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Ten Things To Be Thankful For In MMA: 2011 Edition

Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it comes a time to eat copious amounts of turkey, see way too much of your relatives, and gives thanks for the things that make life worth living – and if you’re like me, much of those particular “things” involve mixed martial arts. So here we are then, soon to be closing out 2011, and as it has proved to be another banner year for the sport, we’re left with plenty to be thankful for. Thus, a list of ten things that mean a lot to us MMA fans, but if we were transported via time machine to that very first Thanksgiving table centuries ago, and we tried to describe these things to that pilgrim sitting to our left and that loin-clothed Iroquois to our right, we’d probably end up getting shot with a blunderbuss and whacked with a club.

  • Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler – A year ago, no athletic commission in the world with even the slightest bit of conscience would’ve approved of an Alvarez/Chandler matchup. But lo and behold, there’s Bellator, which let Chandler earn his shot against the top-ten lightweight by stuffing him into a 155-pound tournament slot and letting him fight his way out. He did, of course, and earned himself a crack at the organization’s champ, and BLAMMO! We had one heck of a kickass fight last Saturday night! I’m not going to waste time extolling the virtues of their four-round virtuoso – the video’s been available everywhere all week and it’s going to re-air on MTV2 after this week’s Bellator installment. But I will say this: Alvarez vs. Chandler is probably one of the best fights Bellator has ever put together.
  • Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Dan Henderson – UFC 139 had some awesome moments, but it’s hard to recall them with that much clarity when the last bout of the evening was the five-round master class on heart, skill and warrior-ness. Shogun and “Hendo” were already legends going into their bout on Saturday night, so really, what we got was just the icing on the cake. And damn, what a delicious icing to go with that delicious cake.
  • UFC on FOX – In the not too distance past, if you told someone on the street that you watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship, they’d likely say, “Oh yeah, aren’t those fights to the death or something?” And you couldn’t blame them for their ignorance, because for the longest time, MMA was at best a fringe sport. Now, if someone shows that kind of unfamiliarity, you can kick them square in the groin. The UFC is available in 550 million homes! For free! “Fringe sport” my ass, this thing is now mainstream, baby, and it’s all thanks to the UFC’s newly-minted marriage to the FOX networks.
  • Jon Jones – Every sporting endeavor needs its Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson (in his prime), and Tiger Woods (uh, when he seemed wholesome). Guess what? We’ve got Jones, who rocketed up the ranks of the light-heavyweight division to claim the crown – and defend it – in completely convincing fashion. That’s right, we’ve got our very own superstar that we can point out to the general public and say, “Yeah, that guy right there, he’s a superhero.”
  • Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III – If you’ve got two fighters engaged in a trilogy of matchups, it’s either because their prior bouts were so totally awesome or so totally inconclusive. What Edgar and Maynard did up until UFC 136 was pretty much the latter. Then came UFC 136, and wow, definitely the former. With an uppercut off a takedown attempt, then a serious of right hands followed by some lefts, Edgar put the world on notice that he was here to stay as lightweight champ, badass challengers be damned. Now we have closure, and there’s no question mark over who the best 155-pound fighter in the world is.
  • Nick Diaz – For a while now there’s been no one in the UFC’s welterweight division who could stop champ Georges St. Pierre from laying on top of them like a muscular Canadian duvet. And maybe ex-Strikeforce champ Diaz doesn’t have the sprawl to prevent that from happening either. But regardless, after cleaning out Strikeforce and clobbering BJ Penn in the Octagon, the dude is worthy of a crack at St. Pierre, and it’s going to be fun watching him DESTROY the champ whenever their upcoming title bout is on the feet. That, plus Diaz’s cardio, superior jiu-jitsu, and overall villainous demeanor is going to make for one of the most compelling welterweight fights ever.
  • Ronda Rousey – Let’s face it, without Gina Carano smiling coyly at the camera, women’s MMA barely has a pulse. Which is sad, because 145-pound champ Cris “Cyborg” Santos is a viable and deadly fighter who’s more than deserving of accolades. But now we’ve got Rousey to liven things up, and with her Olympic-caliber judo and penchant for amputating arms in under a minute, woo-wee, women’s MMA is going to be fun again. It’s going to be sweet watching Rousey crush Meisha Tate, and it’s going to be even sweeter watching her dismantle Cyborg bit by Brazilian bit.
  • SpikeTV and Bellator – Nature hates a vacuum, and with the UFC ditching SpikeTV for the greener pastures of FOX, a gargantuan MMA void was created on a channel that had for years given us junkies a nice, hot fix. So hooray for Viacom (SpikeTV’s momma) buying a majority stake in Bellator. Bellator is now validated as the sport’s solid number two organization, and in a year we’ll supposedly be getting a bit more of that tournament goodness we’re currently enjoying on MTV2.
  • Brazil – To borrow a term from the world of finance, Brazil is the next “emerging market” in MMA – and the simple fact that there is such a thing bodes well for the sport in general. Japan has dried up, the UK isn’t catching fire like it should, and there’s only so much love Canada and Australia can give. But Brazil… over ten percent of that country’s population tuned in to watch Junior dos Santos knock out Cain Velasquez. That’s enough to warrant more visits by the UFC and a TUF House erected on a beach in Sao Paulo. Yeah, pay-per-view numbers have been declining here the States. Don’t fret, though, because MMA isn’t doing anything but growing.
  • Joe Warren vs. Alexis Vila – Thank you, Alexis Vila, for entering into Bellator’s bantamweight tournament and introducing the mouthy featherweight champ Joe Warren’s face to your fist. Sixty-four seconds was all it took to knock the American out, and now we’ve had a nice stretch of time where we’ve hadn’t had to hear Warren talk about how awesome he is.

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Fight Cards

UFC Fight Night 58: Machida vs. Dollaway

Event Date: December 20, 2014
Broadcast: FOX Sports 1, UFC Fight Pass

UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier

Event Date: January 3, 2015
Broadcast: Pay-per-view, Fox Sports 1, UFC Fight Pass

Bellator 132: Pitbull vs. Straus II

Event Date: January 16, 2015
Broadcast: Spike TV

UFC Fight Night 59: McGregor vs. Siver

Event Date: January 18, 2015
Broadcast: Fox Sports 1, UFC Fight Pass

UFC on FOX 14: Gustafsson vs. Johnson

Event Date: January 24, 2015
Broadcast: Fox, Fox Sports 1

UFC 183: Silva vs. Diaz

Event Date: January 31, 2015
Broadcast: Pay-per-view