2012 was a mixed year for Mixed Martial Arts on the biggest stages. There were some major highs and some serious lows. Let’s start with the highs which included the emergence of several big name MMA promotions including One FC in Asia and the World Series of Fighting in the USA. Other highs included the addition of Women’s MMA to the UFC as the women will finally get their chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage for fighting, and they owe a lot of that to the work of all-female fight promotion Invicta FC. Georges St. Pierre, the UFC’s king of Pay Per View made his long awaited return from injury in a classic bout against Carlos Condit, the addition of the UFC’s Flyweight division has yet to put out a boring fight and the UFC’s deal with Fox continues to prove a strong move for both the UFC and the Fox networks.
Unfortunately for all the highs this year brought, they may have been more than equally brought down by the lows of 2012. The injury bug ran rampant across the UFC causing a number of bouts being scrapped, switched at the last minute or delayed, moving forward this is going to be a serious hurdle for the UFC and the MMA world and they need to figure out a way to get a handle on it. Other lows included the complete cancellation of UFC 151, something that no fans of the world’s biggest fight promotion could have ever saw coming. Perhaps the biggest low of 2012 has to go to Zuffa’s poor handling of the Strikeforce brand leading to its slow death, which is set to occur early in 2013.
20. Lightweight Bout: Eduard Folayang vs. Felipe Enomoto at ONE Fighting Championship: Pride of a Nation. August 31, 2012 at Smart Araneta Coliseum – Manila, Philippines
The Fight: These two men engaged in what was basically a kickboxing bout for a full three rounds. Both men threw with bad intentions throughout the fight, stringing together excellent punching combinations as well as a few flashy kicks and knee strikes. The most entertaining moment of the bout came late in the second round when Folayang dropped his opponent with a huge right hand and followed it up with nasty ground and pound, but couldn’t quite seal the deal. The only thing that really stopped this fight was the lack of a finishing effort from either fighter in the third round, Folayang was content to coast to a victory and Enomoto should have been trying harder for a comeback finish.
The Finish: After three rounds all three judges scored the contest 30-27 for Folayang earning him a clean sweep of the scorecards.
19. Lightweight Bout: Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim at UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes. January 14, 2012 at HSBC Arena – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Fight: Etim has always been known for being in exciting fights, and this bout in Brazil was no exception. Etim pushed forward in the opening round, but Barboza was one step ahead of him the whole way. Shrugging off takedown attempts and landing a lot of damaging leg kicks. The pace slowed slightly in the second round, but remained an entertaining slugfest that continued to take place largely on the feet. Heading into the third round, many people felt that each fighter had a round each and the third would likely decide the fight. Early in the second round Etim continued looking for a takedown but was shocked when Barboza threw a Spinning Heel Kick that landed flush on the jaw and Etim was out cold.
The Finish: Barboza won the fight via Knockout from the spinning heel kick at 2:02 of Round Three. It also earned him Knockout of the Night honors.
18. Lightweight Bout: Joe Lauzon vs. Jim Miller at UFC 155: Dos Santos vs. Velasquez. December 29, 2012 at MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, Nevada
The Fight: This bout was entertaining from the opening seconds as both men surged out of their corners and met in the middle of the cage. A very dominant first round for Miller ensued as his striking looked sharper than ever. He used a variety of punches and short elbows to open a nasty gash on Lauzon’s forehead and it looked like this one might be over early. In the second round it was more of the same, the cut on Lauzon’s face opened almost immediately but that didn’t slow him down as he was taken down and nearly mounted. Lauzon would quickly reverse the position and spent the end of the second round punching from the top and looking for a leg lock submission. The third and final round was just as intense as the rest of the fight as the two men went right back to it as soon as the round started. Lauzon pushed forward through a battered and bloody face searching for a way to steal the fight. Miller landed the better punches throughout the round, but Lauzon was constantly moving forward. A late submission attempt almost landed for Lauzon, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough.
The Finish: After three rounds Jim Miller took home a Unanimous decision, winning with three straight scores of 29-28.
