence that Matt Brown is capable of dishing out over a five round fight. All of which left an air of mystery as to just what exactly we'd see in the Octagon on that night in May. What we got, was violence in unimaginable proportions, as Matt Brown fought off submission attempts and put the kind of sustained beating on Erick Silva that few other men are capable of. That's not to say it was all one way traffic, for every 10 blows that Brown landed, Silva seemed to come up with one potential kill shot that would just about finish Brown and leave him battling back from the brink. Eventually he got the finish and finally proved himself a fighter worthy of his top ten ranking, in the same moment giving Erick Silva a boot back to the rest of the welterweight division, clawing for their place among the elite. A definitive stoppage, and a definitive moment in the career of both men.
1.) Will Brooks over Michael Chandler at Bellator 131 - No single KO this year was more meaningful than Will Brooks' knockout of Michael Chandler back in November for the Bellator LW title. The recent history of the Bellator lightweight belt is a history of questionable judging. Many felt, that even off his game, Michael Chandler deserved the victory against Brooks, for the interim belt back in May. Add to that the expectation that Chandler would look stronger and more powerful having recovered from an apparent injury, and there was a definite air that this was his fight to lose. But, Brooks didn't seem to get the memo, and slowly but clearly took rounds from the former Bellator champ. Still when, off a scramble from a failed takedown, Brooks clocked chandler hard in the temple and sent him reeling a whole new message was sent. Brooks wasn't just good enough to take a decision, he wasn't just better on the day. He was better. A fight between two men that fans saw as near equals suddenly became a fight in which Will Brooks had a claim to being among the world's best and Michael Chandler did not. A potentially career defining KO if ever there was one.
There were a few other potential entrants here, like Dave Branch vs. Yushin Okami, and Al Iaquinta vs. Ross Pearson, but these five were the most meaningful, for my money, in 2014. Not the best, not the flashiest, not the most unlikely, but the KO's that set the most important narratives of the year.