With just a couple weeks left in 2010, it's time to look back on all that has transpired in the world of the Mixed Martial Arts.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held numbered events 108 through 124, as well as Ultimate Fight Nights 20, 21, and 22, two events on Versus- both of which saw light heavyweight phenom Jon "Bones" Jones dispose of veteran opponents rather quickly- and crowned two new Ultimate Fighters, Court McGee and Jonathan Brookins. The year also saw the UFC's lightweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight belts change hands.
The UFC's sister promotion, the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), ran eight events (46-53) in 2010, with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and featherweight champion Jose Aldo successfully defending their titles during the year, while lightweight champion Ben Henderson defended his belt against Donald Cerrone at WEC 48, before losing it to Anthony Pettis in the WEC's final bout at WEC 53.
Strikeforce held eight events in 2010, crowning six new champions in the process. However, the promotion's two most notable fights of the year were non-championship bouts. But more on that later.
This article will highlight the ten biggest names and stories of the Mixed Marital Arts world in 2010. Feel free to comment weighing in on anything I might have missed or how you would have ordered things.
Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter receives my Honorable mention, and was significant for three reasons.
1) The season was the first to introduce the "wildcard" format, in which two fighters who were eliminated in the first round of team competition squared off for a spot in the quarterfinals.
2) Season 11 marked the first season in which all the competitors lost at some point during the show itself. Eventual champion Court McGee lost a controversial decision to Nick Ring, but replaced and injured Rich Attonito. Runner-up Kris McCray lost to Josh Bryant, but gained a wildcard spot, and beat Kyacey Uscola, Kyle Noke, and Bryant before losing to McGee at the Ultimate Finale. All other competitors were eliminated in or before the semifinals.
3) Tito Ortiz pulled out of his UFC 115 bout with Chuck Liddell, and was replaced as a coach by Rich Franklin in the final episode. Team Ortiz/Franklin fighter Kris McCray defeats Josh Bryant, and Franklin jokes that he's the only coach to ever go undefeated during a season of The Ultimate Fighter.
After questionable judges' decisions in the main events of two of 2009's final cards- Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua at UFC 104 and Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera at UFC 105- MMA fans hoped things could only get better going in to 2010. Unfortunately, this was not so.
2010 saw even more bouts stricken by poor judging. Off the top of my head, here's a list of UFC and WEC bouts that saw deserving fighters lose due to poor judging.
-Tom Lawlor vs. Aaron Simpson (UFC Fight Night 20)
-BJ Penn vs. Frank Edgar (UFC 112- Lightweight Championship)- Admittedly, I thought Edgar won the fight, but giving him all five rounds was ridiculous.
-Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung (WEC 48)
-Jason Brilz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 114)
-Evan Dunham vs. Sean Sherk (UFC 119)
-Tyson Griffin vs. Nik Lentz (UFC 123)
-Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia (Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
Garcia vs. Phan may have been the biggest bowel movement of a decision, and you can hear the crowd's reaction in the video above.
Fighters are warned not to leave fights in the hands of the judges, but they shouldn't be scared to do so. The UFC and other organizations need to make some changes, there's just no other way of putting it.
British striker (which is redundant, really) Paul "Semtex" Daley had momentum coming in to 2010. He had knocked out Martin Kampmann halfway through the first round of his UFC debut at UFC 103. Daley then faced Dustin Hazelett at UFC 108, the first card of the new year. Daley obliterated Hazelett with a left hook and a few ground punches, stopping the fight 2 minutes and 24 seconds in to the first round. Daley earned Knockout of the Night honors.
