As the year 2008 slowly comes to an end, throughout this busy and historic year we've seen many shake ups, breakdowns, and fallouts. While there's plenty of MMA left to achieve one of the aforementioned verbs, I will just give my two cents on some of the major happenings of the year thus far:
Fight of the Year
Thus far we've been treated some really great MMA match ups, thanks to UFC, DREAM, WEC, and etc. Here are my picks for best fights of the year thus far:
Fighter of the Year
Some guys have just had awesome years in 2008, really staking their claim as the top mixed martial artists, here are the guys I think exemplified that over the course of eleven months:
- Georges St. Pierre - this guy has been electric throughout 2008 by dismantling his former foe and the man that took his belt, Matt Serra in dominant fashion. Then the consensus #2 Welterweight in the world Jon Fitch had nothing for the French-Canadian as he steamrolled through the very tough AKA member. The future looks good for GSP as his next fight will be a mega one with current Lightweight champion, BJ Penn. Let's not forget his dismantling of Matt Hughes in December of 2007 either.
- Anderson Silva- You can't deny this guy is arguably the best pound for pound fighter out there at the moment. In 2008, the Spider made his most formidable opponent, Dan Henderson, look like an amateur; moved up to 205 and barely broke a sweat; then had a bizarre but non-threatened performance against Patrick Cote. While he is upset of his last bout with Cote, Silva should have no worries as he has made his job look easy and will more than likely continue this into 2009...even with his talks of retirement.
- Eddie Alvarez- in the beginning of 2008 nobody knew who this kid was but as the year progressed many heads turned and eyes opened. Alvarez, a top prospect that was signed to EliteXC, ripped through DREAM's lightweight tournament defeating Andre Armade, Joachim Hansen, and Tatsuya Kawajiri, three of the cream of the crop lightweights in the MMA market. A bout with Nick Diaz for EliteXC's vacant lightweight title was on the horizon in November but unfortunately when EXC closed their doors, so closed that fight.
- Forrest Griffin- this all depends on his December 27th bout with undefeated Rashad Evans but as of now, there's no denying Forrest has had a good year. Although it's tough to place him here as he's only fought once the entire year, he was the TUF7 coach and did what everyone thought he couldn't do and defeated Quinton Jackson, albeit a bit controversial but after many, many re-watches a well deserved victory for the underdog.
- Brock Lesnar- while his '08 schedule started with a disappointing loss to Frank Mir, Brock has proven everyone (including myself) wrong. He's made the MMA transition in a dominating manner and as of last Saturday captured the UFC Heavyweight title from fan favorite Randy Couture. His athleticism and huge size has helped him to be an extremely formidable opponent for even the most savvy veteran. We'll see how well he can do as the waters get a little more murky in the Heavyweight division with guys like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Frank Mir, and Gabriel Gonzaga chopping at the bit for supremacy.
Upset of the Year
While there hasn't been a ton of upsets this year, there have been some guys that have proven the naysayers wrong:
- Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton Jackson- this fight keeps showing up on these awards because it truly was an upset and great fight. No one and I mean no one expected Forrest to last beyond the third round but the Xtreme Couture standout persevered and became the new Light Heavyweight champion.
- Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans- Being there live added to the sheer shock of the closing seconds. No one gave Rashad a chance. Not even a puncher's chance. Many wrote him off as were looking forward as wrestlers had been Chuck's bread and butter throughout his career. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Chuck, Rashad had some hands on him. One massive overhand right left Chuck seeing stars, moons, and planets for a good three minutes and gained Rashad a shot at the title.
- Takanori Gomi vs. Sergey Golyaev- Oh how the mighty have fallen. Although I have yet to see this fight, many have said it seemed that Gomi took the unknown light and suffered for it. I don't know much about Sergey Golyaev but I know that his stock has risen tremendously over a fighter that many heralded as the best lightweight in the world.
