Building the 2011 MMA All-Star Team
Building the Ultimate All-Star Team in any sport is always an unforgiving task, where disagreements and omissions abound. Other sports usually break it down by position in order to give it the clear structure needed to make it fair, accurate and credible.
For the Ultimate MMA All Star Team, the weight divisions must become the structure in which all fighters are measured. Like the shortstop in baseball or the left winger in hockey, the lightweight division is the best way to break down and compare fighters in MMA.
Aside from the selections by position, the other sports will then separately showcase individual skills within the game, via some sort of side competition to highlight the most exciting skills in the sport and the best players to showcase them.
Major League Baseball has the Home Run Derby, and The National Hockey League has the Skills Competition. While it would be pretty implausible, if not idiotic, to pit Anderson Silva vs. Lyoto Machida in a head kick contest, the All-Stars of individual skills must be noted and acknowledged in any All-Star break down.
In blending these two concepts together to cover all basis, I present the 2011 MMA first and second All-Star team by division, as well as stars for the various individual skills of MMA.
This is not an ongoing ranking, it is a list of my picks for the best of 2011.
1st Team - Demetrius Johnson
2011: Record 2-1, UFC Title Fight
Highlights: Demetrius "Mighty Mouse" Johnson has had the most impressive year of any bantamweight in MMA based on the fact that he climbed his way from relative anonymity to a title shot in 2011 alone.
Johnson was an umderdog in his first UFC fight in February and gained an impressive decision against Yorifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. He then faced veteran favorite Miguel Torres in a number one contender bout, where he shocked again in wrestling a victory from the heavily favoured Torres.
Johnson then got his title shot in October against champ Dominick Cruz and went the full distance in a tough five round battle that saw Cruz dominate but not finish "Mighty Mouse".
2011 Record 3-0, 1 Fight of The Night, 1 KO of the Night
Highlights: 20-year old up-and-comer Michael McDonald takes second place on the 2011 bantamweight all star team based on his undefeated record and the impressive way he has burst on to the MMA scene.
McDonald started out the year with a "Fight of the Night" win over Edwin Figueroa in March and capped it off on November 19th, with a "KO of the Night" over Alex Soto.
He also gained a victory over Chris Cariaso in between those two fights in May to secure the impressive 3-0 year.
Honorable mention: Dominick Cruz , Urijah Faber
1st Team - Patricio Friere
2011 Record 3-0
Highlights: Bellator featherweight Patricio Friere makes the first team based on his 3-0 record this year and the fact that all three fights took place in a three month span.
Friere burst out of the gate this year as a participant in the Bellator Season 4 tournament and gained a TKO and KO win to secure his place in the finals. He beat Daniel Strauss via decision to take the tournament and set himself up for a rematch against Bellator champion Joe Warren.
Friere broke his hand in training to delay that rematch and he has not fought in the back half of 2011.
2nd Team - Mark Hominick
2011 Record 1-1, faces Chan Sung Jung Dec 10th
Highlights: It has been a whirlwind year for "The Machine" and it is hard to think of anyone who has had a better 2011 in the cage than Mark Hominick.
His record is 1-1 on the year but who can forget or dismiss his gutsy loss to champion Jose Aldo at UFC 129 in April. The heart and warrior spirit displayed in that fight, including his chilling entrance to the cage vaults him past the champ Aldo into second team all star status.
Hominick is also set to take on The Korean Zombie in December to round out his year and I anticipate fireworks and a victory in that one to cement his spot.
Honorable mention: Jose Aldo, Dustin Poirier
1st Team - Donald Cerrone
2011: Record 4-0, 1 Fight of the Night, 1 Knockout of the Night, 1 Submission Of the Night
Highlights: Donald Cerrone has had a career year in MMA, and for the long time veteran and former champion, that is certainly saying something. Not only did Cerrone debut in the UFC earlier in 2011, he has gone on a four-fight win streak in his new organization with two wins as a late replacement.
Cerrone debuted with a victory over Paul Kelly in February as a replacement for Sam Stout and then replaced Stout again last month for a victory over Denis Siver. Cerrone also gained two more wins in between against Vagner Rocha and Charles Oliveira.
If "The Cowboy's" four wins in 2011 don't impress you, he is scheduled to fight a fifth time on December 30th against Nate Diaz in a very tough fight to call. Win or lose, Cerrone has been the best of the lightweight's in 2011.
