It Wasn't All Bad: Zombie/Poirier and the 15 Best Fights of 2012

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMay 29, 2012

It Wasn't All Bad: Zombie/Poirier and the 15 Best Fights of 2012

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    I'm going to level with you: 2012 hasn't been a banner year so far for MMA. Extended injury layoffs for top stars, legal troubles for some of the sport's most famous faces, big-time retirementsmultiple failed drug tests, disappointing TV ratings and anticlimactic main events have all combined to blunt the edge of the year's narrative.

    The hits keep on coming, too, and alas it's all true. But is it really fair to characterize 2012 as what the kids would call an epic fail?

    Yeah, maybe so. But only if you're one of those types who only skims the headlines. If you're reading for the articles, you'll know 2012 has a terrific story to tell.

    To continue the metaphor (sorry, I'll stop soon), MMA owes a debt this year to those who live below the fold. The undercard warriors, underdog promotions and up-and-coming fighters who are not yet—and may never be—household names are carrying the proverbial team this year. 

    In the following list of the 15 best fights of 2012 so far, you'll see many feature members of MMA's unwashed masses.

    Hard to pinpoint a definitive formula for a great fight. It helps if the fight was evenly matched. It helps if there was a lot of action. It helps if the stakes and skill levels were high. It helps if the fight deviated from a hackneyed script. It helps if the fight was memorable for some reason.

    But it's subjective at the end of the day. You know it and I know it. Got a fight or 12 you think belong on this list? Holler them out if you have the notion. And's to 2012, baby.

    I also have a brand-new Twitter account. Follow me @ScottHarrisMMA.    

15. Alan Belcher vs. Rousimar Palhares

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    Event: UFC on Fox 3
    Result: Belcher, TKO, 4:18 of Rd. 1

    Palhares was the favorite here among the oddsmakers and the fans, for whom "Paul Harris" and his merry band of heel hooks were the hot indie group of the moment.

    Those who liked Belcher did so with the caveat that he could not—good Lord, under any circumstances, COULD NOT—come in physical contact with Palhares except to hit him.

    The fight did go to the ground, but then the script blew up. Belcher achieved and held dominant positions, deftly kept himself out of harm's way and ended up ground-and-pounding Palhares for the win. As unexpected as it was outstanding. 

14. Joe Warren vs. Pat Curran

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    Event: Bellator 60
    Result: Curran, KO, 1:25 of Rd. 3

    I like putting Bellator fights on here, because then I can post the videos.

    This one loses points for the fact that the stoppage came an ice age or two too late. Nevertheless, it was a dominant sequence by the 24-year-old Curran with the featherweight belt on the line.

    Until that carnage in the third round, the fight had been fairly even.   

13. Fabricio Werdum vs. Roy Nelson

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    Event: UFC 143
    Result: Werdum, Unanimous Decision

    The Fight of the Night bonus winner from UFC 143 (nope, it wasn't Diaz/Condit) holds up for two reasons.

    First, the incredible beating (and surprisingly precise and brutal striking) from Werdum; he put the wood to Nelson throughout the 15-minute slugfest.

    Second, the toughness Nelson showed in going the distance with Werdum, especially after eating several laser-guided knees, one of which appeared on replay to go directly up his nose.

12. Louis Gaudinot vs. John Lineker

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    Event: UFC on Fox 3
    Result: Gaudinot, Submission, 4:54 of Rd. 2

    This flyweight bout from the preliminary card included toe-to-toe exchanges, good grappling and a frenetic guillotine choke from the green-haired Gaudinot to cap the action.

11. Lloyd Woodard vs. Patricky Freire

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    Event: Bellator 62
    Result: Woodard, Submission (kimura), 1:46 of Rd. 2

    Just an absolute brawl. Freire was one of the favorites to win Bellator's latest lightweight tournament title. But in the first round, he bumped up against the handlebar-goateed Woodard.

    Patricky rocked Woodard late in the first round, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt found himself forced to tap in the second after Woordard put his arm at one of those unnatural angles. 

10. Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier

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    Event: Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier
    Result: Cormier, Unanimous Decision

    Barnett was more than game, but Cormier ultimately controlled every phrase to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and punch his eventual ticket to the UFC.  