- Junior Dos Santos vs. Fabricio Werdum- Being knocked out is apart of being in MMA but this might be one of the first knock outs that led or aided in someone's pink slip. Once again, no one gave Dos Santos much of a chance in this fight and basically felt this was a tune up for Werdum before his title shot. Well Dos Santos would have none of that as he uppercut his way into the elite class of Heavyweights in the UFC and Fabricio finds himself in the unemployment office.
Breakout Fighter of the Year
This is a list of some of the guys that got their name known over the course of 2008 by putting in great performances:
- Dustin Hazelett - To see this guy work on the ground is a work of art. His submissions might be some of the best in the welterweight division. He's young and has a ton of talent, so I can't wait to see what Joe Silva has in store for him in 2009.
- Brock Lesnar - He's showing up once again but you can't deny this guy became a mega star in MMA and he's only 4 fights deep into his career. A former NCAA wrestling champ turned pro wrestling champ turned UFC champ. Now that's what I call a resume.
- Jamie Varner- While he has been around for a while, this year took Varner from 'that guy that was in the UFC for a little while' to WEC lightweight champion. His great boxing mixed with good wrestling has made him an exciting and major figure on WEC's roster.
- Thiago Alves- While the Pitbull's always been a beast, no one thought of him as a top Welterweight especially with such a stacked division. However, Alves churned in three huge wins over three of the top ranked Welterweights in his '08 fights. Destroying Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes, and Josh Koscheck is no easy feat but Alves managed to do just that showing improved takedown defense and deadly offense.
Fall from Grace
You always hate to see some guys go from being on top to sinking to the bottom, but it happens in all sports. These are a few guys that just didn't have it in '08:
- Kimbo Slice- Do I even need to explain. Hyped as the face of MMA, Kimbo had hand picked opponents that were either extremely too old or overmatched. He was the main event of MMA's first foray into network television and while not a total embarrassment showed he wasn't what he was being hyped to be. Then a disastrous 14 second KO to a light heavyweight put a nail in the coffin of the facade that was Kimbo Slice.
- EliteXC- Don't need to explain this one either. Shady business and over spending will find a way to come back to bite you. EliteXC became the first promotion to be on network television but also suffered because of it. Now defunct, all we are left with is broken promises and some decent fights.
- Quinton Jackson - It pains me to say it but through the beginning of '08 he was the #1 Light Heavyweight in the world, UFC undisputed champion, and one of their most marketable fighters. After a razor thin decision loss to Forrest in July, his world spiralled out of control and has landed him with court cases and bad media for the UFC. Here's hoping he gets himself straight for his upcoming fight and does what we all know he can do.
- Chuck Liddell- Although we could see the fall coming, we thought he had at least one more highlight left. Unfortunately he did but he was on the wrong side of it. Much like the once feared Mirko Cro Cop, Chuck's been figured out. His dwindling speed and unchanged gameplan has left him vulnerable for a good game planner. Chuck has maybe one or two cash fights left before his stock is completely over.
- Matt Hughes- Another one of the 'we saw this coming'. Hughes was once the most dominant Welterweight in the world. Pretty much unbeatable. Now due to age and younger guys coming in much more complete in their MMA game, Hughes just doesn't have a chance. His next and hopefully final match up will be against Matt Serra sometime in the beginning of '09.
- Paulo Filho- Uhhh, the former WEC Middleweight Champ and Pride standout has had an atrocious year. Having fought only once in 2008, he not only couldn't make weight by 7 pounds, he looked totally uninspired and put on one of the worst performances of 2008. Hell he made the Kimbo Slice/James Thompson fight look like Fight of the Year. He has since been released from Zuffa and will hopefully get his act together.
I'm sure there's plenty of stuff I missed but I tried to hit some of the key things. Kelvin and I will do a massive End of Year Awards with more categories and user input after we get the UFC 92 results. Feel free to comment on this and provide who your own listings.