It is that time of the year again, time for the MMA Year End Awards. 2011 was certainly an interesting year in and out of the octagon for the UFC and MMA. A promotional acquisition and the emergence of a young prodigy are arguably the two biggest headlines of the year.
MMA Fighter of the Year
Eric Gargiulo – Jon Jones: This was probably the easiest award to pick here and maybe any other year. I can’t remember an MMA fighter with as strong a year as Jon Jones. Four fights, a championship win, and two successful title defenses thrust Jones to the top of the list.
Hardcore MMA fans were well aware of Jones and his vicious elbows before he stepped into the octagon at UFC 128 and dismantled Shogun Rua. The potential was never in question, yet some wondered if the UFC were taking things too slowly with Bones. How would Bones do with ramped up competition? The answer is simple, he is even better than anyone thought.
Fighting four times in one year in the UFC is an accomplishment in itself. Handily winning three fights against the elite of the division is something else altogether. In a matter of eight months Jones has dominant wins over Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, and Lyoto Machida. Sure champions fight more than once a year in the UFC, but rarely is their competition as good as Jones’.
Jones finishes the year with a highlight finish over Machida. Entering 2012 he is looking at potential fights with Rashad Evans and most likely Dan Henderson. At this point I can’t imagine anyone picking against him. The end game here has to be Anderson Silva. Whether Silva takes the fight or not is another story. Without the Silva fight in 2012, at this current pace he could clean out the division by next year’s end.
He may not be your favorite, but I don’t think anyone would have a hard time with giving this guy his props for a phenomenal MMA year.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, and Junior Dos Santos.
Honorable Mention: Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz, Ben Henderson, and Junior dos Santos
Jay Perrone – Jon Jones: I will get right to the point: Jon Jones. It’s true that fighters like The Hendersons (Ben and Dan), Frankie Edgar and Donald Cerrone all had great 2011’s, but Jones was on another level. From LHW contender to champ to defending the belt twice within one calendar year, Jones finished all four of his opponents, three of whom were former champs (ok, Shogun actually WAS the champ, so he is now a former champ…again). Barring any injuries, I anticipate another dominant year for Jones in 2012.
Lee McGregor of Source4MMA.com Fighter of the Year: Jon “Bones” Jones: In my opinion, no one had a better year than Jones in 2011. What criteria would one use for judging a fighter of the year? Let’s see…. Wins? Jones had four of them, all over consensus Top 15 Fighters. Losses? Jones had none. Stoppages? All four of Bones’ wins came via stoppage (3 Submissions and 1 TKO.) Titles? Jones defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in dominant fashion to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, then defended it twice. Most UFC Champions don’t fight more than twice in a year, Bones did it four times and dominated every fight that he was in.
MMA Fight of the Year
Eric G – Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber, July 2, 2011 (UFC 132): Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber will go down as one of the great main-event fights in UFC history. These two guys fought at a frenetic pace for 25 minutes, never slowing down for five full rounds of action. I think that at the end of the day this fight came down to a few takedowns in favor of Cruz.
These guys barely left their feet nor slowed down throughout the entire fight. I can’t remember seeing a five round fight with this much excitement in a long time or maybe even ever. Cruz went for takedowns but Faber popped right back up. Faber regularly connected on Cruz coming out of the clinch which I thought may have been a difference maker here. Both men were rocked a few times, yet I never got the impression that either man was close to being knocked out or tapped at any point of the fight.
In addition to delivering a classic, Cruz and Faber had a world of pressure on their shoulders and they delivered. As the first bantamweight fight to headline a UFC pay per view, anything less than a great fight would have set the entire division back. The UFC took a big risk here putting the smaller guys in the spotlight and it paid off. I think what Cruz and Faber did at UFC 132 has been understated. UFC fans now get just as excited to see the smaller guys fight in the top spot as they do the big boys.
