The 2000s are drawing to a close and it has been the first full decade of MMA, the birth of a sport before our very eyes. In honor of this amazing decade I intend to give out a bevy of Awards for the Best of the Decade. The awards are as follows:
Best Light Heavyweight
Fight of the Decade
And picked from the winners at each weight class:
The Fighter of the Decade
Awards are being given to fighters and fights in major promotions. I'm not running through the millions of video on YouTube for some regional flying arm bar or spinning backfist.
The Winner: Anderson Silva vs Rich Franklin I
We start with the biggest beating of the decade, the fight that we all wanted to look away from, but couldn't and then thought "Is John McCain really right about this sport?" Then another shot landed and you cheered anyway.
I think part of what made this so brutal is that nobody expected the beating that was handed out, least of all Rich Franklin who finally got his wife to attend a fight. She was treated to the coming out party of Anderson Silva to the American MMA fanbase, as he just beat the tar out of Franklin.
How many of us found ourselves shouting at the TV for the ref to stop the fight only a few knees into the beating. Franklin's nose was shattered and needed to be surgically repaired. As for the mental scars...Franklin may never have recovered.
The Winner: Matt Serra's TKO of Georges St. Pierre
The best part about MMA is the upsets, more so than in almost any other sport anything can happen and this decade is full of examples.
St. Pierre was coming off the biggest win of his career, a submission victory over Matt Hughes to claim the Welterweight title. Matt Serra, on the other hand, had just returned to the UFC with his TUF Finale victory over Chris Lytle and no longer wished to fight at lightweight.
The debate going into the fight was not if GSP would win, but rather in what round would he win. But then just three minutes into the first round a hook from Serra sent GSP stumbling away. The result was the biggest upset in MMA history, Serra who had just literally fought for his UFC life was now UFC champion.
This fight narrowly beat out Forrest Griffin's submission of Shogun Rua, the deciding factor was the fact that Griffin was in the midst of a title run and would then go on to defeat Rampage Jackson while Matt Serra remains a journeyman, making his defeat of GSP that much more amazing.
The Winner: Wanderlei Silva's KO of Rampage Jackson in Pride 28
This decade has been full of great knockouts: Cro Cop's head kick to Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell dropping Randy Couture for the first time, Pete William's head kick to Mark Coleman, Fedor knocking Andre Arloski out of midair, Gonzaga's head kick to Cro Cop and Lyoto Machida silencing the still trash talking Rashad Evans. But one knockout stood above the rest.
There are knockouts that make you sit up, there are knock outs that make you jump out of your seat and scream. But then there is this KO, which made me scream "Oh my god, he is dead!"
It starts with a right hand from Wanderlei, was followed by a few Muay Thai knees and ended with an unconscious Rampage hanging lifelessly from the ropes of the Pride ring. This will go down in MMA history as one of the all time great knockouts and is the most memorable moment in the great Silva—Rampage rivalry.
The Winner: Ryo Chonan's Flying Scissor Heel Hook of Anderson Silva in Pride Shockwave
Submissions are a very exciting part of MMA and they can be as shocking or in some cases, more shocking that a knockout. The decade has seen some great ones: Frank Mir's knee bar of Brock Lesnar, the Aoki-plata, Fedor's kimura of Kevin Randleman, Nogueira's armbar of Cro Cop, but again there is one that is miles above the rest.
Anderson Silva was a rising star striker who was slowly learning the ground game at this point. Ryo Chonan was a journeyman punching bag. Anderson Sliva was working Chonan standing for two rounds, and then in the third round pulled the most astounding submission ever seen, this is pure video game stuff.
The Winner: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
This decade has seen some great strikers, but none more exciting or powerful that Cro Cop. With 25 wins and 17 KOs in the 2000s, his head kick may be the most devastating strike in the world.
From 2001 to 2007 the only way to defeat Cro Cop was to drag him to the ground, anyone who stood in front of him had a death wish. His kicks were devastating and his hands were heavy.
Throw in his dominating run through Japanese K-1 in 2000 to 2003 and it is clear he is the most accomplished and was the most feared striker of the decade.
Winner: Shinya Aoki
Again, this decade has seen a bevy of excellent grapplers of all discipline. From the end of Royce Gracie's storied career, to the start of Roger Gracie's MMA career. Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, BJ Penn, Demian Maia, and the Nog brothers all make up a whose who of MMA grappling.
But when punches are flying, there is no one better on the ground that Shinya Aoki, the greatest Japanese grappler currently living. With a 22-4 record (13 submissions)in the 2000s, he represents one of the greatest submission artists to ever enter the ring.
He doesn't have the most submissions (Jeremy Horn has over 50) or the best credentials in MMA, but the man is just a wizard on the ground when the punches are flying.
He joins the great Judo player, Master Kimura, to have a submission named after him: the Aokiplata, a gogoplata from the mount. And really, having a submission named after you is credentials enough.
The Winner: Chuck Liddell/Randy Couture
Rivalries are a huge part of sports from Lakers/Celtics, Bears/Packers, Red Sox/Yankees to Ohio State/Michigan, nothing makes sports fans sit up and take notice like opponents with a past.
