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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 Matt Pelkey's 11 biggest disappointments of 2011.
Despite perhaps the best in-cage year in MMA/UFC history, there were plenty of downs as well. As a general rule, I try not to call out individual fighters or fights as disappointments (with a few exceptions, of course) as these are men (and women) who put their lives on the line for my entertainment. With that said, here are my 11 biggest disappointments of 2011:
11.) Daniel Roberts vs. Claude Patrick at UFC 129
Ok, so this one is mostly in jest. As I said, I don't really like to single out particular fights/fighters because, well, who am I to judge? But I list this single fight because it was the one wart on an otherwise nearly perfect card. UFC 129 was at the Skydome (that's what it's called. Screw this "Rogers Centre" crap) show in Toronto. It had a little bit of everything. Highlight reel submissions (Pablo Garza's flying triangle of Yves Jabouin, Jason MacDonald's triangle of Ryan Jensen in his UFC return), highlight reel KO's (Hell we had two KO of the Year frontrunners with John Makdessi's spinning backfist KO of Kyle Watson and Lyoto Machida going all Daniel Larusso on Randy Couture and sending him into retirement, plus definitive, violent finishes in Ellenberger-Pierson, Matyushenko-Brilz, and Menjivar-Valencia), action packed fights dominated by young contenders (Henderson-Bocek and MacDonald-Diaz), a classic, back-and-fourth, five-round title fight between Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick (still one of my two or three favorite fights of the year), and one of the greatest fighters of all time overcoming adversity to defend his title for the seventh time (how bout THAT positive spin on GSP-Shields?). Seriously, that's the entire card... save for one fight. Daniel Roberts and Claude Patrick engaged in a fairly tedious grapple-fest on the undercard. Its not that it was that bad per se, and it would've been right at home on several other undercards this year, but at UFC 129 it stuck out like a sore thumb. If UFC 129 were a baseball game, Patrick vs. Roberts was the bloop single in the ninth to spoil the no-hitter.
10.) Fatties in Denver
Might as well get all my flaming out of the way early. Again, I don't like calling out fighters for putting on poor fights, but this two-fight mess has to be noted. At UFC 135, the UFC returned to Denver for the first time in 15 years, and apparently 15 years is long enough to forget that Denver is way up in that rarefied air. Turns out it's a little harder to breath at that altitude. No worries though, right? I mean these are highly trained professionals. Surely their gas tanks wouldn't be affected by fighting a mile above sea level. Well, for the vast majority of fighters on the card, that was the case. For the two heavyweight fights placed on the main card? It was an issue. Generally I think Joe Silva does an impeccable job making fights. Generally. Hell, I was fine with either of the heavyweight match-ups we got between Travis Browne and Rob Broughton as well as Mark Hunt vs. Ben Rothwell. But seriously, why in the blue hell did they need to be on the DENVER card?! And in back-to-back slots, no less. Travis Browne looked good in the first round picking Broughton apart, but it was all downhill from there. He took no chances in rounds two or three, clearly having wasted his entire gas tank in round one. I'm pretty sure Mark Hunt and Ben Rothwell were running on fumes by the time they got into the Octagon. It looked like they were fighting in slow motion. It was embarrassing. The blame for this debacle lies on the shoulders of five men: the four men who didn't train properly to survive the elements with which they were presented, and Joe Silva, who not only put these match-ups on a card in Denver in the first place, but featured them prominently, one after the other, on the main card of a pay-per-view featuring their youngest, brightest star Jon Jones. Thank God Jones put in an all-timer of a performance in the main event against Rampage. It was almost enough to wash the taste of heavyweight shame out viewers' mouths. Almost.
9.) Stalling on the "Mainstream" Front
In 2009 and 2010, MMA in general - and the UFC in particular - were on a meteoric rise in popularity. ESPN was covering pretty much every pay-per-view, treating the fighters like stars. Pay-per-view business was booming, and MMA seemed primed to join baseball, football, and basketball as American sports staples. Fast-forward to the end of 2011 and the feeling isn't quite the same. Brock Lesnar retired. George St-Pierre is hurt. Pay-per-view numbers are way down across the board. And ESPN seems to have lost interest. Sure, there's still highlights and interviews for Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar when they fight (which, as I said, won't include Lesnar in 2012), but the buzz isn't there anymore. Perhaps it has something to do with the UFC signing a deal with Fox as opposed to ESPN-owned ABC, but the coverage by "The Worldwide Leader" has dropped off. Hopefully these things are cyclical, and 2012 will see the UFC get back on track, but if the goal is to be the hot topic around the water-cooler, 2011 has to be seen as a step backwards.
