Six months of mixed martial arts action across the globe is officially in the books.
Without further ado, here is the first half hardware.
Best Fighter: Rashad Evans
The former UFC light-heavyweight champion takes the cake after bouncing back with two high profile main event victories.
After a disappointing loss to Lyoto Machida in late 2009, Evans recorded back-to-back unanimous decisions over Thiago Silva at UFC 108 and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114.
It was evident he had gone back to wrestling basics in his training camps leading up to each bout as he largely controlled both opponents with his superior grappling.
Neither fight was particularly aesthetically pleasing.
Evans was briefly stunned in both bouts. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and he successfully executed game plans against two legitimate top ten light-heavyweights.
For his efforts he was granted a title shot by the UFC brass against the current 205-pound kingpin Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Evans is unlikely to remain the best fighter for the entire calendar year as he will likely sit out until early 2011 when Rua is completely healed from injury.
Honorable mention (in no particular order): Ben Henderson, Cris Santos, Mauricio Rua, Jose Aldo, Fabricio Werdum, Dominick Cruz, Alistair Overeem, Gilbert Melendez.
Best Fight: Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung
WEC 48 was the sight of this highly entertaining, epic slugfest.
This fight turned out to be the perfect conduit between free programming on Spike TV and the WEC’s inaugural pay-per-view broadcast.
Both men decided from the outset to throw caution to the wind and put on a show for the fans. These two were quite the combustible concoction.
The sheer volume of strikes and the heart put on display by both men were something to behold.
It certainly was not the most technical fight ever waged, but nobody seemed to care.
Both hardcore and casual fans were on the edge of their seats enjoying the windmill-fest and trying to ascertain who would hit the canvas first.
Turns out both were game for the full fifteen minutes. Garcia would go on to win the controversial split decision victory. Conversely, the “Korean Zombie” became a cult hero in defeat.
Honorable mention: Mark Hominick over Yves Jabouin (WEC 49), Carlos Condit over Rory MacDonald (UFC 115).
Best Knockout: Mike Russow over Todd Duffee
The hype for the 24-year-old physical specimen Duffee was white hot coming off his UFC record seven second knockout of Tim Hague in his debut at UFC 102.
UFC 114 was the setting for the second fight inside the octagon. This time it would be against the veteran Mike Russow, who came in a significant underdog. For two and a half rounds, it played out like most anticipated.
In the first round, Duffee was bullying Russow along the fence and rocked him with a right uppercut that collapsed him.
The punishment continued throughout the opening frame. It was a round that could have easily been scored 10-8 for Duffee.
The next round and a half was more of the same. The reach advantage and the angles being created by Duffee continued to give Russow fits and he was paying the price. Nobody was quite sure how Russow’s chin was withstanding the cumulative damage.
Russow was well on his way to seeking out the nearest Tylenol bottle after being on the wrong end of the lopsided affair. That was until about halfway through the third and final round when everything came to a screeching halt in the blink of an eye.
Russow unleashed a devastating right hand to the temple of Duffee and it knocked him out cold. Referee Josh Rosenthal was forced to stop the fight.
It was unforeseen and spectacular.
Honorable mention: Zoila Frausto over Rosi Sexton (Bellator 23), Marlon Sandro over Masanori Kanehara (WVR: SRC 13), Marlon Sandro over Tomonari Kanomata (WVR: SRC 12), Robbie Lawler over Melvin Manhoef (Strikeforce: Miami), Anthony Pettis over Danny Castillo (WEC 47), Paul Daley over Dustin Hazelett (UFC 108), Pat Curran over Mike Ricci (Bellator 14), John Howard over Daniel Roberts (UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones).
*** Part 2 of 3 will feature the Best Submission, Worst Decision, and Biggest Upset. ***