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.
Fight Card of the Year
When the story is written on mixed martial arts, 2011 may go down as one of the sport’s most landmark years. It saw more events than ever, more of the world’s best fighters included under one roof and a strong push into the mainstream. And the fight card that best defines what was undeniably a huge year for MMA was UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson.
First and foremost, UFC 139 featured the downright epic battle between PRIDE veterans Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, which was mine and just about every other site’s choice for Fight of the Year. Beyond that, the card saw seven exciting finishes and impressive, if not methodical, performances by Miguel Torres, Martin Kampmann and Stephan Bonnar.
Everyone’s favorite axe murderer Wanderlei Silva returned to form with a bloody battle against Cung Le that ended with a knockout in his favor. Several up and coming fighters, like Danny Castillo, Michael McDonald and Chris Weidman, furthered their respective rises with commanding first round finishes and Ryan Bader got back in the win column with a quick knockout.
UFC 139 ran the gamut of what true fight fans look for in a good card: it offered fast, decisive finishes, impressive displays of all-over technical proficiency, stark brutality and emotionally pitched battles. For the efforts turned in by every fighter on the card, UFC 139 – which went down on November 19 from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, gets Fight Card of the Year.
UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber 2 – After Rafael dos Anjos and Melvin Guillard warmed us up with first-round KOs on the preliminary card, Carlos Condit knocked out Dong Hyun Kim with a flying knee to place himself squarely in welterweight title contention, Tito Ortiz roared back from the brink of career oblivion by submitting Ryan Bader, Chris Leben knocked out Wanderlei Silva and Cruz and Faber waged a brilliant five-round war.
UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami – The UFC’s much-hyped return to Brazil was an immense success, marking the sport’s mainstream emergence in a new market and featuring a host of exciting, memorable and meaningful fights, like Big Nog’s comeback against Brendan Schaub, Shogun’s quick KO of Forrest Griffin and another showing of absolute dominance by Anderson Silva against Yushin Okami.
UFC on Fox: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos – Deemed by some to be a failure, this event was the first ever aired on Fox – and that means something. Not to mention it saw the heavyweight title change hands with a vintage knockout of Cain Velasquez by current champion Junior dos Santos, as well as a lightweight barnburner between Benson Henderson and Clay Guida.
UFC 140: Jones vs. Machida – Jon Jones put the stamp on his breakout year with a career-defining performance over Lyoto Machida, Frank Mir battled back from the brink of unconsciousness to break Big Nog’s arm, Little Nog took out Tito Ortiz with an assault to the body, Chan Sung Jung KOed Mark Hominick in seven seconds, and the rest of the card saw five additional finishes.