What a difference a year makes. Let's take a chronological look back at some of the major MMA events of 2009—events that marked the end of old eras and the start of new ones, and ones that changed the way some of us look at the sport.
Liddell Gets Iced
April: UFC 97. Chuck Liddell had lost last September by devastating KO, losing to one Rashad Evans, who since went on to capture the UFC light-heavyweight belt from Forest Griffin.
However, if there's one fighter that forever had the fans' hearts and minds, it's the Iceman.
With Mauricio Rua announced as Liddell's next opponent, many said that Liddell was being fed a sloppy striker with bad cardio, and that the Iceman's counter-striking and knockout power would allow Shogun to be the perfect rebound opponent for Liddell.
When the fight started, every one of Liddell's 38 years showed, as Shogun won the exchanges and knocked Liddell out with ground and pound after four minutes and twenty-eight seconds in the first round.
Reality dawned. Liddell would never get the belt back. UFC president Dana White announced Liddell's retirement soon after, but has since decided to change his mind. Liddell will face Tito Ortiz after coaching on The Ultimate Fighter 11.
The Machida Era
May: Machida and Evans were both undefeated and set to face each other for the light-heavyweight strap. Evans was 13-0-1 and Machida 14-0-0.
While the casual fan would have placed more faith in Evans, due to his impressive knockouts of fan favorites Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, the more knowledgeable fans knew better.
Vegas lines placed The Dragon as a heavy favorite, and by time the main event of UFC 98 was underway, it was clear why.
Machida's Shotokan karate was on a much higher level than anything Evans had picked up while training striking with Greg Jackson, as Evans was beaten to the punch repeatedly, and dropped before the first round was over. The second round started the same, and Rashad was dropped again, but instead of surviving, he ate a barrage of punches and collapsed in a heap.
After an eternity of trying to determine the world's greatest light-heavyweight, there was now no question.
Here's Looking at You, KID
May: DREAM's ratings throughout 2008 varied from poor to average, and many speculated about the future of the organization. But with DREAM.9, that was about to change.
DREAM.9, the second round of the Featherweight Grand Prix, marked the return of one of Japan's biggest MMA stars, Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto, who was seeded directly to the second round, and his opponent was 1-0-0 Joe Warren.
A classic "gimme" fight, Warren's wrestling would surely be neutralised by KID's. On top of that, Warren would be outclassed in striking.
Ah, the unpredictability of the fight world! Warren, a 5-1 underdog, put on a wrestling and striking clinic, defeating KID Yamamoto for a split decision and proceeded to the final four.
Though KID was defeated, DREAM.9 managed to achieve a 16.2 percent rating, which may have proved a crucial part of keeping DREAM alive.
A Tale of Two Champions
July: It was September 2007, and Randy Couture had just successfully defended his heavyweight belt against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 , and, wishing to fight Fedor Emelianenko, Couture wanted to leave the UFC. When the UFC brass said no, he kept his title in limbo, and took the the courtroom against Zuffa.
Thus, with Couture absent, an Interim belt was set up for Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Tim Sylvia to fight for at the beginning of 2008. Nogueira won and coached on TUF opposite Frank Mir.
Meanwhile, Randy Couture announced his return to the octagon, starting with UFC 91, where he would attempt to defend his belt against the 280 pound newbie, Brock Lesnar.
Long story short, Lesnar TKO'd Couture, claiming the heavyweight belt and Mir did the same to Nogueira claiming the Interim belt, setting the stage for the two to unify the two belts next summer. Originally set to meet at UFC 98 , an injury from Mir pushed the bout to UFC 100 , a card that was billed as the greatest of all time.
The fight started, and Lesnar set about pinning Mir to the canvas and pummelled him with ground and pound from the beginning. Mir showed some flashes of dangerous striking, but was TKO'd by the second round.
Just two years and five fights under his belt, Brock Lesnar had unified the UFC belts and was universally recognised as a top three heavyweight by all major rankings.
Barnett is PISSED OFF
July: Due to the falterings of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Frank Mir, and Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett was ranked the No. 2 heavyweight by Sherdog, among others. He was preparing for the fight of his life, against the consensus No. 1 heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction: Trilogy .
