Henderson vs. Shogun leads classic night in San Jose
We wrap up our Best of 2011 series with a look at the best events of 2011. And it was pretty close between UFC 139 and UFC 129. But it would be pretty hard to argue against one or the other in the top spot.
If you missed any of the lists in our Best of 2011 series, make sure to hit up the links at the bottom. Enjoy, and here's hoping 2012 has as much great MMA in store as 2011 had for us.
1. UFC 139
Nov. 19 | HP Pavilion | San Jose, Calif.
Duane Finley: After a summer of injury-plagued cards, when the UFC bus pulled into San Jose for UFC 139 it was refreshing to have a main event that didn’t change. This was also another example of fights looking promising on paper and delivering once the action got underway inside the Octagon. Some of the UFC’s best put on excellent displays. Young talent like Michael McDonald and Chris Weidman shined, and veterans the likes of Urijah Faber and Wanderlei Silva put on lights-out performances. This, of course, all led up to the epic main event clash between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. It was an amazing night for the UFC and mixed martial arts in general.
Matt Erickson: The great thing about UFC 139, as I remember it from Press Row, was feeling completely satisfied with what we'd already seen – before the main event fighters even walked out. In fact, surely the Hendo-Shogun fight was bound to be a big letdown considering the greatness we had already seen, right? We had eight finishes in the first 11 fights, and one of the decisions was a close split. The Spike TV fights featured a pair of knockouts, one just under a minute and one just over a minute. Urijah Faber and Brian Bowles had a great one. And the Wanderlei Silva-Cung Le fight was nothing short of amazing, considering Silva had been written off by many as having no chin anymore. Seeing him climb the fence to celebrate would've been an appropriate end to the night. Here's hoping people still remember that fight in 10 years when they're still talking – and rightfully so – about Henderson-Shogun. Eight finishes, two Fight of the Night winners, one legend earning one more title shot, another legend staving off retirement – and a five-round war that was instantly talked about as arguably the greatest fight of all time? Pretty hard to argue with UFC 139 as the best event of the year – and maybe ever.
2. UFC 129
April 30 | Rogers Centre | Toronto
Duane Finley: Everything about this card was huge. From the 55,000-seat sellout to the awesome lineup of fights scheduled, UFC 129 was poised to deliver. It bucked the strange UFC trend of having great fights on paper not live up to the promise, and actually produced standout fights from top to bottom. The card started off with Pablo Garza pulling off one of the year’s sickest submissions via flying triangle and never slowed down. The action that followed gave the MMA world a John Makdessi spinning backfist that put Kyle Watson somewhere in Manitoba; Rory MacDonald rag-dolling Nate Diaz; and Lyoto Machida crane kicking Randy Couture into retirement. And that's not to mention an exciting fight between Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick and Georges St-Pierre once again successfully defending the welterweight strap. UFC 129 fired on all cylinders and delivered one of the year’s best cards.
Matt Erickson: The sheer magnitude of UFC 129 warrants it a place on this list. More than 55,000 fans in the Rogers Centre, a gate in excess of $12 million and the feeling of the UFC taking the bar a couple notches higher in its quest for world domination made this event both a literal and figurative giant. The night started off with four finishes in the first four fights, definitely a step in the right direction. We saw a future title contender, Ben Henderson, coming of age on the big stage. We saw the final fight of a Hall of Fame legend when Randy Couture lost a fight and a tooth, but didn't lose a single fan. We saw a 20-second knockout from Vladimir Matyushenko. And even though the two title fights were mostly anti-climatic (except for Round 5 of Jose Aldo-Mark Hominick), we did get to see two of the sport's pound-for-pound best, Aldo and Georges St-Pierre, in mostly dominating fashion yet again.
3. UFC on Versus 4
June 26 | Consol Energy Center | Pittsburgh, Pa.
Duane Finley: The card in Pittsburgh certainly fell victim to the previously mentioned curse of injury. The main event was a merry-go-round leading up to the event, and even when things appeared to finally settle with Rick Story and Nate Marquardt, another obstacle arose the day before the fights. Marquardt failed to pass his medical exam, resulting in his removal not only from the card but the UFC entirely. The UFC had no choice but to bump Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry to the main event and moved last minute replacement Charlie Brenneman into the bout with Story. Despite the pre-fight shuffle the card brought the noise as Matt Mitrione scored a walk-off knockout over Christian Morecraft, Brenneman did the unthinkable by besting Story via decision and Kongo pulled off one of the best KOs in MMA history with a Hail Mary shot to put Barry out cold.
Matt Erickson: Crazy story lines with main event fighters getting fired the day before the card, crazy comebacks in the new main event with a guy being knocked out but magically coming back to get a knock out of his own, walkoff knockouts like something from a movie script and a likely title contender having a big winning streak snapped in a major upset? All on free TV? Pittsburgh definitely got spoiled with its first UFC event, 'cause it can't possibly be that good next time in Steel City.
HeavyMMA's Best of MMA 2011 Series
Best of UFC 2011: The Photographs. Acclaimed MMA photographer James Law shares some of the best captures of the year in a slideshow that has been viewed all around the world in the last 24 hours.
Best of MMA 2011: Fighter of the Year. With a spotless 4-0 record and four stoppages, it should come as no surprise UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones is our Fighter of the Year.
Best of MMA 2011: Fight of the Year. It was a fight years in the making, but Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was worth the wait – and one for the ages.
Best of MMA 2011: Knockout of the Year. In a year jam-packed with great knockouts a couple coming from the feet, and not the hands, lead our list. Whose foot topped the list – the Spider's, or the Dragon's?
Best of MMA 2011: Submission of the Year. Was it the introduction of "The Twister" to the world, or a BJJ legend's arm getting snapped in half? See who delivered the year's best tapout.
Best of MMA 2011: Upset of the Year. It was a big surprise when it happened, but it should come as little surprise that it leads our list of 2011's biggest shockers. Tito Ortiz saved his career with a stunner.
Best of MMA 2011: Newcomer of the Year. UFC rookie Chris Weidman went 3-0 with a pair of first-round submissions to take home our Newcomer of the Year award.