Another crazy year full of twists and turns has come and gone in the growing sport of mixed martial arts. Undoubtedly, you’ve run across quite a few of these lists in the past few weeks. I’m not trying to pretend mine is any more important or significant than anyone else’s. Rather, I like to think of it as a list of some of the most memorable moments of the 2009. Please feel free to share your picks in the comments.
Without further adieu…
Fighter of the Year
No fighter had a year quite like Jose Aldo. He went from relatively unknown to WEC Featherweight Champion in the span of a year. And he did it by absolutely buzzsawing his way through the WEC’s featherweight division. He fought four times finishing every single one of his opponents in violent fashion including the seemingly unbeatable Mike Brown. Comparisons to Anderson Silva were made, and people are already talking about him as a strong contender to BJ Penn in the weight class above his own. Oh, and he’s yet to show off his jiu-jitsu game.
George St. Pierre – GSP had a stellar year in 2009 as well turning in dominant performances against BJ Penn and Thiago Alves. It was close between him and Aldo, but he only fought twice and didn’t finish both of his opponents like Aldo did.
Female Fighter of the Year
Cris Cyborg – Cris Cyborg won the first major women’s title when she destroyed Gina Carano in what was one of the most anticipated fights of 2009. She looks invincible now, but she hasn’t fought the best the division has to offer yet. Hopefully, Strikeforce gives her those challenges in 2010.
Fight of the Year
Josh Thomson vs Gilbert Melendez II
There were a lot of great fights in 2009, but for me, Thomson-Melendez II stood out above the rest. These two went to war for five straight rounds. There were numerous insane exchanges, knockdowns and recoveries. Both made it to the end, but Melendez did the most damage and avenged his loss to Thomson. Hell of a fight to end the year with.
Mike Brown vs. Urijah Faber II – Two broken hands didn’t stop Urijah Faber from giving Mike Brown one hell of rematch.
Miguel Torres vs. Takeya Mizugaki – Mizugaki gave Torres a run for his money in a 25-minute war that left both fighters bruised and bloodied.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Randy Couture – No one knew how much Big Nog and Randy Couture had left in the tank after their respective losses to Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar in late 2008. Turned out they both had a lot left, especially Big Nog who rocked Couture and nearly submitted him multiple times. Couture escaped from seemingly inescapable submission attempts to make this one of the best of ’09.
Ben Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone – Henderson somehow survived a series of submission attempts in the first round to turn this into one of the most memorable fights of the year
Worst Fight of the Year
TUF 10 – There were so many horrible, atrocious fights from TUF 10, I couldn’t possibly pick one.
Breakout Fighter of the Year
Raise your hand if you knew who Marius Zaromskis was at the beginning of 2009. Yeah, hardly anyone did, but everyone who paid attention to Japanese MMA did by the end of the year. Zaromskis stormed onto the scene winning DREAM’s welterweight grand prix by nearly decapitating three of his four 2009 opponents with wicked head kicks. This dude is violent and he’s coming to the US to fight Nick Diaz this Saturday.
Jose Aldo – Aldo deserves this award as well but since he’s our 2009 Fighter of the Year, he’s getting an honorable mention.
Comeback Fighter of the Year
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
By the end of 2008, many people had written off Shogun Rua as a has-been for his loss to Forrest Griffin. Shogun’s sloppy win over Mark Coleman in January 2009 didn’t give anyone confidence he would return to the form that made him the number one light heavyweight in the world prior to the Griffin loss. He raised a few eyebrows with a huge knockout over Chuck Liddell in April, but most people still wrote it off as Chuck just being old. Thanks to great timing Shogun was offered a title shot against Lyoto Machida. No gave him a chance. No one but himself and his team who crafted a gameplan to kick Machida to death in the legs and body to throw off his timing. It worked and by the end of the fifth round, Machida clearly wasn’t the same fighter from round one. Shogun had won, he had defied the odds, came back from two major knee surgeries and reclaimed his spot at the top of the mountain. He was the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion of the world. Yeah, that was supposed to the story coming out of UFC 104. Instead, the judges awarded Machida the decision and the entire MMA community went ape shit over it. Personally, I don’t care what the judges thought. Shogun won that fight and pulled off the greatest comeback of 2009.
BJ Penn – It was a rough start to 2009 for BJ Penn. He was dominated by GSP in early January and spent the first half of the year complaining about GSP greasing. It seemed like he might be too distracted and let his lightweight title slip away when he was scheduled to face Kenny Florian, but instead he hired infamous trainer Marv Marinovich who essentially helped BJ finally reach his full potential. Florian couldn’t touch Penn and neither could Diego Sanchez. At this point, it doesn’t look like any lightweight in the world can.
The Rocky Balboa Award
Scott Smith – Not once, but twice Scott Smith took a 12-minute beating to pull off the two biggest come-from-behind victories of 2009. They were the equivalent of hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a three-run deficit.