2011 Record 3-0, 1 Fight of The Night
Highlights: Ben "Smooth" Henderson has joined fellow WEC alum Donald Cerrone in coming into the UFC lightweight division in 2011 and fighting his way into the mix with the best of the best in the world.
Henderson has used 2011 to defeat three very tough and top opponents to secure himself a shot at the title in early 2012. Henderson beat Mark Bocek handily in his April debut and followed it up with a surprising and legitimate win over top dog Jim Miller in August.
"Smooth" then got a number one contender match on the monumental UFC on Fox card and he did not let it go to waste as he defeated Clay Guida in impressive fashion and won Fight of the Night.
Henderson is on an incredible roll right now and he faces the champ Frankie Edgar in February in Japan.
Honorable mention: Clay Guida, Frankie Edgar
1st Team - Nick Diaz
2011: Record 3-0, 1 Fight of the Night
Highlights: Is there anyone else more worthy of first team all star at welterweight other than Nick Diaz? In a year where the UFC champion has been somewhat inactive Diaz has fought three times and won them all, invaded the UFC's deepest division and stomped himself right to the top with an impressive beat down of a legend.
Diaz simply does it all and does it all with a unique flare and beating BJ Penn stamped his place as an elite fighter in the 170-pound division and the first team all star this year. He also whooped Evangelista Santos and Paul Daley earlier this year before joining the UFC.
2011 Record 3-0, 1 KO of the Night
Highlights: Jake Ellenberger is an undefeated 3-0 in 2011 and makes the second team based on his knockout prowess this year.
Ellenberger knocked out a tough Sean Pierson at UFC 129 in very impressive fashion, and then he took a large step up and did it again to Jake Shields in September. It was Ellenberger's first time headlining for the UFC and he delivered in spades and vaulted his place among the best in the 170-pound division.
Ellenberger started the year with a split decision win over Carlos Eduardo Rocha and is now rumoured to be facing Diego Sanchez in February.
Honorable mention: Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley, Douglas Lima
1st Team - Mark Munoz
2011: Record 3-0
Highlights: Mark Munoz has vaulted himself right into title shot talk in 2011 on the heels of three very solid, workman-like wins. He started the year with a display of power in a TKO victory over C.B. Dollaway and then he just recently wrapped it up with a TKO over Chris Leben.
Munoz is a beast who is gettign more well rounded by the day but I'm not sure he has much to offer the champion Anderson Silva just yet. Munoz takes first team status based on the level of his opponents in the UFC.
2011 Record 4-0, one at a catchweight
Highlights: Bellator middleweight Hector Lombard continues to be one of the baddest dudes outside of the UFC and he has had four more impressive wins this year.
Lombard is a chiselled, imposing fighter and all of his wins this year have come by finish with two TKO's, a KO and a submission to boot. The reason why Lombard is not first team this year is because the level of his opponents is lower than those of Munoz and the fact that one of his wins is at a catchweight.
Lombard needs to think about taking the next step up in 2012.
Honorable mention: Brian Stann, Tim Kennedy
1st Team - Jon Jones
2011: Record 3-0, Won UFC Light Heavyweight Title, 1 Fight of the Night, 1 Submission of the Night
Highlights: Jon Jones has simply had one of the most successful years in MMA history in 2011. The fact that he only turned 24-years old is just the icing on the cake.
Jones began the year with a masterful submission of Ryan Bader to show who the real new star on the block was in MMA. Then he fought seasoned veteran Shogun Rua and beat Rua senseless to win the UFC title. The fact that Jones then defended it in impressive fashion against Rampage Jackson cements his spot on the first team.
Jones is the king of what many consider the toughest and deepest division in the UFC and he is not finished competing yet in 2011. He is set to face Lyoto Machida on December 10th in Toronto in his fourth fight this year.
2011 Record 3-0, 1 Fight of The Night, 1 KO of the Night
Highlights: When a 41-year old veteran warrior beats down Fedor Emelianenko and then delivers what is sure to be a "Fight of the Year" candidate, you would think he would take first team honors. I guess he has a score to settle with Jon Jones.
Henderson has been born again in 2011 and has wowed MMA fans this year with his high profile, high performance wins. He started the year bombing the heart out of Rafael Calvacante to win the Strikeforce title. He then defeated bigger legend Fedor in a brilliant knockout in July.
Henderson stamped his place as 1-1A on this list with an unbelievable battle against Shogun Rua this past month. Henderson is an aggressive, powerful warrior who seems to be defying age in Couture-like fashion, although he does tend to gas in the championship-now-headline fight rounds.
