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Best MMA Moments from 2012

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIDecember 31, 2012

Best MMA Moments from 2012

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    For the world of mixed martial arts,  2012 has come and gone. Through the calendar year, titles changed hands, interim champions were crowned, an injury bug plagued the industry in a way that had never been experienced before, and we experienced some of the greatest knockouts that the sport has ever witnessed.

    And that's just the tip of the iceberg. New organizations were founded, new divisions were created, big-name talent moved to different companies and new stars emerged in nearly every weight class.

    From all of the groundbreaking news stories and major moments that occurred inside and outside the cage, Bleacher Report is proud to bring you a countdown of the 50 best moments that occurred this year.

    Here is a look at the 50 best MMA moments from 2012. 

50. The UFC Announces Signing of Hector Lombard

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    While many of Dana White's Tweets of 2012 were surrounding unfortunate cancellations of fights due to various injuries, on April 27, the UFC President gleefully went to Twitter with a photo and a brief congratulations.

    Done deal!!!! Welcome to the UFC Hector

    The picture would excite the MMA world to its very core, as longtime Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard had just become an official member of the UFC roster.

    At the time, Lombard was undefeated in his past 25 fights and had made short work of Bellator's finest and UFC veterans alike. As the only member of the middleweight Top 10 who wasn't already fighting for Zuffa, this signing was the biggest of the year.

49. Tim Boetsch Shocks Yushin Okami with Brtual Uppercuts at UFC 144

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    For the UFC's return to Japan, they filled the card with PRIDE stars and fighters of Japanese heritage. One of their biggest fighters from the Land of the Rising Sun was none other than former title contender Yushin Okami.

    In his first fight since losing to Anderson Silva, Okami took on Tim Boetsch, a former light heavyweight who had a UFC record of 5-3. The first two rounds saw "Thunder" pick apart his opponent for two full rounds as he cruised towards a clear decision victory.

    That is, until Boetsch got a wake-up call from his corner between rounds. Suddenly recognizing the urgency of his situation, "The Barbarian" came out with a flurry of aggression that overwhelmed Okami.

    In one of the biggest comebacks in UFC history, Boetsch forced Okami against the cage before unleashing several uppercuts that knocked the Japanese star unconscious.

48. Alexander Gustafsson Emerges as Light Heavyweight Contender

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    Heading into 2012, Alexander Gustafsson was a prospect who had been snagging stoppage wins over quality notables such as Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill, but was still on the outer crust of breaking through as a major star. His next fights would determine exactly how high the Swede's star can rise.

    In consecutive fights, Gustafsson utilized his lengthy frame to outpoint notoriously dangerous strikers Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.

    The wins weren't flashy, nor were they particularly dominant, but neither Silva nor Rua had previously been bested by any man who was not a world champion. Now in the company of greats like Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, "The Mauler" is able to enter 2013 as a Top Five light heavyweight with a freight train of momentum on his side.

47. Invicta FC Opens Fighting Organization Strictly for Women's MMA

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    With Strikeforce and Bellator both featuring women's MMA, it was only a matter of time before an American company dedicated to cultivating and expanding the product by exclusively featuring the fairer sex would emerge.

    On April 28, Invicta Fighting Championships hosted their first event, which featured former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen, UFC 157 headliner Liz Carmouche and Olympian Randi Miller, among others.

    The organization hosted two more events in 2012 and is scheduled for their fourth offering on Saturday night.

    Founding the organization was a major step for the sport and Invicta will likely serve as a development league for bigger mixed-gender companies in the future.

46. Muhammad Lawal Signs Ground-Breaking Contract with Bellator and TNA

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    With the longstanding relationship between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, it isn't uncommon for a pro fighter to step into the squared circle or vice versa. World champions Josh Barnett and Brock Lesnar are veterans of both industries, as well as Ken Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba and Dave Batista.

    Following his Strikeforce release which stemmed from both a failed drug test and derogatory comments made in regards to Nevada State Athletic Commision employee Pat Lundvall, former world champion Muhammed Lawal became the latest individual to join the club.

    In May, Lawal announced signing a one-of-a-kind contract that would allow him to work for both Bellator Fighting Championship and TNA Wrestling. With both organizations airing on Spike TV in 2013, this is a cross-promotional move that will bring Bellator many new viewers.

    When asked about the signing, Bellator figurehead Bjorn Rebney stated: 

    King Mo is an incredible athlete and a great addition to the Bellator family.  He immediately adds prominence and star-power to our light heavyweight division,

    TNA President Dixie Carter also commented on the signing.

    King Mo is the perfect athlete for this type of alliance.  He is the real deal in MMA, and his bold personality and world class wrestling accomplishments are unparalleled.  I’m confident he will have a major impact in both sports

45. Michael Chiesa Overcomes Emotional Turmoil and Betting Odds to Win TUF Live

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    Just days into the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Live, contestant Michael Chiesa was faced with something tougher than any potential matchup that awaited him in the tournament: the death of his father.

    Dana White allowed Chiesa to leave the TUF house in order to fly home and attend his father's funeral, along with no pressure for the undefeated contestant to leave his family during such a trying time.

    Chiesa decided that returning to the show and winning was what his father would ultimately want, so he came back in hopes of taking home a $100,000 contract. However, with highly regarded fighters like Al Iaquinta, Justin Lawrence and Myles Jury on the cast, "Maverick" had his work cut out for him.

