12-29-2007, 06:44 AM
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| | Five Ounces of Pain: Year-end MMA awards
This is a long read but I enjoyed it so I thought I'd share. Enjoy!
Dec. 27, 2007 |
By Sam Caplan
Special to CBSSports.com
BOXING - CBSSports.com
In a sport that never gets boring, 2007 proved to be one of the wildest years in recent memory for mixed martial arts. It featured a myriad of stunning upsets, a host of incredible matches that usually involved lighter-weight fighters, the fall of Pride, the launch of several new competitors to the UFC and much more.
I decided the best way to look back at the year that was in MMA was to designate winners in several major categories. It felt strange writing an awards column for MMA, because several years it would have been moot because of the lack of major shows. But with many fighters competing on a frequent basis, it was time to start handing out some imaginary hardware.
I didn't want to do this alone, so I sought out the help of some of the most respected experts in the field to get their input just to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.
So here are my award winners in MMA for 2007, along with commentary from me and others. Enjoy:
Fighter of Year: Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson
There were many deserving candidates, but at the end of the day, the choice was clear. The sentimental selection would have been Randy Couture, but Jackson's year was too good to be overlooked.
He posted a quality win against Marvin Eastman during his UFC debut on Feb. 3 at UFC 67, followed it up with a dominating performance against the most publicized fighter in MMA at the time, Chuck Liddell, (requiring just 1:53 to TKO him and take the light heavyweight title) at UFC 71 on May 26 and closed the year out by becoming the first unified UFC and Pride champion when he won a unanimous decision over Dan Henderson at UFC 75 on Sept. 8.
Luke Thomas, editor-in-chief of the MMA blog BloodyElbow.com, agreed with the selection.
"Two years ago at this time he (Jackson) was fighting Hirotaka Yokoi and taking the fight to a decision," Thomas said as he pointed out how far Jackson has come in a short time. "He rebounded from his Chute Boxe losses to become the undisputed, unified 205-pound champ. No one else had a bigger year, not even Couture."
The historical significance of unifying the UFC light heavyweight and Pride middleweight titles alone is really enough to earn the honor. As great as Couture was, two title wins in '07 by Rampage is even more impressive than what "The Natural" was able to accomplish.
Honorable mention: Anderson Silva finished a strong second in honor of clearing out the UFC middleweight division. Also considered were Couture, for winning his third UFC heavyweight title against Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 and then defending it against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74; Gesias Calvancante for going 3-0 and beating the likes of Nam Phan, Andre "Dida" Amade and Caol Uno with his same-night wins over Amade and Uno earning him the K-1 HERO's lightweight GP crown; Urijah Faber for his reign of dominance over the WEC's 145-pound division; and Tara LaRosa for taking the BodogFIGHT women's title and successfully competing in two weight classes.
Promotion of Year: World Extreme Cagefighting
A lot of promotions had great years, but none made as many strides as Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting.
Jordan Breen, renowned mixed martial arts columnist and talk show host, summed it up best:
"In 2006, the WEC was just a solid little feeder show that happened at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino," Breen said. "In 2007, the WEC not only acquired some legitimate elite fighters, but became the big stage for 135ers and 145ers in MMA. It gave MMA enthusiasts a chance to finally see the more diminutive and dynamic fighters, and for those fighters to finally get paid. And now, more top international fighters at 135 and 145 are being ushered into the promotion. Not too shabby at all, and it's all on cable TV."
The re-launched WEC held seven cards in '07, and there wasn't a stinker in the lot. You'll be hard pressed to find another promotion that was able to consistently put on great matches at the rate the WEC was able to this past year. And for that, they earn my award for 2007 Promotion of the Year.
Honorable mention: While not every card the UFC promoted was a winner, most were above average and they were able to promote most of the best matches of the year. And while they suffered some setbacks like losing out on the HBO deal, seeing Randy Couture resign while heavyweight champion and complications from the PRIDE acquisition, they still did a lot of big things. They were able to sign a new lucrative contract with Spike TV and make major additions to their talent roster that included the signings of Wanderlei Silva, Brock Lesnar, Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou just to name a few.
