The unofficial UFC awards season is almost over, so enough yapping, you know what you’re here for – the best fights of 2012.
10 - Louis Gaudinot Wsub2 John Lineker – UFC on FOX 3
The green hair of Louis Gaudinot was flying everywhere on May 5th, and with good reason, as the former Ultimate Fighter competitor had just planted his feet and engaged in a series of furious standup exchanges with Brazilian debutant John Lineker. Representing not only himself in the UFC on FOX 3 show, but his home state of New Jersey and the fairly new UFC flyweight division, Gaudinot fought as if everything was on the line, and Lineker matched him step for step. The end result was a fight that made you demand more 125-pound action in the Octagon and one that showed the world that the winner by submission in the second round – Gaudinot – was not the same fighter at flyweight as he was at bantamweight. And that’s a good thing.
9 – James Te Huna W3 Joey Beltran – UFC on FUEL TV 4
As soft-spoken as James Te Huna and Joey Beltran are, they’ve proven that you don’t want to meet them in the Octagon on fight night. Plain and simple, they’re bruisers who are willing to walk through whatever they’re hit with in order to get their own licks in. And on July 11th they each bit down on their mouthpiece and went for broke, with a Fight of the Night brawl being the result. Beltran got rocked several times but just kept coming, and Te Huna, despite suffering fractures in his hand and foot, was able to pull out a gritty three round unanimous decision win.
8 – Anderson Silva TKO2 Chael Sonnen – UFC 148
For pure drama, the rematch between middleweight boss Anderson Silva and number one contender Chael Sonnen at UFC 148 in July is hard to top. The build up to the fight was epic, and as soon as Sonnen took Silva down seconds into the bout, the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena erupted and the fans didn’t stop until the end came in the second round with Silva on top via TKO. Between those two moments, Sonnen dominated on the mat in the opening frame before Silva rebounded in the second like only he can. Nearly two years of anticipation preceded this championship match, and the end result lived up to the expectations.
7 – Demetrious Johnson W5 Joseph Benavidez – UFC 152
For the first flyweight championship fight in UFC history, there couldn’t have been a better bout than the September 22nd meeting between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. Featuring momentum changes, ultra fast-paced action, and high level mixed martial arts, these two 125-pounders reminded fight aficionados why they love the sport. In the end, it was Johnson scoring the minor upset by taking the split decision win over Benavidez, but you get the impression that these two will eventually meet again with UFC gold on the line.
6 – Jon Fitch W3 Erick Silva – UFC 153
Erick Silva was the hotshot from Brazil, the young gun expected to take his leap to the elite level of the welterweight division by beating one of the 170-pound weight class’ longest reigning contenders, Jon Fitch at UFC 153 in October. Fitch wasn’t going to go away that easily though; in fact, he wouldn’t go away at all, putting on one of his career best performances en route to a three round Fight of the Night decision win that saw him escape some precarious situations on the ground before emerging victorious. The lesson here? Don’t corner Jon Fitch; he’ll just fight harder.
5 – Georges St-Pierre W5 Carlos Condit – UFC 154
Many observers wondered what effect a nearly 19 month layoff would do to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, especially considering that the time off was to rehab a torn ACL. They didn’t need to worry, as St-Pierre was in prime form in November against interim champion Carlos Condit. And while the final scores of 50-45 (twice) and 49-46 would make you think it was a one-sided bout, Condit was competitive and dangerous throughout, especially when he dropped GSP with a head kick in the third round. This was top level championship action, and no fan left Montreal’s Bell Centre disappointed.
4 – Benson Henderson W5 Frankie Edgar I – UFC 144
Two of the game’s good guys met up in the UFC 144 main event in Japan in February, but Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar fought like bitter enemies for 25 minutes, with Henderson taking a five round unanimous decision and the UFC lightweight title when it was all over. It was a bout that showed off all the best parts of this sport, not just the technical aspects, but the things you can’t really quantify on paper like heart and determination. As usual, Edgar had to bounce back from adversity early, cementing his reputation as one of the sport’s premier action heroes, but Henderson kept his cool throughout, picking his spots at times and then erupting with a burst of energy when he needed to. It was just a fun, closely contested fight to watch, and the UFC 150 rematch was just as much of a nailbiter.
