"Fight of the Night" can be a misleading title. Some assume it goes to the most exciting fight, but if that is a 10-second flash knockout, it really wasn't much of a fight. Some assume it goes to the most anticipated or high profile fight...but that would always be the main event.
"Fight of the Night" honors are usually awarded to the fight that had a little bit of everything: good striking, solid technique, close calls, great comebacks, endless energy and high endurance are all factors that are in play.
With any sport, fans will have their allegiance and favorites. If you are a fan of Jon Jones, you don't really want a close battle, you just want to see him dominate Lyoto Machida with spinning elbows and to get a quick and flashy knockout.
The highlights of these moments are shown over and over, but the fights are not remembered.
"Fight of the Night" is recognition that the two fighters had to give their all and use every skill in their arsenal, whether they won or lost. Excitement builds with every round and the audience can tell they are seeing something special.
2011 was one of the best years in the history of the UFC, and all of these fights contributed to that. This is a ranking of the 26 "Fight of the Night" winners from 2011.
Heavyweight - One
Light-Heavyweight - Four
Middleweight - Two
Welterweight - Five
Lightweight - Eight
Featherweight - Three
Bantamweight - Three
Unanimous Decision - Thirteen
Split Decision - One
Draw - One
Submission - Seven
Technical Knockout - Four
FotN's that were the Main Event - Seven
FotN's that were for a Championship - Four
When: UFC 140 (12/10/11)
Prediction: Claude Patrick could be the next great Canadian Welterweight, being undefeated in his first three UFC fights and only having one loss in his pro career. Brian Ebersole has been on a nine fight winning streak, including a FotN win over Chris Lytle earlier this year. Ebersole's unorthodox fighting versus Patrick's Jiu-Jitsu will make for an interesting bout. Most of the other fights on this card are in the Heavy/Light-heavy division, and will likely end in knockouts. Mark Hominick versus Chan Sung Jung could also be a "Fight of the Night" contender.
When: UFC 141 (12/30/11)
Prediction: In the last UFC event of the year, Nate Diaz will face Donald Cerrone in a pivotal Lightweight battle. Cerrone is looking to extend his breakthrough performance of this year, while Diaz is trying to establish himself in the division. This event has the potential to be one of the best cards of the year, including fights like Nam Phan vs. Jimmy Hettes, Ross Pearson vs. Junior Assuncao, and the much anticipated number one contenders match between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem.
When: UFC: Fight for the Troops 2 (1/22/11)
Result: Edwards via Rear Naked Choke in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: Not a traditional "Fight of the Night" winner, Cody McKenzie versus Yves Edwards was still entertaining from start to finish. Edwards wanted the fight to stay standing, while McKenzie spent most of the fight attempting takedowns. There were great strikes from both fighters throughout and exciting ground game in the second round. McKenzie was dominating the second round, having control of Edwards back and pummeling him. Edwards eventually got into a better position and applied a rear naked choke to McKenzie. McKenzie's arms spasmed as he fainted, but did not show a clear tap out. The loss ended his undefeated streak and gave Edwards the victory.
When: UFC 126 (2/5/11)
Result: Cerrone wins via Rear Naked Choke in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: This fight started off in one of the worst ways possible, with a cheap shot. As Cerrone went for the glove touch at the beginning of the fight, Kelly tried landing a quick punch which eventually led to both men on the ground with Kelly in control. The fight then turned to stand up with each fighter keeping a good pace and getting big strikes. The first round ended with Cerrone cutting Kelly with an elbow, then helping Kelly up in an act of sportsmanship. In the second round, Cerrone had a great takedown which eventually led to getting mount, gaining Kelly's back, and getting the submission victory.
Cerrone may have gotten the "Fight of the Night" nod because of his WEC career, which included five FotN honors.