Strikeforce for the major strides in growth it made this year and EliteXC for the overall fight quality of most of their cards also were considered.
Fight Card of Year: Pride 33 on Feb. 24 in Las Vegas
I felt pretty strongly about this card before consulting with my panel of experts. But their comments pretty much nailed the decision down for me.
"Pride 33 no doubt," FiveOuncesOfPain.com and 411Mania.com contributor Adam Morgan responded. "(It was) maybe the best Pride card ever to be honest with you."
When asked what he thought was the card of the year, Thomas' response was short and to the point.
"Pride 33," Thomas answered. "No contest."
The number of great matches was just mind-blowing, whether it was Jason Ireland's surprise showing against Joachim Hansen, Frank Trigg's minor upset over Kazuo Misaki, Sokoudjou's water cooler upset against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Nick Diaz's incredible gogoplata submission victory over Takanori Gomi, or Dan Henderson's thunderous left hook against Wanderlei Silva.
Looking back, it was an epic show during the dying days of the promotion.
Honorable mention: Strikeforce and EliteXC's co-promotion that featured the superb grudge main event match between Phil Baroni and Frank Shamrock on June 22.
Also, the live finale for The Ultimate Fighter 6 on Dec. 8 that featured not one but two classics involving Jared Rollins vs. Jon Koppenhaver and Clay Guida vs. Roger Huerta.
Match of the Year: Frankie Edgar vs. Tyson Griffin at UFC 67
There were so many matches worthy of consideration, but in the end, my choice came down to Edgar's upset of Griffin during the preliminary portion of the UFC 67 undercard or Diaz's submission win over Gomi at Pride 33 (which was later ruled a no-contest after Diaz failed a drug test).
I was ready to rule a tie until Morgan raised a great point.
"Gomi vs. Diaz was a bit too sloppy to be a fight of the year candidate while Edgar vs. Griffin was as technical as they come," he said.
Breen agreed but took it two steps further.
"It's one thing to be an entertaining fight," began Breen. "(But) what's more important when it comes to the fight Tyson Griffin and Frank Edgar put on is that the brand of entertainment they served up in the Octagon was exemplary. The strength of Griffin-Edgar is in the synthesis of MMA that happened in the bout; the seamlessness and fluidity of the fight is what all MMA fights should strive for. Moreover, this is a fight that may never have even happened in the UFC two years ago. Yet, this is the bout that set the table for what proved to be a breakout year for 155-pounders in the UFC."
My sentiments exactly.
Honorable mention: Diaz and Gomi, of course; Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni on June 22 in San Jose for resembling a fight straight out of the movies; Griffin again for his match at UFC 72 on June 16 that featured some of the fastest paced ground fighting seen all year; Guida vs. Roger Huerta during the TUF 6 finale on Dec. 8 because of its dramatic come-from-behind conclusion; Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout III during UFC Fight Night 10 on June 12 with its strong standup exchanges; and Chris Horodecki vs. Shad Lierley during the IFL's Everett, Wash., event on June 1 for its non-stop pace.
Upset of Year: Matt Serra defeats Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69
In the year of the upset, there was one that stood above the rest.
"St. Pierre was a 10-to-1 favorite and Serra's the first person from TUF to actually become champ," said Thomas. "The only other fight that had this odds differential was Sokoudjou vs. Nogueira, and that didn't have a one 10th the significance.”
Significance is the operative word because Serra vs. St. Pierre headlined the April UFC event. As a result, many fans groaned that the UFC would allow itself to be put in a situation where an also-ran fighting one class above his most competitive weight was competing for a title against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. No one, with the lone possible exception of Serra himself, gave him a chance. The thought of Serra winning was more than just improbable, it was incomprehensible.