With the win, Daley earned a top contender fight with Josh Koscheck, with the winner in line to coach The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 opposite Georges St. Pierre, then fight for St. Pierre's welterweight title. Koscheck used his wrestling skills to keep Daley's striking at bay, and won a unanimous decision. However, arguably the most effective strike Daley landed all night was a cheap shot after the bell. The punch got Daley booted from the UFC, and Dana White said Daley will never be back "(Even if) he's the number one welterweight in the world... you never hit a guy like that after the bell."*
Since being released from the UFC, Daley has gone 3-0, with wins over Daniel Acacio, Jorge Masvidal, and a first-round knockout win over Scott Smith in his Strikeforce debut. The win puts Daley in the Strikeforce welterweight title picture, and he called out former top contender KJ Noons after the fight.
The UFC booted Daley, but if he keeps winning, he may have the last laugh. With potential fights against Noons and Nick Diaz, as well as fellow contenders Tyron Woodley and Jay Hieron, fans of the sport should be entertained as Daley's journey takes its course.
* Anyone else remember White saying something similar about Karo Parisyan last November?
Shogun Rua finishes off Lyoto Machida.
When Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua first faced off for Machida's light heavyweight belt at UFC 104 in October of 2009, Machida walked away with the victory after one of the worst decisions of 2009 (see #10). The fans at the arena, who had been largely pro-Machida, booed when the decision was announced, and UFC president Dana White announced there would be an immediate rematch.
When the two squared off the second time, at UFC 113 in Montreal, the story was quite different. Machida scored a couple of takedowns, but three and a half minutes in to the fight, Shogun clipped Machida on the ear with a punch, mounted his rocked opponent, and finished him with strikes from the mount position, earning the light heavyweight belt, as well as Knockout of the Night and Knockout of the Year honors.
Shogun is expected to make his first title defense against Rashad Evans some time in early 2011, after the champion recovers from knee surgery.
James "Lights Out" Toney is a legend of the boxing world, having compiled a record of 73-6-3, with 2 No Contests. As a Mixed Martial Artist, however, his record stands at 0-1.
Toney attended UFC 108, and, confident he could knock out any UFC heavyweight, eventually signed a contract with the UFC. After six months or so, Toney made his UFC debut against former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion, and UFC Hall of Famer, Randy Couture. During the fight, chants of "UFC! UFC! UFC!" could be heard coming from the fans. Couture took Toney down before the boxer could throw a punch, quickly mounted Toney, and forced him to submit to an arm-triangle choke 3:19 in to the fight. Couture was awarded his black belt in Neil Melanson's catch-wrestling for the submission. Both Couture and White praised Toney for stepping up and actually taking a fight rather than simply talking trash about MMA.
Though Toney was released from his UFC contract shortly after the Couture fight, he and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson have been involved in a war of words, with Rampage even saying he would stand with Toney and try to knock him out if the two fought.
Strikeforce: Nashville took place on April 17th, and marked the Strikeforce debuts of lightweight standout Shinya Aoki and former Pride champion and UFC star Dan Henderson. The three bouts on the main card were all title bouts, with light heavyweight challenger Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, and middleweight champion Jake Shields all using superior grappling to soundly defeat Gegard Mousasi, Aoki, and Henderson by decision. However, what happened after the final bout is what most fans remember the card for.
After the Shields/Henderson fight, Jason "Mayhem" Miller made his way in to the cage, and while Shields was being interviewed, grabbed the microphone and asked "Where's my rematch, buddy?" What ensued was chaos, as members of Shields' corner, including Nick and Nate Diaz, attacked Miller.
See for yourself.
Neither Miller nor any of the members of Shields' clan were suspended stemming from the brawl, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was left with a WWE-flavored taste in my mouth when all was said and done.
Brock Lesnar entered 2010 battling his toughest opponent yet, a nasty case of diverticulitis that put his fight with Shane Carwin on hold for nearly eight months. Lesnar made a miraculous recovery, and Lesnar vs. Carwin was announced to be the main event at UFC 116 on July 3rd. Billed as the biggest heavyweight fight in UFC history, the first four fights on the main card all came through, and the atmosphere was electric leading up to the main event. In the first round, Carwin caught Lesnar with an uppercut and eventually knocked him down, standing over Lesnar throwing punchers for the better part of the round. Lesnar survived the onslaught, and when the second round began, it was obvious that Carwin had gassed himself out. Lesnar capitalized, scoring a takedown and forcing Carwin to tap out to an arm-triangle choke. Lesnar was uncharacteristically humble after the fight, but still referred to himself as "The toughest S.O.B around."