He then tested positive for PEDs, and was not cleared to fight. A replacement was sought, but the damage was irreparable. The event was cancelled and Affliction folded their MMA promotion soon after and returned to making clothing full time. Since the collapse, Barnett does not having any ranked opponents on his radar, and hasn't fought since January 24th.
Losing his status, Barnett also became one of the most hated personalities of MMA, and he will now likely be branded a cheater for the rest of his career.
August: Miguel Angel Torres had one of the greatest records of any MMA fighter ever, a staggering 37-1, and was on a winning streak of sixteen consecutive fights.
A well rounded striker and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, at the time he faced Brian Bowles for the WEC bantamweight championship, he was even breaking into the top four, pound for pound, replacing BJ Penn on many lists.
Thus it's not surprising that when WEC 42 was nearing, Torres was a 4-1 favorite, and had reached a point in his career where people could never see him losing, even if Brian Bowles was undefeated.
So when Bowles knocked him out in the first, it once again brought it home to us that no one is unbeatable.
August: After 24 years of professional MMA, starting with Shooto in 1985, no major promotion had ever featured a main event between women.
At long last, Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg , the Women's 145 pound title would be contested between Gina Carano and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, and it would be the main event of the evening.
It was classic beauty and the beast. Carano was a model as well as a fighter, and had posed for Maxim. Cyborg, however, was often referred to as the "Female Wandy"...and it wasn't just for her vicious fighting style.
As it turned out, Carano was vastly over matched, and Cyborg TKO'd her at the end of the first round, becoming the first female champion of a major MMA promotion.
The Shogun Era?
October: Lyoto Machida, The Dragon, The Reincarnation of Bruce Lee!
After his destruction of No. 1 ranked Rashad Evans, Machida was proclaimed as the divisional king of 205 pounds, and his first title defense was against Mauricio Rua at UFC 104 , who was thought to have been given the title shot quite easily with his wins over an aging Chuck Liddell and an even more aging Mark Coleman.
Prior to the bout, Machida was approximately a 4-1 favorite, and no one was picking Rua. Yet Shogun carried himself with quiet confidence and composure leading up to the fight.
Fight time started, and Shogun immediately started with low and mid kicks reminiscent of his PRIDE days, blistering Machida's legs and body, and keeping up with The Dragon punch for punch.
After five rounds, everyone seemed to know the score—Shogun had edged Machida, and would be the new UFC light-heavyweight champion.
But no—Machida won the decision, the unanimous decision.
The fans knew, Dana White knew, and it appeared that even Lyoto Machida knew. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until summer 2010 before the rematch can attempt to solve the problem.
The Emperor's New KO's
November: There was a time when people questioned Fedor's ability to win by (T)KO, and doubted whether he had the power to put someone unconscious—until January, his sole KO was of Hiroya Takada.
His 180-degree one-punch KO of No. 2 ranked Andrei Arlovski ended most of that conjecture, and while that performance silenced most critics, people were left wondering who the Last Emperor could fight now that Barnett was unavailable?
Enter Brett Rogers, who was fresh after a twenty-two second KO win over the same Arlovski, and had broken into the top 10.
So, with 5.46 million watching Strikeforce's Fedor vs. Rogers main event, Fedor produced a TKO that was brilliantly similar to the one he used to take Arlovski from mid-air.
Thus, having stopped three top 10 opponents consecutively in an average of three minutes and thirty three seconds, Fedor re-asserted himself as the world's greatest heavyweight.
The Hope of Eastern MMA
November: Since 2007 and the fall of PRIDE FC, the future of Japanese MMA has been rocky, to put it mildly, and throughout 2008 and 2009, it appeared as if neither FEG's DREAM or World Victory Road's Sengoku would be able to succeed as a long term promotion.
Rather than cooperating, DREAM and Sengoku were directly competing against one another, and neither was having much success.
Now, with Sengoku and DREAM having a joint New Year's Eve show for Dynamite 2009, and DREAM already having struck a deal with Strikeforce, it looks like Japanese MMA might be heading upwards.
With any luck, the joint NYE show may eventually lead to a merger between the two, or at least a system where they can feed off one another's success.
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