You could make an argument for Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia at UFC 68, but some pundits were at least giving Couture a chance. Houston Alexander's demolition of Keith Jardine at UFC 71 was great for shock value, but if we had actually known who Alexander really was, would it have been as big of an upset? We all knew who Serra was and we still didn't give him a chance.
Forget about upset of the year, Serra vs. GSP might be the biggest upset in MMA history.
Honorable mention: In addition to Serra vs. St. Pierre, Couture vs. Sylvia, and Alexander vs. Jardine, I also took a long look at Gomi vs. Diaz from Pride 33. Hindsight is 20/20 and I was drinking Pride's Kool-Aid at the time, believing that Gomi was the best lightweight in the world. Diaz exposed how Pride had been protecting Gomi for years, but with the way he had been promoted, it sure seemed like a huge upset at the time.
Gabriel Gonzaga's win over Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 70 was also looked at.
Breakthrough Fighter of Year: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou
In 2007, Sokoudjou and his dreads rocked the mixed martial arts world like a hurricane.
Because of his strong judo credentials, there was a buzz behind him leading up to his Pride debut at Pride 33 in February. But even many of the hardcore fans who were excited about him gave him little chance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. In fact, I heard from one major Pride official who said he excused himself to go to the restroom just before the fight because he expected the match to be so one-sided. He heard the crowd erupt while away and thought to himself, "Damn, Rogerio took care of this guy quick" only to be surprised upon hearing that it was Sokoudjou who had taken care of business early once he had returned to his seat.
Some critics labeled the win a fluke and the Cameroon native was being counted out again, this time against Ricardo Arona leading up to Pride 34 this past April. But Sokoudjou needed just 1:59 to knock out Arona.
In all, "The African Assassin" needed just 2:22 to defame two top 10 light heavyweights.
Honorable mention: Frankie Edgar finished a respectable second arriving on the big stage as an unheralded fighter who compiled a 3-0 UFC record with impressive wins over Griffin and Fisher.
Also considered were Shad Lierley, who made his pro MMA debut in January '07 with almost no fanfare but became a household name with an impressive showing against IFL posterboy Chris Horodecki in June; Deividas Taurosevicius who began the year as a reserve in the IFL but finished as one of its brightest stars; Yoshihiro Akiyama, who knocked out Denis Kang in October on a K-1 HERO's show, allowing him to start to overcome a stigma in Japan for cheating in a match against Kazushi Sakuraba in 2006; and Houston Alexander from going to small-show dynamo to big-show wrecking ball with lightning fast wins over Keith Jardine at UFC 71 and Alessio Sakara at UFC 75.
Most Improved Fighter of Year: Marcus Davis
Davis began his evolution from journeyman fighter to welterweight contender in 2006 but didn't start gaining traction until 2007. Originally a professional boxer, Davis was a one-dimensional fighter in MMA who was just barely surviving. An alumnus from the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, he wasn't retained after losing to Melvin Guillard during the live finale.
But after a renewed effort to improve his ground game, Davis became a different fighter and returned to the Octagon in October 2006 on the Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock undercard. Since his return, Davis 5-0. In fact, he's on a 10-fight win streak and will look to make it 11 in a row at UFC 80 on Jan. 19 against Jess Liaudin.
It's a shame Davis doesn't get his due for the strides he has made on the ground, but that's to be expected considering the depth at welterweight in the UFC. In the UFC, Davis barely cracks the top 10 at 170 pounds. but in any other promotion,n he'd be featured as a No. 1 or 2 welterweight.
Honorable mention: Kenny Florian for continuing his transformation from one-dimensional jiu-jitsu practitioner to complete mixed martial artist en route to a 3-0 record in '07; Jake Shields for shedding his reputation as a non-finisher and going 4-0 with all early finishes this year; Gabriel Gonzaga, who emerged from prospect to top-10 heavyweight in a matter of months; and Robbie Lawler, who evened out his ground game, allowing him to shed his reputation as a UFC castoff by going 3-0 in '07 and claiming the ICON Sport and EliteXC middleweight titles in the process.
