This year was full of up and coming stars, dominant veterans, championships changing hands and the continued supremacy of the UFC.
Brock Lesnar stampeded through the heavyweight division, trampling his competition with the same ferociousness that Cain Velasquez unloaded on the once-heavyweight champion.
Anderson Silva continued to champion the UFC middleweight division. The once invincible "Spider" has fought down to his competition and the air of supremacy that was associated with Silva is now questioned.
But who can question the abilities of the UFC welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre? Arguably the greatest fighter on the planet, Georges' multi-dimensional fighting abilities make the most seasoned welterweights look like amateurs.
Additionally, rising stars within Strikeforce and Bellator Fighting Championships are becoming household names including Gilbert Melendez, Hector Lombard and the "Showtime kick" king, Anthony Pettis.
With all these storylines emerging at the close of 2010, this is a list of the 15 must-see MMA fights in 2011. I welcome your comments and I look forward to another year of exciting mixed martial arts action.
Enjoy your New Year!
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The resurgence of Thiago "Pitbull" Alves at UFC 124 in Montreal was a monumental turning point in his career. After two losses to top welterweight John Fitch and current champion Georges St-Pierre, the "Pitbull's" muay thai clinic exhibited against John Howard has placed Alves back into welterweight contention.
On the other side of the octagon stands Carlos "Natural Born Killer" Condit. The former WEC welterweight champion possesses a 26-5 overall MMA record. With significant victories over Dan Hardy, Rory McDonald and Jake Ellenberger, Condit is quickly ascending the welterweight ladder.
Next year will serve as the opportunity for one of these elite welterweights to rise above the rest. Their match-up is inevitable and the winner will have a chance at the welterweight championship.
The lightweight division in the UFC is loaded with tremendous talent. The current champion, Frankie Edgar, closed 2010 with two monumental victories over "The Prodigy" BJ Penn. In the rearview mirror stands amazing MMA talent, including Evan Dunham and jiu-jitsu great, Charles Oliveira.
With a 4-1 record in the UFC, Dunham suffered his first loss to veteran Sean Sherk via split decision. Scheduled to fight Melvin Guillard at "Fight for the Troops 2" on January 22, 2011, Evan continues to be a threat for the lightweight belt.
Also suffering his first loss, Charles Oliveira has a 14-1 MMA record. A wizard on the ground with "feet as hands," as Joe Rogan humorously stated, Oliveira is a rising star within the UFC at the age of 21.
A collision course of ground tactics and stand up brilliance between these two young lightweights is in the future and should come to fruition in 2011.
"The California Kid" Urijah Faber once dominated the WEC featherweight division as champion off and on for three years. With five consecutive title defenses to his honor, Urijah is a fighting champion and one who does not back down from the competition.
A recent loss to the destructive force known as Jose Aldo has forced Urijah to drop to the 135 pound bantamweight division. Attempting to regain the dominance he once exhibited as a featherweight, Faber will need to challenge current bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz.
With a 17-1 MMA record, Cruz's only loss within the octagon was to Urijah Faber. Coming off two successful defenses of his bantamweight championship, Cruz recently called out Faber after defeating Scott Jorgensen on December 16, 2010.
Both fighters have amazing cage abilities and are non-stop action. A match-up between these two bantamweights would elevate the division to a new level.
In 2011 we will witness Cruz avenge his only loss within the Octagon, or we will pay homage to a new bantamweight champion and former featherweight champion in Urijah Faber.
Not only did Chael Sonnen lose to Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in August 2010, he verbally berated the Nogeira brothers, jiu-jitsu and its place within mixed martial arts and the country of Brazil.
It was a brash trifecta of disrespect to a nation full of tremendously talented jiu-jitsu practitioners who have evolved into world class MMA competitors and champions.
The simple irony is that Chael lost via triangle choke; a jiu-jitsu hold employed by a jiu-jitsu black belt during a fight in which Sonnen was dominating for over four rounds. How do you feel about jiu-jitsu now Chael?
Regardless of Sonnen's current feelings regarding the Nogeira brothers, jiu-jitsu or Brazil, the damage has already been done. And the one man with the ability to exact retribution is Wanderlei Silva.
For the MMA purists, Silva needs no introduction. Rightfully named the "Axe Murderer," Wanderlei has been a fighting champion within the Pride Fighting Championships organization for many years.
Known for his unrelenting aggression and knock out strikes, the "Axe Murderer" will have vengeance on his mind when he meets Sonnen in the middle of the Octagon.
Next year will be the year in which Wanderlei Silva may serve Chael Sonnen his words on a platter of ferocious hooks, ill-intended uppercuts and explosive knee strikes.
Jon "Bones" Jones
Looking to rebound after a controversial loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 123 in November 2010, Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida will need a victory over a formidable opponent to ascend up the UFC light heavyweight ladder.
Jon "Bones" Jones is an up and coming star within the UFC light heavyweight division. With dominant victories over Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko, Jones' status would be propelled to championship contender status with a victory over the one-time UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida.
