2010 was another banner year in mixed martial arts around the globe. Without further adieu, here is the end of the year hardware:
Fighter of the Year – Cain Velasquez
This undefeated prospect morphed into a heavyweight champion and bonafide superstar over the past twelve months.
His breakout performance came in Sydney, Australia at the UFC 110 event this past February.
With a crisp punching combination in close, he floored his formidable adversary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He pounced and finished off the Brazilian legend as referee Herb Dean was forced to waive off the fight. It was just the second time ever in the long career of Nogueira that he had been stopped due to strikes.
Velasquez was eventually granted a shot at the UFC heavyweight title occupied by Brock Lesnar. The pair did battle in the main event of UFC 121.
It was arguably the most anticipated fight of the year and generated a ton of buzz both inside the MMA community and the mainstream sports arena.
Once the cage door closed it did not take long to see that speed and technique would trump size and power.
The American Kickboxing Academy-product left a bloodied Lesnar in a heap and his hand was raised as the newly crowned champion.
It was a stirring first round beatdown and the icing on the cake in an economical and dominant calendar year for the 28-year-old Velasquez.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Frankie Edgar, Nick Diaz, Rashad Evans.
Fight of the Year – Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki 2 (WVR: SRC 14)
Neither a “Showtime kick” nor a slugfest involving a “Korean Zombie” was enough to top this back-and-forth five round war for the Sengoku middleweight title belt this past August.
The opening stanza was rather tame, with Misaki controlling the round due to multiple takedowns.
Round two saw Misaki seize the neck of Santiago and lock in a deep guillotine choke. He rolled into mount, but was unable to finish off the Brazilian. Santiago threatened late with a leglock but to no avail.
From then on the technical violence escalated tenfold.
The third frame began with a head kick-straight right combination from Santiago that dropped “The Hitman.” The bout was in serious jeopardy of being stopped as Misaki was eating a host of punches while being ground and pounded. He eventually survived.
In the fourth, the tables were turned and the roles reversed as Misaki landed a clean left hook on the chin of an overly confident Santiago, who was attempting a flying knee. The punch caught him clean and he dropped to the canvas. Misaki followed up with punches from mount, an arm triangle choke attempt, and a rear naked choke attempt. Neither was executed and Santiago, much like his opponent the previous round, simply would not go away.
As soon as the fifth round began it was visibly clear Misaki had begun to wither away due to the accumulation of damage he had sustained up to that point. Santiago wasted no time and dropped his opponent with a series of punches and a clinch knee for good measure. He quickly progressed to mount position where he threatened with multiple submissions and controlled the action.
At one point, Misaki somehow had the wherewithal to sweep, but Santiago countered with one of his own off a kimura attempt. He then transitioned to a rear naked choke looking to end the fight once and for all. He eventually gave up and began to reign down punches from back position on a defenseless Misaki.
With roughly thirty seconds left in the fight the corner of Misaki had seen enough. They threw in the towel to halt the bout.
Santiago had retained his title in a battle for the ages.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung (WEC 48), Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin (WEC 49), Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald (UFC 115), Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 116), Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin (UFC 116), Scott Jorgensen vs. Brad Pickett (WEC 50), Anthony Pettis vs. Shane Roller (WEC 50), Nick Diaz vs. K.J. Noons (Strikeforce: San Jose), Cub Swanson vs. Mackens Semerzier (WEC 52), Anthony Pettis vs. Ben Henderson (WEC 53), Brad Pickett vs. Ivan Menjivar (WEC 53), Hatsu Hioki vs. Takeshi Inoue (Shooto: The Way of Shooto 3).
Knockout of the Year – Robbie Lawler over Melvin Manhoef (Strikeforce: Miami)
It seems like it took place a couple years ago, but last January set the standard by which all knockouts throughout the upcoming year would be measured.
In a battle of strikers, it was evident the elite kickboxer Manhoef was superior as soon as the bell sounded to begin the first round.
Despite having a formidable advantage in the wrestling department, Lawler seemed content to test himself out on the feet and oblige the exchanges.
For the better part of three minutes into the opening stanza Lawler was brutalized by a series of leg strikes.
Manhoef had him visibly worried and beaten down. It looked like it would only be a matter of time before the fight was over. That is, until everything changed in the blink of an eye.
While Manhoef turned up the aggression trying to finish off a battered Lawler he made the mistake of dropping his hands while he moved in to close the distance.
Lawler immediately recognized the mistake and countered with a powerful overhand right.
It struck the Dutch fighter squarely on the jaw and dropped him to the canvas immediately. Lawler quickly chased and landed a huge left hand on the way in that put his opponent out for good.
It was an incredible come from behind victory and a highlight reel finish that will not soon be forgotten.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): Mike Russow over Todd Duffee (UFC 114), Zoila Frausto over Rosi Sexton (Bellator 23), Marlon Sandro over Masanori Kanehara (WVR: SRC 13), Marlon Sandro over Tomonari Kanomata (WVR: SRC 12), Anthony Pettis over Danny Castillo (WEC 47), Paul Daley over Dustin Hazelett (UFC 108), Pat Curran over Mike Ricci (Bellator 14), Cain Velasquez over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 110), Mauricio Rua over Lyoto Machida (UFC 114), John Howard over Daniel Roberts (UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones), Gerald Harris over Dave Branch (UFC 116), Rich Franklin over Chuck Liddell (UFC 115), Sarah Kaufman over Roxanne Modafferi (Strikeforce Challengers 9), Takanori Gomi over Tyson Griffin (UFC Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko), George Roop over Chan Sung Jung (WEC 51), Carlos Condit over Dan Hardy (UFC 120), Cain Velasquez over Brock Lesnar (UFC 121), B.J. Penn over Matt Hughes (UFC 123), Pablo Garza over Fredson Paixao (Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale), Robbie Lawler over Matt Lindland (Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2), Paul Daley over Scott Smith (Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2), Eddie Wineland over Ken Stone (WEC 53), Mac Danzig over Joe Stevenson (UFC 124), Maximo Blanco over Kiuma Kunioku (WVR: SRC 15), Cole Escovedo over Yoshiro Maeda (DREAM 15), Hector Lombard over Jay Silva (Bellator 18), Tom Watson over Travis Galbraith (MFC 24), Joe Warren over Joe Soto (Bellator 27).
*** Part 2 will feature Best Submission, Worst Decision, and Biggest Upset. ***
*** Part 3 will feature Breakout Fighter, Best Comeback, and Best Event. ***
Derek Bolender is a freelance MMA writer who has contributed to outlets such as CBSSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, and MMAmania.com (in addition to BleacherReport.com). Follow him on Twitter at @DerekBolender.