Friday, December 23, 2011

The MMA Movement's Year End Awards (Part Two)

 Quick note: the "submission of the year" was a tough one to break down, because there were tons of great submissions that weren't particularly spectacular but were important for different reasons (Ortiz-Bader, Mir-Nog II, etc.), so I decided to focus on the most outlandish ones. 

And now, part two!

Submission of the Year

Richard Hale def. Nik Fekete (inverted triangle) - Unlike the notorious inverted triangle that Toby Imada secured on Jorge Masvidal, this was not a case of a guy being caught and then not taking the hold seriously; this was a struggle. Hale latched onto the submission like a koala. Fekete responded by crawling around before standing up and attempting to break the grip Hale had around his body. He even tried to grab his own leg to prevent Hale from grabbing it first, but this action proved fruitless, and he was dragged to the ground. No more than 2 seconds later, he was unconscious (as his right arm laying dormant on the canvas for a solid 7 seconds would overwhelmingly suggest), but it wasn't due to a lack of trying to get out. Spectacular stuff.

Vinny Magalhaes def. Viktor Nemkov (gogoplata neck crank) - Look, it's this years blatant deviation from "M-1 Grappling"! When Vinny Magalhaes signed with M-1, I remember thinking it was a sound, rational move for his career. Why sign with Strikeforce or Bellator and risk flaming out when you have a clear route to put on impressive performances against the grappling deficient strikers in M-1? If you want to get another UFC shot someday, this is the move you make.

That's exactly what happened. Magalhaes went 4-0 in 2011, including this gem of a submission. This one gets bonus points for having ended a fight that was actually competitive.

Chan Sung Jung def. Leonard Garcia (twister) - It's really a shame that Frank Trigg couldn't have been a guest commentator for this, the royal flush of submissions. It just would have been great to see the sub unfold, see Garcia tap, and hear Trigg stumbling over his own words and trying to figure out what name to give this submission he's obviously never seen before, with the whole episode ending in him calling it a "corkscrew" or something.

In all seriousness, this was great to watch, because, like Jung, I saw the submission unfold like it was happening in slow motion. Jung, already having secured Garcia's leg between his own, landed a couple of elbows to the back of the head, then realized "wait, I should just give him a squeeze!" Between this and his 7 second demolition of Mark Hominick, it's been a miraculous year for Chan Sung Jung's highlight reel. This one gets my vote. 

Fight of the Year 

Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley - I still can't get over Nick Diaz. There will never be another one like him. I think he's the most fascinating personality in MMA, not only outside the cage, but inside it as well. This is a guy who takes your best punch and calls you a little bitch for throwing it. He sticks his head out, waves his hands in the air like a court jester, and never totally pays for it because he has such a great chin. He has improved takedown defense, and if you put him on his back, he'll outstrike you from there before lacing a cringe-inducing submission, or he'll just create a scramble and let the beating continue. He puts you on the cage and brow beats the hell out of you to the body and head, and for every punch you throw, he throws six. In short, he is a truly unique fighter.

Daley was able to land his feared left hook, and for a moment, it looked like it might be the blow that finally put Nick Diaz down. Paul kept punching Nick, who lay motionless for a brief spell before recovering like he always does. Diaz eventually got up and turned Daley's body and head into mush, with the final exchange culminating when Daley stumbled backwards like he'd just been tasered. Not quite the fight of the year, but DEFINITELY the round of the year. Kudos.

Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler - Eddie needed a tune up fight before he sought out bigger and better challenges. Michael Chandler was supposed to be that guy, but he decided he wasn't going to be a stepping stone for anyone. Chandler mauled him with punches in the 1st round, took a sobering beating in the 3rd, and immediately came back in the 4th and tapped Alvarez after getting his back in a scramble. I'm not going to pooh pooh any proclamation that no fight was better in 2011. That just isn't my personal view.

Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua - A fight where both guys were wheezing by the third round, this was more a war of attrition than a back-and-forth battle fought at the highest level. Shogun mounted a gutsy comeback in the fourth and fifth rounds, but Henderson was a cadaver by that point. Still, great fight, tons of damage, tons of heart shown by both men ... this should have been a draw, though. I can't give a fight of the year nod to a decision that I disagree with.

Diego Brandao vs. Dennis Bermudez - You love to see two guys go out and fight like they want to get that UFC contract. Oh wait, I forgot that even though that's supposed to be the impetus to win The Ultimate Fighter, many of these guys get extended looks anyway. Um ...

We'll definitely be seeing Dennis Bermudez again after the slobberknocker he had with Diego Brandao. These two winged bombs at each other for 4 plus minutes, with each man significantly harming the other. After Dennis stopped Brandao in his tracks with a right hand, he tried to go Donkey Kong and finish him, and to his credit, came remarkably close to doing so. But a timely armbar from Brandao turned the tables, as well as Bermudez's arm the wrong way. Great win, great fight ... but not quite the fight of the year. I want to see Brandao fight for three rounds before I'm ready to consider him a top flight featherweight.

Lyle Beerbohm vs. Pat Healy - You won't be telling your grandkids about this fight or anything, but I felt compelled to at least give it a nomination. Why? Because it embodied the cliche "styles make fights".

When we talk about great fights, we often use the amount of damage the combatants inflict on one another as the barometer for just how great the fight was. This is a semi-rare case of a great fight that saw a minimum of true damage. This was a struggle. Damage was done from unorthodox positions (Healy on his ass repeatedly punching Beerbohm's head while hanging onto a whizzer), and scrambles seemed to go on for entire rounds. Even though nobody gassed and nobody got rocked, this was a good display of back-and-forth action from start to finish.

(Quick disclaimer: don't watch this one with a bunch of neanderthals in the room. Remarks of the "these guys are a couple of queers" and "Is he making him his bitch?" caliber will be off the charts. Repeat: off the charts. If you feel like explaining whats happening, more power to you. I'm just warning you now.)

Plus, I wanted to see how out of place this fight looked on a list with so many barn burners. Upon further inspection, it's staying on the list. It's not winning, but dammit ... it's staying put. I really liked this one. Sue me.

Frank Edgar vs. Gray Maynard (1 or 2 ... but I'm focusing on 1 here) - Ohhhh ... NOW we're talkin'. I'm going to say this right now: Frank Edgar's tussle with Gray Maynard on January 1st, 2011 will go down as the greatest fight to ever end in a draw. When we think of draws, we tend to gravitate towards the negative. Oh, a point must have been deducted. They must have hugged each other against the cage for 15 minutes, creating a startling lack of offense. They must have been fighting under the "Gracie rules". The fight must have sucked.

This scrap hopefully put all of those foolish notions to bed. I actually thought Edgar did enough to win, but I was totally fine with a draw, especially knowing that they'd have to fight again.

Everyone knows what happened by now, so I'll be brief: Frank Edgar truly got his man card that night. I say this not because of the performance he put on in the cage (by all accounts, one of the greatest comebacks ever, and maybe the greatest example of a guy recovering enough physical ability to fight effectively after all of it was seemingly taken away), but because of Edgar's reaction to the draw. There's a great video of him backstage afterwards that shows him with the belt on his shoulder, and he's not even remotely happy about it. Alot of guys would have been jubilant just to escape with the belt in that situation. But Edgar wasn't satisfied. He knew he had to fight Gray again, until someone actually won. That cemented him as a great champion in my mind, and his stunning knockout of Maynard several months later (in another classic) proved it. This gets the fight of the year nod from me. And you get a nod from me for reading this overly long showcase of my ability to hand out fake awards.

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