Cain Velasquez and the 12 Moments That Defined MMA in 2012
Another year is in the books, and the world of MMA has never been bigger.
2012 was filled with highs and lows. The UFC and its brand dominated but went through perhaps the most unfortunate streak of injuries in the history of the company. From Georges St-Pierre to Jon Jones, Dominick Cruz to Jose Aldo, it just didn’t seem like fans or the UFC itself could catch a break.
It wasn’t all that bad, though. The good far outweighed the bad as 2012 will go down as one of the most memorable years the sport of MMA has ever seen.
As we begin 2013, I thought it’d be fun to look back on the year that was. These are the 12 moments that I believe defined MMA in 2012.
Cain Velasquez Wins UFC Heavyweight Title
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After all the injuries that caused problems, the year ended with a bang as Cain Velasquez thoroughly dominated Junior dos Santos at UFC 155, becoming the UFC heavyweight champion in the process.
Velasquez had lost the title to Dos Santos on the inaugural UFC on Fox event in November 2011, but many believed that the time he spent off due to injury was enough to cost him that bout.
In the final days of 2012, Velasquez won the title back, utilizing his tremendous pace, wrestling and striking power to overwhelm the Brazilian.
Ronda Rousey’s UFC Contract
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The battle for gender equality in sports has been going on for decades.
Women’s MMA has been steadily growing for years, but UFC President Dana White has been a very vocal detractor of giving it a chance in the Octagon, noting that the gender just didn’t have the depth to justify a spot on UFC programming.
Gina Carano, Miesha Tate and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos have taken turns as the top female in the sport, but the era of Ronda Rousey has now arrived. After winning every one of her professional fights by first-round submission, including one over Tate, Rousey was signed to the very first female UFC contract in history.
Rousey will now headline UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship in what will be another historic moment for the sport.
Invicta FC Opens Its Doors
Photo credit: Esther Lin, Invicta FC
Speaking of women’s MMA, another important MMA moment from 2012 came when the all-female fighting promotion Invicta FC opened its doors in April 2012.
The event, which was headlined by the return of Marloes Coenen after losing her Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship against Romy Ruyssen, aired for free online, and fans from all over the world were able to watch some of the best up-and-comers in the sport of women’s MMA and even a few legends.
The promotion held a total of three events in 2012 and will be having its fourth on Jan. 5, 2013.
Silva vs. Sonnen II
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Some would say it was the biggest fight in the history of the sport, and they may very well be right.
UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva had run through practically every opponent he faced in the company with relative ease. The one exception was an unlikely contender, Chael Sonnen, who seemed like an easy win for “The Spider” at first glance.
That wasn’t the case, though, as Sonnen nearly shocked the world by dominating Silva for four-and-a-half rounds in their first bout, only to fall victim to a triangle choke from the champion.
Fans clamored for a rematch and finally got one at UFC 148. After months of trash talk, it was finally time for Sonnen to put his money where his mouth is.
He did just that during the first round of the fight as he took Silva down and controlled him, easily winning the round. But when he was unable to bring the fight to the ground again in the second round, Silva made him pay.
Sonnen missed a spinning backfist, which Silva followed up on with a brutal knee to the chest and a barrage of punches that led to the eventual stoppage.
Silva was again victorious, proving his dominance as the UFC’s top 185-pounder and very possibly the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of the sport.
Strikeforce Announces Its Closing
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When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, thoughts of “dream bouts” between Strikeforce and UFC fighters became a reality.
Or so we thought.
As it turned out, Showtime's contract restraints on the fighters turned those dreams into nightmares. As the UFC siphoned off some of the top stars from the promotion in Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson, others like Daniel Cormier and Gilbert Melendez were stuck in a dying promotion with no one to fight.
Thankfully, in late 2012, the promotion announced its final event, which will take place on Jan. 12. Once the event takes place, most top fighters from the company are expected to get a UFC contract, which will only serve to further populate the most amazing roster ever assembled.
Fedor Emelianenko Retires
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Although his final run in Strikeforce didn’t end how he would have liked it to, there’s no denying that Fedor Emelianenko will go down as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time.
Emelianenko went eight years without a loss, racking up an incredible 31-1 record at one point, before finally losing to Fabricio Werdum in November 2009.
After going on a three-fight losing streak, Emelianenko put together three wins over Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii and Pedro Rizzo before announcing his retirement in the summer of 2012.
UFC Flyweight Division Is Created
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MMA is one of the fastest-paced sports in the world, and it only got quicker in 2012 when the UFC added the 125-pound flyweight division.
The four-person tournament including Demetrious Johnson, Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez and Yashuhiro Urushitani ended with Johnson out-pointing Benavidez to become the very first UFC flyweight champion at UFC 152.
Although the division has been around for quite some time, it will now have the opportunity to grow to greater heights with the UFC adding its support to the smaller fighters.
