Fighter of the Year: Vitor Belfort
At the beginning of 2009, Vitor Belfort was largely thought to be one of MMA's squandered talents. Blessed with crippling punching power, the “fastest hands in MMA” and a sturdy BJJ game, Vitor Belfort was the UFC's original “Prodigy.” After failed runs at Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight, perhaps the old adage “third time's the charm" applies.
Making the tough cut to 185lbs Vitor stopped highly respected Matt Lindland, and Rich Franklin in 2009 in a combined 3:39 seconds to claim a title shot with divisional kingpin Anderson Silva. Perhaps the time has finally come for Vitor Belfort to claim his mantle by slaying MMA's most feared fighter. Or perhaps he has us set up once again for another disappointment.
Female Fighter of the Year: Miku Matsumoto
While many fell all over themselves to cover Cyborg vs. Carano (see: me). Miku Matsumoto was busy cementing herself as the queen of the 106lb weight division. With wins over Top 10 fighters “Windy” Tomomi and a three-round decimation of rival Lisa Ward, Matsumoto finished the year with three wins and a declaration of a future tussle with superwoman Megumi Fujii.
Team of the Year: Nova União
If it's sub 160lbs Nova Uniao owns it right now. Current 145lb champion Jose Aldo, King of Pancrase Marlon Sandro, and Shooto 123lb king Jussier da Silva, all reside under Nova Uniao's banner.
As if that wasn't enough, they have a roster with the likes of Rhonnys Torres, established top-five lightweight Vitor Ribero, the former IFL Featherweight Champion Wagnney Fabiano, UFC castoff Thales Leites, and a ton of other quality fighters. Did I mention BJ Penn was once (and to a certain extent still is) a member?
Promotion of the Year: UFC
Kind of obvious, I know.
Show of the Year: UFC 100
Besides reaching its enumerative centennial, UFC 100 featured three main-event caliber fights on its docket. While most of the post-card banter centered around a childish, WWE-like display from the current 265lb king, the mark of the card will be judged on the 1.6M PPV buy number it garnered.
Fight of the Year: Melendez vs. Thompson II, Strikeforce: Evolution
While I've made my case for the one-sided nature of the fight, it was still high entertainment value fighting at its best.
Worst Fight of the Year: Mohammad Lawal vs. Mark Kerr, M-1: Breakthrough
Possibly the worst Main Event ever televised. King Mo made short work of an unrecognizable “Titan.” It may not have been the most boring fight of the year, which normally get these sort of awards. It was, however, unquestionably the saddest moment of this 2009 year.
Knockout of the Year: Marcus “Lelo” Aurelio over Keegan Marshall via Spinning Capoeira Kick
I have a bit of an affinity for lost arts being used in MMA. It doesn't get too much better than this as far as crushing KO's either.
Submission of the Year: Naoyuki Kotani submits Daisuke Nakamura via Scissor Leg Choke, ZST 22.
Toby Imada, shmada. Naoyuki Kotani busted out a submission straight out of pro wrestling at ZST 22 with his Scissor Leg Choke. It was particularly ironic considering Nakamura's shoot wrestling background. Irony not lost on me.
Main Event of the Year: Gina Carano vs. Cristine “Cyborg” Santos, Strikeforce: Cyborg vs. Carano
Beyond the fact a women's bout headlined a stacked summer card for Strikeforce, Carano vs. Santos was probably the best roller-coaster ride we had last year—even in its totally one sided ass-whooping. The sloppy nature of the fight, and the crowd atmosphere, led to it to be one of the most fun fights of '09.
Upset of the Year: Joe Warren over Kid Yamamoto, DREAM.9
For about half the year, Joe Warren was Sherdog.com's prospect of the year. While that all came crumbling down in a matter of seconds against Bibliano Fernandes, this stunning win captured the MMA world more than any other in 2009.
Referee of the Year: Herb Dean
See previous article.
Commentator of the Year: Micheal Schiavello
Whatever you think of “The Voice,” Micheal has infused every telecast he's been on this year with energy, enhancing the moment better than any other announcer in the business.
While others have boring catchphrases, and spinsters administrating their every word, Schiavello comes with a rare blend of enthusiasm, and knowledge that allows him to make up for his partners shortcomings and provide and entertaining experience beyond what the simple match can provide.
While he's not everyone's cup of tea, due to his zany, off-the-cuff witticisms and pet names, Schiavello is the best the sport has to offer behind the mic.
What that says for the state of the commentating though, is perhaps the most telling.
Worst Commentator of the Year: Guy Mezger
While Schiavello tries his best to keep you awake at the wee hours of the morning, Guy tries to put you to sleep. Classic lines of the year from him are, “These Japanese people are crazy,” and when asked about a specific rule: “ I dunno man, these Japenese people are crazy,” about sum his performance this 2009 year.
While Frank Shamrock and Joe Rogan have bias issues, at least they have good excuses for why they say the things they do. He, on the other hand, seems intent that all he needs to do is show up and not fall asleep cageside. Unacceptable.
Worst Referee of the Year: Steve Mazagatti
The one thing Dana White and I agree on is we both want Steve Mazagatti to be run out of the sport in a spaceship with no hope of return. The man's quick stoppages have turned the matches he officiates into first one to fall down loses contests.
It's embarrassing that he still gets work and is a prime example of why experience doesn't really mean anything at the end of the day.
Forgotten Fighter of the Year: Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante
Still one of the sports top lightweights, “JZ” fought once in 2009, losing a Unanimous Decision to Japanese No. 1 contender Tatsuya Kawajiri. After building a name for himself with wins over Hiroyuki Takaya, Hidetaka Monma, Michihiro Omigawa, Vitor Ribero, and Caol Uno, he now seems all but forgotten in the DREAM hierarchy.
That's a real shame.
Dope of the Year: War Machine
After getting cut from the UFC in an act of stupidity, the self-proclaimed “War Machine” did a video interview where he made a number of really thoughtless, arrogant plugs about his stance on women. Highlight of these where his discussions about pheromones (I'll admit a word I previously thought too big for him) and how exactly he “terrorizes” women.
Later in the interview he talks about easy paydays. It's only fitting that later that year he would lose a fight to a relative nobody at Tachi Palace Fights. A fate well earned.
Story of the Year: Strikeforce signs Fedor; Affliction folds
When Affliction died of natural causes in the summer, all eyes turned to where fighters would go. Many had trained, and had bills to pay, and mouths to feed. Some where absorbed by Strikeforce, others by the UFC. However, Fedor was the big fish the UFC wanted.
In the end they couldn't agree to sacrifice their market strategy for a single fighter. Even the best one to ever put on 4-6 ounce gloves.
While ZUFFA spent a month waffling. Strikeforce seized the moment to claim him. The capture eventually led to a CBS card which showed encouraging numbers and has polarized MMA in ways we haven't seen since the days of Pride.
We MMA fans can't thrive after all unless we can all hate and scheme against each other. We're like Renaissance era Italy, only without the legalized prostitution....unfortunately.