In the 2000 MMA saw several great rivalries: Tito/Shamrock, Rampage/Wanderlei, Tito/Liddell, Chute Boxe/Brazilian Top Team, BJ Penn/GSP
The Winner by narrow margin is certainly the three fight trilogy between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. Two champions at their peak meeting in three just epic matches, all of them title matches.
In the first episode Randy Couture shocked Chuck by coming out looking to box, and out struck Liddell in the first round. Liddell ate shots in the clinch and at distance until in the third round Couture scored a takedown, and then proceeded to pound Liddell out.
In their second meeting, in an early exchange of punches it appeared that Couture got a thumb in the eye. After the fight restarted Couture caught a counter left that rocked him and Liddell swarmed over him.
A rematch was made quickly and Liddell dominated it. He moved and stuck from the outside and in the second round a crushing right hand turned out the lights on Couture and on this rivalry.
While these two didn't have the disdain for each other that existed in other rivalries, dare I say they respected and even liked each other.Bbut the fights were just simply the best set of three fights any two fighters have had.
The Winner: Miguel Torres
This was an easy one, Torres dominated Batamweight with an in decade record of 37-2, his two losses coming six years apart. The longest reigning WEC bantamweight champion, despite his loss to Brian Bowles, be assured he will start the next decade with a rematch with the current champion in 2010.
Torres is also a very strong candidate for Fighter of the Year
The Winner: Urijah Faber
This was a very close call between Faber and his nemesis Mike Thomas Brown. Their in decade records are very close: Faber with 22-3 and Brown with 22-5 and Brown does own two wins over Faber.
The deciding factor was the fact that Faber held on to his Featherweight title for more than two years, defending it on five occasions while Brown was only able to defend his title twice.
The Winner: B.J. Penn
With an in decade record of 12-1 at lightweight, Penn has dominated the best of the best at lightweight at both ends of this decade. You all know the skills: world champion jiu jitsu, outstanding boxing, inhuman takedown defense. You all know the victims: Carl Uno, Takanori Gomi, Joe Steveson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez.
Even with with his mid-decade adventures to other weight classes and perceived work ethic and cardio problems, he finished the decade strong and throws his hat into the Fighter of the Year discussion.
The Winner: Matt Hughes
It was very hard to pick between Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre, but how can you argue with a 30-6 in decade record? For six years of the this decade he was the dominate fighter in MMA
Victories over names like B.J. Penn, Frank Trigg, Georges St Pierre, Sean Sherk, Royce Gracie, and Carlos Newton help cement his legend.
His fade during the last four years does hurt his Fighter of the Decade credentials, but his dominance for the first six years can not be ignored and he will certainly go down as the one of the all time greats.
The Winner: Anderson Silva
This is another easy one. 25-4 in the 2000s, with a whose-who victims list in the second half of the decade. In the last 10 years we watched Silva go from talented striker prospect to the possibly the greatest of all time when it is all said and done.
His peak came in 2006 when he entered the UFC and since then there has been no better fighter in the world and he is a very strong candidate for Fighter of the Decade.
The Winner: Chuck Liddell
In the most competitive division in MMA and in the deepest promotion at that weight, Chuck Liddell put together a decade record of 18-6 and brought striking back to the UFC.
Wins over Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Allistar Overeem, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Renato Sobral, and Waderlei Silva create an impressive resume for the Iceman.
The Winner: Fedor Emelianenko
The Last Emperor ruled over his kingdom of heavyweights from the start of the decade to finish, with an amazing 31-1 record in the 2000s, his lone loss coming from a 'TKO' in a promotion where a cut resulted in instant TKO.
Fedor has proved to be a nightmare for former UFC champs, with a 7-0-1 record against men who have held the UFC belt. His striking isn't pretty, but he has floored some of MMA's primer stand up fighters and his grappling is world class.
The key to his winning this award is his 2-0-1 record against the run away No. 2 heavyweight of the decade Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
His record and run of complete dominance from start makes him a strong candidate for Fighter of the Decade.
The Winner: Miguel Torres vs Yoshiro Maeda WEC 34
I have not watched every fight this decade, I have not even watched every main event this decade. But for my money this is the most entertaining, thrilling fight I have ever seen.
When the fighters were standing it was a kickboxing war and when the fight hit the mat it was a technical masterpiece. This fight literally had everything, flurries in the center of the cage to the legendary moment of were both fighters secured ankle locks and both refused to submit to the pain.
A doctor stoppage ended this fight in favor of Torres and I have never been so sad to see a fight end early. I would give anything if I could have seen the final two rounds and that the sign of a truly great fight.
The Winner: Fedor Emelianenko
This was a three-way race between Anderson Silva, Fedor and Miguel Torres.
B.J. Penn had that middle period where he was bouncing around weight-classes and had cardio issues as a result. Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes both faded for the last few years of this decade and Faber's losses to Mike Thomas Brown take him out the running.
Anderson Silva, while amazing, was not dominating in the first half of the decade, while Torres and Fedor had straight runs through the decade.
The deciding factor between Torres and Fedor is the fact that Torres lost his final fight of the decade and Fedor beat a rising young heavyweight. So Fedor joins Bas Rutten (1990-1999) as a fighter that dominated a full decade of MMA.