17. Flyweight Bout: Louis Gaudinot vs. John Lineker at UFC on Fox 3: Diaz vs. Miller. May 5, 2012 at IZOD Center – East Rutherford, New Jersey
The Fight: So far ever since the UFC has introduced the Flyweight class to the world, it has provided nothing but exciting bouts. While there may be nothing like the big Heavyweight hitters for the casual fan, many MMA fans can’t get enough of the 125-pound class. This bout was no exception. Within about thirty seconds this bout looked more like rock-em-sock-em robots than a professional MMA bout. The first round was filled with wild punches and reckless striking exchanges, back and forth ground action and a couple of near submissions. The second just picks up right where the first left off, in the second Lineker went fishing for a takedown and got trapped in a guillotine for his trouble. He tried to fight it off, but it was no use and he went to sleep before he tapped out.
The Finish: With only seconds left in the second round, Lineker shot for a takedown and Gaudinot was able to lock up a guillotine choke. He refused to let up and eventually choked the Brazilian out cold earning himself a technical submission with only six seconds to go in the second round.
16. Featherweight Championship Bout: Joe Warren vs. Pat Curran at Bellator 60. March 9, 2012 at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino – Hammond, Indiana
The Fight: Warren has always done his best work as a wrestler, after a couple of lopsided losses because of him being reckless on the feet, he was looking to wrestle his way to a victory in this fight. Early on he pressured Curran constantly, trying to earn a takedown, but Curran did an excellent job of keeping himself upright, and landing punches during these exchanges. In the second round Warren managed to actually get the bout to the ground. Although he didn’t have much success, he did manage to open up a small cut on Curran’s face. In the third round Warren was again looking for a way to work the fight to the mat. Curran continued to defend well and landed a beautifully timed knee that rocked Warren. Curran pressured the champion to the fence and poured on an onslaught of punches that Warren absorbed without going over. Despite him being clearly out on his feet, the referee gave him way too long to recover.
The Finish: After the big knee in the third round, Curran simply butchered Warren against the cage. He threw everything he had at Warren and it still wasn’t enough to drop Warren, whose chin is absolutely insane. Despite not going down though, it was clear that Warren was out on his feet and was basically defenseless as the referee allowed him to take way too many shots. Despite the impressive third round TKO victory at 1:25 for Curran, this one was marred by the terrible officiating.
15. Lightweight Bout: Evan Dunham vs. TJ Grant at UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort. September 22, 2012 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Fight: Evan Dunham has long been known for being in exciting scraps, in fact his bout against Nik Lentz came in around number 22 or so when I was re-watching fights compiling this list. TJ Grant is a bit more known as a grinder, but these two put on a great fight for the fans in Toronto. The first round saw Dunham try to work his striking from the outside, while Grant was constantly pushing forward and trying to work in close. The second round saw both guys simply swinging for the fences. Dunham went for some kicks and Grant landed a massive knee that absolutely tore Dunham’s face open. Despite the blood pouring from the open wound on his face, Dunham continued to push the pace near the end of the round swinging wild punches and looking for a couple of late head kicks. In the third, with blood covering his face and likely needing a finish to win, Dunham set to work at doing just that. Flying knees, head kicks, haymaker punches, takedowns, ground and pound he threw it all at Grant, but the Canadian was able to make it to the final bell.
The Finish: After three rounds many people thought that Grant would have it in the bag, but with takedowns in each of the rounds, some people believed Dunham might have done enough to steal a decision. When the scores were read it provided some strange results 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 all for Grant, who took a Unanimous Decision.