Lesnar's next challenger would be undefeated Cain Velasquez. The fight was to take place on October 23rd at UFC 121, and Spike TV and the UFC ran a "Brocktober" promotion, featuring in-depth looks at Lesnar and Velasquez's training and generally featuring more UFC material. However, Velasquez dominated Lesnar in their title fight, escaping from the champion's takedowns, and swarming him with punches until the bout was stopped just over four minutes in to the first round. The HurriCain had made it's statement in Brocktober.
Velasquez is set to make his first title defense against Junior dos Santos, in what should be a hell of a fight.
At this time last year, BJ Penn looked unstoppable at lightweight. He finished off Kenny Florian with a rear-naked choke at UFC 101, and followed that up with a complete and utter destruction of Diego Sanchez at UFC 107. During the bout, Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg joked that the only fighter who could beat Penn at lightweight would be a lightweight version of Georges St. Pierre, or maybe Japanese standout Shinya Aoki.
As it turns out, they were wrong. A lackluster performance by Gray Maynard against Nate Diaz at Ultimate Fight Night 20 granted Frankie "The Answer" Edgar a shot at the title at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi. Many fans and writers, myself (solely a fan at that point) included, wrote Edgar off, thinking he had nothing for Penn. But Edgar surprised everyone, using his speed and footwork to get in range, land a couple of strikes, and get out of range before Penn could land any real damaging punches. Edgar even took Penn down a couple of times, something that hadn't been done to "The Prodigy" since UFC 35, when he lost a title bout to Jens Pulver. The bout went the distance, and in another case of odd judging, the fight was awarded to Edgar by scores of 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47. Edgar certainly did enough to take three of five rounds, but to give him five rounds was ludicrous (once again, see slide #10).
Due to how close the first fight was, Penn and Edgar fought in an immediate rematch at UFC 118 in Boston. In that fight, Edgar left little doubt that he was the champion, using precise striking and better wrestling, and handling Penn to legitimately win all five rounds and retain his lightweight belt.
Edgar defends his belt for a second time against Gray Maynard- the only man to beat Edgar- at UFC 125 on New Year's Day.
Perhaps the fighter who made the biggest name for himself- to the casual fan, at least- in 2010 is middleweight Chael Sonnen. Sonnen fought Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 in a top contender's fight, and used his wrestling to win a dominating upset. Sonnen was put on a 90-day medical suspension following the bout, so he wouldn't face middleweight Champion Anderson Silva until UFC 117 in August, rather than April, but he used the extra time to his advantage.
After Silva defended his belt against Demian Maia at UFC 112, Sonnen began talking a preposterous amount of trash, and it did wonders. Fans like myself, who were sick of Anderson Silva after the antics in his fight against Maia, became more excited with every word, and only hoped Sonnen could fulfill his promise of a "It's gonna be a five-round beatdown, and I'm swinging the hammer." Silva fans- as well as fans of Black House, the Nogueira brothers, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in general- on the other hand, heard Sonnen talking all this trash, and couldn't wait for Silva to put this Sonnen clown in his place. The fight was hyped, and Sonnen had done his job.
When the fight came, Sonnen delivered. He held his own on the feet, even arguably rocking Silva, and used his wrestling to control Silva on the ground for the first four rounds. After four rounds, Sonnen was up 40-35, 40-35, and 40-34 on the judges' scorecards. Sonnen took Silva down once again in the fifth round, and Joe Rogan said something to the effect of "Unless Sonnen has a stroke, he's winning this fight." But then something happened. Whether it was a brief mental lapse, fatigue, or the adrenaline from the first four and a half rounds wearing off, Sonnen posted his hand on the mat, and Silva countered with a triangle choke, forcing Sonnen to tap with 1:50 left in the fight. Silva had come back, but he had been exposed.