Knockout of the Year
Dan Henderson “shuts up” Michael Bisping at UFC 100
Dan Henderson’s picture perfect knock out of Michael Bisping was a popular choice for 2009 KO of the year and for good reason. Not only was it everything we imagine a knockout should be, it made every MMA fan outside the UK jump for joy for completely humbling a very arrogant Michael Bisping.
Yahir Reyes’ spinning backfist KO of Esteban Payan at Bellator VI – Seriously, how many spinning backfist KO’s have you ever seen? Yeah, not many.
Fedor Emelianenko drops Andrei Arlovski like a sack of potatoes at Affliction DOR
Jose Aldo’s knee flies into Cub Swanson’s face 8 seconds into their fight at WEC 41
Dan Hornbuckle head kicks Akihiro Gono at Sengoku 9
Vitor Belfort nearly kills Matt Lindland at Affliction DOR – At least it looked that way several scary minutes as Lindland layed stiff and twitching after Belfort dropped the hammer on his head.
The Cro Cop Award
Marius Zaromskis channeled his inner Cro Cop three times knocking out Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Jason High and Myeon Ho Bae with lethal head kicks
Knockout Artist of the Year
Fedor Emelianenko – Fedor is a lot of things, but he’s never been a one-punch knockout artist. That was until 2009 when he floored Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers with right hands to the chin.
Submission of the Year
Tony Imada’s inverted triangle of Jorge Masvidal at Bellator IV
This was a no-brainer for obvious reasons.
Naoyuki Kotani puts Daisuke Nakamura in a leg scissor choke at ZST 22 – Watch it here
Masakazu Imanari chokes out Justin Cruz at DEEP: Cage Impact 2009 with some kind of omaplata/neck crank – Watch it here
The Kimbo Slice “Tapping Out Is For Bitches” Award
Mizuto Hirota for letting Shinya Aoki break his freakin’ arm at Dynamite!! 2009.
Beatdown of the Year
Brock Lesnar mauls Frank Mir at UFC 100
Frank Mir planned to outstrike Brock Lesnar at UFC 100 assuming Brock would be too scared to take him down and risk getting caught in a submission. Frank Mir made the wrong assumption because Brock not only took him down and held him there, he beat Mir’s face in so bad you could barely recognize him after the fight was stopped.
Performance of the Year
BJ Penn dominates Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 – The fight that made BJ Penn look untouchable at 155 lbs.
Masterful Display of Striking of the Year
Anderson Silva embarrasses Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 – The fight that proved Anderson Silva’s striking is on a whole another level than everyone else’s.
Upset of the Year
Joe Warren decisions Kid Yamamoto at DREAM.9
Kid Yamamoto was considered one of the best featherweights in the world and American wrestler Joe Warren with his 1-0 record managed to earn a decision victory over him in Japan in a fight that may not have even been sanctioned in the US.
Brian Bowles finishes Miguel Torres at WEC 42 – Torres seemed unbeatable at bantamweight until Brian Bowles came along and starched him.
Event of the Year
WEC 41 “Brown vs Faber 2”
WEC 41 was full of exciting finishes, including Aldo’s flying knee KO of Cub Swanson, and a Fight of the Year candidate in Brown vs. Faber II to make it one of the best of 2009.
Affliction “Day of Reckoning” – Great finishes and exciting fights made Affliction’s second and final outing one of the most entertaining and worthwhile purchases of 2009.
UFC 100 – Stacked card with the KO and Beatdown of the Year winners
Combat Sports Event of the Year
K-1 2009 World Grand Prix Final – The most thrilling combat sports event of the year. Watch it here if you missed it.
Story of the Year
Affliction folds & Strikeforce rises
Josh Barnett’s positive steroid test set off a crazy string of events that resulted in Affliction folding and Strikeforce signing Fedor Emelianenko. We knew Affliction was on its last legs, but even with the Showtime deal we didn’t know Strikeforce would become a major player in the industry until the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist and most sought-after free agent on the planet signed with them. Strikeforce took Fedor to CBS and plan to do it again in April.
Rags to Riches Story of the Year
Pat Barry went from eating rice and ketchup to cashing $120,000 in bonus checks, not without a little trouble, for his fight with Antoni Hardonk at UFC 104.
Disappointment of the Year
The UFC and Fedor Emelianenko/M-1 fail to agree on terms
This was supposed to be the year the UFC signed Fedor Emelianenko. His Affliction contract was coming to an end and there weren’t a whole of other options with Affliction ready to crumble at any moment. Then Affliction died making it seem even more likely he would finally sign to fight in the UFC. He didn’t. The UFC actually gave in to many of M-1 demands that soured negotiations in the past, but they wouldn’t concede to co-promotion. The rest is history.
Circus Act of the Year
Jose Canseco with little to no training made his way to Japan to collect a paycheck for fighting Korean giant Hong Man Choi at DREAM.9. It was the worst a major MMA promotion had to offer in 2009.
Ring Entrance of the Year
Mayhem Miller at DREAM.9
Photo of the Year
In this sport, photos don’t get much sweeter than that.