14. Women’s Bantamweight Bout: at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman. August 18, 2012 at Valley View Casino Center – San Diego, California
The Fight: These two women were the final preliminary caMiesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzierd bout and it certainly seemed like it pissed them off. Kedzie was an up-and-comer in the division and Tate had just lost her title to Ronda Rousey and was looking to get back on track. In the first round, despite being a substantial betting underdog Kedzie absolutely brought the fight to Tate. Coach Greg Jackson laid out a sprawl and brawl game plan for Kedzie and she followed it to perfection, even landing a big head kick that almost had Tate out cold near the end of the first. The second round was nearly the exact opposite of the first. Early on Tate scored a takedown and from there spent nearly the entire round trying to land submission after submission. She came close with a rear naked choke, then a triangle, then a guillotine, then full back mount with ground and pound. In the third round Kedzie opened up with some great low kicks, before landing a head kick to Tate’s face that dropped her once again. As she pounded away looking for a finish, Tate managed to snag an arm and look for submission, after a failed attempt, she transitioned to an armbar and in a bout of irony won with the move that ended her title reign.
The Finish: After getting dropped by a headkick early in the third round it looked like the upset was ready to happen, but Tate toughed it out and managed to compose herself enough to grab a submission. After losing the triangle, she did an excellent job to secure the armbar and force the tapout from her opponent at 3:28 of the final round.
13. Heavyweight Grand Prix Championship Bout: Daniel Cormier vs. Josh Barnett at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier. May 19, 2012 at HP Pavilion – San Jose, California
The Fight: This bout was an entertaining story as Cormier; a late replacement and tournament alternate battled grizzled veteran Josh Barnett in the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. This was the fight to prove if the unbeaten Cormier was the real deal or not. He proved to everyone not only is he the real deal, but he is a serious top contender in the Heavyweight division. This fight lasted all five rounds, so I’m not going to go into detail about the whole bout. Cormier showed off a significantly improved striking game as he outworked the veteran Barnett on the feet over the course of the entire 25-minutes. Cormier’s NCAA Wrestling background also came into the spotlight as he had little trouble landing several takedowns over the course of the fight and controlling the usually crafty Barnett on the ground rather easily.
The Finish: Although Barnett survived to the final bell, he was never really in control of the fight and never had a quality shot of winning. One judge gave him a round, but the other two saw it as a clean sweep as Daniel Cormier won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Championship via scores of 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46.
12. Featherweight Bout: Eddie Yagin vs. Mark Hominick at UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans. April 21, 2012 at Philips Arena – Atlanta, Georgia
The Fight: This one was supposed to be a tune-up fight for Hominick. A way to get the Canadian former title contender back in the win column. Apparently no one told Yagin that as he came to scrap it out. Hominick was definitely the more talented and technical striker, but Yagin did his best to not allow Hominick to get comfortable. He stayed aggressive throughout the entire first round, constantly pressing and constantly throwing punches, a slip from Hominick lead to some nasty ground and pound from Yagin that left Dominick’s face a mess. As the second started Yagin again tried to prevent Hominick from getting comfortable. As the Canadian’s eye continued to swell shut, Yagin continued to pound away at that side of his face. Despite Yagin controlling the opening four minutes or so of the round, Hominick came alive near the end of the second and was firing big punches and working the body well. At the end of the second both men’s faces were bloodied and battered. The third round was by far the best for the Canadian but he couldn’t earn a stoppage despite doing significant damage to his opponents face. In the end, some good natured ribbing ended the fight as Hominick ended with some push ups in the Octagon while Yagin responded by doing some sit ups of his own.
The Finish: After a bloody and fun three rounds it came down to the judges. The scores read 29-28 Yagin, 29-28 Hominick and 29-28 for the winner by Split Decision Eddie Yagin.
11. Lightweight Bout: Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard at UFC 150: Henderson vs. Edgar II. August 11, 2012 at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado
The Fight: One minute and sixteen seconds, that’s how long this fight lasted. That 76-seconds was non-stop action as these two went right for it from the opening bell. After throwing a head kick with bad intentions that missed, Cerrone ate a huge left hand and was rocked early. Guillard swarmed with a flying knee and follow up punches, somehow Cerrone survived. Cerrone again went for a high kicked and although it was mostly deflected, it managed to wobble Guillard slightly. Cerrone smelled blood in the water and attacked with a huge right hand that floored Guillard, knocking him completely out.
The Finish: After the glancing high kick Cerrone could see that Guillard was hurt. He threw a big right hand that landed right on the button and put Guillard out for good. The Knockout of the Night victory came at 1:16 of Round One.