A few weeks after the fight, doping tests revealed that Sonnen had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone, and was suspended until September of 2011. Sonnen appealed his suspension and got it reduced to six months, ending in March of 2011. Meanwhile, Silva will fight fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort at UFC 126, with the winner facing Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami some time later in 2011.
When Dana White announced in October that he had an important announcement to make, MMA fans weren't sure what to expect. A big-name signing? The coaches for The Ultimate Fighter 13? He's pregnant? In the end, White announced that the UFC was absorbing its sister promotion, the WEC (both the UFC and WEC are owned by Zuffa). The UFC would now have a bantamweight and featherweight division, and the WEC's lightweight division would be combined with the UFC's lightweight division.
This announcement was met with mixed responses. Some were disappointed that the WEC was joining the UFC, since the promotion had been putting on exciting and successful cards independently. Others were ecstatic to learn that fighters like Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo would be fighting under the UFC banner, and that the lesser-known, exciting fighters of the WEC would be earning more attention and money fighting for the UFC.
The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale was the first UFC card to feature featherweight and bantamweight bouts. In the UFC's first featherweight fight, Pablo Garza knocked out Fredson Paixao with a flying knee that sounded like something out of a home run derby. Talk about your opening statements.
Not to be outdone, the WEC put on its final card on December 16th. A stacked card featuring two championship bouts, undoubtedly the most exciting moment came with a minute left in the organization's final fight. In a close bout for the lightweight championship, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis lived up to his nickname with a running, jumping kick off the cage's fence that landed flush on Ben Henderson's face. Henderson wasn't knocked out, but Pettis went on to win a decision and become the WEC's final lightweight champion. Talk about your closing statements.
Since I can only post one video, here's the link to the "Showtime Kick"- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEm4c33W4QU
Pettis will face the winner of the New Year's Day Frank Edgar/Gray Maynard fight in a title unification bout sometime later in 2011.
As if you didn't see this coming.
For years, Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko ruled the heavyweight MMA world. Between 2000 and 2010, Fedor went 31-1 with one No Contest, with his only loss stemming from a cut from an illegal elbow. The cut prevented Fedor from moving on in a tournament, so he was declared the loser.
Emelianenko would go on to become the PRIDE heavyweight champion, defeating the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Kevin Randleman, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, and Heath Herring, among countless others. When PRIDE disbanded, Emelianenko fought in Affliction and later Strikeforce, submitting Tim Sylvia and knocking out Andrei Arlovski in Affliction, and knocking out the undefeated Brett Rogers in his Strikeforce debut.
Fedor's next fight would take place against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Fabricio Werdum, at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum on June 26. With chants of "Fedor! Fedor! Fedor!" echoing through the arena, Fedor knocked Werdum to the canvas with a quick combination. Fedor pounced on Werdum, dropping hamemrfists until Werdum almost caught him in an armbar. Fedor escaped the armlock and continued to punch Werdum from inside his guard, until Werdum wrapped up a triangle choke. After a struggle of about 25 seconds, Fedor was forced to tap, just 69 seconds in to the fight. With the shortest win of his career, Werdum had sent shockwaves through the Mixed Martial Arts world.
Though Fedor and his team expressed interest in a rematch, Werdum is sidelined indefinitely while recovering from elbow surgery. Emelianenko is reportedly fighting Antonio Silva at Strikeforce 30 in January 2011.
As a reward for making it this far, here's a picture of UFC Octagon Girl Arianny Celeste.
As I said, feel free- hell, feel encouraged- to leave comments on how you would have ordered anything or any moments I might have missed.
Thanks for reading!