3 – Eddie Yagin W3 Mark Hominick – UFC 145
After Mark Hominick fought for the featherweight title against Jose Aldo in 2011 and then engaged in a high-profile bout with “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, a lot of people were surprised when he was matched up with relatively unknown Eddie Yagin at UFC 145 in April. But if some fans didn’t know the Hawaiian, Hominick sure did, saying before the fight, “Even though it’s a newcomer to the casual fan, I know him a lot better than a lot of guys that the casual fan may know. He’s got more of a track record, more experience, and more years in the game than a lot of the guys in our division combined.” So what happened on fight night shouldn’t have been much of a shock to “The Machine,” as a blood and sweat flying three round brawl ensued that easily took that card’s Fight of the Night award. Dropped hard by Yagin in rounds one and two, Hominick roared back each time, and despite a strong closing round, he was on the short end of a split decision verdict which guaranteed that fans would know who Eddie Yagin was from that point forward.
2 – Chan Sung Jung Wsub4 Dustin Poirier – UFC on FUEL TV 3
When the UFC instituted non-title five round main events last year, there was concern that perhaps some of the matchups wouldn’t live up to that lofty billing. The featherweight war between Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier wasn’t one of those matchups, especially with both 145-pound contenders being aggressive finishers with high-level fight games. But could their UFC on FUEL TV bout on May 15th live up to expectations? It sure did, and then some, with “The Korean Zombie” continuing to show off his fighting evolution with a varied attack that had him in control early on. But by the third round, fatigue began to set in, and Poirier began to turn up the heat. By the time the fourth round began, the momentum had shifted, and it was “The Diamond” who looked on the verge of a stoppage win. But the Zombie lived up to his moniker, stunning Poirier with strikes before ending the bout with a D’arce choke at 1:07 of the fourth stanza. These were two featherweights delivering heavyweight action.
1 – Jim Miller W3 Joe Lauzon - UFC 155
By the end of the first round on December 29th, it looked like Jim Miller was going to possibly wrap up a Knockout of the Night award against Joe Lauzon. Showing off some of the best standup of his career, Miller opened up Lauzon’s face, and as crimson stained the canvas, most believed there was no way the bonus king from Massachusetts could possibly continue. But continue he did, and over the next two rounds, he and Miller engaged in a back and forth battle that didn’t just display top-notch technical skills but the things you can’t quantify on paper – heart, guts, desire, determination. Miller’s hand was rightfully raised at the end, but Lauzon was no loser here, and with his submission attempts and ability to fight through cuts that would have finished off lesser men, he may have gained even more fans.
10 – Rustam Khabilov-Vinc Pichel – TUF 16 Finale
It’s not your traditional knockout by any means, and officially the bout ended with the follow-up strikes landed on Vinc Pichel by Russian newcomer Rustam Khabilov. But for all intents and purposes, the fight was over after the series of suplexes Khabilov delivered on Pichel, something not seen in such devastating fashion since Dan Severn ragdolled Anthony Macias back at UFC 4. The finish was the talk of the MMA world after the fight, and for good reason.
9 – Mike Pyle-Josh Neer – UFC on FX 3
Josh Neer doesn’t get knocked out. The definition of steel-chinned, the Iowa toughman has gone through dozens of fights, some documented, some not, some amateur, some pro, and only twice has he lost by knockout. The first man to do it was Mark Miller in a 2007 IFL match. The second was submission specialist Mike Pyle, who survived some rocky moments to send Neer down and out, face-first, in their June bout in Florida. It was a shocking result, one made less so when the dust settled on 2012 and you saw that all of Pyle’s wins had come by knockout.
8 – Stephen Thompson-Dan Stittgen – UFC 143
When it was announced that Stephen Thompson was making his Octagon debut at UFC 143 in February, diehard combat sports fans were excited to see the unbeaten kickboxing star getting his shot in the big show in MMA. Cynics, on the other hand, were waiting for him to fall so they could say that a pure kickboxer just couldn’t compete at the elite level in this hybrid sport. Thompson answered many of those questions against Dan Stittgen, the main one being, if he hits you flush with a kick to the head, it doesn’t matter who you are – you’re going down. That was the end result for Stittgen, who was knocked out with a picture perfect head kick at 4:13 of the first round.