10. Welterweight Bout: Jon Fitch vs. Erick Silva at UFC 153: Silva vs. Bonnar. October 13, 2012 at HSBC Arena – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Fight: Jon Fitch has never really been known for being an exciting fighter, more of a boring wrestling-based grinder who uses takedowns to defeat his opponents. His opponent for this bout Erick Silva was a top up-and-comer from Brazil, who was known for a string of first round stoppages. Many people thought this one had snoozer written all over it, the others were hoping for a quick knockout for the young Brazilian, everyone was wrong. Fitch didn’t stray too far from his wrestling based offense, but instead of being content to control his opponents with light ground and pound, Fitch looked like a man possessed. He threw huge ground and pound and was constantly creating submission opportunities in the first round, a significant change from his usually conservative style. The second was by far the best round for the Brazilian as he scored early with some strikes before landing a takedown of his own. Silva managed to grab the back mount midway through the round but was unable to fully sink in the choke. In the third, Fitch’s gas tank took over. Silva is a quick finisher, not known for his gas tank when the fight goes late, Fitch has been there plenty of times and he took over in the final round.
The Finish: This fight did make it to the judge’s cards, but it was not a typical lay-and-pray outing from Jon Fitch. After the scores were read, Fitch had taken home a Unanimous Decision with scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. After the bout Fitch admitted that he knew he had to become more of a showman and a more exciting fighter if he wanted another chance at the Welterweight belt.
9. Light Heavyweight Bout: Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera at UFC on Fox 4: Shogun vs. Vera. August 4, 2012 at Staples Center – Los Angeles, California
The Fight: This was another fight that was supposed to be a blow out for one of the fighters. Everyone expected Shogun to simply obliterate Vera en-route towards a possible rematch against Jon Jones. Vera was apparently out of the loop on that. The first round was as one-sided as most expected it to be. Shogun earned a quick takedown and threw elbows early. Vera later pulled guard and was close with a guillotine, but Shogun finished the round pounding away at Vera. In the second round, Rua really started to slow down. A big punch early hurt Vera, but he managed to battle through it and even landed a big shot of his own that rocked Shogun. Despite being out landed on the feet, Vera was sticking with Shogun through most of the round and even managed to score a late takedown to possibly steal the round. By the third round, both fighters were exhausted and the round was light on significant action. In the fourth round, there was finally the big punch that the crowd was looking for. Rua pushed Vera against the fence and began landing a few shots, the final one sending Vera to the canvas. Rua was relentless on the ground and despite being given all kinds of time to recover by the referee, he was finally forced to wave it off.
The Finish: With both fighters so exhausted heading into the fourth round, it looked like this one might be destined for the scorecards. However, against the fence Shogun landed some big clean shots, finally sending Vera to the ground. Despite the exhaustion Rua gutted it out on the mat and continually blasted Vera with ground and pound, finally earning a TKO victory at the 4:09 minute mark of the fourth round.
8. Welterweight Championship Bout: Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit at UFC 154: Condit vs. St. Pierre. November 17, 2012 at Bell Centre – Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Fight: This was a fight that many fans were waiting for. UFC Welterweight Champion was returning to the cage after more than a year off due to a significant knee injury and follow-up surgery to take on Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit. A lot of people questioned how GSP would look after such a long time off and if ring rust would play a factor in the contest. After watching the first round, it certainly didn’t appear that way. GSP did what GSP does, some light striking to set up a takedown and top control. Despite that, Condit was very active from his back and landed some decent punches and elbows from the bottom. GSP however landed an excellent elbow that opened up a nasty gash on Condit’s forehead that was coated with blood instantly. The second round featured more of the same, but in the third, things began to change. Condit found more success in the stand up game. His unorthodox combos began to confuse the champion and Condit was able to land a massive headkick that sent the Canadian Champion sprawling to the mat, clearly rocked. Condit pounced on GSP and smashed away with great punches and elbows, but GSP managed to hang on. He even scored a late takedown to try and steal back the round. The fourth and fifth rounds were nearly mirror images of one another, with GSP setting up takedowns and controlling Condit from the top. To his credit though, Condit never gave up fighting from the bottom, constantly throwing elbows, punches and looking for possible submissions.