9. Igor Pokrajac vs. Fabio Maldonado

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    Event: UFC on Fuel 3
    Result: Pokrajac, Unanimous Decision

    The Brazilian striker and the stone-fisted Croat traded punishment and showed major durability for three rounds. Many booed the decision, but it was a great fight nonetheless. 

8. Gilbert Melendez vs. Josh Thomson

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    Event: Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier
    Result: Melendez, Split Decision 

    The lightweight champ started strong, but Thomson finished in control. Though attendees booed the decision, Melendez took the victory and the long-awaited rubber match.

7. Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz

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    Event: UFC 143
    Result: Condit, Unanimous Decision

    "The Natural Born Killer" deflected the thrust of Diaz's attack (both the physical one and the verbal one), then came on strong in the end to capture the UFC interim welterweight belt.    

6. Tim Boetsch vs. Yushin Okami

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    Event: UFC 144
    Result: Boetsch, TKO, 0:54 of Rd. 3

    Okami picked apart and then pounded Boetsch for two rounds. But in the third round, Boetsch went for broke and hit the jackpot. But he didn't just hit it. He uppercutted it like 20 billion times. 

5. Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall

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    Event: UFC on FX 2
    Result: Majority Draw

    The only bad thing about the war "Mighty Mouse" and "Uncle Creepy" waged in the UFC's inaugural flyweight fight was the fact that it didn't last longer. The fight was erroneously announced as a decision win for Johnson, but the judges had scored it a draw.

    If the result had been communicated correctly, it would have gone to a fourth and decisive round then and there. Instead, fans had to wait three months for the rematch, coming up June 8. 

4. Andreas Spang vs. Brian Rogers

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    Event: Bellator 66
    Result: Spang, KO, 3:34 of Rd. 2

    Both men came to bang, and slammed each other with kicks, knees and punches. Most of the time, local product Rogers got the better of it.

    Then, suddenly, Spang stiffened Rogers with a counter left hook. When you throw in the fact that Spang was an unheralded injury placement, you've got a five-star performance.

3. Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar

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    Event: UFC 144
    Result: Henderson, Unanimous Decision

    Henderson hunkered down and overpowered the always-frenetic Edgar—highlighted by a powerful upkick in the second round—to win the lightweight title. The match was close enough that a rematch had to come first on the new champion's docket.   

2. Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier

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    Event: UFC on Fuel 3
    Result: Jung, submission, 1:07 of Rd. 4

    The main event of the evening in Fairfax, Va., featured two promising young fighters, but wasn't really anything to write home about. But soon after the referee raised Jung's hand, which came soon after the Korean had nearly choked the Louisianan unconscious, the effort had garnered both Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night honors.

    Jung landed plenty of takedowns and stiff strikes throughout. "The Diamond" almost closed Jung's eye in the third.

    Poirier was arguably getting the better of it in the fourth, too, until a flying knee gave Jung the opening he needed to swing the momentum his way for good, and probably earn himself a featherweight title shot in the process.    

1. Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez

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    Event: UFC on Fuel 1
    Result: Ellenberger, Unanimous Decision

    Jake Ellenberger could be the best.

    But Diego Sanchez is definitely the best.

    What these two have in common is that they both like to, if you'll excuse my technical jargon, go in there and punch the other man they find in there until the other man is hurt enough so that the punching stops.

    Ellenberger earned 18 of his 27 victories with a striking-related stoppage. Sanchez is somewhat more of a ground guy, but still has six of those same stoppages in his 23-win career.

    The two traded frequently, with both landing, but Ellenberger was the clear winner in every phase of the fight. He showed why he is a serious kink in this Gordian knot of a UFC welterweight title picture.

    But everything flipped on its ear in the final minute, when out of nowhere Sanchez suddenly Hulked up or entered God mode or whatever it was and nearly won the fight, grabbing and pounding Ellenberger on the mat and almost pulling out an impossible last-second stoppage. Like the greatest case of rope-a-dope ever. Think Forrest Griffin over Shogun Rua, but even nuttier.

    It didn't quite happen; the horn sound, Sanchez ran out of road and Ellenberger took the decision. But that late charge almost left a feeling that there were two winners.

    They can't each claim a victory, but they can each claim to have been able to demonstrate not only those things that make them so good, but a kind of plausible deniability of defeat. That doesn't happen most of the time.