When: UFC 130 (5/28/11)
Result: Stann via TKO in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: As a FotN winner, this bout was extremely one sided. The nine minutes of action was a display of Brian Stann's offensive dominance and Jorge Santiago's resiliency. Stann had powerful punches, hard kicks, and a dominating ground game. Reasoning for why this fight got the FotN honors is probably due to the right hook that rocked Santiago, and the energy both fighters put into the two rounds.
When: UFC 134 (8/27/11)
Result: Barboza via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Synopsis: Edson Barboza had two fights in 2011, both of which were "Fight of the Night" winners, and he is undefeated in his professional career. aAs long as he has guys who want to stand with him, fans believe he'll keep racking up wins and FotN honors. This fight was like Barboza's other UFC fights, almost all standing with a lot of hard and creative kicks by both fighters. It is a good and entertaining fight, but nothing truly special happens. It was a close fight and both fighters deserve their praise, but this may have gotten FotN by default. The UFC 134 card had a lot of first round stoppages, there was only one other fight that went the distance without being a landslide.
When: The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale (12/3/11)
Result: Brandao wins via Armbar in the 1st Round
Synopsis: Diego Brandao and Dennis Bermudez each advanced in the Ultimate Fighter tournament to face off for a UFC contract at the Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale. While watching TUF season 14, many were convinced the two best fighters at Featherweight had made it to the finals. Brandao was especially seen as an aggressive and blood-thirsty fighter.
The first round was back and forth with good striking until Brandao quickly lunged forward and was caught with a solid punch from Bermudez. As Bermudez swarmed to try and end the fight, he carelessly left an arm vulnerable, which Brandao quickly used to apply an armbar.
As Brandao was flipping Bermudez onto his back, Bermudez was already tapping out and yelling in pain. The win not only won Brandao FotN, but also "Submission of the Night," a UFC contract, the title of Ultimate Fighter, and a lot of respect when he enters the featherweight division in the UFC.
When: UFC Live (6/26/11)
Result: Oliveira via Rear Naked Choke in the 2nd Round. Later ruled a No Contest.
Synopsis: When you watch this fight, it looks like someone pressed the fast forward button. It is hard to keep up with how quickly both Oliveira and Lentz transition from striking to clinch to ground game. Both scrambled a lot in the fight even exchanging guillotine choke attempts less than ten seconds apart from each other (getting a huge reaction from the crowd). With the fight having tons of great striking and takedowns, the only thing that ruined it was the finish. Both men looked to be in control at different parts in the fight, but an illegal knee to the head while Lentz was on both knees set Oliveria up for a quick submission victory. After the fight, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission declared the fight a no contest.
When: UFC 138 (11/5/11)
Result: Barao via Rear Naked Choke in the 1st Round
Synopsis: Getting a FotN in only 4 minutes is pretty impressive. Pickett and Barao were looking to take each others heads off from the get-go. There was no time for either fighter to get a rhythm, only enough to dodge shots and throw a few wild punches.
The turning point came when Barao landed a solid knee to Pickett's face. Barao swarmed with punches to the downed Pickett, but it wasn't enough to end the fight. Seeing an opportunity, Barao quickly took Pickett's back and applied a rear naked choke to get the victory.
Having a one-round FotN is rare, but is justified when it has all the excitement of some 5-rounders.
When: UFC 131 (6/11/11)
Result: Herman via TKO in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: UFC 131 had a lot of one sided victories and a few quick fights. This fight was the exception. It is also the only FotN for the Heavyweight division this year. This fight was great because it showed two big men moving fast and trying to prove something in both of their UFC debuts. Einemo's pure size is impressive (266 lbs, that's two Dominick Cruz's). The fight was made even better since Herman appeared to be rattled a few times in the second round, but had a surge of energy and got some big shots to get the technical knockout.
When: UFC 137 (10/28/11)
Result: Diaz via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-28)
Synopsis: This fight did three things. Showed how dangerous Nick Diaz has become as a fighter, screwed Carlos Condit out of his previously 'guaranteed' title fight with George St. Pierre, and possibly ended a legend's career.