8.) Missed Opportunity With Pettis
Anthony "Showtime" Pettis was one of the hottest commodities in MMA at the start of 2011. He was fresh off capturing the WEC Lightweight Title in a five round classic over Ben Henderson at WEC 53, highlighted by a fight-sealing kick that saw him jump off the cage with 30 seconds left in the bout. The highlight was everywhere. So was Pettis. With the win, he was promised the winner of the Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard fight at UFC 125 in January. Pettis went from general afterthought to one win away from being UFC Champion with that kick. The UFC had a potential new star on their hands if Pettis were to upset either Edgar or Maynard.
Only that fight never happened. In a classic of their own, Edgar and Maynard famously went to a draw, resulting in the need for a rematch to settle things. That left Pettis without a dance partner in the meantime. Instead of waiting it out, he chose to take a fight with Clay Guida in the interim. Pettis lost a decision to Guida (in a fight I still think he won) by getting out-wrestled. He lost his title shot in the process. He took a chance by accepting the fight with Guida and he paid for it. He rebounded with a decision win over Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 in October, but still finds himself likely two wins away from the title shot he was originally promised. At just 24, he'll likely get that shot before long, but he'll never be able to get back the wave of momentum has was riding to start the year.
Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko started 2011 coming off his first loss in ten years, a triangle submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum in June 2010 in a little over a minute. It was a shocking upset at the time, and considering how it happened (Fedor following Werdum down into his guard after seemingly knocking him down with a punch) it was written off by many as a fluke. After ten years of dominance it was relieving that Fedor's first real loss came as a result of a silly mistake as opposed to suddenly just not being as good as his contemporaries. The announcement of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was Fedor's chance for redemption. He was matched up with Antonio Silva in the opening round, a tough opponent for sure, but one Emelianenko was still the heavy favorite over. The thought was that Fedor would get past Silva, further the thought that the Werdum loss was a fluke, and set up a second round match-up with either Werdum in a rematch so he could avenge the loss, or against Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistiar Overeem, in what was the most anticipated match-up possible.
Instead, Emelianenko was taken down, battered, and dominated by Antonio Silva in yet another shocking upset loss for Fedor. For his second, and last, fight of 2011 with Strikeforce, Fedor was matched up with Dan Henderson in a "hey, how come this never happened in Pride?" fight. It was another chance for redemption, and also another chance, with a win, for his management group M-1 to hold Strikeforce hostage with another contract re-negotiation once they could claim Fedor was still the best in the world. Didn't happen. This time Dan Henderson connected with his trademark right hand on Fedor's chin as he was down on all fours and put him out. So in the span of three fights, the man who dominated MMA for ten solid years was submitted, knocked out, and beaten so soundly through two rounds that he couldn't continue. He's rebounded in the second half of 2011 with wins over Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii, but the fact that those fights have taken place under the M-1 and Dream banners, respectively, tells you all you need to know. It started in 2010, but 2011 was truly the fall of "The Last Emperor."
6.) PPV Buyrates
In 2009, the UFC did 1.6 million pay-per-view buys for "UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir." It's the highest grossing UFC pay-per-view of all time by a wide margin, but it wasn't their only pay-per-view success of 2009. In fact, 2009 was responsible for six of the top twenty buyrates in company history. UFC's 94, 97, 98, 101, and 107 were all box-office smashes as well, garnering between 600k-900k viewers. 2010 was more of the same with five of the top twenty grossers, including three (114: Evans vs. Rampage, 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin, and 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez) topping the elusive 1,000,000 mark.
