After getting situated ringside to photograph Fedor launch Brett Rogers’ cranium into the metaphysical unknown, I suddenly got this craving for a taco. Not the kind that comes from a drive through window, but the kind that makes you remember the exact time, temperature, place, and friends you enjoyed that taco with. As a matter of fact, it didn’t have to even be a taco, it could be a rawesome bowl of clam chowder (if that’s what you’re into). I later realized that Fedor had just given me that exact experience and I didn’t have to eat anything whatsoever. Zeus and I actually had difficulty eating anything for days after witnessing a 264lb man come tumbling down like a game of Jenga gone wrong. It made us realize that mortals are doomed when mythical dwarf-headed creatures like Fedor inherit the earth.
It also made us realize that the end is near, at least when it comes to 2009. I decided to repent in the form of paying respect to what I feel were this year’s greatest MMA acknowledgments of 2009. In no particular order… Here they are:
Best Walkout of the Year: Tom Lawlor at UFC 100
9 times out of 10, when you think of awesome MMA walkouts, you automatically turn your attention to Japan. I did too, then got frustrated. 2009 may have been a great year for Japanese MMA, but at the expense of their reputation for amazing walkouts. Tom Lawlor clearly saw this as an opportunity to step up and deliver one of the most amazing walkouts of the year during the undercard of UFC100. I might not remember who won the fight, but I’ll never forget Seth Petruzelli (Kimbo-Slayer) being walked to the Octagon on a leash like a dog with a bone in his mouth while Tom Lawlor high-fives all 35 people in attendance.
Breakout Fighter of the Year: Todd Duffee
There have been many fighters that debut on their first televised performance with a bang, then there’s Todd Duffee. His debut looked more like a nuclear holocaust of rage, lasting a mere 7 seconds, earning him the fastest knockout in UFC history. Overnight, he became a household name (if your household watches MMA like mine). What we saw that night in UFC 102 was so frightening, anyone who utters the words “Todd Duffee” in my apartment automatically has to put $1 in a swear jar. All proceeds go to Jaco Clothing’s R&D department to design and manufacture the first ever MMA inspired ‘snuggie’. I’m up to $6.
Most Triumphant Performance: Stefan Struve over Denis Stojnić. – UFC 99: The Comeback
This is a fight you probably missed, and I don’t blame you… Stefan Struve was coming off a 54 second knockout loss to Junior Dos Santos in his UFC Debut and Denis Stojnić was coming off a knockout loss to Cain Velasquez. On paper, it didn’t seem like anything magical was going to happen, but it goes to show you what happens when a cut gives you a sense of urgency to end a fight before the referees do. Stefan Struve had to dig pretty deep to overcome the one of the worst cuts in UFC history. Digging into anything is pretty hard when you’re 6-11, especially when you’ve got another heavyweight MMA fighter smashing your face in with hammer-fists. In a fight that was deemed “Too Violent for PPV” the UFC decided not to air the fight, but any true MMA fan has to appreciate the kind of resilience it took to come back from an elbow that lets the whole world see your skull from the outside of your body.
Best Fight Card of the year: K-1 WGP.
I went back and forth on this for a while. I knew whatever the best card of the year was, it had to have Ubereem fighting in it. On December 5, 2009, the culmination of this year’s 16-man tournament was the greatest collective assembly of talent ever to compete under 1 roof. When it came down to Badr Hari vs. Ubereem in the semi-finals, I was impressed that the ring didn’t collapse from sheer rawesomness. I was on the edge of my seat for each and every fight. Chances are, if you blinked a single time in the 3+ hour broadcast, you probably missed a knockout.
