The Best UFC and MMA Fights of 2012
We didn't always get the fights we expected in 2012. A string of injuries and misfortunes saw to that, knocking out dozens of potential masterpieces over the course of the year. But that didn't stop the fights we did get from being something special.
It may have been a bad year for the box office, but that run of bad karma didn't extend to the cage where there were so many great fights this year that my Caged In partner Jeremy Botter and I had remarkably different and diverse lists. I've combined them here and they show the true splendor of MMA in all its varied facets.
Represented are three promotions, six weight classes and even two genders—and, of course, 10 great fights. Have others in mind for the best of the best list? Let us know in the comments.
10. Nate Marquardt vs. Tyron Woodley (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy)
Round 4, Knockout
Early in the week I may have mentioned Tyron Woodley's propensity to value caution over excitement in the great bulk of his fights. That's a fancy way of saying many people find his grinding wrestling style boring.
None of those inclinations, however, were on display against Nate Marquardt in a fight for the Strikeforce welterweight title. Woodley came at the former UFC contender hard, landing solid punches and looking for the finish when it was on the horizon.
Marquardt looked great as a welterweight and never panicked. When his time came to strike, he made the most of it with one of the sickest striking combinations you'll ever see. I can't wait to see both in the UFC in 2013.
9. Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera (UFC on Fox 4)
Round 4, Knockout
Brandon Vera was a cautionary tale for young fighters who got too cocky too early. Before he had done much at all of note, Vera was already talking about holding multiple title belts simultaneously. Today, those proclamations seem so patently ridiculous that it's hard to believe they ever really happened.
Vera, to put it mildly, hasn't lived up to expectations. A contract dispute during his formative years was a setback and then losses to former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum hurt his psyche more than his body.
"Two losses for sure will put a crack in your self confidence," Vera confided to the cameras in a pre-fight special. Other losses followed, including a shellacking at the hands of Thiago Silva (later changed to a no-contest) that was particularly demoralizing.
In short, Brandon Vera had no business fighting against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event of the UFC's fourth show on Fox. He was no longer a prospect, no longer a contender and it was clear to almost everyone that he would never be the fighter we all envisioned he might become.
No one believed in Brandon Vera. And yet, there he was in the fourth round against Rua, not just hanging in there, but quite often looking like he had a real shot at winning.
Ultimately the Cinderella story wasn't meant to be; Rua prevailed with a fourth-round TKO, as Vera eventually wilted under Rua's constant pressure. But he had given us something to think about, even, yes I'll say, reinvigorating the Brandon Vera myth. I'm curious but cautious to see what his next fight brings.
8. Lloyd Woodard vs. Patricky Freire (Bellator 62)
Round 2, Submission
Both men had fought Bellator lightweight star Michael Chandler. Both men had come up short. Now back in the mix, competing in one of Bellator's trademark tournaments, they each had a long road in front of them to get back to title contention.
This fight, which you can see in its entirety above, was spirited, sometimes sloppy, but never less than scintillating. By the time Woodard locked on the Kimura for the win I needed a break. I can only imagine how they felt in the cage.
7. Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall (UFC on FX 2)
Round 3, Decision
What a weird night for Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall. Johnson was declared the winner in the cage, only for athletic commission officials to later reveal the score cards were misread—the fight was actually a majority draw.
As part of a tournament to introduce the flyweight class, Johnson and McCall weren't supposed to be able to fight to a draw. But instead of a sudden-death extra round that night, fans got to see an entire second fight, another bout worthy of this list. Johnson's "loss," it seems, was our gain.
6. Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie (Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman)
Round 3, Submission
It wasn't right for former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate to be relegated to the prelims for her first fight after losing the title to Ronda Rousey. She and opponent Julie Kedzie were too good for that, and proved it, with the best women's fight of the year.
Kedzie was a revelation here, nearly upsetting Tate with a strong standup game that had the former champ reeling. Eventually, though, she would take one too many chances on the ground, getting caught in an armnbar, a spectacular end to a spectacular fight.
5. Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez (UFC on Fuel 1)
Round 3, Decision
Diego Sanchez is the best action fighter in UFC history. No one has put together his string of great performances. When he steps into the cage, you know solid action is following behind him. He was Joe Lauzon before Lauzon was Lauzon.
Years after he became the first The Ultimate Fighter champion, Sanchez is still going strong while others from the initial season of the seminal reality show are either fading or straight-up retired. And while he didn't manage to beat Jake Ellenberger in this fight, he sure gave the wrestler a scare—and us a thrill in the process.
4. Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner (UFC on Fox 4)
Round 3, Submission
Joe Lauzon is the perfect fighter for national television.
"I always finish guys," Lauzon explained. "I either finish guys or I get finished. It's guaranteed excitement."
His fight with Jamie Varner was no exception. Varner, returning to the UFC Octagon after an extended sojourn in the MMA hinterlands, had nothing to lose and fought like it. Lauzon struggled to put him away, but a third-round triangle finally did the job.
"I felt like he broke in the second round," Lauzon told Jay Glazer after the fight. "He had a good first round but I was going to keep pressing and get it done."
3. Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon (UFC 155)
Round 3, Decision
If you saw UFC 155, you knew the Varner fight wouldn't be the last time Joe Lauzon showed his face on this list. Mr. Post-Fight Bonus is back for his tremendous performance in that fight, a testament to courage and skill.
Before the fight, Lauzon had earned bonus checks for either Fight, Submission, or Knockout of the Night 11 times in 13 UFC fights. Is it any wonder he was back at the bank after his loss to Jim Miller?
2. Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar (UFC 144)
Round 5, Decision
What is it about Frankie Edgar that leads to so many action-packed, competitive and ultimately controversial fights? And can we clone it?
The lightweight champion may have lost his title to former WEC standout Benson Henderson, but he gained another fight on his resume good enough to eventually propel him into the MMA Hall of Fame.
Edgar would go on to drop a rematch later in the year and will drop to featherweight in 2013 to challenge champion Jose Aldo. Expect to see that fight when we start making lists at the end of the year. Edgar is so good we just expect that kind of excellence in every bout.
1. Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier (UFC on Fuel TV 3)
Round 4, Submission
I had Chan Sung Jung winning every round of his fight with Dustin Poirier. In the black and white world of the 10-9 round, Jung was dominating the fight. But numbers can be deceiving.
Poirier made it a fight, each and every round close and compelling, before eventually succumbing to Jung's pressure and ground game. A D'Arce choke ended it all in the fourth round.
Jung, who has become a cult favorite because of fights like this, took home an additional $80,000 thanks to Fight and Submission of the Night bonuses. That wasn't nearly enough for the entertainment value he provided, but if the love of the fans could be monetized Jung would be a rich man indeed.