Honorable Mentions: Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Shogun Rua (UFC 139), Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley), Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler (Bellator 58), Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn (UFC 137), Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson (UFC on Fox), Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard (UFC 125), Mark Hominick vs. Jose Aldo (UFC 129)
Jay P – Chandler vs. Alvarez Bellator 58 & Shogun Rua vs. Dan Henderson UFC 139 (tie): Unlike Jones, who I truly believe is damned near impossible to argue against for Fighter of the Year (yes, I concede this is all subjective), there were two fights in 2011 that stood out. Michael Chandler versus Eddie Alvarez for the Bellator LW strap was a four round contest of awesome with fantastic back and forth boxing, several near finishes and an ending that saw Chandler get the upset win by rear naked choke. As great it was, however, Dan Henderson’s decision over Shogun at UFC 139 (which happened to occur several hours later on November 19, 2011) was nothing short of cinematic and, in my eyes, takes the honor for Fight Of The Year. Sure, the technical proficiency was not on par with the Chandler/Alvarez fight, but that is like saying Rocky vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV was less epic in the later rounds since it essentially became a street fight (yes, I know it was a movie, folks, but you see my point). Henderson landed some bombs in rounds one through three that would have put most men out. Shogun, bloodied, broken and bruised, pulls a Frankie Edgar-esque rabbit of his very short trunks and not only endures, but taps into his reserve gas tank and puts a two-round beating on Henderson to go the distance. It was the kind of war that goes down as one of the most memorable fights of all time and will be talked about for years to come.
Lee M – MMA Fight of the Year: Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua – UFC 139: I went back and forth a lot between this bout and the Bellator Lightweight Championship bout between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. In the end what sealed the deal for me was that this fight went all five rounds and each round was a war jam packed with excitement. Where most fights usually have a lull in the action or a slow round this fight didn’t. These two warriors threw everything at one another and didn’t slow down and the fifth round is one of the most memorable in history. Knowing he needed a finish to taste victory, Shogun threw everything including the kitchen sink at Henderson, but Hendo was able to hang in there. Add in the fact that these were two storied veterans of the MMA game who were meeting for the first time in their respective careers, it was a very special fight. Throw in the post-fight photo at the hospital… win. http://cdn0.sbnation.com/entry_photo_images/2319846/shogun-hendo-injured_large.jpg
Brett C – Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (UFC 139): Going in to UFC 139, many people (myself included) really doubted the quality of the card as a whole. Henderson was in his first fight back in the UFC since 2009 and fresh off his stunning knockout of Fedor Emelianenko. Rua was coming off a pretty quick, easy victory over Forrest Griffin at UFC: Rio. Both of these PRIDE legends were on a roll heading into their matchup. It ended up being a fight that has already been heralded as one of the best fights in the history of mixed-martial arts. Even UFC honcho Dana White was comparing this fight to that of Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonner in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. It was a brutal battle that saw both men out of breath and drenched in blood. Either fighter was thought to be “on-the-ropes” a few times over the course of the fight. I can recall four times off the top of my head where I thought this fight was over. Nonetheless, both of these warriors continued to battle back and just refused to quit. In the end, it was Dan Henderson who was awarded the decision. What’s next for either guy is anyone’s guess. Henderson is considered to be in the mix at both 185 and 205, but I think the big money for the UFC is an immediate rematch between Henderson and Rua.
Honorable Mention: Michael Chadler vs Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 58), Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard II (UFC 125), Nick Diaz vs Paul Daley(Strikeforce: Diaz vs Daley), Ben Henderson vs Clay Guida (UFC on Fox 1), Diego Sanchez vs Martin Kampmann (UFC on Versus 3), Cheick Kongo vs Pat Berry (UFC on Versus 3), and Jose Aldo vs Mark Hominick (UFC 129)
MMA Upset of the Year
Eric G – Tito Ortiz submits Ryan Bader at UFC 132: I had a real hard time with this award, real hard time. I went back and forth between this fight and Antonio Silva’s win over Fedor Emelianenko for quite a while. However, when I went back to look at the betting odds going into the fight, Tito was a bigger underdog than Silva so I went with Tito.
Now as much as I like Ortiz, I think there is a serious question that needs to be asked. Did Tito really pull off the upset or was Bader overrated? I tend to lean towards Bader being overrated and overhyped, however if you judge by the betting odds Ortiz pulled off the bigger upset.
I don’t want to minimize Ortiz’s win here. He had more pressure on him than in years. He was told flat out that a loss would send him out of the UFC. Ortiz had not won a fight against anyone not named Ken Shamrock since 2006. That is five years! Now he is going in there with a kid reputed to be faster, stronger, and comparable on the ground with him and he pulls off the choke in 1:56 of the first round? On top of that, Ortiz hadn’t finished a fight with a submission since cranking Yuki Kondo at UFC 29 eleven years prior. This win was huge.
