Every once in a great while, a fight not only lives up to the hype, but it exceeds it. To some, the knockout is the most exciting finish, to others, the submission. Occasionally, a fight can nearly end by both, yet both fighters literally will themselves to keep forging on. These tests of will are what true champions are made of, and when both fighters can bring it for nearly three full rounds (or more) they get nominated for my best fights of the year.
Fight of the year videos are a little too long for youtube, so you’ll just have to go with my description. Also I apologize for the delay in getting this published. It’s been sitting here half done for over a month.
Ben Henderson vs Donald Cerrone – WEC 43
This was a big fight for the interim WEC lightweight title and wow did it impress. This fight was incredibly difficult to judge, yet somehow all three judges scored it the same. It was a battle of different techniques as Cerrone’s striking and submissions faced off against Henderson’s wrestling and submission defense. The first four rounds were very back and forth with Cerrone winning the 1st and 4th and Henderson pulling out the 2nd and 3rd in my eyes. So many times Cerrone would put Henderson in a precarious position as commentator Frank Mir thought the fight was going to be over again and again but Henderson kept gritting through it. He fought off guillotines, armbars, triangles, anaconda chokes, kimuras, leg locks and omaplatas and that’s what won over the judges in my eyes. To me, Cerrone won the 5th round with an active guard, strikes from the bottom and his submission attempts, but the judges awarded Henderson’s heart and determination for the big win. All in all, both fighters were winners, as well as the WEC for hosting the bout.
Chan Sung Jung vs Masanori Kanehara – Sengoku 8
Most casual MMA fans don’t know much about the Asian scene. This is the kind of fight that would be a spectacular introduction. These featherweights literally gave it their all for 15 straight minutes of exciting mixed martial arts action. Chan Sung Jung spent most of the first two rounds on his back, but he was extremely active with devastating upkicks and getting very close to submissions. Kanehara stayed composed and worked his way out of the submission attempts and kept a strong top control. In the end of the third round, Jung finally gained an offensive advantage but it may have been too little too late. This was one of the more closely contest decisions in MMA history as Kanehara won with two 30-29 scores from the judges. That means there were not one but two “10-10″ scored rounds by the judges. Find out for yourself by looking up the fight online.
Nate Quarry vs Tim Credeur – Ultimate Fight Night 19
Ahhh the memories. This was the first fight I ever covered for world extreme fighter and boy did I pick a good one. I was certainly not expecting a fight of the year candidate when Tim Credeur stepped into the octagon against Nate Quarry, but that’s what I got. Quarry was known as more of a jiu jitsu guy on season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter but he came in swinging against the crafty TUF 1 veteran Quarry. Midway through the first round, the quicker Credeur clipped Quarry and jumped into his guard trying to finish him but Quarry proved resilient. In the second round it appeared that things were going to continue the same way with Credeur beginning very aggressively letting loose with his hands and then it happened. Out of nowhere Quarry dropped a right hook bomb that floored his opponent and then he was the one who attempted to finish it on the ground. In the third, Credeur again came forward aggressively against Quarry who appeared exhausted but once again Quarry let loose a power punch that rocked Credeur once more. Somehow both fighters held on to the final bell. Rarely, a fighter can create more fans from a loss than from a victory, this was one of those times as I became a massive fan of Tim Credeur for his performance.
Miguel Torres vs Takaya Mizugaki – WEC 40
If ever there was an epic championship bantamweight battle, this was it. Muzugaki and Torres stood and traded blow for blow for 25 full minutes in front of a roaring hometown Chicago crowd for Torres. Torres had a reach advantage, but Muzugaki weathered the jabs and constantly answered with shots of his own. Neither fighter wilted under the pressure even as the fight entered the 5th round. Despite a pretty nasty cut over his eye, Torres wore on and was winning most of the exchanges. By the time the bell rang, it was Torres’s hand that was raised for a decision victory.
Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira UFC 103
This was a fight that was several years in the making. Couture and Nogueira had both lost the UFC heavyweight championship in their last fight and both needed a win to get back in the title picture. Both fighters were legends, but only one was going to continue to have a solid future in the heavyweight division of the UFC. Nogueira answered all the questions about his stamina and chin early by withstanding some shots from Couture in the clinch and standup game. He answered by flooring Couture and working for submissions with his fantastic jiu jitsu. The crowd was nearly unanimously behind Couture, constantly chanting his name and cheering wildly whenever he escaped a precarious position or went on the offensive but it simply was not enough. Couture could not overcome Nogueira’s superior boxing and submissions and he was eventually defeated via unanimous decision. Nogueira would go on to get a number one contender match with Cain Velasquez and Randy moved back down to light heavyweight for one last run at the title there.
Scott Smith vs Benji Radach – Strikeforce: Shamrock vs Diaz
This was classic Scott Smith. Time and time again he appears dead in the water, that he could not possibly win if not for a desperation knockout, and that’s exactly what he does. Benji Radach peppered Smith for the first 2 1/2 rounds with far superior and more dynamic striking but he could not put him away. You’d think by now Smith opponents would be on the lookout for the hail mary bomb when he is in trouble but that was not the case here. Smith decked Radach out of nowhere and picked up the knockout victory in one of his best comeback performances yet.
Hideo Tokoro vs Abel Cullum – Dream 9
When you match up a wrestler with a submission expert, expect fireworks on the ground, and that was exactly what happened when Hideo Tokoro and Abel Cullum met in the Dream featherweight grand prix tournament. Throughout the first round, there were more sweeps, transitions, submission attempts and escapes than you could count. Neither fighter slowed down their relentless pace for the entire first round and what made it even more impressive was the fact that Dream uses 10 minute rounds. As the 2nd round began, Cullum finally appeared to teeter off a bit and Tokoro took full advantage, finishing the fight with a solid choke.
Martin Kampmann vs Carlos Condit – Ultimate Fight Night 18
This fight put both fighters on the map in the welterweight division. Kampmann had recently moved down to 170 and Condit had moved to the UFC after the WEC’s welterweight division was dissolved. Before he came over to the UFC, Condit defended his WEC title successfully three times. As the fight started, both fighters put on a technical ground display of sweeps, submission attempts and reverses. Kampmann nearly had 2 guillotines and a heel hook, while Condit landed a powerful knee that opened up a cut below Kampmann’s left eye. Did I mention that all this happened in just the first round? The second and third rounds continued the ground assault and while Condit had an active guard and went for several submission, Kampmann stayed on top enough to gain a split decision victory. I hadn’t seen Condit fight in the WEC before this match, but I was very impressed with his performance despite the loss to the always game Kampmann.
Gilbert Melendez vs Josh Thomson – Strikeforce: Evolution
This rematch was a long time in the making due to multiple injury delays from Josh Thomson, but when it finally went down, everyone left satisfied. Thomson was the Strikeforce lightweight champion, and Melendez had won the interim lightweight belt while Thomson recovered from leg injuries. Josh Thomson won the first fight by keeping the always dangerous Melendez at bay with a powerful front kick, but that attack was noticeably missing the second time around. It appeared he just wanted to throw down. The first round was very even, as both men threw bombs at each other for a full five minutes with Thomson barely edging out Melendez on the score cards. Thomson’s aggressive ring presence began to backfire against him in rounds 2-5 as Melendez began winning all the exchanges with a wide array of strikes from all angles. Melendez would go on to win a unanimous decision victory to become the new Strikeforce undisputed lightweight champ.
Diego Sanchez vs Clay Guida – The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale
If ever there was a fight that not only lived up to, but exceeded the already unrealistic expectations, this was it. The first 30 seconds of this fight will forever remain etched into my mind as the prime example of two men going toe to toe and throwing bombs. Joe Rogan literally just stopped commentating and said “Oh my God!” as Sanchez backed Guida against the cage and both men exchanged violent punches. Early on, Guida lost his mouthpiece and the referee was begging for a break in the action so he could give it back, that didn’t happen for another 2 minutes. After they reset, Diego landed one of the cleanest head kicks I’ve ever seen and while most men would have been knocked out for hours, Guida bounced right off the mat, recovered and took Sanchez down. Much of the second and third rounds featured Guida trying to smother Sanchez with his wrestling and takedowns, and Sanchez unleashed furious elbows from the bottom that busted Guida wide open. The fight could have gone either way, but the judges scored it a split decision victory for Sanchez, and it would go on to win fight of the year at the MMA awards.