As 2011 eases its way out the door and 2012 creeps in, we’re left with the usual retrospective thoughts of what was in the past year. And “what was” in terms of major stories, we had Zuffa gobbling up its main competitor in Strikeforce, and we witnessed the marriage of the century when FOX slipped a ring on the UFC’s gnarled finger and said “I do”. But we also had some astounding fights and amazing fighters, all of which deserves some love and affection as we stroll down memory lane. So let’s gaze back fondly at them, yes? The “best of” 2011 warrants no less.

-Best Slobberknocker: Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler, Bellator 58 – A great fight ebbs and flows with a tide that turns on each cleanly-landed punch or unexpected high-kick, that greatness issuing forth whenever we’re treated to one competitor nearly wilting then rallying then stumbling in endless waves of violence. Such was the case with Bellator’s newest masterpiece, Alvarez/Chandler, which saw defending lightweight champ Alvarez get blasted, return the beatdown tenfold, and finally fall to the juggernaut-like challenger Chandler. How good of a slobberknocker was this bout that went into the deep waters of the fourth round? So good that Alvarez’s lips were horrifically torn at the edges and Chandler looked like he’d fallen off the back of a pickup truck doing 90 mph on the highway when it was all over, yet they had nothing but kind words for each other in their post-fight interviews – a sure sign that even they knew what’d they given us was awesome.

-Best Display of Grit: Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, UFC 139 – Lesser men who’ve been in the fight game as long as Henderson and Shogun would not have been able to provide us with the kind of action these two put forth at UFC 139. Never mind that the fight went the full five rounds with them giving it their all (and then some), or that at various times each one hung from the precipice, a punch away from getting TKO’d. These warriors would just not quit. Henderson/Shogun was so gritty, I had to vacuum up piles of sand that had inexplicably gathered around my television. That’s gritty.

-Best Poetic Justice via Submission: Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia II, UFC Fight Night “Nogueira vs. Davis” – The “Korean Zombie” got screwed out of a decision when he first met Garcia in the cage (at WEC 48). Jung knew it, Garcia knew it, the whole world knew it. Therefore, when the two rematched at UFC Fight Night: “Nogueira vs. Davis”, and the beloved South Korean tied the American scrapper into knots before nailing the first-ever Twister seen in the Octagon, it was sweet. So, so sweet. Poetic justice via heretofore unsuccessful submission never tasted so good.

-Best Poetic Justice via KO: Alexis Vila vs. Joe Warren, Bellator 51 – The most annoying thing about Bellator 145-pound champ Warren is that his number one fan is Joe Warren. Why? Why should we have to listen to his cockiness whenever a microphone is thrust in his direction? Well, when Warren stepped into the cage to make his mark in this past season’s bantamweight tournament, Cuban Olympic wrestler Vila shut him up with a quickness courtesy of a minute-and-four-second fist to the chops and a starching knockout. Justice again, and again, so sweet.

-Best Resolution to a Trilogy: Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III, UFC 136 – Maynard was great at muscling around Edgar at UFC Fight Night: “Florian vs. Lauzon” back in 2008, and he did a fine job of nearly crushing “The Answer” early on in their second and third meetings at UFCs 125 and 136. But while their UFC 125 bout ended in a draw, their UFC 136 conflagration finished decisively – with Edgar’s slick transition from takedown attempt to knuckle buffet putting a knockout of a punctuation mark on the whole trilogy. Think Edgar doesn’t deserve the belt now?

-Best “Oh Snap!” Moment: Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort, UFC 126 – On paper, Belfort should’ve been the most capable striker the middleweight champ has ever faced. After all, when Belfort flurries, it’s like watching a vehicle-mounted .50 caliber machine gun let loose. Silva’s answer? A freakin’ karate front snap-kick, fired with such precision that not only did it nail Belfort square in the chin and stun him, it also shaved off about a dozen whiskers. When he saw that from his perch in Heaven, Bruce Lee immediately dropped to his knees and began praying. To Anderson Silva.

-Just Plain Old Best: Jon Jones – In the beginning of 2011, Jones was facing TUF winner Ryan Bader for a potential shot at Shogun’s light-heavyweight belt. By the end of the year, he was defending his belt for a second time, overcoming Lyoto Machida’s standup-game riddle and choking the poor Brazilian into unconsciousness with a standing guillotine. There are good fighters and there are great fighters. Jones is what you’d get if you took all those good fighters and great fighters, boiled them in a pot, and condensed the mixture down into a single 205-pound human being. For that, he’s the best fighter of 2011.