I'm still a relatively parochial American MMA fan, though having HDNet I have seen a lot Dream and Sengoku fights as well but I'm keeping this list mostly in America because that's what I can speak with the most authority. So lets go.
Story Of The Year: Fedor & The Rise of Strikeforce
In a market-based economy, there always seems to be room for competition as long as Congress doesn't give you protection. The UFC has been the dominate force in American MMA since Dana White and Zuffa took over and reinvented how the sport operated, was presented, and how it was governed. Promotions have come and gone, but it seemed that wronged T-shirt company Affliction had found its niche as the #2. After two shows that went over well, featured Fedor Emelianenko, but lost money do to insane production costs and even more insane fighter salaries. One Josh Barnett drug test later and Affliction was gone and all of sudden scores of high caliber fighters were up for grabs. None was bigger than Fedor, the acknowledged best MMA fighter in the world.
Strikeforce waited out the UFC for Fedor, as the two could not come together on the issue of co-promoting with M-1. Scott Coker swooped in, gobbled up Fedor, and turned a regional promotion done good into a full-fledged competitor to the UFC. While Coke and others continue to insist that they aren't going after the UFC directly based on their business model, its clear that the intentions are otherwise. Coke not only brought in Fedor, but got a Showtime deal, a network deal with CBS, a bevy of young and talented fighters, and then Dan Henderson to close the year.
- Kimbo Slice, Roy Nelson, and TUF 10
- UFC's Global Expansion
- UFC 100
Fighter of the Year: Georges St-Pierre
Though he only fought twice this year, the quality of fighters the completely dominating way Rush won those fights convinced me that 2009 was the Year of GSP. He opened the year against BJ Penn in one of the most heavily promoted fights in the history of MMA complete with their Primetime special on Spike. What St-Pierre did on January 31 was to simply dismantle Penn takedown after takedown, passing Penn's legendary guard like a knife through butter, and battering and destroying Penn until his corner ended the fight after four rounds. Then in the biggest show of the year, July's UFC 100 GSP took on welterweight destroyer Thiago Alves, a fighter just as big and maybe even strong than St-Pierre with tremendous striking, he had won five out of his last six fights by TKO. St-Pierre made him look like an rookie, completely dominating a fearsome foe all the while fighting half the fight with a hurt groin muscle.
GSP was always considered one of the top fighters in the world, but this year he cemented a legacy that will make him one of the all-time greats. While fellow p4ps Fedor and Anderson Silva fought tough fights, Penn and Alves are top tier opponents and GSP made mince-meat of them. He is the most dominate fighter in the world right now.
- Fedor (d. Andrei Arlovski Brett Rogers)
- Brock Lesnar (d. Frank Mir)
- Lyoto Machida (d. Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua)
Fight Of The Year: Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce Lightweight Title
I know I might catch some hell of this, but I found this fight had all the elements that makes MMA great. Two talented fighters at the top of their game, a title on the line, a five round war with no brakes, and a resolution where the right man won the losing fighter took it like a man. A lot of the big fights in the UFC this year were heavily hyped but essentially one-sided affairs (Penn-GSP, Mir-Lesnar, Penn-Sanchez), though very exciting. The Thomson-Melendez had me jumping out of my chair for five rounds, these guys were fighting for the right reasons. I understand that some think Strikeforce talent is less than UFC, and in many cases it is, but I think both Thomson and Melendez right now could step in the UFC and be top contenders. Not much else can be said other than watch that fight again!
- Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida
- Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua
- Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera vs. Randy Couture
Knockout Of The Year: Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping, UFC 100
This was your classic story of a big-mouth young lion roaring up behind the grizzled vet, and throw in months of television build-up, some nationalism, and the biggest fight card in history and we have American Dan Henderson versus England's Michael Bisping. I always thought Hendo took this too seriously, that Bisping was trying to build a fight but perhaps The Count should have kept his mouth shut. Henderson dominated the fight the entire way, with Bisping looking tentative from the get-go once he felt Hendo's power, Bisping cotinued to circle to his left over and over throwing meaningless leg kicks and right into Henderson's powerful right hand. Bisping spent most of the fight moving away, and in the second round he bit on a kick and left himself open for the knockout of the year, a full-on right cross the jaw that had him out before he hit the mat. It was brutal, epic, and masterful. This gets the nod because of the backstory from TUF, the nationalism from the show, and that it was on the biggest stage in MMA history.
- Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans, UFC 98
- Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin, UFC 101
- Scott Smith vs. Cung Le, Strikeforce: Evolution
New Star Of The Year: Gegard Mousasi, Strikeforce
At 24 years old, Mousasi has won two major MMA titles in two separate divisions (Dream middleweoght, SF light heavyweight). But it wasn't until this year that the full world got to see what the Dreamcatcher is capable of, or could be capable of. He took three wins this year, over Mark Hunt in Dream's absurd Super Hulk tournament, then snatched the light heavyweight title away from Babalu Sobral in devastating fashion, followed up by a 2 round destruction over Sokodujou. Mousasi is a bona fide MMA star now, a top talent at a young age with worldwide MMA experience, and a mentorship under Fedor. He is one of the few very top tier fighters not in the UFC so expect Strikeforce to try and make a big star out of him.
- Dan Hardy, UFC
- Brett Rogers, Strikeforce
- Muhammed Lawal, Strikeforce
So that is what I've got. I was thinking about doing some sort of "failure of the year" or "flop of the year" for fighters who did not live up to expectations, but its the holidays so I wanted to keep it positive. Have a great Christmas, everyone!