2011 has been a pay-per-view business disappointment of the highest order. Only three cards managed to crack the top twenty, with no event going over a million for the first time since 2007. Only UFC 141 "Lesnar vs. Overeem" (Estimates at 750k-810k) UFC 129 "St-Pierre vs. Shields" (800k) and UFC 126 "Silva vs. Belfort" (750k) made the list. Injuries had their fair share to do with it, but other factors did as well. For one, MMA doesn't seem to be generating the same buzz it was 1-3 years ago. At $54.99 to watch the high-definition broadcast of pay-per-views, many younger, technology savvy viewers have chosen to search out free streams online and watch them on their fancy tv's. Plus, there's the injuries. The two proven pay-per-view stars the UFC has, Brock Lesnar and George St-Pierre, only fought a combined twice in 2011. With Lesnar retiring and St. Pierre likely on the shelf for most of, if not all of 2012, the downward trend in pay-per-view business will likely continue into the new year.
5.) Injuries in General
2011 was the year of the injury, plain and simple. As I've said, pay-per-view business was way down this year as opposed to the last few, and injuries have to be the biggest reason why. Brock Lesnar's diverticulitis forced him out of a fight with Junior dos Santos that an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter was built around. George St-Pierre's knees forced him out of UFC 137 against Carlos Condit and saw him fight only once in 2011.
Then there's the saga of Rashad Evans and Jon Jones.
First, Rashad was forced to pull out of his scheduled title shot against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, which Jones was kind enough to step in and take. After Jones won the belt at UFC 128, Rashad was supposed to get the next shot. But Jones was maybe, kinda, sorta gonna need surgery on his injured hand and Rashad couldn't wait any more without fighting, so he signed on to fight Phil Davis at UFC 133. Then Davis got hurt and Tito Ortiz stepped into the main event. Of course, Jones ended up not needing surgery and signed on to fight Rampage just a month or so later at UFC 135. After both were successful in those bouts, it seemed natural that Rashad would be next in line for Jones' belt.
After suffering another minor injury in training, Rashad wouldn't be ready in time, so Machida stepped up to fight Jones at UFC 140. And these were just the issues at the very top of the card. There were countless injuries on the undercards this year, and while the UFC did their usual great job of finding adequate replacements, it still can't stop the "letting the air out of the balloon" feeling you get when you're already excited for the fight. It's MMA, so injuries will always be part of the game, but let's hope 2011 is as bad as it gets.
4.) Brock Retires
If this were being written from the perspective of Dana White and the Fertitta's, this would have to be the disappointment of the year. After all, Lesnar's last four fights (not including UFC 141) all saw him bring in over a million pay-per-view buys with him as the headliner. For me, a longtime pro wrestling fan, it still ranks pretty high. In his seven UFC fights, Lesnar's opponents, in order, were Frank Mir, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Frank Mir again, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Alistair Overeem. Try to discredit him all you want, but Lesnar went 4-3 against that murderer's row of opposition, and his UFC debut against Mir was only HIS SECOND FIGHT EVER!
His superhuman strength and athleticism was matched only by his fear of getting hit, which made every fight an "edge of your seat" thriller. His battle with diverticulitis likely cost him several prime fights and years, not to mention multi-million dollar pay days. It's really a shame Lesnar chose the guaranteed money of the WWE over the real competition of MMA back in 2001, but that's just a selfish me talking. Professionally he certainly made the right choice as there were no million dollar fighters in MMA at the time. It's really just a matter of bad timing. Had Lesnar graduated college in 2005 instead, he probably would've chosen MMA from the beginning instead and we could've seen the development of one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. As it is, he's still tied for the record for most consecutive UFC Heavyweight Title defenses (2) and he retires as the unquestioned top "star" in UFC and MMA history. It was a quick run, but it was a blast while it happened.
3.) Strikeforce's Continued Existence
On December 15, Showtime and Strikeforce announced an extension that will see the fight promotion stay on the premium channel through 2012, with eight events likely coming to Showtime. Also announced was that divisional Champions Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold would not be crossing over to the UFC and would stay in Strikeforce to defend their titles.
