2011 has been a huge year for MMA, both in terms of growth and the sheer entertainment value of the fights that have been waged. Over the next week, FightLine will take a look at the best performances turned in over the last year before the apocalypse.
Fighter of the Year
No other fighter deserves the mantle of Fighter of the Year more than Jon “Bones” Jones, current UFC light heavyweight champion. Inspired pick, I know, but how can you deny the man? The 24-year-old fought four times this year, picking up dramatic wins over a promising contender and three veteran champions – and he’s done it with style.
Jones has looked nothing short of dominant in performances against Ryan Bader, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. He’s shown patience that belies his age in dismantling each of them, finishing all four fights within the distance. An incredibly gifted physical specimen, Jones augments his physical advantages with constantly improving all-around technique and a fluid creativity that embodies the true spirit of martial arts.
Training with a stable of the sport’s best under MMA’s Yoda, Greg Jackson, Jones can do it all, as is evidenced by the way in which he earned this year’s standout victories: submission, TKO, submission and submission, respectively. Impressive as it is, that stat doesn’t tell the whole story. Before submitting Bader, Jackson and Machida, Jones softened them up on the feet with his expert use of reach and unorthodox striking techniques and broke their will with dominant overall grappling.
Once treated skeptically, seen as a promising, yet unproven talent, Jones has made his presence as one of the sport’s great champions absolutely undeniable. The sky is clearly the limit for the young fighter and he’s given no indication that he won’t fulfill all of the great expectations put upon him.
Dan Henderson – Another entry on most Fighter of the Year lists, the 41-year-old light heavyweight has picked up three impressive wins this year and did it his way, positioning himself near the front of the pack for a UFC light heavyweight title shot in the process.
Donald Cerrone – When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, Donald Cerrone will have fought five times this year, turning in spectacular performances against tough competition in the sport’s deepest division and filling his coffers to the brim along the way.
Nick Diaz – Everyone knew Nick Diaz was tough, everyone knew Nick Diaz was talented, but this year more than maybe any other, he’s proven himself a true champion through and through.
Ben Henderson – Ben “Smooth” Henderson rebounded from a title-relinquishing loss to Anthony Pettis in the WEC late last year that dropped him to the back of the lightweight pack to earn a title shot against Frankie Edgar by virtue of a brilliant three-fight run in the UFC.