MMA's Greatest Happenings of 2011
Though the UFC is perhaps the most well known of all mixed martial arts promotions, the sport itself has reached new heights.
Each passing year it seems like MMA has surpassed new hurdles and exposed themselves to an even wider audience. 2011 was a banner year for organizations like the UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator, who can all look back and appreciate some of their accomplishments, which will have an effect on the sport for years to come.
Viacom Buys Bellator
The media conglomerate that is Viacom has now dipped their hat into the mixed martial arts world.
With an estimate net worth of nearly $15 billion, Viacom—the subsidiary of MTV and Spike TV networks—purchased the Bellator organization, making the relatively young promotion a serious threat to any rivaling show.
Eike Batista Joins the MMA Scene
Chances are that you probably won't know the name Eike Batista. What you should know about this Brazilian is that he is one of the most powerful and richest men on the planet.
CEO of EBX—a holding company based out of his native country—Batista has an estimated net worth of $30 billion and is an avid fan of mixed martial arts, which became evident when the tycoon sponsored famed fighters in the Nogueira brothers at UFC 140.
Frank Mir Submits Nogueira
Arguably two of the best submission specialists in the heavyweight division, a rematch pitting Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira seemed to be swaying in favor of the Pride veteran early, who rocked the Las Vegas fighter with a hard right hand.
Looking for the fancy finish, Nogueira opted to lock up a guillotine choke on a downed Mir, who recovered just long enough in order to secure top position.
From there, Mir quickly trapped an arm and rolled until he secured the kimura. Failing to tap, Mir proceeded to break the arm of "Minotauro," who later opted to submit to the hold, making Mir the only man to submit him throughout his illustrious career.
UFC Sells out Rogers Centre
In their first venture to the Ontario area, the UFC brought a stacked card to Toronto when Canada's own Georges St-Pierre met with Jake Shields in a highly anticipated super-fight of sorts.
The organization pulled in their largest attending crowd, totaling well over 55,000—making it a huge success. The numbers stand as the largest for any mixed martial arts gate in North America.
UFC Returns to Brazil
After over a decade spent away from one of the hotbeds for mixed martial arts, the UFC ventured back to Brazil and brought the country's favorite son, Anderson Silva, to headline the event, defending his middleweight title before the raucous crowd.
The event sold out in a record 74 minutes, filling out the famed HSBC Arena in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Anderson Silva Scores 2 Emphatic KOs
After his come-from-behind performance against Chael Sonnen, many were clamoring for "The Spider" to get back to the cage immediately.
His return came this February in an anticipated grudge match of sorts, as Silva took on former teammate Vitor Belfort at UFC 126.
The two touted strikers went toe-to-toe, where Silva scored a highlight reel knockout over the former UFC champ, dropping him to the canvas with a front kick to the face.
A few ground-and-pound blows later sealed the knockout win.
Next, Silva took on rival Yushin Okami in his native Brazil this past August, toying with the wrestling powerhouse before sealing the deal with another second-round KO win.
The victories have only reasserted the claims that Silva is far and above the pound-for-pound best in the world.
Bibiano Fernandes Earns 2nd GP Title
After winning the Dream featherweight Grand Prix in October of 2009, Fernandes would move down to the bantamweight division a couple of years later, looking to earn his second GP title in the process.
In the talent-laden field of bantamweight hopefuls, the submission ace in Fernandes earned the belt after defeating WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos in the finals, TKO'ing the notable fighter inside of the first round, making him a two-division champion in the process.
Junior Dos Santos Becomes UFC Champion
This November, Junior dos Santos kept his undefeated UFC record intact when the Brazilian took on then-champion Cain Velasquez in a heavyweight affair.
Arguably two of the better strikers, the consensus believed that Velasquez would look to bring down the wily boxer to the canvas in order to avoid his dangerous striking arsenal.
Instead, the only time the fight met the floor was when Dos Santos sent the AKA fighter crashing to the mat, courtesy of a powerful right hand. This helped set up the first knockout victory, allowing Dos Santos to earn the title in the process.
Tito Ortiz Comeback
After going 0-4-1 in his last five outings, Tito Ortiz was standing on his last leg with the UFC when he took on Ryan Bader this July.
