Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), more than ever, is a global enterprise. All over the world, from China to Brazil, fighters are combining martial arts techniques in dazzling fashion, introducing the sport to a brand new audience of soon to be rabid fans.
But the best events, today, and perhaps forever, are still the shows promoted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The pioneers of the sport, and the undisputed industry leader since 2005, continue to show the rest of the planet how its done, sometimes live and in person, as the UFC continues its march towards world domination.
All five of the best events of the year were UFC productions. Some, like UFC 148, were destined to be memorable thanks to the epic Chael Sonnen versus Anderson Silva rematch.
Others, like...but perhaps, I go too far. Want to know the other top events of the year? Click and you shall receive.
Disagree with our choices?
Let me and my tag-team partner Jeremy Botter know in the comments.
Date: February 15, 2012
Location: Omaha Civic Auditorium (Omaha, Neb.)
Top Fights: Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Ellenberger, Stefan Struve vs. Dave Herman, Stipe Miocic vs. Philip De Fries, Ivan Menjivar vs. John Albert
The crowd was behind Jake Ellenberger in his home state, but that psychic boost could only carry him so far. He controlled the early going, even busting Sanchez's nose. But Diego never gave up hope.
By the end of the bout, however, the irrepressible Sanchez was coming on strong. Fighting through an injured ankle that had slowed him in training, by the third round, he was firmly in control.
As Sanchez was landing his trademark flurries and even managing to ground the wrestler, taking his back and delivering punishment from the back mount, he and the crowd knew he needed a finish to win.
It got serious enough for a moment that referee Dan Miragliotta moved in for a closer look, but Ellenberger survived and even managed a reversal before the end of the fight.
While Jake took home a 29-28 unanimous decision, Sanchez could hold his head high. There's a reason he's chosen for bouts like this one, the debut of the UFC on their new home, Fuel TV. Sanchez is a known quantity, and he delivered as expected, creating a fitting end for a great night of fights.
Date: July 7, 2012
Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Top Fights: Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz, Cung Le vs. Patrick Cote, Chad Mendes vs. Cody McKenzie
With due respect to Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz, two legends of the Octagon who fought their hearts out in the final bout of a compelling trilogy, this was a show centered around a single bout. For years, Sonnen goaded Silva. On July 7, 2012, Silva finally got his revenge.
I've covered a lot of UFC events live, but I've rarely seen a crowd as amped as this one. Almost 10,000 people came out the day before the fight for the weigh-in, a larger crowd than used to come see the fights in the old days.
Brazilian fans in the crowd were on fire. These weren't just partisans cheering their countryman Silva. They gave equal time to Sonnen, chillingly serenading him with a simple chant:
"Anderson's going to kill you."
Everyone, luckily, survived the night. Sonnen may not have gone home in a body bag, but he did go home with a sore body and bruised pride. Not only did Silva finish him in the second round, but he also clowned him a bit in the aftermath, inviting Chael to a BBQ and generally looking awfully pleased with himself.
It was a great finish to one of the great UFC feuds of all time.
Date: May 26, 2012
Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Top Fights: Junior Dos Santos vs. Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva, Roy Nelson vs. Dave Herman, Stipe Miocic vs. Shane Del Rosario, Stefan Struve vs. Lavar Johnson
There were only two ways UFC 146 could have possibly gone. It was either a recipe for disaster or an epic in the making. There was no middle ground.
Luckily for the fans who tuned in on PPV, the all-heavyweight main card was a spectacular success. Every fight was a finish, each more impressive than the last. Velasquez, in particular, stood out in a night filled with standout performances, leaving "Bigfoot" Silva laying in a pool of his own blood.
Velasquez's win, combined with dos Santos' domination of Mir in the main event, set up a rematch for the world heavyweight title at UFC 155 in December.
Date: February 26, 2012
Location: Saitama Super Arena (Saitama, Japan)
Top Fights: Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar, Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo, Tim Boetsch vs.Yushin Okami, Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
It was the UFC's first show in Japan in more than a decade, and the promotion wasted little time showing MMA-starved Japanese fans exactly what they had been missing. The home of Pride Fighting, Japan was once the world MMA leader, attracting the best fighters, enormous crowds and television audiences in the tens of millions.
Those days, of course, are long gone. Japanese MMA is on life support, but shows like this one, if done regularly, are destined to bring it back to life.
The main event, in particular, was a spectacular bout, the kind of back-and-forth action that is unequaled and unmatched in any other sport. If this is what MMA in Japan is going to be like going forward, go ahead and book my ticket to Tokyo.
Date: August 4, 2012
Location: Staples Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Top Fights: Mauricio Shogun Rua vs. Brandon Vera, Lyoto Machida vs.Ryan Bader, Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner, Mike Swick vs. DeMarques Johnson
When an event has two of the 10 best fights of the entire year on the card, you know it was a pretty special night.
And when, as an extra bonus, that fight card is free on network television?
You're looking at the event of the year.
Varner and Lauzon were a tough act to follow. The two lightweights dazzled, both standing and on the mat, where Lauzon eventually caught the game Varner in a triangle choke for the win.
As great as that fight was, however, Shogun and Vera were equal to the task of keeping the crowd's enthusiasm high and their attention focused on the cage. The two light heavyweights had a scientific slugfest, one that, preposterously, somehow improved as both ran out of steam.
Shogun took home the victory, but Vera gained more in losing than he ever could have managed with a boring win. Back in the fans' (and promoter's) good graces, the former prospect will look to get his career back in track in 2013, his UFC position secure thanks to this tremendous performance.