This is where the disappointment kicks in for me. I would've understood Strikeforce being kept around in some capacity (I know the UFC could've done the "feeder system" thing with the WEC but instead chose to fold the organization into the UFC completely, but Strikeforce is on a premium platform, which means that as long as it stays on Showtime, no other MMA organization will be on Showtime), but not like this. The whole point of Zuffa (er..Forza) buying Strikeforce in the first place (other than putting a competitor out of business, of course) was to continue working towards their goal of having all the best fighters in the world fighting each other under one roof.
Look, Strikeforce, after the raids of Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, et al, doesn't have a tremendously deep roster of UFC-caliber fighters. But they do have several worth watching. I want to see Gilbert challenge Frankie. I want to see Luke Rockhold, Jacare, and Tim Kennedy bolster the UFC's traditionally thin middleweight division. I want to see if Feijao, Mousasi, or King Mo can win a couple fights in the UFC and find themselves as foils for "Bones" Jones. I want to see Tarec Saffedeine, Tyron Woodley, and Lorenz Larkin against UFC caliber opponents so they can properly develop.
As of now, none of these things will happen. The names I mentioned will be kept in Strikeforce to fill up their cards in 2012. I would've been fine with Zuffa taking Scott Coker, Mauro Renallo, Frank Shamrock, and that thing they call the Hexagon and sending them "to a farm upstate so they can run around." I want to see the best challenge the best. But on December 15, it was announced that we won't be seeing that anytime soon.
2.) Shawn Tompkin's Death
When Shawn Tompkins died in his sleep of a heart attack on August 14 at the age of 37, MMA lost one of it's great coaches and striking instructors. Though he spent a few years as the striking coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas before moving on to the Tapout Training Center, I remember Tompkins most as the coach of two particular fighters: his brother-in-law Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout and Mark "The Machine" Hominick.
Every time either of them fought, you could hear Tompkins distinctive voice coming from the corner, calling out specific, technical instructions to his pupils. It was a thing of beauty to hear Tompkins call out a complicated three or four strike combination and then watch Stout or Hominick follow it to a T, usually with beneficial results.
In the corner between rounds it was usually the same calm technical breakdown mixed with passion to rally his troops. Much like Greg Jackson, Tompkins always seemed to know the exact information and tone his fighters needed to hear to be at their peak. I didn't know the man personally, so I can't speak to how "great a friend or man" he was, but he was one of the very few trainers who managed to truly be a joy to watch and listen to him corner his fighters. He will be missed.
1.) GSP's knee
I've already talked about how an obscene amount of injuries devastated cards and wrought havoc with PPV business this year, but George St-Pierre's troubles deserve their own mention, and the top spot for "Disappointment of 2011." Yes, we got a successful title defense from "Rush" this year, defeating Jake Shields by decision at UFC 129, but it's what we didn't and won't get that finds him atop this list.
After (supposedly) healing up from his injuries suffered against Shields, St. Pierre agreed to a bout with the returning Nick Diaz at UFC 137. You know how the story goes from here. Diaz no-showed consecutive press conferences for the event, was pulled from the title shot and replaced by Carlos Condit, and was relegated to the co-main event against B.J. Penn. Then GSP had to pull out of the fight with a knee injury, so Condit was pulled out to wait for a healthy St. Pierre, and Diaz-Penn became the new main event.
After Diaz's brilliant performance (and I mean both in the cage and afterwards on the mic), he was again granted the next shot at GSP, this time to come at UFC 143 during Superbowl weekend. No big deal, right? I mean, we missed out on Diaz-GSP the first time around, but we were gonna get it a few months later so... Only we're not getting it a few month later.
St. Pierre originally pulled out of the Condit fight at 137 with a knee injury. Turns out, while training and trying to compensate for a slightly bum knee, he overcompensated and tore his ACL in his other knee. He's likely to miss most of, if not all of 2012. By the time he steps into the cage again, it might be two full years after his last fight.
That's two years of the absolute prime of perhaps the greatest fighter we've ever seen gone to injury. And who's to say he comes back the same as before? Hell, GSP gets BETTER every time out. I'd be thrilled if he's as good as before when he comes back. Who knows how powerful his double leg will be after knee surgery and two years of cobwebs gathering on him. What if the fast-twitch muscle fibers that make St-Pierre the fighter he is just don't twitch as fast anymore?
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