With 2011 now in full gear and a lot of 2010 awards still sitting in our closet gathering dust, we decided it was time to finish up giving out our fake trophies for the best of the best in MMA from the previous twelve months. As usual, the awards are non-sexist (we have categories for men and women) and egalitarian. We all think we’re the smartest people in the room, so we gave our own separate picks rather than arguing. Enjoy.
Male fighter of the year
John Buhl: Jose Aldo — Aldo took on two top contenders (Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan), one a longtime former champion, and demolished them both with ease. He showed the total package, with incredible speed, heavy hands, flying knees, and nasty leg kicks.
Denny Hodge: Cain Velasquez — He derailed the unstoppable freight train that was Brock Lesnar. If you like rap, you will remember when 50 Cent came out and killed the career of Ja Rule. That’s what Cain did to Brock, except he also stole his soul. (Editor’s note: Is Denny saying that Lesnar sucks? Because Ja Rule certainly sucked.)
Richard Mann: Anderson Silva — I doubt many people will agree, but Anderson Silva is fighter of the year. In 2010, he broke the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses. He then extended the record to seven-straight. Sure people complained about his ridiculous performance at UFC 117, but that was still a win over a top-five middleweight. On top of that, his antics turned out to be good for the sport. Dana White got to mouth off on a variety of television shows. Plus, all my male graduate school contemporaries could talk about nothing else for about a month.
Then, Silva returned and humbled Chael “Boardwalk Empire” Sonnen with a nifty and desperate submission hold. Not only was it a great win, but it was also the biggest fight of the year. A lot of pundits like to give Sonnen credit for building the fight. However, no one would have cared about Sonnen’s mindless jibber jabber if Silva did not have his aura of invincibility. Silva is a transcendent talent, and we are all lucky to be able to witness his record-breaking career.
Brian Furby: Anthony Pettis — Admittedly, if his cage assisted/Resident Evil-esque kick hadn’t landed, it wouldn’t have made nearly the noise that it did. But it did land and floored Ben Henderson in the process. With four fights, and going 4-0 in 2010, Pettis will never be forgotten as he ended the WEC’s final show with a bang, leaving all MMA fans looking forward to his UFC entrance in 2011. Pettis’s captivating backstory was captured on a 2010 episode of “World of Jenks”, something I highly recommend you watch if you haven’t already.
Female fighter of the year
Buhl: Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos — You could make a pretty good case for Zoila Frausto here, but her two split decision wins over Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii, fair or not, take away from her 4-0 record this year and accomplishment of ending Fujii’s undefeated run. It’s Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos’s world and we’re all just living in it. It says something that people probably didn’t even raise an eyebrow when she brutalized Jan Finney or beat up Marloes Coenen, now a Strikeforce champion one weight class below. She’s established some high standards but still managed to meet them this year.
Denny: Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos — Do you really need an explanation here? OK, I’ll give you one. The thrashing she gave “Cuddles” still gives me nightmares, and when I think of her in the dark, I have to turn the lights back on to sleep.
Richard: Miesha Tate — She went 4-0, defended her FCF title, dominated Bellator 115-pound champion Zoila Frausto and earned a shot at the Strikeforce 135-pound belt by winning a one-night tournament. That is quite a year.
Furby: Zoila Frausto
Male fight of the year
Buhl: Jorge Santiago defeating Kazuo Misaki II in Sengoku — Great technique? Check. Important (title) fight? Yep. Plenty of action? Indeed. There were plenty of great matches this year: Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung, Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, Antonio Silva vs. Mike Kyle, the list goes on. But Santiago vs. Misaki had a bit of everything. I felt exhausted just watching that fight.
Denny: Santiago vs. Misaki II – If you haven’t seen it, and have the pills to call yourself an MMA fan, get on your research son. The fight couldn’t have been choreagraphed better if Jackie Chan tried to do a movie about it. It was more back and forth than a Rocky movie, except in this fight, either guy could have really died. Amazing fight, and it’s going to be hard for anybody in 2011 to top it.
Richard: I have been watching MMA for a while, and I have never been really moved by a fight until this year. I even wrote a whole column about it. The SRC title fight between Jorge Santiago and Kazuo Misaki was the best fight of 2010. One of the biggest story lines of 2010 was the slow decline of Japanese MMA, but, for at least one night, Santiago and Misaki showed that the sport still has the ability to wow a long-time fan.
Furby: Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis at WEC 53 — Yes, it has the benefit of being fresh in my mind since it happened just under a month ago, but I was impressed with the fight. Two scrappy guys fighting for a title over five rounds of solid action. Add to that the hype that it was the last WEC card and that the champ would be moving over the UFC for a title unification (although now postponed) bout, then throw in Pettis’s crazy kick at the end and it had everything I’d like to see in a fight.
Female fight of the year
Buhl: Zoila Frausto defeating Megumi Fujii in Bellator — The controversial decision aside, Frausto’s win over Fujii saw a 22-fight win streak come to an end.
Richard: Roxanne Modafferi defeating Tara LaRosa at Moosin: God of Martial Arts — The crowd was into this rematch and it was clearly a back and forth affair. The two women competed in all phases of the game.
