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By: Alvin Carter, MMATorch Specialist
As we move on to 2012, we'll take a look back at the year that was in 2011 with MMATorch's 11 of 11. For the first 11 days of 2012, several MMATorch writers will be providing top 11 lists in a number of different categories regarding the year of MMA in 2011. Today we continue with Alvin Carter's 11 personal favorite fights, fighters, performances, and moments of 2011.
Mixed Martial Arts continues to grow as a sport with the Ultimate Fighting Championship at the helm. For the past couple of years, every year has been the "biggest" year for sport. I am guilty of feeling that way, but 2011 has had more dramatically compelling moments, stories, and fighter breakouts and comebacks than any year in recent memory. Here is a list of my Top 11 personal favorite fights, fighters, performances, and moments of 2011:
11.) Jake Ellenberger - Five Wins and Counting
Jake Ellenberger is on a five fight win streak with three of those wins taking place in 2011. This year Ellenberger earned a decision over Carlos Rocha at UFC 126, he knocked out Sean Person at UFC 129, and he quickly stopped the much hyped Jake Shields at UFC Fight Night 25. His TKO over Shields earned him a Knockout of the Night bonus. Four of Ellenberger's five consecutive wins have come in the form of TKO or KO, proving he can finish guys with different skill sets. This was a great year for Ellenberger and 2012 looks promising. His first fight of the year is a headlining Welterweight bout with Diego Sanchez on UFC on Fuel 1.
10.) Rashad Evans' Ever Changing Fight Schedule
Rashad Evans has had interesting and frustrating changes in his fight schedule this year. He had to pull out of his UFC 128 fight with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and his then teammate, Jon Jones, stepped in and captured the title from Shogun. Evans was going to take his title shot against Jones after an epic decay of friendship, but Jones was sidelined with a hand injury. Evans was then slated to fight the up-and-coming Phil Davis at UFC 133 until Davis had to pull out because of an injury. Evans then dispatched Tito Ortiz at UFC 133 with a second round TKO. Evans was then set to fight Jones at UFC 140, but an injury kept him out. Jones then soundly finished Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. Evans is now scheduled again to face Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 2 at the end of January.
If Evans beats Davis, he might finally get a shot at regaining the Light Heavyweight Title.
9.) Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader - A Glimmer of Relevance
So anyone who knows me knows I am a Tito Ortiz fan. He was a dominant champion, he helped the sport through an extended rough patch, and he was a "love him or hate him" star in the UFC before the age of Brock Lesnar. Ortiz had not won a fight since he beat Ken Shamrock in 2006. He had a number of high profile opponents, but the best he did was a draw against Rashad Evans. His July 2, 2011 win over Ryan Bader gave all Tito supporters a glimmer of his possible relevance in the division. Yes, he beat a down on his luck Bader, but he did so in impressive fashion and earned Submission of the Night for his first round guillotine submission at UFC 132.
8.) TUF Brazil
Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva were announced as coaches on TUF: Brazil. Enough said. OK, I will elaborate. The Ultimate Fighter's true international expansion is something I have been hoping to see for years. The UFC has grown leaps and bounds, and they are exercising their power by taking a massive step towards solidifying the sport of mixed martial arts as a global powerhouse. Plus, we are sure to get some nuggets of entertaining wisdom from the "Phenom" and "Wandi."
7.) Alistair Overeem is For Real - Retires Brock Lesnar
Alistair Overeem has captured every Heavyweight title except for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He reluctantly (schedule wise) and easily dispatched his Strikeforce competition, capturing and retaining his Heavyweight Title in the process. Overeem fought more in DREAM than he did in Strikeforce even though both stints ran concurrently. He also captured the DREAM Heavyweight title and the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010.
Fast forward to 2011, and Overeem beat Fabricio Werdum to cap off his Strikeforce tenure. Then, Overeem body bashed his way to what could arguably be the biggest win of his life over Brock Lesnar. He retired the former Heavyweight Champion on December 30, 2011 with a kick to the liver and some punches to finish him off. Now he is slated to face Junior dos Santos for the gold.