Dan Henderson Injury Causes UFC 151 Cancellation
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After completely tearing through the UFC’s light heavyweight division, many believed that Jon Jones had placed his name not only into the books as a pound-for-pound great right now, but that he may very well be considered the greatest 205-pounder ever to walk the planet.
A former multidivisional Pride and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, Dan Henderson has done it all in the sport.
Victories over the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Michael Bisping, Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have given Henderson the recognition of being someone who literally has the ability to defeat anyone in the sport, at any weight class, on any given night.
Unfortunately, his chance of derailing the Jon Jones hype train was cut short when he was knocked out of the event due to a knee injury. With little time to replace him on the card with a quality opponent, the UFC opted to do something that it had never done during the entire Zuffa era by cancelling the entire show.
UFC 151 was no more.
This situation embodied the problems that faced the UFC in 2012. Injuries from the top to the bottom of cards caused problems for Dana White, Joe Silva and the entire company as they struggled just to throw together fight cards after being hit by injury after injury.
While nothing was quite as dramatic as the cancellation of UFC 151, the company is certainly looking forward to 2013 as a fresh start and a time to get their roster healthy.
Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen Will Coach TUF
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When Chael Sonnen lost his UFC middleweight title match against Anderson Silva, he knew that he would have to do something dramatic to stay in the public eye.
Rather than fall back into the mid-card, Sonnen decided to take his 185-pound frame up to the 205-pound division. Rather than work his way through the ranks, though, he opted to walk right onto the top dog’s lawn and lift his leg when he began talking trash about Jon Jones on Twitter and in the media.
Sonnen talked his way all the way to an opportunity to fight Jones in his first fight in the UFC light heavyweight division. Before he gets a title shot though, Sonnen will join “Bones” as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter.
This news outraged many fans who believed that Sonnen should have to wait his turn in line, especially after losing his previous fight.
As it turned out, this wouldn’t be the first time that a fighter lost a fight, moved divisions and was instantly granted another title shot.
Late in 2012, it was also announced that Frankie Edgar, who had lost his rematch with Benson Henderson at 155 pounds, would be moving down to 145, where he would immediately challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Carlos Condit out-Points Nick Diaz
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With Georges St-Pierre out due to injury, the UFC opted to create an interim welterweight championship. The resulting fight between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz at UFC 143 would crown a temporary champion until St-Pierre was ready to get back in the cage.
Many fans believed that Nick Diaz’s pace would be too much for Condit, as it was for other fighters like BJ Penn, even though Condit had been on a four-fight winning streak in the Octagon.
As it turned out, Condit handled the pressure very intelligently, using his movement (some would say “running away”) to keep Diaz off balance and never allowing himself to be backed into a corner where he would eat too many punches.
Condit eventually eked out a very close judges’ decision, becoming the UFC interim welterweight champion and earning a shot at GSP upon his return.
2012: The Nick Diaz Saga
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
There were countless moments for Nick Diaz in 2012. It was impossible to pick just one.
Diaz has always been known to be one of the most fiery personalities in the sport, with his “don’t give a damn” attitude often getting him in trouble both inside and outside the cage. But when he signed a deal with the UFC, the terms were very clear that he needed to be at every press conference. He would also need to pass his mandatory drug tests.
Diaz did neither.
The near-disaster that was UFC 143 ended with Diaz losing to Carlos Condit, but it was his drug test results that nearly cost him dearly. Diaz was found to have marijuana metabolites in his system in his post-fight drug test. He was later suspended from the sport for an entire year.
During his time off, Diaz expressed frustration, even stating that he was retired at one point. He later retracted that statement, but that didn’t stop the crazy antics.
In May 2012, Diaz was set to grapple world-renowned jiu-jitsu practitioner Braulio Estima at the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo. Tickets were sold and pay-per-views were purchased in order to see this contest. However, Diaz no-showed the event, causing much controversy and casting a dark shadow over the event as a whole.
Diaz is now set to fight Georges St-Pierre in March 2013 upon his suspension being lifted. Let’s hope that his 2013 goes better than his 2012 did.
Georges St-Pierre’s UFC Return
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The world’s top welterweight missed most of 2012 as he recovered from an ACL injury, but when he finally made his return, he did so in dramatic fashion.
St-Pierre looked better than ever as he exploded through his takedowns and picked Carlos Condit apart en route to a dramatic, unanimous decision victory.
Although he won the fight on the judges’ scorecards, the entire fight didn’t go smoothly. Condit actually caught him with a head kick at one point and followed it up with punches that looked like they might be able to stop the fight. St-Pierre recovered, however, and was able to control the remainder of the fight.
St-Pierre is the biggest star in the sport at this moment, and it was great to see him return after a long layoff. His next challenge will be a grudge match against Nick Diaz in March 2013 in Montreal, Quebec.