    In a truly inspiring tale, Chiesa beat the odds by winning the tournament with stoppage wins over Lawrence in the quarterfinals, undefeated James Vick in the semi-finals and Iaquinta in the tournament championship.

44. Demian Maia Brutalizes Rick Story in Front of Home Crowd

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    Brazilian fans are arguably the most vocal and passionate in all of mixed martial arts. Their namesake grappling techniques are the backbone of the sport, and hometown fighters are treated as national heroes. 

    When BJJ superstar Demian Maia returned home to Brazil at UFC 153, he wasted little time in thrilling his hometown audience by violently choking Rick Story into submission.

    It was a scary visual for many, as the devastating choke saw blood squirting from the nose of a writhing Story. Thankfully, the graphic moment wasn't as damaging as many feared.

43. Jamie Varner Explodes Back on the Map with Stellar 2012

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    With zero wins in his final four contests with the WEC, Jamie Varner was the most celebrated lightweight in the organization who was not exported to the UFC. It was a depressing time for the former champion, but hardly a move that could have surprised him.

    Varner had some success in catchweight contests on the independent circuit, but hadn't won a lightweight fight since January 2009. So when the UFC called him in as a late replacement to fight Edson Barboza at UFC 145, few critics gave "C-4" much of a chance.

    Not only did Varner steamroll the undefeated Brazilian, but he followed it up with a Fight of the Year contender against Joe Lauzon and an inspired win against Melvin Guillard at UFC 155. 

    It is a comeback story that makes you feel good just thinking about it.

42. Fan Favorite Mike Swick Successful in Long-Awaited Return

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    Mike Swick was not only a popular star from The Ultimate Fighter's inaugural season, but a promising fighter in both the middleweight and welterweight divisions. 

    A combination of injuries and a misdiagnosed stomach disorder plagued Swick's career and kept him out of action for 30 months. "Quick" commented on the medical mistake that altered his career.

    I was happy that I was being told there are options, possibilities for to get over this and get my health back,

    But it was a little bitter because for four years I was told I had dyspepsia and I thought there was nothing I could do, and it greatly affected my life and my career.

    At UFC on FOX 4 in August, Swick returned to the Octagon in a welterweight contest against DaMarques Johnson. The battle was an opportunity for Swick to earn his first win since UFC 99, and it was a thrilling encounter.

    After a back-and-forth bout, Swick followed up a takedown with an enormous punch to earn Knockout of the Night honors and return in style.

41. Pat Barry Breaks Down Post-Fight over Sandy Hook Shootings

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    There are certain moments in MMA that go beyond the sport and affect the home audience on a personal level. At The Ultimate Fighter finale in December, heavyweight Pat Barry gave us an example of that during his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.

    One day before the Barry's fight with Shane del Rosario, the world was stunned by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that claimed the lives of 20 young children, as well as six staff members. The horrific incident was not lost on these hardened professional fighters who were halfway around the world for the Australian card.

    Once Joe Rogan made his way into the cage and gave Barry a microphone, the man known for his "Hype or Die" mentality fought back tears for the duration of his interview. It was very clear that the Connecticut shootings had truly touched Barry on a personal level.

    "If you got kids," he said to the crowd, "go hug them like it's your last day." He also promised to come home and hug his lady, Rose, for "15 hours, straight."

    It was a touching moment of vulnerability from a man who has always worn his heart on his sleeve. It reminded us that these men are warriors when the action takes place, but they are humans who bleed and feel, just like every one of us.

40. World Series of Fighting Debuts as Critical Success on NBC Sports Network

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    In the modern era of mixed martial arts, new fight promotions open their doors every week in hopes of getting their own piece of the MMA pie. Some companies are in over their head before the first fighter steps into the cage, while some are professional enough to get through a night without any major issues. 

    On Nov. 3, the MMA world was treated to a new brand of action labeled World Series of Fighting. It was a card that featured both high-valued production and high-priced talent such as Andrei Arlovski, Miguel Torres and Anthony Johnson. All of this took place on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), a network that was home to the WEC for many years.

    Led by owner Ray Sefo, the inaugural WSOF event got positive reviews and they are planning on a sophomore show on Jan. 26. Perhaps they have gotten under the skin of Dana White already, as the event has been counter-programmed by UFC on FOX 6.

39. The Ultimate Fighter Goes International

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    Dana White has talked about doing international editions of The Ultimate Fighter for years, but it always sounded like your slightly crazy uncle who rambled on about what he could have done with his life.

    In 2012, those ramblings turned into a pair of realities...or reality shows to be more accurate. 

    In the Spring, fans witnessed the first of these seasons as coaches Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort brought star power to The Ultimate Fighter: Brasil. The show led to UFC 147, which was unanimously panned by American fans for its lack of recognizable stars, but hugely popular in Brazil.

    The season was so popular, in fact, that a second season is being filmed now with coaches Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

    When December rolled around, fans saw the conclusion of  The Ultimate Fighter: Australia vs UK. Coaches George Sotiropoulos and Ross Pearson represented their respective countries before duking it out at the finale.

    Each show continues to strengthen the UFC's fanbase in each country that it touches, despite the seeming apathy from the American audience.

