I began covering mixed martial arts events in late 2005, but it wasn't until UFC 98 that I began reporting from live events.
That was on May 23, 2009, an event that featured Lyoto Machida becoming the new light heavyweight champion by knocking Rashad Evans into a Photoshop-inspiring heap on the canvas.
Since that time, I've lost count of how many live events I've attended and covered while working full time in the MMA industry. I've attended plenty of bad cards, but I've also seen a few truly historic moments first-hand.
I'm very lucky to do what I do, and I realize that every single day. It's the best job in the world, and I can't imagine that I'd enjoy doing anything as much as I enjoy writing and interacting with all of you here at Bleacher Report.
And I'd like to be able to provide all of you with detailed summaries from every single day I'm on location covering fights, but my schedule doesn't often allow it. But today, I'm going to recap some of my favorite moments from live MMA events over the course of 2012.
Some of these are fight-related, and some happened in the hazy area that surrounds the actual fights or in the week leading up to the cards that most of you watch religiously on Saturday nights.
Let's take a trip down memory lane together, shall we? I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you share your own favorite experiences with me in the comments.
Thank you, as always, for reading what I have to offer, and I look forward to another great year in 2013. Hopefully one without as many injuries as 2012.
UFC media obligations often seem to bleed into each other. Every fight week, there are open workouts, a press conference, weigh-ins, and then, the actual fights followed by a post-fight press conference. There's very little change in the day-to-day way that I cover fights.
UFC 145 was different, though, when it came to the pre-fight press conference. Instead of seating six to eight of the main-card fighters up on a stage, with Dana White hosting, the UFC tried something a little different.
Only main-event fighters Jon Jones and Rashad Evans were invited to attend the press conference. White stayed back in Las Vegas to handle other duties, leaving Jon Anik to host.
Instead of the usual question-and-answer session from the media, the UFC opted for a curated experience, with Anik opening up by reading a long introduction from a teleprompter before moving into a scripted series of questions.
The attending media were given the chance to ask questions at the end, but Anik also accepted questions from fans and media around the world via Twitter.
I'll peel back the curtain a little bit and tell you that plenty of my fellow media compatriots did not like the format because they weren't allowed to ask as many questions as they'd normally like to.
But I liked it. After all, we have plenty of chances in the weeks leading up to the fight, and even during fight week itself, to ask our questions.
It was a different format, and it felt fresh and new. Jones and Evans were much more relaxed than usual, and the scripted nature of the questions meant we got some fresh angles on a story that had been long since beaten to death.
The UFC only used the format once or twice more, and it appears they've elected to go back to the typical pre-fight press conference setup. But I enjoyed this one much more than I usually do, and I hope they consider bringing it back.
I'm not going to lie to you. The announcement that the UFC 146 main card would feature all heavyweights send chills down my spine, and not in a good way.
People love seeing heavyweights get in the cage and throw down, but the truth is that there are probably more boring heavyweight fights than exciting ones. Going into this card, I felt like we had the perfect recipe for disaster.
Instead, the opposite happened. From the opening fight featuring Stefan Struve submitting Lavar Johnson with an armbar, all the way to the main event where Junior dos Santos established himself as the then-best heavyweight in the world by battering Frank Mir, the heavyweights came through in thrilling fashion.
It was an event with plenty of impact on future storylines, as Cain Velasquez utterly demolished the debuting Antonio Silva to earn another crack at the heavyweight title, and we all know how that one ended.
I'm not saying that all-heavyweight cards need to be a regular thing, but this one was the exception to the rule.
Vitor Belfort didn't stand a chance against Jon Jones.
That was the accepted storyline heading into UFC 152 in Toronto. Belfort was a massive underdog, and he was fighting a man many consider to be the best fighter in the entire world. He was viewed like an old-time pro-wrestling jobber, going into the cage for Jones to beat however he saw fit.
And ultimately, Jones did win, but not before Belfort almost pulled off the impossible by securing an armbar on Jones midway through the first round. I can't even describe the feeling in the building that night; it was like all the air in the arena was instantly sucked out and replaced with complete silence.
Folks were dumbfounded by what they were seeing, as if they could not comprehend that Belfort had Jones in a move that might actually end the fight.
As you know, it didn't end the fight. Jones masterfully escaped the armbar and went on to submit Belfort with his own arm submission. But for a moment, Belfort showed the fans in the arena and those watching at home around the world why mixed martial arts is such an unpredictable and beautiful thing.
I looked forward to the second fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez more than any other fight I'd anticipated all year.
It was mostly because I fully believed that Velasquez was still the best heavyweight on the planet and that he'd only lost to dos Santos a year earlier due to a bum knee and an equilibrium-altering punch behind the ear.
The rematch went the way I thought it would. But the one thing I took away from the fight was the incredible heart showed by dos Santos.
