Last year was another memorable one for a sport that continues to grow, as we saw a major organization close its doors, champions lose their titles and fights that will be remembered for years to come. Of course, we also had an unforgettable off-the-cage kick courtesy of Anthony Pettis to top things off. Here is part one of my choices for the best performers and performances in a number of categories in 2010.
Event of the Year- UFC 116
I had three events by three different promotions in the running for the top event of the year- UFC 116, WEC 53 and Strikeforce: St. Louis. All three were fantastic shows, and best of all, two of them didn’t even require a pay-per-view purchase.
WEC 53 carries a lot of momentum for not only having great fights, but also some historical and even sentimental meaning for MMA fans. Since it was the last WEC show we would ever see, it had a certain gravitas that other shows would be hard-pressed to compete with. The fights lived up to the show’s importance, as Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson put on what I consider to be the best fight of the year. One of the more violent finishes of the year (Eddie Wineland’s slam KO of Ken Stone) wasn’t even shown on television, as Stone was down for ten minutes after the slam. Save for two bouts, all of the preliminary bouts had finishes. Dominick Cruz put on yet another dominant display against Scott Jorgensen, for good measure. If we had seen more of the great preliminary bouts on television, maybe this show would have gotten even more recognition.
Strikeforce: St. Louis didn’t have any real historical value, at least not like the final WEC show did. What it did have was plenty of violent finishes and great action. It was simply an excellent card that surprised many who were smart enough to watch it, and made the TUF 12 Finale, which aired on the same night, pale in comparison. The main card had four straight fights that built the level of violence up to a crescendo of sorts. First, Antonio Silva somehow recovered from being dropped by Mike Kyle to win via a second round TKO. Then, Robbie Lawler knocked out Matt Lindland with one of the best KOs of the year. Then, Paul Daley stopped Scott Smith in sickening fashion with an even better knockout. By the time Dan Henderson put away Renato “Babalu” Sobral in under two minutes in the night’s main event, commentator Mauro Ranallo was reduced to excitedly screaming out what didn’t even appear to be distinguishable words. It was just that kind of night.
Ultimately, I went with UFC 116 because it had a more well-rounded selection of fights from top to bottom. It’s easy to forget now that everyone has suddenly agreed that Brock Lesnar “sucks” and Shane Carwin has been all but forgotten, but Lesnar-Carwin was the most anticipated heavyweight MMA bout in history, and it delivered. Lesnar’s comeback was possibly the best of the year, and while rewatching it, you still can’t comprehend how he could have escaped the first round intact.
Another great fight on the same card was Chris Leben’s excellent bout with Yoshihiro Akiyama, which Leben surprisingly won with a triangle choke. The fight was one of the best of the year, and the submission was one of the better ones, as well. Chris Lytle and Matt Brown had an entertaining war on the mat before Lytle finished Brown with a nasty straight armbar. Stephan Bonnar beat Krzysztof Soszynski in a fantastic fight, and to top it all off, we had Gerald Harris’s slam KO of Dave Branch on the prelims, too.
Upset of the Year- Fabricio Werdum defeats Fedor Emelianenko, Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum
I really hate picking an upset where the winner is a top ten fighter, but this one leaves me no choice. After all, Fedor Emelianenko had never lost by knockout, submission or decision in his career, as his lone loss was due to a suspect stoppage due to a cut 11 years ago against Tsuyoshi Kosaka in Rings. Also, while it’s clear now that Werdum had the chops to submit Fedor, I can’t deny that my jaw dropped when I saw it. Seeing Fedor Emelianenko tap out for the first time was a strange thing, indeed.
Other candidates included BJ Penn first loss to Frankie Edgar while dropping his UFC Lightweight Championship. However, Edgar’s first win was a very close decision that many thought Penn should have won, so it pales in comparison to someone defeating Fedor by submission in 69 seconds. Other candidates included John Hathaway defeating Diego Sanchez and Mike Russow’s win over Todd Duffee.
Breakout Fighter of the Year- Anthony Pettis
This is one of my favorite categories. It’s always great to see someone come either out of nowhere to become a well-known fighter or to take that “next step” from being a prodigy to being an elite fighter. This year, several fighters took that step. However, from knocking out experienced fighters to putting on the fight of his life against the WEC Lightweight Champion and a legitimate top ten fighter to boot, I ended up choosing Pettis.
My top candidates for this one were Pettis, Jon Jones, George Sotiropoulos, Ryan Bader, Phil Davis and Evan Dunham. First, I should clarify that I don’t include fighters who I had ranked inside the top ten of their respective weight divisions before 2010 began. I went with Pettis because I thought he made the biggest splash of this list, but really you could select any of these guys and I wouldn’t put up a huge fight over it.
Some may say that Bader already broke out since he won “The Ultimate Fighter”, but I have to disagree, especially seeing how the UFC brings show winners along fairly slowly these days. Sotiropoulos and Jones would be easy choices, and I thought long and hard over whether they deserved it the most. Meanwhile, Phil Davis is very overlooked (although I don’t know how at this point) and is a favorite to take this award home next year. Dunham also deserves a look, and I don’t count the Sherk loss against him since it was an awful decision by the judges.
Be sure to check back for the rest of my choices, including fighter of the year, in part two of our 2010 awards.
Tags: Anthony Pettis, BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar, Chris Leben, Dan Henderson, Diego Sanchez, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko, Frankie Edgar, George Sotiropoulos, John Hathaway, Jon Jones, Mike Russow, Paul Daley, Phil Davis, Robbie Lawler, Ryan Bader, Shane Carwin, Strikeforce, Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum, Strikeforce: St. Louis, UFC, UFC 116, WEC, WEC 53