38. Mark Hunt Reminds Us Exactly How Potent His Striking Can Be

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    If you counted Mark Hunt out of any fight he participated in after 2006, you aren't the only one. After all, the Super Samoan did enter a dark period in which he lost six consecutive fights by way of first-round stoppage.

    However, after entering the UFC, Hunt is a super-charged version of himself. Showing up for each fight in excellent shape, Hunt is currently on the heels of three big wins.

    At UFC 144, Hunt was invited back to Japan for a striker-friendly affair against longtime veteran Cheick Kongo. The Samoan had once been considered the best striker on the planet by winning the 2001 K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix, but his best days were thought to be behind him.

    It didn't take long for Hunt to prove his detractors wrong, as he leveled Kongo with well-timed counter punches to earn the stoppage victory only two minutes into the fight. 

37. Featherweights Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier Go to War at UFC on FUEL 3

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    To this day, fight fans are having trouble getting into watching the lighter weight pugilists step into the Octagon. For anyone falling into that category, I present to you a look back at UFC on FUEL 3.

    The evening's main event saw a pivotal affair between title hopefuls Dustin Poirier and "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung. Diverse striking, intense grappling and an overwhelming sense of urgency made this bout a never-ending highlight reel.

    Well, almost never-ending. Jung locked in a D'arce choke to secure the victory early in the fourth round of this Fight of the Year contender. 

36. Chris Weidman Bludgeons Mark Munoz and Becomes Top Contender

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    In July, middleweights Chris Weidman and Mark Munoz would headline UFC on FUEL 4. It was a clash between two contenders who were looking to make their case for title shots, and a decisive win for either man should have been enough to earn one.

    Weidman pillaged Munoz in the fight, winning every aspect of the action. A short elbow in the second round sent the Filipino star to the ground and Weidman didn't hesitate to unload vicious punches until Josh Rosenthal pulled him off.

    2012 was certainly the year for Matt Serra's middleweight prospects. With both Weidman and Costa Philippou making major waves, the division is on notice. The duo is now 10-0 in the UFC middleweight division, with wins over Demian Maia, Mark Munoz and Tim Boetsch to their credit. 

35. Liz Carmouche Becomes the First Openly Gay Fighter in UFC History

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    When the UFC needed a February opponent for Ronda Rousey, there weren't a lot of willing participants. Ultimately, Liz Carmouche answered the call and will step up against the unflinching armbar machine in the main event of UFC 157.

    In signing Carmouche, the UFC made a major step for gay rights, as "Girl-Rilla" is an openly gay athlete, and the first of her kind inside the Octagon.

    UFC President Dana White recently talked about Carmouche's sexuality when talking about her upcoming title shot.

    There's a lot of gay athletes out there and actors and actresses. It takes a brave person to come out and admit it because they're always afraid of what it's going to do to their career or how people are going to treat them afterwards. I love what she did. I know I have the big ‘homophobe' persona and people think I'm some homophobe. I'm the furthest thing from it. I think it's ridiculous it's 2013 and the government tells two people they can't marry each other. Who is the government to tell two people who say they love each other they can't be married? It's ridiculous. I applaud that she came out and that she's the first one. Good for her. I hope more do. It doesn't bother me one bit. Shouldn't bother anyone else either.

    In a progressive world, this is an excellent step towards equality for a group of people who continue to live under a microscope. Congratulations to Carmouche on this important milestone.

34. UFC Launches UFC Tonight and UFC Ultimate Insider on FUEL TV

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    Alongside their partnership with FOX, the UFC was to produce original content for the FUEL TV networks.  They lived up to their end of the deal with not one, but two new programs that bring all of your favorite MMA action into your home more frequently than ever before.

    UFC Ultimate Insider is a weekly program that airs on Tuesday nights and features various segments hosted by UFC fighters and personalities. It was designed as a news magazine that profiles athletes and gives fans behind-the-scenes access.

    UFC Tonight is a weekly news program where Todd Harris and Kenny Florian offer in-depth coverage, results and analysis of all things UFC. Fight announcements are commonly made on the program, which makes it a can't-miss event for any die-hard fan.

33. Rory MacDonald Decimates BJ Penn to Prove That He Is More Than Hype

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    Some prospects flounder while others go on to surpass your wildest expectations. Rory MacDonald might find himself in the latter category.

    As a member of Tri-Star gym, MacDonald is afforded the luxury of training daily with UFC welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre. That, along with his similar physique and imposing wrestling abilities, have drawn comparisons between him and "Rush" for some time. However, until UFC on FOX 5, we had no idea how gifted young Rory truly is.

    Picking apart future Hall of Fame fighter BJ Penn, MacDonald put his ever-growing skill set on full display for 15 minutes. It was a one-sided beatdown that has fans wondering how loyal "Ares" will be once a title shot falls into his lap.

32. Pat Curran Beats Down Joe Warren in Most Violent Finish of 2012

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    Pat Curran is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars on the Bellator roster. As the winner of both a lightweight tournament and a featherweight tournament, he holds the distinction of being the only dual-division winner in organizational history.

    At Bellator 60, Curran made the most of his second title opportunity when he lit up featherweight champion Joe Warren like a Christmas tree. 

    Watch the included video to see the extended beatdown, which went on for far too long before the official finally stepped in to save Warren from multiple concussions.