Penn won the first round, showing solid boxing and ground-and-pound. Unfortunately, Penn used almost all of his energy in the first five minutes, giving Diaz the last two rounds to pick apart the former Light and Welterweight champion. Diaz was unstoppable, using smart and effective punches, while defensively preventing Penn from gaining any momentum.
At the end of the fight, Diaz was named the winner, then called out George St. Pierre to get himself a title shot. Penn looked ashamed in his quick interview with Joe Rogan. Penn also stated that he was done fighting, with the reasoning of being tired of coming home to his family badly beaten.
When: UFC 135 (9/24/11)
Result: Jones via Rear Naked Choke in the 4th Round
Synopsis: This fight had a lot of value outside of the actual fighting, which is probably how it got the FotN nod. Jones is the new, young champion and Rampage was the seasoned veteran who was looking to get his Light-Heavyweight title back. With both men being very well known and there being plenty of trash talk, this was expected to be a good fight from both competitors. However, Jones showed that the former pride fighter is no match for his style of kicks, spinning elbows, knees and takedowns. This was a showcase of how good Jon Jones is and how many different ways he can hurt other fighters. Quinton Jackson could not execute his style of big hits and controlling the clinch. The symbolism in this picture is easy to see, with the new generation coming in, and the old generation being kicked out.
When: UFC 133 (8/6/11)
Result: Evans via TKO in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: Tito Ortiz is a seasoned veteran of the UFC, and has gained the reputation as a loud mouth, a coward, a jerk, a bad guy, and a handful of other unflattering things. However, after Ortiz beat Ryan Bader with a quick submission victory, something changed between him and the fans. Ortiz was now an underdog who was due for a comeback. He got the chance to face Rashad Evans in a possible number one contender fight for the Light-Heavyweight title.
The first round was completely dominated by Evans. During the second round, Ortiz had a guillotine choke that looked like it might end the fight, and the crowd started cheering, knowing they may see the greatest career comeback in UFC history. However, Evans escaped, and began pummeling Ortiz, eventually landing a vicious knee to Ortiz's chest and following up with punches to end the fight.
This was not a very close fight, but when two men who are known for their aggressive and ego driven personalities put everything aside and show humility, its a great moment that deserves to be "Fight of the Night."
When: UFC Fight Night 25 (9/17/11)
Result: Benoist via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: Rarely in the UFC do you get a fight that is technical, entertaining, bloody, explosive, and has two young up and comers going the distance. Benoist and Riddle had a great three round bout in September that had some big strikes, solid ground game, and excellent takedowns. The technique spanning fight changed when Benoist suffered a very badly broken nose. The third round had Benoist on his back just trying to avoid damage and survive to the end. Both fighters showed that they were having fun and congratulated each other after the decision was announced.
When: UFC Fight Night 24 (3/26/11)
Result: McDonald via Unanimous Decision (all 30-27)
Synopsis: At age 20, a lot of men are only thinking about when they get to turn 21. At age 20, Michael McDonald was thinking about how to submit Edwin Figueroa in the UFC cage. In a grappling chess match, McDonald and Figueroa had an entertaining bout which showed both men's strengths. Figuero showed a lot of heart by taking the fight on less than two weeks notice, needing to cut 25 pounds in that time. Two young fighters could have gotten heated in their first big fight, but both kept cool heads and even hugged out of respect to start the final round. McDonald got the unanimous decision victory, starting his young UFC career on a high note.
When: UFC Live (10/1/11)
Result: Wiman via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: This fight had a lot of build up beforehand. The two fighters were just hitting their UFC prime, both put on exciting fights (standing and on the ground), and the two had previously faced with a controversial ending. When they fought at UFC 115, Wiman applied a mounted guillotine choke to Danzig. Referee Yves Lavigne mistakenly thought that Danzig was unconscious, prompted by Wiman shouting "He's out!". Danzig had not passed out or tapped, but the victory stood.