I would love to see Henderson-Jones in 2012.
Honorable mention: Tito Ortiz, Alex Gustafsson
1st Team - Junior Dos Santos
2011: Record 2-0, Won UFC Heavyweight Title, 1 Knockout of the Night
Highlights: Junior Dos Santos takes this spot due to the fact that he took part in what has to be the biggest fight of the year and he performed and won by impressive knockout. He also won the heavyweight title in the process.
If you combine that with the fact that Junior picked apart Shane Carwin and was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter to boot, he really has been first star for the UFC. Cigano is a great example for the UFC and he is clearly a company man.
2011 Record 3-0
Highlights: When you take a close look at the heavyweights in the world you really see a lot of fighters with one fight on the year and it narrows it down pretty quickly.
Daniel Cormier is one of if not the only significant heavyweight with a 3-0 record in 2011. Cormier has certainly made the most of his opportunity this year and vaulted into the elite of big men.
Cormier beat Devin Cole and Jeff Monson by decision earlier this year no big deal but then he stepped up to Antonio Silva and TKO'd him in the first round to secure his place. He now finds himself in the Strikeforce Grand Grix Finals against veteran catch-wrestler Josh Barnett.
Honorable mention: Cheick Kongo, Alistair Overeem
1st Team - Nick Diaz
There have long been two camps of critics when it comes to Nick Diaz's striking game, one that says he has some of the best boxing in all of MMA and the other that says his boxing is sloppy and slappy and ineffective.
Nick Diaz' boxing beat down of BJ Penn was a stamp on his resume and a silencer to all the naysayers. Diaz can strike for power and for damage and he can also slap you around if he damn well pleases. His knockout of Daley and destruction of Penn give him first team honors.
Is there anyone else in the world who can throw a bomb like Hendo? He has been throwing them to finish all year long and he takes second team because of it.
Henderson knocked out Calvacante and Fedor with his right hand and then the wrestler out bombed one of the best Muay Thai strikers in the world in Rua.
Honorable mention: Jon Jones, Anderson Silva
1st Team - Donald Cerrone
Donald Cerrone has taken two of his four wins in 2011 by submission with both of them impressive enough to gain him a nice bonus to put in his pocket.
Cerrone made Paul Kelly and Denis Siver both tap out due to his rear naked choke and Cerrone's submission skills are second to none in the lightweight division.
It's no secret why "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung lands himself on this list as he pulled off the unthinkable twister on Leonard Garcia earlier this year. This submission possibly gained the most attention of any in cage move in 2011.
Honorable mention: Pablo Garza, Jon Jones
1st Team - Mark Munoz
Mark Munoz has spent the year establishing himself as a well rounded top-level fighter but when push comes to shove in the cage he always reverts back to his dominant wrestling base.
Munoz has made the biggest climb of any fighter this year and he has done it on the back of this discipline. Munoz has incredible power and has really been able to keep opponent's off balance with his ability to mix it up.
There has been none as masterful a display of wrestling than what Chael Sonnen did against Brian Stann in October. Stann was an unstoppable train and story of the year before he ran into the wrestling wall that is Sonnen in October.
Just the look on both Stann and Sonnen's faces immediately after that stoppage showed the contrast and "knowing" that is involved in this sport. Sonnen continues to display dominant wrestling against all the top level fighters in his division, and that includes Anderson Silva.
Honorable mention: Frankie Edgar, Josh Barnett
Heart and Toughness
1st Team - Frankie Edgar
To see Frankie Edgar at the brink of losing his title twice and then coming back from that twice in the same year, is enough to get him first team all star status in 2011.
Edgar is a true champion on the back of those two performances and now he can take that heart and represent over in an MMA starved Japan in 2012.
Edgar must be pretty happy that he won't have to see Gray Maynard in his face for a while.
Mark Hominick takes this spot based on his one fight with Aldo earlier this year but he has certainly earned it in terms of fighting through damage to the entertainment of the fans.
Hominick is a great fighter who always displays heart and courage and now he is known for the famous lump on his head from UFC 129. Hominick fought through it and dominated Aldo in the last round, going the distance in a loss in the process.
Outside the cage, Hominick lost his friend and mentor Shawn Tompkins to a sudden heart attack in August.
Honorable mention: Shogun Rua, Tito Ortiz
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA and correspondent for MMACanada.net.