Both fighters exhibit very unorthodox fighting styles and this match-up would be extremely intriguing. Re-establishing dominance within the light heavyweight division would be a gratifying outcome for Machida if a victory is earned. On the other side of the Octagon, a win over "The Dragon" would catapult "Bones" into title talk and provide him an opportunity to compete for the championship.
Frankie Edgar is the current UFC lightweight champion. With two career defining victories over the once invincible "The Prodigy" BJ Penn, Edgar is at the top of the lightweight division.
Defending his championship against Gray Maynard on New Year's Day at UFC 125, Edgar will be looking to avenge his only loss within the octagon.
Lesser known Eddie Alvarez is the current Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight champion. Possessing a 21-2 overall MMA mark, "The Silent Assassin" has competed worldwide with fights in Russia, Japan and here in the United States.
Both champions have a tremendous wrestling pedigree. Additionally, both have the ability to maintain a relentless pace within the Octagon. Equally balanced in their stand up skills and ground game, a battle of champions would determine the best 155 pound fighter on the planet.
I have goose bumps just thinking about this next match-up!
The No. 1 featherweight in the world and the No. 3 pound for pound fighter on the planet is the current UFC 145 pound champion, Jose Aldo.
Extremely explosive, tremendously dynamic, unrelenting and with amazing fighting abilities, Aldo is truly a destructive force within the octagon.
Annihilating each opponent with a multitude of punches and kicks, Jose Aldo is yet to be challenged during his championship reign.
With an 18-2 overall MMA record, Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez is the current Strikeforce lightweight champion. Fighting at the 155-pound weight class, Melendez is yet to face the best competition in the world. With victories over Shinya Aoki and Josh Thomson, "El Nino" needs a win over a top-tier talent to establish more credibility within the ultimate fighting community.
Considering the difference in weight classes, a catch weight of 150 pounds would need to be agreed upon prior to this match-up taking place.
In the end, debates regarding Jose Aldo's overall abilities would be nullified with a victory over Gilbert Melendez. Or, respect and notoriety would be rightfully provided to the current Strikeforce lightweight champion with a victory over Jose Aldo.
These questions will be answered if this fight comes to fruition in 2011. Make it happen UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva.
Hector Lombard is not only the Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight champion, he is also a multiple-time national champion and world judo finalist.
At 27-2-1, Lombard's only two losses are to Pride Fighting Championships' veterans Akihiro Gono and Gegard Mousasi.
Currently fighting out of Coconut Creek, Florida with the American Top Team, this Cuban nationalist is tremendously talented as a striker as well as a grappler.
A recent addition to the UFC welterweight division, Jake Shields' experience and prowess as a grappler is world renowned.
With difficulties dropping to the 170-pound ceiling to fight in the welterweight division, Shields is more successful competing in the middleweight division at 185 pounds. With a match-up against current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre on the calendar, this match-up should be scheduled sometime later in 2011.
Two world class grapplers competing in the middle of the Octagon would be extremely exciting. In 2011, a fight of this magnitude needs to take place.
Earning a slick submission victory over the once undefeated jiu-jitsu black belt, Charles Oliveira, Jim Miller's post-fight interview with Joe Rogan included calling out fellow UFC lightweight and brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt George Sotiropolous.
Currently riding a seven-fight victory run in the UFC, Sotiropolous's abilities have earned him two Fight of the Night honors. Fighting in February at UFC 127, George Sotiropolous will need to overcome the technical striking of Dennis Siver prior to a match-up with Jim Miller.
A man of his word, Dana White is known for arranging the match-ups that fighters ask for. In 2011, these two brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts will square off to determine the best grappler at 155 pounds within the UFC.
Heavy handed with tremendous power in his strikes, Paul "Semtex" Daley's versatile punches demolished cage veteran Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith at his Strikeforce debut in December of 2010.
Leveling Smith with a left hook, "Hands of Steel" was knocked out prior to his head hitting the canvas.
Renowned for his stand-up abilities, Daley will need to work his pugilistic magic against one of the best ground tacticians in mixed martial arts.
Known for his arrogance and brash attitude, Nick Diaz's talents are indisputable. Earning victories over some of MMA's elite including Frank Shamrock, K.J. Noons and Takanori Gomi, Diaz combines an effective unorthodox, slap style boxing with a world class jiu-jitsu game to remain as one of the best welterweights on the planet.
Truly a stylistic nightmare on paper, this match-up will provide fireworks for the fans as both fighters are driven by their arrogance and egos to be the best.
Who wouldn't want to see a match-up of Brock Lesnar versus Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko?!
After losing his UFC heavyweight championship to Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar's fight game needs a lot of work. Improving on his stand-up abilities and enhancing his overall striking, a well-rounded Lesnar would be a formidable opponent for the one-time greatest fighter on the planet in Fedor Emelianenko.
Obviously limited in his overall abilities, Brock would need a tremendous amount of coaching to improve upon his already incredible size and strength to balance out his fight game.
Standing across the Octagon would be the aforementioned Fedor Emelianenko.
Until tapping out to Fabricio Werdum on June 26, 2010 to a triangle choke, Fedor was considered undefeated as a mixed martial artist with a 32-2(1) overall MMA record.