Inbetween fights, Wiman took the high road, explaining that he accepted the fight was stopped too early, and that he didn't feel like it was a real victory.
This fight took a lot out of both Danzig and Wiman, with both being visibly gassed and bruised at the end of the third round. An all inclusive fight, the two exchanged blows standing, in the clinch, and on the ground. In a reverse deja vu, Danzig had Wiman in a guillotine in the final seconds of the third round that was close to being locked in. Wiman gave a thumbs up to the referee to let him know he was fine.
When: UFC 139 (11/19/11)
Result: Silva via TKO in the 2nd Round
Synopsis: In one of the best full cards of the year, "The Axe Murderer" Wanderlei Silva got a much needed victory over an amazing and unorthodox striker in Cung Le. Leading up the fight, many were writing their obituary for Silva's career. This was reasonable since Silva had only won two of his previous eight fights, and was rather easily knocked out by Chris Leben 5 months prior.
Cung Le was a former middleweight champion in the Strikeforce promotion with only one loss on his professional record. Le's win column reads like a horror story. Very few fighters have all of their victories by knockouts, including KO/TKO's by punches, cut, body kick, spinning kick, and broken arm.
Both men used the technique that they used throughout their respective careers. Le was able to strike Silva with hard, innovative kicks. Silva stalked Le, waiting for the right moment. That moment came in the second round when Silva got Le in the clinch and unloaded four huge knees square into Le's face. The fact that Le survived one astounded most fans, let alone four and was still standing. After that onslaught, Silva finished the fight with a few punches to get a hard earned victory.
When: UFC 132 (7/2/11)
Result: Cruz via Unanimous Decision (50-45, 49-46, 48-47)
Synopsis: This fight was a little overrated in my opinion, mostly because of the hype leading up to it. Cruz was the last WEC Bantamweight champion... Faber was the most popular WEC fighter. When they faced off in the WEC, Faber won via submission. In the fight, Faber did land some powerful punches, but Cruz had some takedowns and appeared to control the pace of the fight. There is no doubting that both men showed their endurance, having unlimited energy throughout all five rounds. UFC 132 had only one other televised fight go the distance, with all other fights ending in the first round. This was definitely the closest and most complete fight of the night... that's just not saying much.
When: UFC 128 (3/19/11)
Result: Barboza via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: If you got to watch this preliminary fight on Spike TV back in March, your shins still probably hurt. In what was basically a Muay Thai match, Edson Barboza got the decision victory over Anthony Njokuani. The fight showcased great kicks and punches from two young Lightweight fighters. This was not a brawl, it was smart striking by two patient fighters. The third round ended with Barboza throwing an amazing spinning back kick which Joe Rogan dubbed "a bitchslap with the foot."
When: The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale (6/4/11)
Result: Kingsbury via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: The UFC just celebrated it's 18th anniversary as a promotion. Now, having a pure judo artist face a pure kickboxer is not really an option. Every fighter needs to be well rounded with striking, ground game, clinch, wrestling and several other aspects of UFC style fighting. So when Kyle Kingbury and Fabio Maldonado faced each other at this summers Ultimate Fighter Finale, it was surprising to see the men stick to certain techniques. Kingsbury utilized the Muay Thai clinch and landed devastating knees to Maldonado in all three rounds. Maldonado treated the fight as a boxing match, landing several good hooks and body shots. This is a great fight for several reasons, but what stands out the most is that both fighters executed their gameplans well and were glad they were facing an opponent who pushed them and their abilities. The picture for this slide was taken immediately after the third round and both fighters embraced and celebrated their fight together.
You can watch this fight by going here.
