MMA's Best Events from 2011

Jason Schielke@jasonschielkeCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2012

MMA's Best Events from 2011

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    In 2011, mixed martial arts fans around the globe were treated to hundreds of great events. Trying to narrow it down to the 10 best is nearly impossible, but we will give it a shot anyway.

    So what quantifies an event being considered "great"? While no criteria are set in stone, some factors that come into play are the quality of fights, overall excitement, significance of the event and, to put it simply, having the feeling that you just witnessed an awesome event.

    This is a completely subjective list and open to a ton of debate. Please feel free to put your favorite events from 2011 in the comments section.

10. UFC 128

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    Date: March 19

    Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

    While most of the main card was nothing to write home about, this night was all about Jon Jones.

    After Rashad Evans had to step down from his title shot against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua due to injury, Jones was there to fill in on just five weeks' notice.

    Some thought that Jones was being pushed into a title shot too quickly. With his biggest win coming over Ryan Bader, who could blame someone for thinking that?

    Jones was quick to shut down all the naysayers. From the moment the fight started, Jones made Rua look like a C-level fighter. Jones landed nearly everything he threw at will, and the outclassed Rua had no answer for anything that was thrown his way.

    In the third round, Rua finally crumbled under the relentless pressure coming from Jones and lost via TKO.

    This was the official start of the Jon Jones era.

9. Bellator 43

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    Date: May 7

    Venue: First Council Casino, Newkirk, Okla.

    While the event may not have had many big names on it, the card was full of action-packed fights. Headlining the card was the welterweight tournament final between Jay Hieron and Rick Hawn for the honors of fighting reigning Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.

    Earlier in the evening, Ron Sparks earned a spot in the heavyweight tournament by slapping a mean kimura on Vince Lucero. Also, Chase Bebbe was able to submit Kansas City-based Jose Vega with a guillotine choke in the first round of their bout.

    In the co-main event, longtime Bellator veteran Bryan Baker won twice in the same evening. After knocking out journeyman Joe Riggs in the second round, Baker proposed to his girlfriend inside the Bellator cage. In case you didn't know, of course she said yes.

    In the main event, Jay Hieron and Rick Hawn went toe-to-toe for 15 minutes, which surprised many considering Hawn's background in judo. After a back-and-forth battle that could have gone either way, Hieron was awarded the split-decision victory and moved on to fight welterweight champion Ben Askren.

    After the post-fight press conference, Bleacher Report had the chance to speak with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. When asked if he was surprised that Hawn didn't turn it up when it appeared that Hieron appeared to be running out of gas, Rebney said that he was shocked and if Hawn had just turned it up a notch, he probably would have won the fight.

8. Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov

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    Date: September 10

    Venue: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio

    While the main event went pretty much as everyone expected, there were a couple of big surprises on this card that nobody seen coming.

    First, journeyman Pat Healy was able to submit the highly-touted Maximo Blanco in a bout that was supposed to be Blanco's introduction to the fans in the U.S.

    Then in a battle of grapplers, King Mo Lawal was able to knock out Roger Gracie in the first round of their bout. Many regarded Roger as the best Gracie to compete in MMA since Royce was in action back in the early UFC days. But Gracie decided to use his remedial striking instead of his superior jiu-jitsu and paid the price for it.

    In a battle for the Strikeforce middleweight title, Luke Rockhold came from what seemed to be nowhere to defeat Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza by unanimous decision.

    Then in the co-main event of the evening, Daniel Cormier went up against Antonio Silva for a spot in the Strikeforce Grand Prix finals.

    Cormier, mostly known for his superior wrestling skills, went toe-to-toe against a man six inches taller and over 20 pounds heavier than him. The much smaller Cormier was able to find a home for his right hand early and ended up scoring a knockout victory late in the first round.

7. Strikeforce/M-1 Global: Fedor vs. Henderson

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    Date: July 30

    Venue: Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill.

    Earlier in the evening, Tyron Woodley was able to grind out a hard-fought decision over Paul Daley, and Tim Kennedy was able to take down Robbie Lawler at will to earn a decision victory.

    After those two fights, things started to get real interesting.

    After a long layoff due to injury, Miesha Tate made her return to the Strikeforce cage to challenge 135-lb woman's champion Marloes Coenen. Despite being in a couple of rough situations in the first three rounds, Tate gutted it out and slapped on a fight-ending head-arm choke late in the fourth round to dethrone the champion.