Just about any other fighter not named Roy Nelson likely would have wilted under an intense Velasquez onslaught in the first round, but not dos Santos. No, he took an incredible amount of punishment and stayed in a fight he was clearly losing until the very end.
After the fight, it was impossible not to feel a tug at the heartstrings when dos Santos, his face puffy and battered and nearly unrecognizable, sadly asked the fans in attendance why they were booing him. Why, indeed? The former heavyweight champion had showed amazing courage and got nothing but disrespect in return.
Dos Santos may never beat Velasquez again, or maybe he will. We know they'll probably fight two to three more times over the duration of their careers. But for one night, he proved that he's not just a dominant boxer with incredible technical skills; he's also a fighter, and true fighters don't give up.
The rivalry between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen might be the absolute best in UFC history. That's for you, the viewer to decide, and you may have a different opinion.
But one thing is for sure: the post weigh-in faceoff between Silva and Sonnen prior to UFC 148 was one of the most memorable things I've ever seen.
Silva's usually the cool guy who never loses his temper, but Sonnen's fabricated tactics had gotten to the champ. It was either that, or he's a lot better at building up fights than I gave him credit for.
Whatever the reason, Silva's shoulder-bump of Sonnen during the weigh-ins stands as one of my favorite moments of 2012. The building was electric, with a historically large crowd on hand at Mandalay Bay to witness the proceedings, and Silva's actions sent the fans in attendance into raptures.
It likely helped boost final-day pay-per-view sales. But more than that, it gave a sense of must-see purpose to a fight that was already huge in many ways.
There was no question that Nate Diaz was a beaten man at the UFC on Fox 5 post-fight press conference in Seattle. His eye was swollen to grotesque proportions. His pre-fight bravado was replaced by the kind of respect that the Diaz brothers actually posses but rarely show to the public.
The fight itself was great. It was a fantastic showing from Henderson, with moments you rarely get to see in MMA. Remember Henderson doing the splits, trying to avoid a leglock submission attempt, while Diaz gave him the middle finger? Yeah, that was awesome.
But it was Diaz's reaction to the revelation that Henderson actually fought with a toothpick in his mouth during the entire fight that I'll never forget.
"That's weird," Diaz softly said.
I laughed pretty hard at the comment. I still laugh when I think about it today.
I believe that every single mixed martial arts fan needs to see Georges St-Pierre fight in Montreal. There's just nothing like it. I've seen it three times now, and I never cease to be amazed at the reaction the welterweight champion gets when he makes his way down the aisle.
There are plenty of fighters who get big reactions during their entrances, but all of them pale in comparison to St-Pierre in Montreal. Again, there's nothing like it. The arena shakes, the ground vibrates and the anticipation in the air is so palpable that you feel like you can just reach out and touch it.
The same thing happened here, when St-Pierre returned from an excruciatingly long layoff to defend his title against interim champion Carlos Condit. And it'll happen again in March, when Diaz faces nemesis Nick Diaz.
If you can make it to Montreal in March, I strongly urge that you do so. Everyone should experience it at least once.
I mentioned earlier that everyone likes the heavyweights, and that's true. But more often than not, it's the lightweights who blow our minds, especially when one of those lightweights is named Joe Lauzon.
When Lauzon retires, he may not go into the UFC Hall of Fame. But the promotion should rename the Fight of the Night award after him, because just about every Lauzon fight is something worth watching, and this one was no exception. Hell, this may have been the best of them, and that's saying something.
This was a bloodbath, with Jim Miller opening up a blitzkrieg early. Just when it looked like Lauzon would be finished, he began to rebound. Blood pouring out of a nasty gash on his head, Lauzon stayed in the game and nearly pulled off an incredible flying heel hook at the end of the fight.
You know, the same move that Ryo Chonan used to hand Anderson Silva his last loss, the one that still gets viewed on YouTube thousands of times per day? Yeah, that one.
This fight had everything: skill, heart, technique, pain and misery. And it was awesome.
After the UFC on Fox 5 pre-fight press conference, Dana White brought a UFC championship belt onto the podium. This wasn't Benson Henderson's belt; this was something entirely different. And we found out exactly how different when White said "let's bring out the champ."
Through the curtains to the right side of the stage stepped Ronda Rousey, the newly minted UFC women's bantamweight champion. White informed us that Rousey would face Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157, and just like that—in what seemed like the blink of an eye—the UFC had its first official female fighter on the roster.
Rousey took questions about the moment, about her future and about Carmouche. The entire time, she exhibited all of the traits that make her so interesting; she was smart, she was beautiful, she was confident and she was shy, sometimes all in the span of one sentence.
Whatever you think about Ronda Rousey and whether or not she deserves a UFC championship without ever having fought in the UFC, there's no denying that this was a historic moment.