7 – Donald Cerrone-Melvin Guillard – UFC 150
Like Josh Neer, Melvin Guillard isn’t a guy who gets knocked out. But in this sport, you can only go so long until your number is called, and on August 11 in Denver, the number of “The Young Assassin” was up. Yet what made this knockout so memorable was that Guillard appeared to be one solid shot away from finishing off Cerrone before getting caught with a kick to the head and a follow-up right hand that put the lights out. It only took 76 seconds, but it was the well-deserved Fight and Knockout of the Night.
6 – Ryan Jimmo-Anthony Perosh – UFC 149
Canada’s Ryan Jimmo lost his first pro fight, then went on to win his next 16, including victories over UFC vets Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Wilson Gouveia, Marvin Eastman, and Jesse Forbes. But it wasn’t until 2012 that he got his call to the Octagon. Many said it was the six decision wins in his previous seven bouts that kept the UFC from pulling the trigger, but once he got his call to the big show, he left the impression he needed to, ending matters with Anthony Perosh in just seven seconds. Now that’s a “Big Deal.”
5 – Pat Barry-Shane Del Rosario – TUF 16 Finale
If there was an award for pre-knockout of the year, Pat Barry would have it nailed down, no questions asked. So while it was his right hand that eventually finished Shane Del Rosario’s evening, the left hook “HD” landed seconds earlier really spelled the beginning of the end. And this wasn’t any ordinary left hook. It landed flush, made an audible thud, and the look on Del Rosario’s face was one where it was as if he was saying ‘who just hit me in the head with a baseball bat?’ That punch was scary.
4 – Siyar Bahadurzada-Paulo Thiago – UFC on FUEL TV 2
If you’re going to use a nickname like “The Great,” you’ll need to back that up in the Octagon, and that’s just what Siyar Bahadurzada did in his UFC debut against Paulo Thiago in April. Using a short right hand to give the Brazilian the first non-decision loss of his seven year pro MMA career, Bahadurzada made a statement that lasted a lot longer than the 42 seconds it took to complete their fight.
3 – Anthony Pettis-Joe Lauzon – UFC 144
Let’s not mince words here. The Anthony Pettis that showed up against Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens just wasn’t the “Showtime” we had come to know and love from his flashy days in the WEC. But at UFC 144 in February, the king of the highlight reel returned in style, knocking out fellow contender Joe Lauzon with a left kick to the head in just 81 seconds. After the bout, the gracious and self-effacing Lauzon simply tweeted “I'm in Japan for a few more days and was gonna look at buying a sword, but I think I'm gonna invest in a helmet instead.” The rest of the lightweight division would be wise to do the same.
2 – Cung Le-Rich Franklin – UFC on FUEL TV 6
As you get older, you’re not always as spry as you used to be, so jumping off the couch and cursing at the result of a fight doesn’t happen as often as it did when you were younger, if at all. That all changed with one right hand from Cung Le on November 10. That shot, which knocked out former middleweight champ Rich Franklin instantly, almost killed a laptop with the speed at which I hopped off the couch, scaring my wife and daughter in the process. It was a frightening finish to say the least, and one that reminded me that yeah, even at 44, my couch jumping skills are still intact.
1 – Edson Barboza-Terry Etim – UFC 142
The ESPYs may have gotten it wrong in not awarding this its Play of the Year award, but the finalist there is a winner here, and in a year with some spectacular knockouts, Edson Barboza’s wheel kick finish of Terry Etim at UFC 142 in January was far and away the best. It had it all – speed, power, technique, accuracy, and pure ‘wow’ effect. Etim was out the second he got caught by Barboza, and the scary part is that when asked about the finisher, the Brazilian Muay Thai expert said, “To be honest, no, I don't train that kick much. I like to train the basic things like body kicks or low kicks. But I’ve known how to do that kick since I was eight years old, when I started training Muay Thai. I think I have been keeping it inside of my mind, and when I need it I throw it out.” Wow.
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.