    In the main event of the evening, Fedor Emelianenko looked to snap a two-fight losing streak against Dan Henderson, a natural middleweight who tipped the scales at a whopping 207 lbs.

    The two fighters started swinging for the fences as soon as the fight started. For the better part, both gave as good as they took until Henderson connected with Fedor's jaw with a punch that sent him to the mat. From there, Henderson took Fedor's back and landed a sneaky left hand from under Fedor's armpit that made Fedor's body go limp and prompted the referee to stop the fight. 

    Following the loss, Fedor was released from Strikeforce, and Dan Henderson jumped ship to the UFC.

6. UFC 140

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    Date: December 10

    Venue: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    While the pay-per-view was held back a bit by the fight (if you want to call it that) between Brian Ebersole and Claude Patrick, it was still one of the best of the year.

    The main card of UFC 140 started with Chan Sung Jung knocking out Mark Hominick in a mere seven seconds. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night.

    Later in the evening, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira blasted away at the body of Tito Ortiz until the referee finally stopped the action.

    Then in the co-main event, Frank Mir came back from the verge of being knocked out and slapped a kimura on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that broke his arm and forced him to have surgery.

    In the main event, Jon Jones looked to defend his light heavyweight title for a second time when he faced Lyoto Machida. While it appeared that Machida's counter-striking style would be the perfect foil for Jones' straightforward attack, it ended up being far from effective.

    After the first round, Jones went back to his corner with a slight look of frustration on his face, as he was unable to connect with any strikes of real consequence. Then everything changed in the second round when Jones found his range, landed some good strikes and then slapped on a guillotine choke that sent Machida crumpling to the mat when the referee finally stepped in to stop the match.

5. Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley

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    Date: April 9

    Venue: Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, Calif.

    Even though this event was marred by the ugliness that was Gegard Mousasi vs. Keith Jardine, there was still plenty of good to come from the card.

    Shinya Aoki made quick work of Lyle Beerbohm to earn his first victory under the Strikeforce banner. Gilbert Melendez absolutely steamrolled Tatsuya Kawajiri to once again successfully defend his title and hold on to his spot among the best lightweights in the world.

    But the highlight of the evening was the welterweight title bout between Nick Diaz and Paul Daley.

    While Diaz had been showing his always improving striking in recent bouts, it was thought that he would forgo the striking in favor of his excellent ground game against one of the hardest-punching, if not the hardest-punching, welterweights on the planet in Daley.

    But Diaz stayed true to his newfound game and traded leather with the heavy-hitting Brit. With the first round winding down, Daley connected and nearly had Diaz out. Much to his credit, Diaz survived, and he then mounted one of the best comebacks of the year.

    With the first round nearing the end, Diaz connected with a combination that had Daley doing the chicken dance. Diaz then moved in for the kill, and the referee stopped the bout with just three seconds left in the round.

4. UFC 136

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    Date: October 8

    Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

    From beginning to end, this pay-per-view did not fail to deliver, with the slight exception being the featherweight title fight between Jose Aldo and Kenny Florian.

    Melvin Guillard was seemingly only a victory or two away from getting a shot at the lightweight belt after reeling off five impressive victories in a row, but Joe Lauzon put a halt to that in just 47 seconds when he forced Guillard to tap out to a rear-naked choke.

    After that bout, Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia went to battle for another 15 grueling minutes in a rematch of a bout that most believed Phan won. This time around, Phan was not to be denied and left no doubts in the judges' minds that he was to be awarded the decision victory this time around.

    Chael Sonnen also made his return to the Octagon against Brian Stann. Sonnen used his superior wrestling to toss Stann around like a rag doll for nearly two rounds before locking in the fight-ending head-arm choke. After the bout, Sonnen proclaimed, "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck!" He couldn't talk his way into a title bout this time, as he will be facing Mark Munoz at UFC on FOX 2.

    The main event of the evening featured the third bout between Gray Maynard and lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. In their two previous bouts, Maynard handed Edgar his only professional loss, and then the two fought to a debated draw at UFC 125.

    Their third bout played out almost exactly the same as their second bout. Maynard hurt Edgar early and often in the first round. It seemed as if there were multiple times where the fight could have been stopped and nobody would have argued. However, Edgar was able to hang on and finish out the round.