Honorable Mentions: Antonio Silva defeats Fedor Emelianenko in the Strikeforce Grand Prix Opening Round, Dan Henderson defeats Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Charlie Brenneman defeats Rick Story (UFC Live 4), Joe Lauzon defeats Melvin Guillard (UFC 136), Clay Guida defeats Anthony Pettis (TUF 13 Finale), Dan Henderson defeats Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: Fejiao vs. Henderson), Rick Story vs. Thiago Alves (UFC 130), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira defeats Brendan Schaub (UFC 134)
Lee M – MMA Upset of the Year: I’m going to go with Michael Chandler over Eddie Alvarez in Bellator for the Lightweight title. There were a couple of big upsets in 2011 Ortiz over Bader, Brenneman over Story and Joe Lauzon over Melvin Guillard all come to mind, but I’ve got to give props to Chandler. He may not have been the biggest betting underdog out of that list, but no one expected him to shed his prospect status and un-seat Alvarez as the Lightweight Champion of Bellator. You’ve got to consider the stakes of this fight and give Chandler a bit of a boost because of the championship status of the bout.
Brett C – Tito Ortiz defeats Ryan Bader at UFC 132: Tito Ortiz entered his match with Ryan Bader as a 5-to-1 underdog and was admittedly on the chopping block after five straight matches without a victory. In fact, Ortiz’s most recent win had come in 2006 against Ken Shamrock. A loss against Bader would have definitely been the end of his UFC (and, probably, MMA) career. With his back against the wall, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” got the break he was looking for. At little over a 1:30 into Round 1, Ortiz caught Bader with a right hand that sent him crashing to the mat. Ortiz quickly jumped on him with a flurry of punches before sinking in a guillotine choke which caused Bader to tap at just under two minutes in the first round. It was a stunning victory over a rising prospect for a guy that many had thought was done. This victory was enough to give Ortiz two more fights after it in 2011.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Brenneman vs. Rick Story (UFC on Versus 4), Antonio “Big Foot” Silva over Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva), Daniel Cormier vs. Antonio “Big Foot Silva (Strikeforce: Grand Prix), Chan Sung Jung vs. Mark Hominick (UFC 140), Jake Ellenburger vs. Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger)
MMA Story of the Year
Eric G – Zuffa, LLC purchases Strikeforce: It doesn’t get much bigger than this does it? The UFC for the second time in several years bought their only real competition. While I wouldn’t call Strikeforce competition at the time, they certainly had the most potential to give the UFC some headaches. That all ended this past March when news broke that the parent company of the UFC was now in possession of its rival.
A bigger part of this story may be the slow dismantling of the company since Zuffa took it over in March. Since the acquisition, Strikeforce has lost three of its champions to the UFC. Strikeforce’s two biggest draws in Nick Diaz and Fedor are gone. While rumors of a new television deal to keep Strikeforce on Showtime are running wild, nothing has been confirmed. Additionally, many of the key staff including the fight maker has been replaced.
“Business as usual”, according to Dana White.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Diaz returning to the UFC, Randy Couture retiring, the emergence of Jon Jones, the rash of injuries and match changes in the UFC, five-round non-title UFC main-events, Miguel Torres firing, The UFC-Fox network deal, Brazil TUF, Chael Sonnen’s return, the UFC canceling Diaz vs. GSP UFC 137 over Diaz not showing up for a press conference, GSP’s injury, the signing of Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem, Bellator moving to Spike TV, Fedor Emelianenko not fighting for a major United States promotion
Jay P – Zuffa LLC purchases Strikeforce & UFC on Fox (tie): Standing tall above the many news-worthy MMA stories this year were the UFC’s two huge announcements: its purchase of Strikeforce back in March and their network debut on Fox in November with Velasquez/dos Santos for the HW belt. While it was certainly not the first time an MMA promotion had been aired on broadcast TV (see: Elite XC hastily crossing the network finish line first a few years back on CBS), the Strikeforce deal gets the silver medal and here’s why: market share. Strikeforce, in my eyes, was never going to be bigger than the UFC, simply because the Zuffa machine was so far out ahead of the competition with superior talent (the few exceptions are now slowly trickling over to the Mother Ship), production value and marketing. While the actual HW title fight only lasted sixty-four seconds, the November 12th Fox card kicked off a multi-year deal across several properties including FX, FUEL, Fox Deportes and various regionally-specific Fox Sports Nets. While it is very weird to hear Joe Buck plugging UFC fights during Sunday football, the exposure to a noticeably larger cable/satellite/telco subscriber base and the media coverage that comes along with it could be unparalleled. For years the promotion was waiting for ‘the right deal’ and now, Dana & Co. have it.
Lee M – MMA Story of the Year: For me, it’s the UFC signing up with Fox. This is a landmark television deal for the UFC as the biggest MMA promotion in the world makes it’s debut on Network Television. It’s an absolutely huge deal and one that is going to benefit the sport of MMA for years to come. Their debut event went off with a couple of hitches, mainly Junior dos Santos making the fight last for only 2 minutes, but their second offering looks to be an extremely intriguing night of fights. Add in all of the UFC related programming on Fox Sports Net, Fuel TV and FX including UFC All Access, The Ultimate Fighter and Ultimate Fight Night events, this has to be the biggest story to come out of 2011.