6.) Dan Henderson - Circle, Circle, Right Is Not Just A Video Game Code
Dan Henderson knocked out Rafael Cavalcante to capture the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Title in March. Then he added another blemish to Fedor Emelianenko's record before returning to the UFC for an instant classic in a five-round decision win over a game Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Henderson is forty-one years old, but he has been nothing but impressive since his loss to Jake Shields. It is kind of ironic that Shields' win over Henderson is what sealed the deal on his journey to the UFC, yet Henderson has been more impressive in his first UFC return bout than Shields (1-2, UFC) has in his first three UFC fights. Henderson has another run for the title in him. The H-Bomb is real folks.
5.) Anderson Silva is to Steven Seagal as Daniel-son is to Mr. Miyagi
Anderson Silva gave Steven Seagal credit for helping him cultivate that mystical kick that I, like many others, know as a front kick. I lost it When Silva decimated Vitor Belfort with a front kick to the face at UFC 126. Most of the MMA world did. Finding out Seagal helped him with this strike was icing on the cake. I also thought twice when Silva's Black House training partner Lyoto Machida did something similar to Randy Couture and Seagal was once again given some credit. Hey, Seagal on, Seagal off. Whatever works.
4.) Nick Diaz Messes Up His Welterweight Title Shot with GSP
Nick Diaz has proven himself time and time again as a fighter. His record as a trash talker is pretty sound. You would think these two characteristics would make for a guy who can sell a fight. This is not that case as Mr. Diaz does not like doing the press part of the gig. Miscommunications, shirking obligations; whatever the case is, Diaz's title shot was taken away when he failed to fulfill his press duties. Georges St-Pierre was then given Carlos Condit, and Diaz was set to face B.J. Penn in the co-main event of UFC 137. GSP then became injured and Diaz vs. Penn was promoted to the main event. Diaz won via decision, and left Penn wondering if he is going to fight anymore. Diaz left Strikeforce to fight GSP, and it will be great for him and the fans when it finally happens.
3.) UFC Buys Strikeforce
The UFC (actually parent company Zuffa, LLC) buying Strikeforce is one of two major power moves established in 2011. The UFC shocked fans and the media alike with this purchase that left even some fighters surprised and unsure of their futures. Strikeforce has since been repositioned, and much of the top talent has already gone to the UFC. Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, and Jake Shields have come over for big fights this year, and a number of heavyweights have been transferred over as well. It has been announced that an agreement with Showtime has been reached and Strikeforce will be sticking around with fewer divisions.
2.) Jon Jones
Wow. The World MMA Awards "Fighter of the Year," Jon Jones went four-for-four in 2011. He dismantled four top tier Light Heavyweights, starting with a previously unbeaten Ryan Bader. Then, he stopped Shogun to capture the title. Jones defended the title against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida to round out his 2011 fight schedule. His activity has leapfrogged him past GSP in the pound-for-pound rankings, and he has become one of the most versatile and unorthodox fighters in the UFC. It just seems like there isn't anything he can't do.
1.) UFC On Fox
The UFC on Fox deal is huge! The first fight on Fox saw the Heavyweight Title change hands in just over a minute when Cain Velasquez was knocked out by Junior dos Santos. The deal puts the UFC on a national network channel, Fuel TV, and FX. The first actual events for this new deal start this month as the November event was a bonus. This 7-year, approximately $100 Million per year deal promises four UFC primetime events on Fox. Thirty two other live fights (or cards) will take place on FX. This allows mixed martial arts, and more specifically the UFC brand of mixed martial arts, to reach a wider fan base. Ads for the UFC have been running during NFL and NASCAR programming. The deal is all around huge, and I am eager to see how it all pans out once the SPIKE TV deal is completely phased out. In an ESPN article by Josh Gross, Dana White sums up the magnitude of this deal when he says, "I always talk about monumental moments we've had over the last years. If you add them all up and put them together, they don't equal this."
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