Furby: Zoila Frausto over Magumi Fujii
Male KO of the year
Buhl: Paul Daley left hook KO over Scott Smith, Dec. 4 Strikeforce — Daley sent Smith face-first into the canvas with a beautifully timed left hook. It was a painful, cringe-inducing work of combat art.
Denny: Carlos Condit KO of Dan Hardy at UFC 120 — Lawlor/Manhoef was amazing, but for me it was Condit over Hardy. Everybody kept saying “watch for Hardy’s left hook.” Well, Condit saw it and connected with his left hand first, leaving Hardy’s mohawk laying on the canvas, limp and in despair, while it’s master was astrally traveling back to the UK.
Richard: Daley over Smith — Paul Daley’s left hook completely evaporated Scott Smith. Smith’s face broke his fall. Everyone knows that Daley can crack, but Smith’s entire reputation is based on the fact that he can take punishment. The minute Daley touched him, it was over.
Furby: Robbie Lawler over Matt Lindland, Strikeforce Dec. 4
Female KO of the year
Buhl: Sarah Kaufman KO slam over Roxanne Modafferi, July 23 Strikeforce Challengers — This one is easy. If a women’s MMA fight makes ESPN’s Sportscenter highlight reel, something special happened. Kaufman’s KO slam was exactly that.
Denny: I’m going with Kaufman’s slam of Roxy. I love Roxanne, and she was THIS close to securing that arm until the ballet dancer turned “Rampage”, elevated Modafferi, then slammed her to the mat with brutal force. It was unbelievable, and I have to admit, I let out a little girly gasp when it happened.
Richard: Sarah Kaufman’s slam on Roxanne Modafferi is clearly one of the best knockouts of the year. She picked her up and put her down hard. On top of that, Kaufman was behind in the fight and needed a knockout to hold onto her title.
Furby: Zoila Frausto over Rosi Sexton in Bellator
Favorite fight card of the year
Buhl: WEC 51: Aldo vs. Gamburyan, Sept. 30 — Aldo destroyed Gamburyan, Donald Cerrone took out a couple of years worth of frustration on Jamie Varner, Miguel Torres picked up a much needed win in impressive fashion, and George Roop KO’d Chan Sung Jung. This card just edges out UFC 115 (Liddell vs. Franklin) and Strikeforce’s Dec. 4 plethora of knockouts.
Richard: I have a love-hate relationship with Strikeforce: Nasvhille. There were only three fights shown on CBS, but they were all intriguing championship fights. Jason Miller got in the cage and made a fool of himself, but his fight against the Tim Stout was on the preliminary card where it belonged. In the main event, Jake Shields scored one of the biggest wins of his career with a comeback victory over Dan Henderson. Gilbert Melendez and Shinya Aoki faced off in one of the few champion vs. champion match ups in MMA. Plus, Muhammed Lawal showed that wrestling is still enough to take you to the top of the sport, defeating Gegard Mousasi by decision.
Furby: Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu II — Although I normally lean towards the UFC when picking favorite cards, this Strikeforce card was firing on all cylinders. Three ridiculous KOs, a good scrap between Silva and Kyle, and OSP dominating Benji Radach. Excellent action across the board.
Submission of the year
Denny: Cole Miller over Dan Lauzon at UFC 108. Sure, Werdum toppled “The Last Emperor” with an arm bar, but it wasn’t spectacular, although the result of the submission shook the MMA world. Anderson Silva’s come from behind sub of Sonnen was impressive, but nothing as sweet as the inverted triangle, kimura, goodness that Miller slapped on Lauzon.
Richard: This is always an interesting award. Some submissions are technically amazing. Some win big fights. I always strive to find one that balances the two. With that being said, I have to go with Shuichiro Katsumura’s “ninja choke” on Masakatsu Ueda. He gets points for creativity, since he threw up a modified brabo choke from the bottom. He also knocked off a top-five bantamweight, at the time, and took the Shooto world title.
Buhl: Fabricio Werdum submits Fedor Emelianenko via triangle/armbar, June 26 Strikeforce — Pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva was moments away from losing his UFC middleweight title to Chael Sonnen before securing that triangle choke and an amazing comeback win. But we’ve seen Sonnen submitted before when he looked like he was in control. However, Werdum’s triangle of Fedor made for a quick ending and officially ending any claim for Fedor as the top heavyweight. A world-class Brazilian Jiu Jitus practitioner did his thing and made MMA history.
Furby: Cole Miller over Dan Lauzon
Other random assortments
Matt Metts (5-0) out of Reaction MMA in Lexington, KY. Has wins in both the 170 and 155 divisions and has a great future ahead of him. (Furby)
Female submission of the year
Michelle Waterson pulled off a flying armbar while Rosary Califano held her leg in the air. If you have not seen it, you need to check it out. (Richard)
Frankie Edgar defeats B.J. Penn by unanimous decision, April 10 UFC 112 — It was a controversial decision, but no one can argue that Edgar gave Penn a hell of a fight the first time the two met. Many, including myself, expected Penn to be too much for Edgar, who has talent but looks more physically suited for the featherweight division. Before this fight, Penn had been dominating the 155-pound class. Admittedly, we didn’t see that Edgar’s style truly does give Penn fits until he dominated Penn in the rematch at UFC 118. But very few saw this one coming. (Buhl)