31. Renan Barao Continues Winning Streak; Downs Faber for Interim Title

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    "All I Do Is Win" is a common walkout song for professional fighters, but its lyrical content is rarely more fitting for anyone other than Renan Barao.

    Kicking off 2012 with a victory over Scott Jorgensen, Barao was the proud new owner of a 28-fight winning streak that includes one no-contest.

    At UFC 149, Barao hoped to extend that streak when he met former WEC champion Urijah Faber for the UFC interim bantamweight championship. Faber was unsuccessful in dictating the pace or location of this contest, as Barao was the quicker and more efficient fighter for five full rounds.

    Barao is scheduled to be the first interim champion in years to defend his belt. He will meet Michael McDonald in February in a hotly anticipated contest which will headline UFC on FUEL 7.

30. The UFC Continues Global Expansion into Sweden and China

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    Like a gremlin that was erroneously fed after midnight, the UFC looks to grow aggressively until you just can't take it any more. 

    In 2012, the UFC debuted in two new countries: Sweden and China. Although both events were given lowest-tier treatment by airing them on FUEL TV, countrymen showed how eager they were to see live action and each fight card sold out quickly. 

    MMAJunkie reported that UFC on FUEL 2 sold out in only three hours. Considering that the event was headlined by Alexander Gustafsson vs. Thiago Silva, that might surprise many of our readers despite Gustafsson's hometown following.

    UFC on FUEL 6 featured a bit more star power, as former UFC champion Rich Franklin took on former Strikeforce champion Cung Le in the main event. Le shocked the world when he knocked Franklin senseless with a single punch.

29. Anderson Silva Takes Short-Notice Fight at Light Heavyweight; Saves UFC 153

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    When Dan Henderson withdrew from his UFC 151 fight against Jon Jones, the champion refused a replacement bout against a short-notice opponent and the event was scrapped.

    With both headliner Jose Aldo and co-main event fighter Rampage Jackson both injured on the same day, UFC 153 looked like it might suffer the same fate. After all, you needed to replace two highly marketable fights on one month's notice.

    Longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva was more than willing to answer the call in this time of need. When you consider that he is a proud Brazilian man, it should come as no surprise that he wanted to headline a hometown Pay-Per-View.

    Silva and teammate Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira both joined the card against late-notice opponents and fans were treated to an incredible night full of Brazilian dominance.

28. Joe Lauzon Ties Anderson Silva’s Record for Most Fight Night Bonuses

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    Of all of the stories that came out of UFC 155, one surprisingly slipped under the radar. Winning Fight of the Night for his bloodbath against Jim Miller netted Joe Lauzon more than just a $65,000 bonus. It also allowed him to tie Anderson Silva for most Fight Night bonuses in UFC history.

    The honor was the 12th for Lauzon and his fifth Fight of the Night. J-Lau had previously earned six Submission of the Night awards and earned a Knockout of the Night bonus in his UFC debut against Jens Pulver.

    Nate Diaz and Chris Lytle have each recorded 10 bonuses inside the Octagon, although Donald Cerrone has 11 awards from Zuffa between his time in the UFC and WEC. 

27. Daniel Cormier Dominates Josh Barnett to Win Strikeforce Heavyweight GP

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    When the brackets for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix were released, Daniel Cormier's name was nowhere in sight.

    The eight-man tournament featured the world's best heavyweights who weren't contracted to the UFC, including Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers, Sergei Kharitonov, Bigfoot Silva, Andrei Arlovski and Josh Barnett.

    As the first round came to a conclusion, there were four losers, three winners and an empty slot that needed to be filled. 

    The empty slot belonged to Alistair Overeem, who had defeated Fabricio Werdum in the quarterfinals, but withdrew from the tournament as he would not be healthy enough to compete on the scheduled semi-final event due to a toe injury.

    Cormier was an alternate that slid into some very big shoes, but knocked out Bigfoot Silva in the semi-finals to get a crack at finalist Josh Barnett.

    "The Warmaster" is a former UFC champion, but he was not able to stifle the incredible wrestling of Cormier, nor was he more effective in the striking department.

    It was a 25-minute affair that saw the Olympian in complete control until the judges unanimously awarded him the tournament championship. 

26. UFC Adopts Flyweight Division; Imports Top Names

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    Despite the lack of star power in the lighter weight classes, Dana White decided to develop talent in the smallest division yet: Flyweight.

    To kick off the new division, a four-man tournament would be held in order to crown the inaugural champion at 125 pounds. Ultimately, that tournament was won by UFC and WEC veteran Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson. 

    Aside from UFC bantamweights who were eager to cut down to the new weight class, Dana White brought in notable flyweights from around the world. Some notables who were signed include Ian McCall, Yasuhiro Urushitani, Ulysses Gomez and Jussier Formiga (formerly da Silva).

25. Ronda Rousey Submits Tate and Kaufmann to Become Face of Women's MMA

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    The story of Ronda Rousey is one that you have likely heard 100 times. Her rise to prominence has been well documented and she has become so popular in such a short period of time that many fans are simply sick of hearing about her. 

    The fact is, Rousey defeated two world champions in 2012 and did so by way of first-round submission. To be specific, she armbarred her way to victory against both champion Miesha Tate and former title holder Sarah Kaufmann.