Comeback Fighter of Year: Randy Couture
Breen convinced me after he made the following case for Couture:
"Whether or not he was the fighter of the year in terms of in-ring accomplishment, Couture was undoubtedly the biggest figure in the sport in 2007," Breen wrote passionately in an e-mail upon hearing I was leaning towards Matt Serra for the award. "Couture's retirement came at an appropriate time following his loss in the rubber match with Chuck Liddell, and with Xtreme Couture turning into a monster factory and a warm seat in the commentary booth, a comeback for Captain America would've seemed ridiculous when 2007 began. Yet, he dominated two top ten heavyweights in Couture-esque fashion, entering the cage both times as an underdog. And whether or not you supported his resignation and the ensuring debacle, it doesn't matter. Couture was 2007's icon, and that's even wilder when you consider that in January he seemed a lock to stay beside (Joe) Rogan and (Mike) Goldberg."
I know this is my column and I'm supposed to have the last word, but what more needs to be said?
Honorable mention: Serra; Benji Radach, who returned from a three-year layoff and compiled a 5-0 record for the IFL this season; Pedro Rizzo, a man many had left for dead, for winning the UAFC heavyweight title with a win over Jeff Monson during an Art of War card in September; and Vladimir Matyushenko who re-emerged from oblivion to go 5-0 in the IFL this season en route to claiming the promotion's light heavyweight championship.
Sam Caplan is a lead writer/editor for ProElite.com as well as the publisher of his own blog, FiveOuncesOfPain.com and a contributing writer for the magazine FIGHT! You can contact him via e-mail at: SCaplan8@comcast.net.
I can't believe that Forrest vs Shogun wasn't mentioned in the upset of the year category.
Favorite recent dumbass comment:
Originally Posted by LebenTysonTank
My opinion is Arlovski is the best HW the world,but Randy stands a chance in a fight with Fedor to,I don't give a fuck what anybody says.
I still believe in "The Truth"
*1 - 2 in sig/av bets*
12-29-2007, 08:38 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
the only one id disagree with is the FOTY winner. now that fight was awesome, but i can think of three fights off the bat that i thought were just that much more exciting...
Guida/Griffin, Griffin/Tavares, and Guida/Huerta and as much as i hated the outcome, i give Huerta his dues and picked Guida/Huerta for FOTY.
also picking the WEC as promotion of the year was a good choice. im glad this isnt like pro-wrestling where the WWE is gunna win this hands down every year. and even though it's a Zuffa based organization now, the WEC still rose to the occasion on almost every card it had this year, put on some awesome fights, and really came into its own. the UFC has always been doing well, and will always be doing well so it doesnt necessarily need the nod here.
__________________ "For years Iíve underestimated Tim Sylvia. This time I think Iím gonna be in the minority and pick Tim and his long right hand. Come to think of it, I am a minority." - Din Thomas predicts Sylvia to beat Fedor
Favorite Fighters: Penn, Rampage, Tito, Couture, Guida, GSP, Mayhem, Varner, Mir, Torres
13-6-1 in AV/SIG bets
12-29-2007, 12:02 PM
Join Date: Oct 2006
Man, I am so EXCITED to watch tonight’s fights.
Anyways, Good read except I like Anderson for fighter of the year but I am pretty biased given Anderson is my favorite fighter.
Originally Posted by jrube
Fight Night for FREE on SpikeTV.....
I know this is totally off topic but TV is not free.
12-29-2007, 01:08 PM
Status: Hell Say Care!
Join Date: Oct 2006
I have some misgivings about WEC being promotion of the year. I thought there was too much time between their last show and the one before. Plus, big name fighters Joe Riggs and Jason Miller opted out of their contracts and signed with other orgs.
A lot of people are saying that WEC is the best promotion this year. But I suspect they might be basing that off of how great their last card was.
But, I'm not sure who I'd pick in WEC's place, so I probably shouldn't be saying anything.
"What we learned here today
is that fighting is not
what we thought it was"
-JIM BROWN at UFC 1
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