MMA: Power Ranking the Greatest Strikers of 2011
MMA is comparable to Salma Hayek’s breasts. Every year it gets bigger, juicier and more fun to watch.
However, unlike Ms. Hayek’s enormous twins, MMA is as real as it gets and in 2011 the sport reached many new milestones.
From the UFC merging with the WEC, buying rival promotion Strikeforce and signing a multi-year deal with FOX, there is no question that 2011 was the most successful year for the organization to date.
Simply put, the UFC dominated the year 2011 worse than Rosie O’Donnell dominated the city of Atlantis via drowning the city in chocolate fudge and losing it in her 600 pound stomach. Speaking of domination, this year certainly wasn’t short of impressive performances.
The stand-up aspect of MMA has always been a favorite among fans and 2011 featured some of the most exciting striking battles in the history of the sport. Let’s take a look at the 10 greatest strikers of 2011.
Alistair Overeem—Technically speaking, Overeem is the best pure striker in MMA today. Unfortunately, "The Reem" had one fight in 2011 and did not look overly impressive.
Vitor Belfort—Belfort absolutely annihilated Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133 and was holding his own against Anderson Silva before falling victim to one of 2011's best knockouts.
Jake Ellenberger—Ellenberger scored two signature knockout victories in 2011 finishing both Sean Pierson and Jake Shields. The victory over Shields leads many to believe that Ellenberger could hold the welterweight title in 2012.
Melvin Guillard—Guillard's powerful striking put an end to both Evan Dunham and Shane Roller. Few possess the incredible speed and athleticism of Guillard and he was well on his way to a title shot in 2011. Unfortunately, a reckless mistake against Joe Lauzon at UFC 137 keeps "The Young Assassin" off this list.
Chan Sung Jung—If Jung's first-round knockout over elite striker Mark Hominick would have took place earlier in the year, Jung might have been able to catapult himself into this list. Look for "The Korean Zombie" to appear in the 2012 version of this article.
Cheick Kongo—Had a snoozefest against Matt Mitrione at UFC 137 but his unbelievable come from behind victory over Pat Barry should at least warrant an honorable mention.
10. Edson Barboza
This Brazilian prospect is already beginning to follow a similar path to that of fellow countrymen in Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo.
Unbeaten in his professional career, Barboza is 3-0 in the UFC and has put his phenomenal striking arsenal on display in all three bouts.
Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson are some of the best stand-up fighters in the lightweight division and Barboza had no problem picking them apart on the feet.
The spinning hook kick that Barboza landed on Njokuani was a technique more suited for an old school Kung Fu flick than a modern day MMA battle.
9. Donald Cerrone
Much like fellow WEC veteran Benson Henderson, Cerrone put the lightweight division on notice in 2011.
After submitting Paul Kelly in his UFC debut at the start of the year, Cerrone dominated Vagner Rocha and absolutely destroyed Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver.
Oliveira and Siver were supposed to give Cerrone a run for his money but “Cowboy” handled business like a true grit.
Cerrone’s kickboxing technique is sharper than ever and few can handle the intense pace that Cerrone brings to the table every time he steps into the Octagon.
8. Lyoto Machida
After a rough year in 2010, “The Dragon” re-emerged in 2011 as one of the deadliest strikers in the entire world.
At UFC 129, Machida ended Randy Couture’s illustrious career with a crane kick to the face that had Joe Rogan screaming louder than Steve Urkel on prom night with his left hand.
The knockout was the first of its kind in MMA and will certainly be shown on highlight reels for years to come.
Even though Machida was unsuccessful in regaining his title against champion Jon Jones at UFC 140, the Shotokan black belt gave Jones all he could handle on the feet.
7. Frankie Edgar
Once considered a one-dimensional wrestler, Edgar has developed into one of MMA’s best boxers.
2011 saw the lightweight champion overcome incredible adversity on two occasions, survive both times and keep his title when it was all said and done.
Edgar defended his title twice but fought the same man in both contests; Gray Maynard. After a “fight of the year” battle at UFC 125 that ended in a draw, Edgar knocked out Maynard in their trilogy fight at UFC 136 in October.