Possessing the distinction of holding five separate major championships, Fedor is also a gold medalist in judo as well as a world champion sambo practitioner; both of which may nullify Lesnar's wrestling pedigree.
A ferocious striker with unlimited cardiovascular conditioning, Emelianenko's talents within the octagon are legendary.
Currently without a promotion to fight under, Fedor needs a big ticket opponent to propel him back into the heavyweight discussion.
Breaking every pay-per-view record, a fight between Brock Lesnar and Fedor Emelianenko would be an earnings dynamo. Let's make this happen!
The kick heard around the world was delivered by current WEC lightweight champion* Anthony Pettis. His "Showtime" kick took out former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson this past weekend at WEC 53 in Glendale, Arizona.
Propelling himself off of the cage, Pettis delivered an explosive round house kick to Henderson's unprotected head earning him Fight of the Night honors.
(*Because of the unification between the WEC and the UFC, Anthony Pettis's lightweight championship reign was abolished and he is currently a part of the UFC lightweight division.)
The current DREAM lightweight champion, Shinya Aoki, needs to bring his talents to the United States to compete against the top lightweights in the world.
With a 26-5 overall mixed martial arts record, Aoki is known for his amazing submission skills, tapping out world class grapplers including Marcus Aurelio and Vitor Ribeiro.
Fighting once within the United States at Strikeforce: Nashville in April 2010 Shinya's loss to Gilbert Melendez is his only exposure to American fans.
A victory over the Anthony Pettis would elevate Shinya Aoki's status within the lightweight division.
Additionally, adding another highlight reel knockout to undoubtedly the greatest head kick ever delivered within the Octagon could propel Pettis to another championship contention fight in his future.
Earning seven UFC fight bonuses during his extensive career, Chris "Lights Out" Lytle possesses a well balanced fight game capable of standing and trading in the center of the octagon or competing in a jiu-jitsu competition on the mat.
With a 52-17 overall MMA record, the 36-year-old Indiana native is the ultimate gamer. Always prepared to fight and never one to back down from a challenge, "Lights Out" is a tremendous talent within the UFC welterweight division.
Scheduled to fight Carlos Condit at UFC 127 in February of 2011, the winner of that match-up should be next in line for the welterweight championship against the winner of Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields.
The lesser known Ben Askren is the current Bellator Fighting Championships welterweight champion. At 7-0, Askren does not possess the experience of Lytle. However, as an Olympic level wrestler and world class grappler, Askren possesses the work ethic and ground game necessary to compete on the mat with Chris Lytle.
Always improving in his stand-up game, Ben Askren will need to develop his striking to stand and trade with one of the welterweight division's best boxers.
Understandably outmatched on paper, Ben Askren will need to utilize all his talents to be victorious over Chris Lytle.
Cain Velasquez's stand-up clinic enforced upon Brock Lesnar earned the current UFC heavyweight champion Knockout of the Night and Knockout of the Year honors.
With a 9-0 overall MMA record with six victories within the UFC, all but one of Velasquez's victories are by (T)KO.
Tremendously gifted on his feet, Cain is also a two time All-American Division I NCAA wrestler at Arizona State University.
With a balanced fight game, this 28-year-old champion continues to develop his overall fighting abilities.
Scheduled to defend his championship against Junior dos Santos at UFC 129 in Toronto, Canada, a match-up against current Strikeforce heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem, would not be plausible until the latter end of 2011.
Recently winning the K-1 World Grand Prix Championships, Alistair Overeem is also the current Strikeforce heavyweight champion.
At 265 pounds of fight-ready muscle, this Dutch kickboxing sensation combines explosive, tactical striking with a tremendous submission game.
Realizing that Dana White and the UFC has a very strict "non-compete" clause within each fighter's contract, Alistair Overeem would not be able to compete for Strikeforce or K-1 for this fight to come to reality.
Hands down, two of the greatest mixed martial arts kickboxers would battle for supremacy in this match-up.
A fight between current UFC welterweight champion Georges "Rush" St-Pierre and current UFC middleweight champion Anderson "The Spider" Silva would determine the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
Both fighters' Octagon resumes speak for themselves. Their abilities are scrutinized and analyzed by pundits worldwide. The analysis on paper is worthy of continuous debates.
In reality, I do not see this fight coming to fruition for two reasons. First, St-Pierre will defend his welterweight belt against Jake Shields sometime in 2011.
Additionally, Silva will defend his middleweight title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 in February 2011 and then again in 2011 against the No. 1 contender Yushin Okami.
Therefore, logistically, fitting in a fight of this magnitude within the 2011 calendar year will be a challenge.
The second reason I do not see this fight coming to fruition is the fact there is too much to lose for the UFC.
If Silva wins, most would say that he is supposed to win considering he is the larger man and has tremendous knockout ability.
On the contrary, if St-Pierre wins, Silva's status as one of the world's best mixed martial artists will be in jeopardy.
In the end, the theory of this fight is wonderful for the fans. However, the outcome of this fight is damaging to the UFC as a business. Therefore, I do not see it happening.
But as a fan, I can wish for this match-up.