When: UFC 127 (2/27/11)
Result: Ebersole via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Synopsis: In a bloody and strange contest, Brian Ebersole got a victory in his UFC debut against, fan favorite, Chris Lytle. It took all three rounds, a strong knee, and a few failed cartwheel kicks to do so. Both men were at the top of their game, and Lytle almost won with a guillotine choke.
Lytle is known for putting on great fights having a total of five UFC FotN honors to his name. Ebersole is quickly making a name for himself with entertaining fights and his interesting personality.
This fight had two MMA veterans, back and forth action, and close calls that both fighters had to recover from. All of these produced one of the best fights of the year.
When: UFC Live (8/14/11)
Result: Lytle via Guillotine Choke in the 3rd Round
Synopsis: Chris Lytle announced before this fight that it would be his last. Lytle is known for being a firefighter, a family man, and always putting on "Fight of the Year" caliber matches. Dan Hardy is known for his mohawk, tattoos, and knockout ability. Putting all this together made for one of the best fights of the year and the hands-down "Fight of the Night."
Most of the fight was a standing brawl with each fighter getting in good shots. Both stood their ground, with no fighter really having the advantage, but both just trying to find their knockout opportunity. In a strange twist, the fight went to the ground, where Lytle quickly applied a guillotine choke from the top position. While both men were exhausted, Lytle held on long enough for Hardy to tap out, having Lytle end his career with a great victory and Hardy losing his fourth straight fight. In the Hallmark moment of the year, Lytle was joined by his kids in the octagon after his victory.
When: UFC on Fox 1 (11/12/11)
Result: Henderson via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Synopsis: When Henderson vs. Guida was announced as a fight on the first UFC on Fox, fans were psyched that they would have a lightweight compliment to the anticipated Heavyweight title fight between Dos Santos and Velasquez. There was then disappointment when the UFC and Fox decided not to air the number one contender fight, and for it to only be available on facebook.
Despite it only being available online and having virtually no media build up, Henderson and Guida put on a show. Both were coming off of huge victories with Henderson and Guida getting decision victories over Jim Miller and Anthony Pettis, respectively.
The first round was a great showing from both fighters with Henderson using great takedown defense and Guida rocking Bendo with a right hook.
Round two showed how both were dangerous with their strikes, takedowns and submissions. Henderson had Guida's back in the final seconds, but "The Carpenter" was saved by the bell.
The final round started out with both men exchanging blows, then working the clinch. The fight eventually goes to the ground and Guida comes very close to winning with a guillotine. Henderson slipped out and ends the round with a few more punches to Guida.
Henderson was declared the winner, earning himself a title fight with Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan.
When: UFC 136 (10/8/11)
Result: Phan via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: UFC 136 was arguably the best card of 2011, and could be considered one of the best of all time. Every fight had the Texas crowd on their feet, and it ended with two title fights. In a card that featured stars like Jose Aldo, Chael Sonnen, Melvin Guillard, and the much anticipated third meeting of Edgar and Maynard, Phan and Garcia put on the "Fight of the Night" when they weren't supposed to be on the card at all.
The original fight was Josh Grispi versus Matt Grice. When Grispi was injured, Nam Phan was named his substitute. Later, Grice was injured and Garcia was named his substitute, setting up a rematch from their fight at the season 12 Ultimate Finale (which also won FotN). The first fight went to Garcia by split decision. Both the fans and the fighters agreed the decision could have gone either way.
Phan and Garcia II delivered huge strikes that easily could have knocked out either fighter. In the third round, Garcia was throwing his arms up to get the crowd on their feet. Both ended the fight with a flurry of punches, then celebrated together, knowing they had just made a classic fight.
When: UFC 129 (4/30/11)
Result: Aldo via Unanimous Decision (48-45, 48-46, 49-46)
Synopsis: It's sad to think the thing people will remember from this fight is the hematoma on Mark Hominick's head.