    Her meteoric rise was enough to get Dana White interested in women's MMA and earn her Fighter of the Year and Submission of the Year awards from MMAFighting.com.

    Move aside, Gina Carano. There's a new girl in town.

24. Carlos Condit Outsmarts Nick Diaz at UFC 143 to Win Interim Championship

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    Nick Diaz is predictable. His aggressive style of boxing pushes forward relentlessly without fail. It's a high-pressure tactic that has proven very successful against top fighters like BJ Penn, Frank Shamrock and more. 

    The only problem with being predictable is that your opponent knows what you want to do and can develop a game plan that is perfectly designed to beat you.

    Carlos Condit took advantage of Diaz's typical method of attack by allowing the Stockton Bad Boy to push forward over and over again. Right before Diaz can close the distance enough to suit him, "The Natural Born Killer" would unleash a quick combo before ducking out of the back and repeating the process again and again.

    Condit would win a unanimous decision and the UFC interim welterweight championship. Diaz would lose the fight, as well as his license to fight, as his post-fight urinalysis came back positive for marijuana metabolites.

23. Johny Hendricks Proves Fitch KO Was No Fluke; Doubles Down on Kampmann

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    When Johny Hendricks scored a flash knockout against longtime welterweight contender Jon Fitch, many felt that it was the product of a well-placed punch that was thrown at the right time. In a world where sports fans are quick to cry "Fluke" or "Fraud," you can understand why Hendricks was eager to prove himself as the real deal.

    At UFC 154, Hendricks squared off against Martin Kampmann in a fight that was widely expected to determine the next title challenger at 170 pounds. Each man had hefty momentum on their side, as Hendricks defeated Josh Koscheck in May, while Kampmann spent the first half of the year finishing Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger.

    Apparently lightning can strike the same place twice. Just 46 seconds into the opening round, Hendricks landed the same overhand left that floored Fitch, and Kampmann too was left motionless on the canvas.

22. Joe Lauzon Wins Fight of the Night & Submission of the Night at UFC on FOX 4

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    When the UFC comes to your town, you can be certain that you're going to see the world's finest athletes competing to prove that they are the best in the world. Not only that, but there is an enormous cash bonus hanging in the balance for the best moments at each event. 

    With upwards of 26 fighters on each card and only four bonus recipients, it's exceedingly rare for any fighter to collect two awards on the same night. However, when you are as exciting as Joe Lauzon, it's not out of the question.

    At UFC on FOX 4, Lauzon took on Jamie Varner on the evening's main card. It was an extraordinary battle between two men who refused to give up despite a grueling pace.

    In the end, Lauzon was able to secure a triangle choke late in the third round to put an exclamation point on a thrilling affair. 

    Despite there being stiff competition for Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night honors, Lauzon would collect bonus money for both, which totaled at a whopping $100,000. 

21. UFC Announces Addition of Women'S Division

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    In the 19-year history of the UFC, there has never been a woman in competition. In November, TMZ reported that this will not be true for much longer, as Ronda Rousey  and other female stars from Strikeforce have been signed to UFC contracts.

    Rousey presently holds the Strikeforce bantamweight championship and was awarded the UFC bantamweight championship. The presentation was done in an award ceremony similar to those given to champions Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo when new divisions were imported from the WEC.

    For those of you playing the home game, that makes four new divisions created in the last two years. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before the atomweight and strawweight divisions rear their ugly heads. 

20. Benson Henderson Dominates Nate Diaz for Second Lightweight Title Defense

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    Speaking of the WEC, has anyone looked better in 2012 than former WEC champion Benson Henderson? Going 3-0 during the year, "Smooth" won a world championship, defended it in a rematch and then manhandled a top contender.

    Headlining UFC on FOX 5, Bendo became the first lightweight to win a unanimous decision over Diaz in more than three years. It was an impressive showcase of his powerhouse wrestling and relentless leg kicks.

    With the import of Gilbert Melendez and possible signing of Eddie Alvarez just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if Bendo is still holding his belt at the end of 2013.

19. Debuting Prospects Emerge in a Major Way Throughout the Year

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    Pessimists often look at the current age of top fighters and assume that we're about to enter a drought of talent when guys like Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson and other stars in their upper 30s and early 40s are too old to keep going.

    With the kind of year that debuting prospects had in 2012, I'm more excited for the new breed of star that is emerging.

    Glover Teixeira is a light heavyweight monster. Going 2-0 in 2012, this teammate of Chuck Liddell absolutely massacred Fabio Maldonado and Kyle Kingsbury this year. He takes on Rampage Jackson at UFC on FOX 6 in a fight where he is close to being a 3:1 favorite.

    Gunner Nelson, Ryan Jimmo, Jimi Manuwa and Siyar Bahadurzada all looked incredible in their sole UFC appearances of the year.

    Erik Perez made his UFC debut in June and has quickly put together a trio of wins in which each bout was finished before the first round concluded. He even holds the record for fastest knockout in bantamweight history after dropping Ken Stone in only 17 seconds.

    The crop of talent looks tremendous. We at Bleacher Report can't wait to see what kind of success they have in 2013.

18. Anderson Silva Continues Breaking Records

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    Between his flashy knockouts, dramatic submissions and ability to run away from Demian Maia long enough to earn a Nike endorsement, there is nothing that Anderson Silva can do that would surprise fans. 