    In the second round, everything started to go Edgar's way. He was able to connect at will, and Maynard seemed to have pushed on the gas a little too hard, just as he did in their second fight. This continued until the fourth round when Edgar was able to connect with a combo that sent Maynard to the mat. From there, Edgar pounced on his foe until the referee stopped the action.

    It only took three-and-a-half years, but Edgar was finally able to get the monkey named "Gray Maynard" off his back.

3. Bellator 58

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    Date: November 19

    Venue: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Fla.

    It may not have known it at the time, but Bellator put on the second-best event of the year just hours before another event took to the pay-per-view airways. However, as long as you had MTV2 as part of your cable or satellite package, you got to watch this bad boy for free.

    While seeing Marlon Sandro, Jessica Aguilar and Hector Lombard display their dominance was great to see, it was the lightweight championship bout between reigning champion Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler that had people buzzing for weeks.

    In theory, Alvarez was supposed to use his takedown defense to keep the fight standing, pick apart Chandler on the feet and either score a TKO victory or an easy unanimous decision. However, to the surprise of nearly everyone, things did not go like that at all.

    Chandler was happy to keep the fight in the middle of the cage and trade leather with the much more experienced Alvarez. What was even more surprising than that is the fact that, for the better part, Chandler got the better of the stand-up.

    Just as the fight began, Chandler landed a right hand that hurt Alvarez badly. Chandler followed up with more punches, and the referee was moments away from stopping the match before Alvarez was able to recover and land some good punches of his own. Towards the end of the round, Chandler landed another right hand that rocked Alvarez, but the bell may have saved Alvarez.

    The second round was very close and could have gone to either fighter. In the third round, Alvarez landed a barrage of punches that nearly had Chandler out, but he was able to hang in there. Then everything changed in the fourth round.

    Midway through the fourth round, Chandler landed a right hand that floored Alvarez. From there, Chandler mounted Alvarez, Alvarez gave up his back and Chandler sank in the rear-naked choke and won the title in only his ninth professional bout.

2. UFC 139

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    Date: November 19

    Venue: HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.

    The first two fights on the main card were nothing to write home about, but the final three were enough to make this event one of the best of the year.

    Urijah Faber punched his ticket to a rubber match against current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz when he submitted Brian Bowles in the second round of their fight, but the fight will have to wait until they coach against one another on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.

    The co-main event featured San Jose's own Cung Le making his UFC debut against former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva. Le did not let his hometown crowd down in the first round, as he easily got the better of Silva in the striking department. Silva was able to hang in there and completely change the tide later in the fight.

    In the second round, Le appeared to be completely out of gas. Silva wasn't much better after eating all the punches in the first round, but he did have enough to stage what was arguably the gustiest comeback of his career.

    Silva went into the "beast mode" that gave longtime fans a flashback to his Pride days. Silva pummeled Le with punches and knees, which left Le crumpled against the Octagon cage with a badly broken nose.

    The main event turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, fights in UFC history when Dan Henderson made his return to the UFC against former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

    For five rounds, Henderson and Rua threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at one another. By the time the fifth and final round came round, both fighters were exhausted, but Rua proved he had just a little more left in the tank.

    Rua put a beatdown on Henderson for nearly the entire round, which could have easily been scored 10-8 in his favor. However, it was Henderson that was awarded the unanimous decision victory after 25 minutes of arguably the best action ever seen inside the Octagon.

1. UFC on FOX 1

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    Date: November 12

    Venue: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.

    While this event may not have been the best of the year, it was possibly the most historic mixed martial arts event right behind UFC 1. For the first time, the UFC could be viewed by anyone with a television and a pair of rabbit ears.

    The broadcast started off with a replay of the thrilling battle between Benson Henderson and Clay Guida. For a nonstop 15 minutes, the two warriors fought tooth and nail in what ended up being one of the most entertaining bouts of the year. When all was said and done, Henderson was awarded the victory and a shot at the title against Frankie Edgar at UFC 144.

    In the main event, heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez looked to make the first defense of his title against Junior dos Santos. Velasquez's reign as champion inside the Octagon did not last long, as dos Santos knocked him out in just 64 seconds.

    Dos Santos will make the first defense of his title against former Strikeforce and DREAM champion Alistair Overeem at an event TBA.