At the biggest event of the year, Aldo and Hominick showed what the Featherweight division can do. This was the debut of both Aldo and the UFC Featherweight title. Hominick was in his home country and had all 55,000+ fans in attendance on his side. With the fight itself, Aldo had a furious pace at the beginning, using his striking and takedowns. Despite his best efforts, he could not put Hominick away, who had a huge resurgence in the later rounds against the champion.
The fight ended with Hominick firing punches at a downed and gassed Aldo. The Canadian crowd believed they had seen the tortoise beat the hare, but with the early rounds in Aldo's favor, he remained champion.
When: UFC Live (3/3/11)
Result: Sanchez via Unanimous Decision (all 29-28)
Synopsis: With half of his face hanging off, Diego Sanchez walked out of the 'KFC Yum! Center' with a very disputed victory over Martin Kampmann. Leading up to the fight, both men talked about how they wanted the fight to stay standing. Both men, and the fans, got what they wanted.
The controversy comes with the judges decision. As Sanchez pushed forward throughout the fight, while Kampmann strategically used counter punches and denied takedowns. Although Sanchez was easily seen as the aggressor of the fight, many agreed that Kampmann's style and execution was inflicting more damage and winning him the fight.
All three judges must have liked how Sanchez dictated the fight, even if that's all he accomplished, giving him the unanimous decision victory. The loss was another heartbreaker for Kampmann who had just come off another controversial loss to UFC debuting Jake Shields by split decision.
When: UFC 125 (1/1/11)
Result: Split Draw (46-48, 48-46, 47-47)
Synopsis: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard headlined UFC 125 on the first day of 2011, and started the New Year with a five-round war for the Lightweight Title. The first round went to Maynard who dominated with strikes and was looking to end the fight.
Edgar survived and started fighting back in the later rounds working both a standing and ground game. The final moments of the fight had both fighters swinging wildly as they were exhausted and knew the fight was close. The fight was so close, none of the three judges agreed, with one giving the fight to Maynard, one to Edgar, and one calling it a draw. A draw was declared having Edgar retain his Lightweight belt.
Watching the two of the best Lightweight in recent history fight to a draw was amazing to watch, but not satisfying when it came to determining an "undisputed" champion. The UFC knew this was the case, and quickly scheduled a rematch between the two.
Later, at UFC 136, Edgar and Maynard had a contest that was also a contender for "Fight of the Night." Maynard dominated early, but Edgar fought back to win via knockout in the fourth round.
When: UFC 139 (11/19/11)
Result: Henderson via Unanimous Decision (all 48-47)
Synopsis: With this fight, there is actually too much to talk about. It was the second non-title fight in the UFC, and the first to make it to the fourth and fifth rounds. It was Dan Henderson's return to the UFC. It was the first meeting of two future hall of famers who somehow had not fought in either the UFC or Pride Fighting Championship. Even if you got rid of all those factors, this fight is still legendary based off how much blood, sweat, and heart each fighter put into it.
The fight itself was captivating. Henderson dominated the first three rounds, landing "H Bombs" to bloody up Shogun. Several times, fans were cheering thinking the fight was finished, just to see Shogun regroup and survive.
After three rounds, many questioned how either fighter was standing let alone continuing to fight. Shogun, realizing he was losing the fight, performed an amazing comeback, getting takedowns and rocking Hendo with an uppercut. In the fifth round, Rua was in top position a majority of the time with Hendo unable to really defend himself or get to a better position.
Both Rua and Henderson used every ounce of energy they had, but couldn't get finish. In the few minutes between the end of the fight and the official decision, everyone who watched the fight finally took the time to calculate round scores. The biggest argument came with the '10-8' option, some saying Shogun deserved it for the fifth round while others thought Henderson deserved it for one of the earlier rounds. Dana White said he scored the bout a draw.
The judges did not award either man a '10-8' round, declaring Henderson the winner by unanimous decision. The reason this is the greatest "Fight of the Night" of 2011, is because both men were seen as winning fighters in that they had survived a war, regardless of the scorecards.