    However, in 2012, The Spider continued his unparalleled reign of dominance the likes of which have never been seen. Here is a list of all of his own records that he improved in 2012.

    • Most Fight Night Bonuses - extended from 11 to 12
    • Most knockdowns - extended from 16 to 17
    • Most consecutive wins - extended from 14 to 16
    • Most stoppage wins - extended from 12 to 14
    • Most stoppage wins in title fights - extended from 8 to 9
    • Most title defenses - extended from nine to 10
    • Most consecutive title defenses - extended from nine to 10
    • Most wins in title fights - extended from 10 to 11
    • Longest title reign - extended from 1,905 days to 2,271 days

    There isn't any need for a comment after all of those accolades. Let's take take a moment to bask in his excellence.

17. UFC Returns to Japan for the First Time in a Decade at UFC 144

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    There were so many incredible moments in the UFC's return to Japan that it should have its own section of the countdown. With UFC 144 being the organization's first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun in more than 11 years, it's only fitting that we saw several highlights.

    The card was given special treatment as seven bouts were scheduled for the historic main card. Japanese legends such as Takanori Gomi and KID Yamamoto had spots on the card alongside PRIDE superstars Rampage Jackson and Mark Hunt.

    The biggest moment of the night came when Benson Henderson bested Frankie Edgar after five rounds of close action.

    Aside from some events which have already had their own slides in this countdown, other highlights from the event include Anthony Pettis scoring a massive head-kick win against Joe Lauzon, Ryan Bader's upset win over Jackson and Hatsu Hioki's dominant performance against Bart Palaszewski. 

16. Fighters Begin Volunteering for Random Drug Testing

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    With accusations from the likes of Victor Conte and Roy Nelson that at least half of MMA fighters are using performance-enhancing drugs, it's obvious that the current level of drug testing in the sport isn't adequate.

    That's not to say that the tests are worthless. Our friends at CagePotato put together an excellent look at steroid busts through MMA history. It's not only a great read, but essentially a scrapbook of reasons why additional drug testing is necessary.

    The Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency offers athletes the ability to enroll in additional drug testing beyond what is required of them by the regulating bodies who oversee pugilistic events. Nelson, alongside BJ Penn, Ben Askren and many others have submitted themselves to VADA in 2012 in hopes of cleaning up the sport.

    This is an excellent first step towards a cleaner sport. When you consider that top stars like Alistair Overeem, Muhammed Lawal and Cyborg Santos all failed drug tests in the first quarter of 2012, it's a step that is becoming more of a necessity.

15. Big Nog Refutes Dave Herman’s Claim That Jiu-Jitsu Doesn’t Work at UFC 153

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    In modern MMA, there are very few active fighters who are considered to be living legends of the sport. Brazilian superstar Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira finds himself on that short list.

    Nogueira is very proud of his heritage and, alongside Anderson Silva, jumped on the opportunity to be a part of UFC 153. Standing across from him stood heavy-handed kickboxer Dave Herman who made an extremely bold claim when heading into a bout with a submission expert.

    If you have any knowledge at all of jiu-jitsu, it's just not going to work. If you literally have never heard of anything and have no idea what they're doing, OK, kind of like the first UFC, yeah jiu-jitsu works. It's kind of like trickery, basically. If you have any idea about any of the tricks, it's just not going to work, unless you're a complete idiot and fall for it.

    When the fight first hit the ground, Herman was able to evade chokes and locks in a way that seemed to validate his claim. However, with only one minute left in the second round, Nogueira earned a takedown that would lead to the most satisfying armbar victory of his career.

    The fact that it went down in front of a Brazilian crowd was just the icing on the cake.

14. Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller Thrill with Fight of the Year Candidate at UFC 155

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    In a year where there weren't many clear-cut candidates to win Fight of the Year honors, Joe Lauzon would earn nominations in consecutive bouts. At UFC 155, he went to war with Jim Miller for 15 blood-soaked minutes.

    Miller was dominant in the opening frame as he fired away with an aggressive series of clinch elbows that opened up Lauzon's forehead and put a crimson mask on the remainder of the contest.

    Refusing to give up, Lauzon fought his heart out while continuing to search for possible submissions. With only 30 seconds left on the clock, J-Lau attempted a flying heel hook that nearly put an incredible exclamation point on the best fight of 2012. 

    Unfortunately for Lauzon, his submissions were unsuccessful and Miller earned a very deserved decision victory to put him back on the map.

13. Fedor Emelianenko Reclaims Some of His Luster and Promptly Retires

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    The legendary Fedor Emelianenko massacred two-time UFC title challenger Pedro Rizzo for his third consecutive victory since being released from his Strikeforce contract in 2011. His other wins include a knockout against Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii and a unanimous decision over Jeff Monson.

    After the bout, Emelianenko grabbed the microphone and addressed his home audience in St. Petersburg. Surrounded by his management and family, the great Fedor announced his retirement from the sport.

    I think it's time. I'm retiring from sports. I still have the SAMBO World Championships. My family is the reason I will not be fighting again. My daughters are growing without their father, so it's the right time to leave...There's no 'fantastic' offer that could tempt me out of retirement. I'm retiring to spend more time with my family.