The Finish: After the full 25 minutes, this one went to the scorecards. Georges St. Pierre defended his title via Unanimous Decision, taking the contest by scores of 49-46, 50-45 and 50-45.
7. Welterweight Championship Bout: Nate Marquardt vs. Tyron Woodley at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy. July 14, 2012 at Rose Garden – Portland, Oregon
The Fight: Once one of the best Middleweights in the UFC, Marquardt looked excellent as he made the cut to 170-pounds for his Strikeforce career. Taking on undefeated Tyron Woodley for the vacant Welterweight Championship, he was looking to secure himself a home in Strikeforce. Woodley was a talented wrestler who was undefeated, but was criticized for a couple of less than entertaining fights. This bout was exactly what both men needed. They were at each other looking for a finish from the opening bell. The first round saw Woodley stagger Marquardt, only to see Marquardt return the favor a minute later and nearly sink in a guillotine choke. The second saw both men continue to move forward aggressively, alternating turns as the aggressor. The third round was the best for Woodley as he was able to drop Marquardt with a short punch. Woodley followed up with some big offense that seemed to tire him, as his pace slowed significantly near the end of the round. The fourth round was where these two warriors finally found a finish.
The Finish: Other than Edson Barboza’s wheel kick knockout, this one for me is the knockout of the year as it was a thing of absolute beauty and brutality all rolled into one. Battling against the fence, Marquardt landed two short elbow strikes, a left hook and then an absolutely massive uppercut that put Woodley out cold. The official knockout victory came at 1:39 of Round Four.
6. Welterweight Bout: Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez at UFC on Fuel TV 1: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger. February 15, 2012 at Omaha Civic Auditorium – Omaha, Nebraska
The Fight: This was a promising fight from the get-go as Ellenberger is always willing to bang and Diego Sanchez isn’t known for boring, slow-paced fights. Although the bout started somewhat slow, it didn’t take too long for them to get going. After about 90 seconds these two went toe to toe, banging it out. The close round ended with a couple of big punches that rocked Sanchez, sealing it for Ellenberger. Ellenberger continued to batter Sanchez on the feet in the second round, landing a steady stream of counter punches, while avoiding most of the big punches from his opponent. Near the end of the round Ellenberger landed a big takedown and finished the round with some ground and pound from the top. Knowing he would likely need a finish in the third round to steal this bout, Sanchez charged out and went after it from the first second of the round.
The Finish: Sanchez couldn’t find the finish he needed to steal the fight, so this one went to the judge’s scorecards. In scores that surprised no one in the audience, Ellenberger took home a Unanimous decision. The scores were29-28 for Ellenberger across the board.
5. Lightweight Championship Bout: Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson at UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson. February 26, 2012 at Saitama Super Arena – Saitama, Japan
The Fight: The first bout between these two Lightweights was one of the best fights of the year. This bout went the full 25-minutes and it was nearly non-stop action across the whole time. I won’t go into full round by round details here, because this is one fight you have to see to believe. The striking was very even throughout the entire fight and the action was non-stop on the ground as well. The best strike of the bout by far came in the second round when Henderson landed a huge up kick that flattened Edgar and bloodied his nose. The rest of the bout was filled with rollicking back and forth action that took mostly on the feet, but with some interesting grappling moments thrown in there. After 25 minutes this one headed for the judge’s scorecards.
The Finish: This was one of the most highly controversial judging decisions of the year, probably followed up only by the second bout between these two. Both men felt they had done enough to win the bout, and even members of the media who were scoring the bouts for websites like Sherdog and MMAJunkie, were split on who had won this bout. In the end it was a Unanimous decision for new champion Benson Henderson, who took it by scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.