Brett C – UFC Purchases Strikeforce: On March 13, 2011, one of the biggest MMA stories in years happened when Zuffa, Inc. (the parent company of UFC) purchased its main competitor, Strikeforce. It came at a time when Strikeforce was really starting to get their name out there as a formidable number two company. Big names such as Fedor Emelianenko, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem and Jake Shields called Strikeforce home and their performances had fans clamoring for dream fights that they thought weren’t possible. Instead, Zuffa jumped in, bought the competition (a la WWE/WCW), and the rest is history. Fedor is back in Russia fighting cans, while Diaz, Henderson, Overeem and Shields now call the UFC home. Pretty soon the entire Strikeforce Heavyweight division (unless it just seems that way) will call the UFC home. Don’t be shocked of Gilbert Melendez, “King” Mo Lawal, Gegard Mousassi, and Luke Rockhold follow suit before too long.
Honorable Mention: The Rise of Jon “Bones” Jones, UFC Merges with WEC (January 2011), UFC Announces Five Round Non-Title Fights, UFC on Fox Debut, and The Injury Bug Ravages UFC Main Eventers
MMA Knockout of the Year
Eric G – Cheick Kongo knocks out Pat Barry (UFC Live: Kongo vs. Barry): 2011 saw some fantastic knockouts but none was more exciting than Cheick Kongo seemingly coming back from the dead to knockout Pat Barry in spectacular fashion live on Versus. It wasn’t so much the knockout but how and when it came about that still has people talking about this punch.
This was an unbelievable fight that only lasted a little over two minutes. The heavyweight collision saw Pat Barry rock Cheick Kongo early and nearly finish the fight. Barry dropped Kongo and swarmed in with an onslaught of punches. Kongo somehow managed to get up but was dropped again. Kongo then out of nowhere nails Barry (who had his arms down) with a punch and an uppercut and knows Barry out cold for the win at 2:39 of the first round. The visual of this action must be seen to be believed.
Honorable Mentions: Anderson Silva KOs Vitor Belfort (UFC 126), Lyoto Machida KOs Randy Couture (UFC 129), Dan Henderson KOs Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Nick Diaz KOs Paul Daley (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley), Chris Leben KOs Wanderlei Silva (UFC 132), Junior Dos Santos KOs Cain Velasquez, Sam Stout KOs Yves Edwards UFC 131, John Makdessi KOs Kyle Watson (UFC 129), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira KOs Brendan Schaub (UFC 134)
Jay P – Anderson Silva KOs Vitor Belfort UFC 126: How do you define “Knock Out Of the Year”? Do you base it on how hard the recipient gets rocked? The technique? The situation? These are all the things that were running through my head when trying to determine KOTY honors. I originally was going to go with Cheick Kongo’s hail mary KO of Pat Barry at UFC on Versus back in June simply for the “victory from the jaws of defeat” factor. Then I started thinking about Pat Barry’s tendency to make stupid mistakes in his recent fights and wondered if it was more of his running chin first into Kongo than anything else. Instead, yes, I am going with the consensus number one KOTY: Anderson Silva’s “That. Just. Happened” front kick KO of Vitor Belfort. It was beautiful. Silva took a front kick, one that in my novice-level martial arts experience use simply to create some distance when I am getting my butt whipped in the gym, and snapped it like a jab out of hell to put Belfort down before a few follow up shots sealed it. In related news, between that and Machida’s crane kick of Randy Couture, Steven Segal narrowly edges out Greg Jackson as Coach of the Year (just kidding).
Brett C – Cheick Kongo KO’s Pat Berry at UFC on Versus 4: As opposed to explaining it, I think it’s better that you see this knockout for yourself. There’s a reason that this fight is the Knockout of the Year and an Honorable Mention for Fight of the Year. Take the threeminutes and enjoy! http://youtu.be/JzKEOYO_8TE
Honorable Mention: Anderson Silva vs Vitor Belfort (UFC 126), Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture (UFC 129), Chan Sung Jung vs. Mark Hominick (UFC 140), Sam Stout vs. Eves Edwards (UFC 131), and Stefan Struve vs. Travis Browne (UFC 130)
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Lee McGregor is the editor in chief & owner of www.source4mma.com.
Brett Clendaniel is the owner and managing editor of http://www.WrestleChat.net.
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