    Emelianenko was seemingly unbeatable through the first 34 fights of his career. In a complete change of momentum, Emelianenko was finished in a trio of fights against Fabricio Werdum, Bigfoot Silva and Dan Henderson.

    It was nice to see a legend go out on such a high note. If only Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes could have been so fortunate.

12. Ronda Rousey Graces Cover of ESPN's Body Issue

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    You might be surprised to see Ronda Rousey's extracurricular activities ranked higher on this countdown than her in-cage exploits.

    However, the incredibly fit Olympian did more for herself and all of women's mixed martial arts when she graced the cover of ESPN magazine's body issue wearing nothing more than a pink pair of hand wraps.

    The pictorial spread took Rousey from her status as an MMA champion and skyrocketed her into the stratosphere of sports megastars. Her resulting star power heavily influenced Dana White's decision to bring women into the UFC.

    Let's not pretend for one moment that discovering Miss Rousey's secret Olympic rings tattoo wasn't your favorite part of 2012.

11. Vitor Belfort Humbles Jon Jones at UFC 152 with Near Armbar

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    Entering his fourth title defense against Vitor Belfort, Jon Jones had more momentum than he could have dreamed of. His previous defenses came against former world champions and he was able to submit world-beaters like Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida.

    When Belfort's name popped up as a short-notice opponent, Jones was widely expected to walk all over the "Phenom," who had been recently competing as a middleweight.

    Early into the first round of their UFC 152 encounter, Jones threw Belfort to the canvas and attempted to attack from guard. It was a seemingly bad spot for the challenger, who appeared to be moments away from eating vicious ground-and-pound from the champion.

    In reality, it was the title holder who was in great danger. In the blink of an eye, Belfort snatched up the champion's right arm and fully extended it in an armbar. 

    This wasn't supposed to happen. It was shocking to the audience, but even more so to Jones, who frantically tried to shake his opponent into a less painful position.

    Jones went on to win the fight in the fourth round, but the near-submission from the first round was the moment that most fans will remember for a very long time.

10. Jon Jones Becomes First Fighter Globally Endorsed by Nike

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    In early August, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones took a major step towards mainstream status when he signed a global endorsement deal with Nike. 

    This marks the first time in history that a mixed martial artist picked up a global endorsement from the company. Anderson Silva and Yoshihiro Akiyama were sponsored by Nike, but on a more regional level.

    B/R MMA Lead Writer Jeremy Botter posted an in-depth analysis about what this deal means for both Jones and the sport as a whole. It's well worth a read.

9. Junior Dos Santos Successfully Defends Against Frank Mir at UFC 146

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    At UFC 146, the heavyweight division was on full display. Top stars like Cain Velasquez, Roy Nelson, Bigfoot Silva and Stefan Struve all competed on the main card, and a championship bout between Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir was the golden cherry on top.

    Dos Santos was six months removed from his first-round knockout over Velasquez to win the belt and was given the opportunity to avenge a pair of losses suffered to Mir by his friend and mentor, Antonio Nogueira.

    Mir was clearly not on the same level as "Cigano" in the standup department and he was equally unsuccessful with his takedown attempts. 

    The first title defense is a major milestone for any champion, so to win by knockout against a former champion like Mir will go down as one of the biggest moment's in Junior's career.

8. UFC on FOX 4 Delivers One of the Most Exciting Events in UFC History

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    With viewership on FOX plummeting, the UFC needed to find a way to intrigue new viewers on network television. At UFC on FOX 4, they found that the combination of former champions and incredible fights were exactly what they needed in order to make the most of their deal with FOX.

    All four fights that aired featured recognizable stars and excellent action. Some event highlights include:

    • Shogun Rua and Brandon Vera engage in a back-and-forth war with several near-finishes
    • Lyoto Machida blasts Ryan Bader into a deep slumber
    • Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner put on a Fight of the Year contender
    • Mike Swick returns after a 30-month layoff with a major knockout win

    Ironically, the main card of this event changed several times before the finished product was delivered. Shogun was originally supposed to meet Thiago Silva while Lauzon had been penciled in for a fight with Terry Etim. Additionally, this card was supposed to be headlined by a middleweight clash between Hector Lombard and Brian Stann.

7. Cain Velasquez Brutalizes Junior Dos Santos at UFC 155; Recaptures Gold

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    The heavyweights continued to make waves as 2012 came to a close. At UFC 155, Cain Velasquez was granted the opportunity to avenge the sole loss of his career and capture the UFC heavyweight championship in one fell swoop.

    And that is exactly what happened.

    Despite coming in as a 2:1 underdog, Velasquez thoroughly dominated champion Junior dos Santos for five rounds. It was so one-sided that one judge scored the contest 50-43 in favor of the new champion.

    The fight not only put an exclamation point on 2012's MMA calendar, but it was an indicator of how amazing the Mexican superstar truly is. 

6. Jon Jones Dominates Bitter Rival Rashad Evans at UFC 145

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    Heading into UFC 145, the bad blood between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans was well documented. The two were training partners under the tutelage of Greg Jackson and had previously sworn against fighting one another.

    With Evans as a former champion who had earned an upcoming title shot and "Bones" being relegated to promising contender status, it looked as if Evans might prevent Jones from ever getting a crack at the light heavyweight championship. That is, until Evans was injured during training and Jones stepped in as his replacement.

