Hardcore MMA fans talk a lot about the "casual fan." What does he or she like? What is their heart's desire? Which fighters are they willing to put money down to watch and who will they ignore completely?
We care because much of what we see in the UFC cage will be dictated by this infamous casual fan. And yet, they remain a mystery in every way—except one.
Hardcores and casuals alike love a good knockout.
There's something special, as horrible as it is, about a man being separated from their senses, a product of speed, strength, precision and technique coming together in the martial arts melting pot. The result is that magical instant when a fist or knee connects, when the bodies, as they say, hit the floor, is the great unifier. It's a moment that brings fans together like no other. What could be better?
Like every year, 2012 featured more than a handful of great finishes. These, in the opinion of my tag-team partner Jeremy Botter and myself, were the 10 best. Care to quibble? Meet us in the comments and let's hash it out.
Tim Boetsch vs. Yushin Okami
Yushin Okami wasn't supposed to lose to Tim Boetsch. And, for most of three rounds, Okami was rolling, well on his way to his customary decision win.
But Boetsch wasn't looking to go out like a punk. The "Barbarian" tagged Okami with a hard uppercut and then just kept coming until Okami was bent in three directions like a human pretzel.
For Boetsch, the win was a ticket to title contention, a pass to the main-event level eventually stolen by Costa Philippou. For Okami, the devastating loss meant a trip back to the undercard. For fans, it was one big deal—just one of the most exciting finishes of the entire year, that's all!
Lyoto Machida vs. Ryan Bader
UFC on Fox 4
Lyoto Machida is the master of deception, as elusive a fighter as we've seen in UFC history. Tracking him down is hard enough. Doing him harm? Even more difficult.
You can see how fighting Machida would be frustrating. In a three-round fight it's like the scene from Karate Kid 2 played over and over again, guys like Ryan Bader reminding me of poor John Kreese, slamming his hand through the car window while Miyagi just stares and Daniel-San's mouth hangs wide open like he's mildly brain damaged.
Bader had a solution in mind, a unique way to solve the Machida puzzle. His bright idea? Charging forward at full speed. Unfortunately, the only part of Machida he collided with was his fist, crashing right into his jaw and ending the wrestler's night.
Stephen Thompson vs. Dan Stiggen
There were a lot of skeptics out there when Stephen Thompson first stepped onto the big stage with the UFC. Yes, his karate style had worked in the boonies, at lower-level kickboxing cards and in local MMA promotions.
But in the UFC? Get out of town.
Thompson laid doubts and Dan Stittgen to rest, with a front-leg roundhouse kick. Now, opponents don't question whether Thompson's karate will work. They know it does. Now, they game-plan to stop it.
Nate Marquardt vs. Tyron Woodley
Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy
Standing punches and elbows
Let's be honest—for all his success, Tyron Woodley didn't exactly set the world on fire during his Strikeforce run. The wrestler won fights, but not fans, with a grinding style that didn't lead to much exciting offense or the possibility of a finish.
Fans wondered aloud what it would take to make a Woodley fight interesting. That answer, it turned out, was veteran Nate Marquardt, who delivered some excitement the old-fashioned way—with a series of brutal strikes.
Ryan Jimmo vs. Anthony Perosh
Ryan Jimmo, when he was fighting on the Canadian independent circuit for MFC, was so god awfully boring, he made Tyron Woodley look like Nick Diaz. But there's something about the UFC Octagon. Put Jimmo under the big lights and he suddenly isn't afraid to shine.
In the average Jimmo fight, every seven seconds felt like an eternity. The seven seconds it took him to beat Anthony Perosh felt a little bit like heaven.
Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin
UFC on Fuel 6
Cung Le isn't supposed to be here. That was the popular perception anyway.
He was a "C" movie star.
He was old.
He wasn't serious about this sport and never had been.
Le had something to prove going into his fight with Rich Franklin in Macau—and prove it he did with a counter right hand that left Franklin in a heap on the ground.
Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
We all know that Anthony Pettis will never top his famous "cage kick" against Ben Henderson from the, gone but not forgotten, World Extreme Cagefighting promotion. Pettis knows it too.
But by gosh, it sure doesn't seem to stop him from trying. Joe Lauzon was the most recent highlight-reel inductee, getting knocked silly at the UFC's amazing show in Japan earlier this year.
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes
If anyone held the key to unlock the mystery that is Jose Aldo, it should have been Chad Mendes. After all, most experts expected that if anyone was going to give the featherweight champion trouble, it would be a strong top-control wrestler.
Instead, Aldo gave potential takedown artists a new wrinkle to game-plan for—the knee to the dome. Aldo, being Aldo, wasn't content to leave it at that. After the win, he ran out of the cage to celebrate in the crowd with his people. It was, if possible, even more exciting than the finish.
Chris Weidman vs. Mark Munoz
UFC on Fuel
Chris Weidman wasn't exactly an unknown as he stepped into the cage against top middleweight Mark Munoz.
That wasn't necessarily a good thing. Unfortunately, the performance he was best known for was a bout with Demian Maia at the UFC's second show on Fox, a bout he came to as a last-minute replacement and one in which he wasn't able to perform at his best.
Not so with this fight with Munoz. The former NCAA champ was on the fast track to a shot at Anderson Silva when Weidman derailed the hype train, possibly for good. It wasn't just the fact that he won. It was the way that he won.
Weidman rag-dolled Munoz throughout the first round, and in the second, took advantage of a Munoz whiff to drop him with a monster elbow to the face. It was brutal—brutal and beautiful.
Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim
That spinning stuff isn't supposed to work. It's the kind of movie fight scene flourish that gets a man beat inside the UFC Octagon. We've spent 19 years removing wasteful techniques like the spinning wheel kick from the martial arts lexicon.
And in five seconds, Edson Barboza brought it all back. His spinning kick to Terry Etim's head was not just the first knockout of its kind in UFC history—it was also the very best knockout of the year.