The Ultimate Fighter season eight winner was the consummate favorite leading into the match, though, Ortiz shocked the world when he dropped Bader with a hard right hand, cinching the guillotine choke and yielding the first-round stoppage, revitalizing his career in the process.
Frankie Edgar Comeback Performance
It's hard fighting somebody three times, though, champion Frankie Edgar made the most of his rubber match with rival Gray Maynard.
The duo infamously went to a draw this January after a five-round war that saw Maynard rock and drop Edgar early on in the match, though, the New Jersey native eventually survived and rallied back in later rounds.
Their third match at UFC 136 this October picked up where their second bout left off, with Maynard having Edgar in trouble early. However, "The Answer" responded this time more emphatically.
Edgar dropped Maynard with a short uppercut, landing successive right hands till he fell, eliciting the stoppage in the fourth round, earning "Knockout of the Night" in the process.
Bellator-Spike TV Connection
Once the UFC opted to not renew their contract with Spike, we saw the television network take on a much more direct role with Bellator, airing preliminary matches on their website for all to see.
Now the organization is rumored to be taking part in an upcoming reality show, mirroring that of the ultra popular The Ultimate Fighter series, which came to life thanks to Spike TV.
UFC on FOX
The monumental event was the first step in a long series of shows that the organization will be putting on with the FOX network, which extends to its affiliates in FUEL TV and FX as well.
In their first endeavor, the promotion garnered record-breaking numbers for the event when the broadcast peaked at 8.8 million viewers.
Chael Sonnen Returns
The most enigmatic figure in our sport first gained praise in the mixed martial arts world after everyone discovered that the Team Quest product had the gift of gab, being able to lay waste to anyone who stepped in his way.
After nearly defeating champion Anderson Silva, Sonnen had drawn the ire of the fans and media alike when he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, with the consensus being it was a result of Performance Enhancing Drugs, though, it was later discovered to be testosterone replacement therapy.
After over a year spent away from the sport, Sonnen made his return this October when he took on budding contender Brian Stann. Sonnen dominated the heavy hitter, submitting him with a second-round arm-triangle choke.
Pound-for-pound great Cristiane Santos was sidelined due to contract disputes with Strikeforce, though, the Brazilian eventually made her return earlier this month when she took on female featherweight notable Hiroko Yamanaka.
The bout lasted only seconds, as "Cyborg" stormed through the Japanese star, dropping her early with a right hand, following the resilient fighter against the cage where she dropped Yamanaka with another hard shot, which sealed the deal at just 16 seconds of action.
Jon Jones Goes from Contender to Champion
At the beginning of the year, Jon Jones was a budding contender who had failed to secure a victory over a top 10 opponent, but that all changed when he deftly defeated Ryan Bader this February, submitting the then-undefeated fighter in the second round.
After Rashad Evans had been sidelined from his championship bout with Mauricio Rua due to injury, Jones was granted the shot at the title and dominated the Brazilian, TKO'ing him in the third.
Since then, Jones has defended his title twice, with back-to-back submission wins over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida.
Emelianenko Returns to Japan
A career-worse three-fight skid earned Emelianenko's release from the Strikeforce organization, plummeting the former No. 1 heavyweight fighter out of the world rankings altogether.
Soon after, Emelianenko returned to his adoptive home country of Russia where he earned his first victory since 2009, dominating former UFC contender Jeff Monson by decision.
The former Pride champion then returned to Japan for the first time since an exhibition match against Gegard Mousasi, competing for the first time professionally since his glory days.
At Dream's year-end show at the Saitama Super Arena, Emelianenko knocked out Olympic Judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii, making him the only man to stop the talented star in his young career.
Bring on the Flyweights
Since adopting the featherweight and bantamweight divisions in the UFC, everyone has been asking one question: When can we see the 125-pound field of fighters enter the organization?
The promotion announced recently that not only has the flyweight division been introduced in the UFC, but the weight class will feature a four-man tournament between notables Joseph Benavidez, Demetrious Johnson, Yasuhiro Urushitani and Ian McCall—who is believed to be the No. 1 fighter in the division.