    Evans looked on enviously as his training partner won the belt that had been earmarked for himself. A clash was inevitable. Evans left Jackson's and started his own camp called the Blackzilians.

    In April, the two met for five rounds of championship action; however, clearly the bitter animosity between them seemed the be more important than the belt hanging in the balance.

    Jones was dominant inside the Octagon once again, leaving Evans looking like he didn't belong in the same cage on several occasions. He retained his belt by unanimous decision and gave fans reason to believe that he might be the greatest light heavyweight of all time.

5. Jose Aldo Knocks out Chad Mendes at UFC 142; Celebrates with Home Crowd

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    The year kicked off with a bang as the Zuffa gang returned to Brazil for UFC 142. It was an action-packed main card that was full of quality action and memorable moments.

    In the main event, longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo took on an undefeated challenger who possessed superior wrestling and a smothering top game that led to a 6-0 record between the UFC and their sister organization, WEC.

    It was a daunting challenge for Nova Uniao's most famous student, as evidenced by Mendes and his early takedowns. However, each time the fight hit the floor, Aldo was able to return to his feet.

    Mendes uses heavy pressure in order to fight from short range and it had gotten slightly predictable. With only seconds left in the first round, Aldo was able to create a tiny bit of space and anticipate when "Money" was going to change levels.

    With flawless timing, Aldo threw an interceptor knee that floored Mendes and earned the champion an enormous KO victory.

    Although tremendous, the win doesn't even compare to the post-fight celebration that Aldo had in the heart of Brazil. While more prominent photos of Jose in the crowd exist, I chose to go with one where is lost in a sea of his adoring fans, as I feel it better captures the moment.

4. Georges St-Pierre Returns After 18-Month Layoff with Big Win at UFC 154

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    Of all of the injuries that burned Dana White in 2012, few of them hurt as badly as Georges St-Pierre falling out of his UFC 143 title defense against Nick Diaz. After all, it was a feud based on bad blood that had the most dominant welterweight in history more fired up than ever before.

    It was the second injury for St-Pierre since he defended his belt at UFC 129, and it ultimately extended his time on the shelf to 18 months.

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as fans turned out in droves for the champion's long-awaited return at UFC 154. Although, the man standing across the cage was not Diaz, but instead the man who bested him only nine months earlier.

    The champion showed no signs of ring rust as he looked true to form in his return bout. Takedowns were irresistible, his timing still impeccable and overall, "Rush" proved that he is still the best 170-pound fighter on the planet.

3. Tito Ortiz Inducted into UFC Hall of Fame

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    After 15 years of fighting in the UFC, Tito Ortiz would become the ninth member of the UFC Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony was held shortly before Ortiz's final fight, a rubber match against Forrest Griffin at UFC 148.

    Ortiz has competed inside the Octagon a record 27 times and currently has more successful defenses of the UFC light heavyweight championship than anyone else in history.

    It's a tremendous honor when you consider that the belt has been held by greats like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida.

    Despite promising himself that he wouldn't cry, Ortiz was very emotional as he accepted the highest honor in the sport. It was a touching moment for a fighter who has truly grown up inside the Octagon.

2. Edson Barboza Earns ESPY Nomination for Wheel-Kick KO at UFC 142

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    At UFC 142, the judges didn't have much to keep them busy, as the fighters themselves were able to earn impressive stoppages in Rio. With every fight on the main card ending violently, it would be very difficult for any particular finish to stand out above the rest. 

    Unless you are Edson Barboza.

    In the Pay-Per-View's opening bout, submission ace Terry Etim met the undefeated striker. Neither man seemed particularly dominant, but they were both hungry for a win in the ultra-competitive lightweight division. 

    As they entered the third round, it was either man's fight to win. However, this fight was not destined to go to the scorecards.

    Throwing a spectacular wheel kick, Barboza landed flush on the Englishman, who immediately fell unconscious onto the canvas.

    The knockout has won Knockout of the Year from most MMA affiliates, but its most prestigious honor came when ESPN nominated it for a  "Play of the Year" ESPY award. 

1. Anderson Silva Beats Some Manners into Chael Sonnen at UFC 148

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    What happens when the most anticipated rematch in MMA history delivers an incredible stoppage from the greatest fighter of all time? If you guessed "it marks the best moment of 2012," then you've probably identified the purpose of this countdown.

    By this point, you all know the story. For four and a half rounds, Silva was beaten down by Sonnen, Sonnen tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, was suspended and returned 14 months later on the comeback trail for another crack at the title.

    After years of trash talk, including comments about having his wife's fanny grabbed, Anderson Silva was finally getting his chance to get his hands on the one man who made him look vulnerable at any point during his UFC career.

    When the fight started, Sonnen worked Silva to the ground immediately and it looked as if the rematch would be painfully similar to the first matchup. However, the second frame looked much different.

    During a standup exchange, Sonnen clumsily threw a spinning back-fist that missed and sent him tumbling to the floor. With "The American Gangsta" seated in front of him, Silva threw a crushing knee to his opponent's sternum and followed it with punches to score a TKO victory and avenge his family's honor.

    It was a satisfying conclusion to one of the greatest feuds in MMA history, and the best moment of the year.

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