Overall Fighter of the Year: Jose Aldo
When I was 23, I spent the whole summer trying to earn enough money to put rims on my 1993 Volkswagen Corrado, but it kept breaking down on me, and I never succeeded. I actually spent more money fixing my transmission then I ended up earning, but at least my friends had working cars and we all had a great time on the Jersey Shore drinking Jager-bombs (before they were the subject of viral Guido videos). Jose Aldo just turned 23, and he spent that same year of his life cleaning out what was once considered to be a competitive WEC Featherweight Division. Jose earned 4 wins in 4 tries, including, an 8 second KO of the experienced Cub Swanson, and a 2 round demolition of champion Mike Brown. Jose Aldo has taken the throne as Featherweight Champion faster then it took me to beat Mortal Kombat at intermediate difficulty (although I’m sure both of us were equally proud of our respective accomplishments). If Jose Aldo were a Mortal Kombat character, he’d be like Liu Kang, only faster and way more unpredictable. Needless to say, I hope Midway Games is taking notes.
Submission of the Year: Toby Imada’s Inverted Triangle Choke over Jorge Masvidal – Bellator
Although there were MANY notable submissions in 2009, like when Steve Cantwell ripped-off Razak Al-Hasan’s arm during “UFC’s Fight for the Troops”, or when Minowaman made Hong Man Choi tap from a textbook heel hook, despite a “slight” size disadvantage. Yep, 2009 made for some awesome submissions, but only one shocked me into spitting my fruit loops all over my girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend). Toby Imada’s obviously read his a BJJ instructional manual upside-down. Since then, I try to read all my books upside down. It’s harder then it sounds, and I usually give up a few pages into each session. This is why I’m not as good a man as Toby Imada. This submission is going to be featured in every compliation highlight reel on youtube for years to come for it’s sheer rawesomeness, and rightfully so.
Knockout of the Year: Dan Henderson over Michael Bisping – UFC 100
This was the most difficult category from which I had to pick one single knockout to take the crown for ‘Best of the Year’ – but few knockouts make an entire country unite quite like when Dan Henderson put his fist right through Michael Bisping’s face. Although Nate Marquart swatting Damien Maya out of the sky was cool, and Fedor’s overhand right ended several opponents’ diluted fantasies, nobody knows how to humble a confident up-and-comer quite like Dan Henderson. We received unconfirmed reports that Bisping’s mouthpiece landed on one of the blackjack tables at the neighboring Belagio, and that the pit-bosses were not amused. It’s too bad really…
Best Women’s Fight of the Year: Kerry Vera vs. Kim Couture
One week after Brandon Vera fought Randy Couture in UFC 105, Strikeforce gave us the female version of the same fight. I didn’t see how the fight could possibly compare to the amazing weigh in pictures, but it did. In a breakout year for women’s MMA headlined by Gina Carano and Cyborg Santos, Kerry Vera blasted onto the scene with a devastating display of potency in her hands. For mere mortals like me, what I saw that night made me think twice about what it means to hit like a girl, but if you’re a certified bad-ass like Erin Toughill, you’re probably less impressed then I am. If getting called-out to fight is the sincerest form of flattery, Kerry Vera must be the most desirable woman in MMA right now. After that fight, it seems like everyone wants Kerry Vera. I hope Brandon isn’t reading this right now…
Fight of the Year: Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida
This honor could easily have gone to Benson Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone, or Randy Couture vs. his age, but it didn’t. I always wondered what would happen when two welterweights cut to 155 for weigh-ins by severely dehydrating themselves, then rush promptly to a supermarket to drink every can of Red Bull on the shelf. From start to finish, these two dudes attacked each other as though the last one standing gets to go on an all-expense-paid date with Kyra Gracie. Even though Diego took the split decision, it’s about as close as a fight can get, and reminds us how powerful the temptation of dating Kyra Gracie really is. As a fan, I feel cheated that this fight didn’t go 5 rounds, but if BJ Penn allows it (and by allow, I mean vacates his belt to conquer Japanese MMA), maybe these guys can do it again in 2010? I can dream, can’t I?
After Cung Le vs. Scott Smith this weekend and Dynamite!! On New Year’s Eve, 2009 will end, and 2010 will be left with big shoes to fill. Since we’re already growing into those shoes, we might as well get new pants too, I blame the tacos for that. Oh, and new gloves too… Mariusz Pudzianowski is here, and he doesn’t fit into human sizes.