Maynard rocked Edgar badly early on in both contests but Edgar survived and out struck the challenger in arguably every other round.
Maynard would have finished a good fighter but Edgar proved he is great at the conclusion of their series.
6. Dan Henderson
At 41 years of age, Henderson is proving that he can still hang with the best in the world and knock their heads off their shoulders as well.
Kicking off 2011, Henderson knocked out Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. Following up that win, Henderson made history becoming the first fighter to ever stop the legendary Fedor Emelianenko with strikes.
If that wasn’t enough, Henderson finished the year outpointing Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in one of the greatest MMA fights of all time at UFC 139.
Henderson isn’t a great technical striker but he has arguably the heaviest right hand in the sport and he connects with it more frequently than others.
5. Dominick Cruz
To the untrained eye, Cruz is a boring fighter that doesn’t finish fights. However, those who have prior experience in martial arts can appreciate the brilliance of the UFC bantamweight champion.
Cruz is an extremely elusive competitor with superb footwork, incredible head movement and lightning fast strikes.
He doesn’t seem to have one punch knockout power but a truly great striker does not need it. Cruz rarely gets hit in a fight but is able to land several combinations on his opponents from seemingly all angles.
Cruz defended his title twice in 2011 scoring decision wins over Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson. In both of those bouts, neither Faber nor Johnson could mount any significant offense on Cruz.
4. Jose Aldo
Aldo has yet to finish a fight in the UFC but his Muay Thai brilliance is still second to none in the featherweight division.
In his first title defense of the year, Aldo picked apart one of MMA’s most technical strikers in Mark Hominick at UFC 129. Hominick certainly made Aldo work for it but in the end it was the Brazilian’s technique that reigned supreme over the Canadian.
Aldo would go on to do the same thing against former lightweight contender Kenny Florian at UFC 136. Florian is widely recognized for his striking technique but Aldo outclassed the Bostonian in the stand-up department.
Aldo hasn’t been destroying fighters in the UFC in the same manner that he was in the WEC but in terms of technique he has been fantastic.
3. Junior Dos Santos
After making his reality TV debut as a coach on TUF 13, dos Santos stepped into the Octagon with Shane Carwin at UFC 131 and absolutely man-handled the massive heavyweight for three rounds.
Carwin is a mountain of a man with legendary knockout power and dos Santos massacred him with beautiful boxing en route to a decision win. Carwin boasts knockout victories over Frank Mir and Gabriel Gonzaga but could not land anything significant on dos Santos.
Cain Velasquez was supposed to neutralize dos Santos’ boxing with relentless wrestling but dos Santos stopped him in just over a minute at the very first UFC on FOX to become the new heavyweight champion.
Simply put, dos Santos is a bad man…a very bad man.
2. Nick Diaz
Love him or hate him, if you cannot respect what Diaz does inside that Octagon you are dumber than a box of rocks sitting on Reese Witherspoon’s porch. Diaz does not care if you are a dangerous striker; he will stand up with you anyway and destroy you at your own game.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Paul Daley and B.J Penn. Diaz beat both of them down in 2011 worse than they have ever been beaten down before.
Daley is considered by many as the best pure striker in the welterweight division. The brash Britt hurt Diaz early on but could not finish him. Instead, Diaz knocked Daley out in brutal fashion and made the jump over to the UFC shortly thereafter.
After no-showing a press conference, Diaz was taken out of his scheduled title bout with Georges St. Pierre and matched up with former champ Penn instead. Diaz’ boxing brutally battered Penn earning Diaz the decision victory and leading Penn to retire after the fight.
1. Anderson Silva
Who else would you expect to take the top billing on this countdown besides Silva? After nearly losing his title against Chael Sonnen at 2010, Silva reminded the world in 2011 that he is the greatest fighter in all of MMA.
It all started with a remarkable front kick knockout over Vitor Belfort at UFC 126. Belfort was thought of as a threat to Silva on the feet but it was Silva’s foot that was the true threat…literally.
In the UFC’s return to Brazil, Silva toyed with Yushin Okami before knocking out the Japanese contender with flawless technique.
Silva is the best striker of 2011 and just like his middleweight title it doesn’t look like he will be losing it anytime soon.