4. Women’s Bantamweight Championship Bout: Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey. March 3, 2012 at Nationwide Arena – Columbus, Ohio
The Fight: Last year it was Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley for the Welterweight title, this year it’s Ronda Rousey taking on Miesha Tate for the Women’s Bantamweight title that has the honor of the best one-round fight of the year. Wild striking exchanges, trip takedowns, stellar grappling and a gruesome submission were all involved in this entertaining bout. At the end of the day Ronda Rousey became the champion and started her rise as a media darling.
The Finish: After a highly entertaining four minutes of action Rousey began to unleash a wild assault of ground and pound. She then seized an opportunity to sink in her patented armbar submission and torqued it with everything she had. It took her elbow popping before Tate would finally submit, but at the 4:27 mark of the first round that’s what happened.
3. Flyweight Tournament Bout: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall at UFC on FX 2: Alves vs. Kampmann. March 3, 2012 at Allphones Arena – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
The Fight: This was the first bout in the UFC’s Flyweight tournament to crown the first ever UFC Flyweight Champion. It turned out to be an excellent bout with plenty of action everywhere the fight took place. Despite there being a lot of exciting striking in this contest, I think the most exciting action took place on the mat. Sweeps, scrambles, submission attempts and ground and pound were all in heavy supply for this one. As the second round ended the fight still was incredibly close, but Johnson was beginning to look tired while ‘Uncle Creepy’ looked fresh and ready to go. It certainly seemed that way as the third round started as McCall came out firing off kicks. With less than a minute to go, McCall landed a beautiful takedown and absolutely unloaded with everything he had working for a finish.
The Finish: This one was also marred in controversy. Despite being one of the best fights of the year, it was not immune to a little bit of suspect judging. After three rounds, this bout went to the judges. The scores were 29-28 Johnson, 29-28 Johnson and a 28-28 Draw. Afterwards at the post fight conference it was announced that a mathematical error lead to the scores being announced improperly. The actual scores should have been 29-28 Johnson, 28-28 Draw and 28-28 Draw for an outcome of a Majority Draw. Instead of sudden death overtime, these two men would face off again later in the year.
2. Lightweight Bout: Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner at UFC on Fox 4: Shogun vs. Vera. August 4, 2012 at Staples Center – Los Angeles, California
The Fight: If you were going to show someone who is new to MMA what this whole UFC thing is all about, this is absolutely the fight you should have them watch. Late notice replacement Jamie Varner and the always exciting Joe Lauzon came to absolutely throw down in this Lightweight war. Both of these guys threw all kinds of exciting strikes and it started with the opening round. The first round was contested entirely on the feet, as Lauzon and Varner threw low kicks, high kicks, flying knees, elbows and punches at each other. The second round started the same way that the first ended, with punches winging through the air. The second round featured some slick grappling as both men scored takedowns, only to watch the other reverse the position and hunt for a submission of their own. In the third round Varner looked noticeably tired but came out swinging for the fences anyways. The finishing flurry itself was a thing of beauty, as this fight won a very deserved Fight of the Night award.
The Finish: This submission finish was truly a sight to behold. With Varner in trouble and tiring quickly, he shot for a takedown and landed it successfully. Lauzon pulled off an excellent sweep from the bottom to reverse the position and get Varner’s back. As Lauzon was searching for a rear naked choke, Varner managed to switch it back over. Lauzon took the opening to throw his legs up and snatch Varner in a triangle choke. Varner did his best, but Lauzon landed a few elbows from the bottom, clamped the hold in tighter and Varner had no choice but to tap at the 2:44 mark of round three.
The Fight: And that brings us to the best fight of the year in my opinion. If Lauzon-Varner at number two is what you should show people to introduce them to MMA, this is the fight you should show them to make them love MMA. I’m not even going to talk about this fight at all, except to say that it’s in my top ten fights of all time and that’s saying a lot. Wild punching exchanges, exciting ground work, excellent submission offense and a couple of near misses all along the way. Watch this fight.
The Finish: A minute into the fourth round and it seemed like the tide might be turning in the bout. But after the Korean Zombie landed a flying knee, Poirier shot for the takedown immediately. Dangerous move against the crafty Korean who snatched up a D’Arce Choke from the headlock position and cinched it in tight for the victory.