The winner of the four-man tourney will determine the first ever 125-pound UFC champion.
1st Ever TUF Featuring Featherweights and Bantamweights
Since the organization has taken on the role of cultivating the lighter weight classes, both the bantamweight and featherweight divisions were introduced for the first time in The Ultimate Fighter history.
Season 14 witnessed a new batch of UFC hopefuls who competed in some of the most aesthetically pleasing performances that have ever graced the show, allowing people to garner interest in the budding weight classes, which are finally picking up steam.
Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
In a battle of Pride legends, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Dan Henderson finally met one another, though, it took place inside of a cage under the UFC banner.
It was a fight that everyone had wanted to see for a long time, but nobody could have predicted that the UFC 139 headliner would produce arguably the greatest fight in mixed martial arts history.
The back-and-forth rollicking battle saw both men trade advantageous positions throughout the fight, though, the Team Quest product eventually edged the Brazilian after five rounds of hard-fought action, lending credence to the organization's approval of 25-minute, non-title main event bouts.
Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez
The same time that Henderson and Rua had the HP Pavilion crowd roaring, Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler were doing a bit of damage control on their own.
The Bellator champion in Alvarez took on Chandler—the season's tournament winner—last November. The Xtreme Couture product had a decided advantage on the mat given his collegiate wrestling background, though, the heavy hitter dropped Alvarez several times in the early stages of the bout.
Alvarez rallied back in the third round, wilting Chandler against the fence with some heavy shots, but Chandler turned the tides in the fourth when he dropped Alvarez again with a right hand and sealed the rear-naked choke finish, claiming the belt in fan friendly battle.
Nick Diaz Emerges as Star
Former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz entered the UFC looking to get a shot at champion Georges St-Pierre, though, after a pair of no-shows, the Stockton fighter was removed from the title tilt with the Canadian, who was scheduled to face Carlos Condit.
Instead, he was slated to face off against BJ Penn. The bout was promoted to the main event after St-Pierre was sidelined due to injury and the talented Diaz extended his win streak to 11 in a row when he deftly defeated the Hawaiian en route to a decision victory, which nabbed him "Fight of the Night" honors.
Now Diaz is set to headline the infamous Super Bowl weekend pay-per-view event opposite of Condit, where the duo will compete for the interim welterweight title.
Alistair Overeem Arrives
At UFC 141, heavyweight juggernauts Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem engaged in a highly anticipated battle, which featured two of the division's most imposing figures.
The former Strikeforce champ dominated Lesnar from the get-go, hurting him early with knees to the body and finally dropping him to the mat with a kick to the body, which helped yield the first-round TKO victory, earning him a shot against UFC champ Junior dos Santos in a blockbuster battle for 2012.
Wanderlei Silva Returns
After being knocked out by Chris Leben last July, many were calling for Silva's retirement from the sport, all expect "The Axe Murderer" himself.
Silva returned to the Octagon at UFC 139 when he took on former Strikeforce champion Cung Le.
The AKA product rocked and dropped Silva early with a spinning backfist, though, the superior conditioning and pace of the Brazilian eventually overcame the fatiguing Le, who succumbed to second round strikes after a bevy of knees and punches earned the stoppage in a "Fight of the Night" performance from the legendary fighter.
In 2011, MMA fans witnessed many pivotal battles that were before thought to be not possible.
We saw the transition of WEC and UFC veterans venturing overseas to organizations like Sengoku and Dream, as well as Strikeforce transplants making their way to the Octagon.
Many fights have already been in the books and there will be only more in the coming years.
Zuffa Acquires Strikeforce
Zuffa, the subsidiary of the UFC, has been a big player in the mixed martial arts world, cultivating promotions like the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting organization, which yielded many stars that have since transitioned to the Octagon.
Earlier this year, the company acquired Strikeforce, arguably its biggest competitor in the MMA world. With the acquisition, many champions have since ventured to the UFC, putting on the fights that fans have been clamoring for for years.
With the marketing machine of Zuffa behind them, the San Jose-based promotion can now emerge once again as a viable organization, creating new talents that will rock the MMA industry, just as homegrown talents Gilbert Melendez, Tyron Woodley and Daniel Cormier have done.