After a year filled with injuries, the UFC put on some great weeks of fighting to close out the year in Dec. 2012. Bellator added some eye-opening moments, and even DREAM gave us an eye-opener on New Year's Eve.
Indeed, Dec. 2012 was a great way to send MMA off in style after a tumultuous year, particularly in the UFC. The promotion was hampered by injuries at every turn in 2012 and had its fair share of controversy. Yet with their last show of 2012, UFC 155, the promotion capped off the year in style with a pair of shocking bouts (for totally different reasons).
Dec. 2012 saw titles change hands, a few shocking knockouts, and a lot of blood as two men gave every inch of their hearts and souls in the Octagon.
Coming into Bellator 83, Zoila Gurgel not only held Bellator's 115-pound women's title, but had yet to taste defeat in the Bellator cage. "The Warrior Princess" had only lost once to former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate and held victories over top WMMA fighters like Jessica Penne and Jessica Aguilar, and had handed Megumi Fujii her first professional loss.
Jessica Eye, meanwhile, had an impressive 8-1 start to her career but still lacked a win over a quality opponent. Eye had won in her Bellator debut as well as her fight at Bellator 66 but wasn't viewed as a finisher, with her last five wins coming via decision.
It wouldn't take long for this bout to end, but it wasn't how most fans envisioned it. Instead of Gurgel displaying her trademark striking, Eye slapped on a standing arm-triangle choke and Gurgel went unconscious at the 58-second mark in Round 1.
Nick Newell used his disability as a motivational tool to achieve his dream. The one-armed fighter had amassed a perfect 8-0 record coming into his lightweight title match at XFC 21 against Eric Reynolds.
Newell landed a powerful takedown to get the fight to the mat and quickly latched on to Reynolds' back. Newell slipped his arm under the chin of Reynolds, attempting to secure a rear-naked choke. Reynolds did everything he could think of to shake Newell off but eventually was forced to tap at 1:22 of the first round.
The win for Newell reminded MMA fans that through all the negativity associated with the sport, there are still some feel-good stories to be found.
After Tim Means slipped coming out of a sauna and hit his head, Abel Trujillo was slated to face Marcus LeVesseur instead. The last-second change didn't seem to affect Trujillo, as he put on a memorable performance.
From bell to bell, Trujillo controlled the action and unleashed a violent display of MMA. The "Blackzillians" fighter had a mixed run in MMA but was riding a four-fight winning streak into his UFC debut. You would've thought Trujillo was the next great thing at lightweight after he connected with 57 of his 75 significant strikes and defended eight of the 10 takedown attempts from LeVesseur.
The fight came to a merciful end as Trujillo unloaded with a series of knees and elbows to the body of LeVesseur. It may have been a case of LeVesseur just being overmatched in this contest, but Trujillo's debut was one of the most impressive in recent memory.
Mike Goldberg attempted to cram the idea of a torch being passed at the UFC on Fox 5 event down our throats all night despite the fact the torch held by BJ Penn had been passed years ago.
Still, Penn looked to have that old fighting spirit back in the weeks leading up to his fight with Rory MacDonald. It was the first time in quite some time that Penn actually seemed motivated for a fight. And for one round, it appeared as if Penn would take it to the much younger opponent.
But after the first five minutes, it would be all MacDonald, as he completely dominated the Hawaiian. On the feet, it looked as if MacDonald was working a heavy bag as Penn stood there taking everything the Canadian threw his way. MacDonald even managed to take Penn to the mat, which is notoriously difficult to do whether at 170 pounds or 155 pounds.
The win became a signature victory for MacDonald that appears to have launched the Canadian into the title picture, given his next fight is tentatively scheduled to come against the former interim champ, Carlos Condit.
Even though Abel Trujillo had already made an impressive debut earlier in the month, Rustam Khabilov decided to up the ante.
The former Sambo champion showcased his ground game in his UFC debut against Vinc Pichel. It wasn't a slick submission or powerful ground-and-pound that won the day for Khabilov. It was a huge suplex that ended with Pichel's head slamming into the canvas.
A series of punches turned off the lights completely, and Khabilov captured one of the most impressive KO victories in UFC history in just his first fight. Had it not been for Edson Barboza's spinning kick KO earlier in 2012, Khabilov likely would've had a few more "KO of the Year" awards from MMA journalists.
Coming into the finals of the recent season of The Ultimate Fighter, it appeared as if it was Mike Ricci's fight to lose. Colton Smith had been completely disregarded in the lead-up to his contest with the Tristar fighter. It seems as if Smith used this as motivation to spoil Ricci's moment at the finale.
Smith came out and controlled the action in all three rounds and threatened with submission attempts while riding Ricci's back for the majority of their 15-minute bout. The performance even garnered a 10-8 round from one of the cage-side judges.
Despite the win coming against a natural lightweight, it was still very impressive for Smith.
After the snoozefest that was the UFC 155 main card, the co-main event and main event bouts figured to liven things up. Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon didn't disappoint, as fans anticipated and received an all-out battle of attrition for 15 minutes.
Lauzon, a notoriously fast starter, met his match against Miller, as the lightweight stormed out of the gate throwing combinations at "J-Lau." Miller caused a nasty cut on Lauzon's forehead that covered both participants in Lazuon's blood. Miller continued to push the pace, and as the first round came to a close, Lauzon finally pushed back, as both men went toe-to-toe in the final moments.
After the fans in the arena and at home had woken up from the first round, Miller continued the onslaught while on top position on the ground. Lauzon worked his submission game and eventually ended up on top of Miller. With the close of the second round, it seemed as if the fight was even heading into the final frame.
Miller dropped Lauzon in the opening moments of the third round, and after some desperation submission attempts in the final moments, the bout finally came to an end. Both men were pushed to their breaking points but embraced one another in a bout that not only earned Fight of the Night, but also likely earned Fight of the Year by many in the MMA community.
Entering UFC 155, the UFC heavyweight champ, Junior dos Santos, appeared to be untouchable in the Octagon. Dos Santos had conquered every style imaginable en route to becoming the UFC champ. That included a win over his UFC 155 opponent Cain Velasquez in Nov. of 2011.
Velasquez spoke of his need to be more aggressive in the weeks leading up to his rematch with dos Santos and went right to work in the first round. Velasquez pushed the pace as he usually does and scored a knockdown on JDS. From that moment on, it would be all Velasquez en route to one of the most dominant decisions in MMA history.
Velasquez utilized his kickboxing skills as well as his wrestling game to control the action no matter where it took place. Dos Santos' swollen face after the fight told the story of how the UFC title changed hands and how it appears as if Velasquez is now the invincible fighter.
Shinya Aoki is a very accomplished grappler. Nobody will confuse the "Tobikan Judan" for a striker, but that's exactly how he won his bout against former MFC champion Antonio McKee at DREAM 18.
The annual New Year's Eve megashow started off in typical fashion as Aoki looked to take down McKee. Aoki was eventually successful, but McKee fought his way back to his feet and landed a takedown of his own. The first round was very close and fans were anticipating more grappling exchanges in the second frame.
Instead, Aoki landed a huge counter right hook that sent McKee into the ropes. McKee turned from Aoki and signaled that he was tapping out due to the strike. The punch appeared to do a great deal of damage on McKee. This has to be one of the most shocking victories of 2012 due to the grappler Aoki winning via one punch.