So, apparently the other night, possibly while high, I managed to post like 400 word of this thing. So lets try it again.
With his victory over Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones has had arguably the best single year run in the history of MMA. He defeated 4 top 10 fighters with very little difficulty. We as fans got all excited on Saturday when someone actually tested his skills for a full round. His evisceration of Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida may never be matched in modern MMA, where elite fighters seem to rarely fight three times a year. With his monumental 2011 in the books, I wanted to look back at the 10 best single years in the history of MMA.
10. Fedor Emelianenko 2004
Victories: Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Naoya Ogawa, Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira 2 and 3
Coming into 2004, Fedor was well on his way to being recognized as the best heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time. He was the undisputed Pride Heavyweight champion, and virtually undefeated. He would enter Pride's 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix as the favorite, and would not disappoint. He began the tournament in April with a quick armbar over a still relevant Mark Coleman in just over 2 minutes. He would move on to the quarter finals to face Coleman's HammerHouse teammate (and also still kind of relevant) Kevin Randleman, fresh off an upset of Mirko Cro Cop.
Randleman came in obviously as the heavy underdog, but he came out firing. Early in the first round, Randleman took Fedor down, and in a scramble, took the Russian's back and then dropped this crazy shit on the MMA world
Literally, any other person probably would have been out, but not Fedor. Within less than a minute, Fedor would sweep the former Ohio State wrestler and end up catching him with a kimura. This victory would go down as one of the most brilliant victories in Emelianenko career.
The victory over Randleman would lead to a fight with 7 -1 judoka Naoya Ogawa in the semi finals. Fedor would show that Ogawa wasn't even on his level with a quick armbar, earning a spot in the finals in a rematch with Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira.
The second meeting between the two heavyweight legends would be ruined later that night when an accidental clashing of heads opened a huge cut on Fedor's head and the fight being declared a no contest. They would meet on New Years Eve for not only the Heavyweight GP title, but the Pride world title as well. In a three round battle, Fedor would outlast Nogeuira to solidify his standing as the best heavyweight in the world.
9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 2001
Victories: Volk Han, Hiromitsu Kanehara, Valentjin Overeem, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Heath Herring
In 2001, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was just in the nacasance of his MMA career. The 25 year old Big Nog entered the year already being in the Finals Block of the RINGS King of Kings 2000 32 man tournament. In a night where he would fight 3 times, Nogeuira would defeat Sambo fighter Volk Han, catch wrestler Hiromistsu Kanehara, and then a victory over the less successful Overeem, Valentjin Overeem. Soon after winning the tournament, Nogeuira would move over to Pride and beginning to estabilsh himself as the undisputed number 1 HW in the world. He would win his Pride debut over Gary Goodridge, and then meet up with reigning Pride GP 2000 winner Mark Coleman. Big Nog would submit the former UFC champion and earn the unofficial title of #1 heavyweight in the world. He would face Heath Herring in November of that year to win the inagural Pride Heavyweight title and cap off perhaps the best year of Nogueira's storried career.
8. Dominick Cruz 2010
Victories: Brian Bowles, Joseph Benavidez, Scott Jorgensen
One of the UFC's most underrated champions, Dominick Cruz put together a career year in 2010. Having earned a title shot with a victory over Joseph Benavidez in 2009, Cruz would win the batamweight title when Brian Bowles quit on his stool after suffering a broken hand during the first round. Cruz would defend the title via a close split decision rematch with Joseph Benavidez in August of that year. At WEC 53, the final show in the company's history, Cruz would take another decision from honeybadger like Scott Jorgensen and win the very first UFC bantamweight title. With 3 victories over top 10 opposition, and the very first batamweight title in UFC history(since defended twice) Cruz helped solidify himself as a force and P4P fighter in 2010.
7. Lyoto Machida 2009
Victories: Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Shogun 1
Machida in 2009 was a puzzle wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma. No one could seem to figure out how to defeat the man, as evident at his 13 - 0 record entering 2009. He would begin the year meeting top 10 ranked and also undefeated Thiago Silva. In the dying seconds of the 1st round, Machida would drop the Brazilian wrecking machine and finish him with only 1 second left on the clock. Based on this impressive victory, and his undefeated record, Machida was matched up with newly minted Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans.
The two undefeated fights would meet at UFC 98 (billed with something like "Someone's O has got to go." I can imagine Goldie pitching this one in Dana's office in my head, I swear). Machida would introduce the world to The Stanky Leg, when he caught Rashad with a series of punches against the cage in 2nd round to win the title. With that, Joe Rogan proclaimed us in the "Machida Era".
5 months later, Machida would match up with former Pride GP winner Shogun Rua. Over 5 rounds at UFC 104, fans were treated to a technical masterpiece between the two Brazilians, where Machida would win a razor close and controversial decision over Rua. Despite the controversial nature of the victory, Lyoto KOed two top 5 opponents, and put on a great fight with a MMA legend. Thus far this year was the highlight of Machida's career, going 1-3 since his victory at UFC 104
6. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic 2006
Victories: Isuhisa Minowa, Hidehiko Yoshida, Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett
Coming into 2006, Cro Cop was starting to look like the Dan Marino of MMA. He was exciting, won some big fights, but could never seem to win a championship. He had lost to Fedor Emelianeko in 2005, and had dropped a fight to Mark Hunt on New Years Eve. He entered the Pride 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix hoping to finally break the curse.
He began the tournament over future Super Hluk tournament champion Isuhisa Minowa. In a one sided affair, Filipovic crushed the Japanese sensation in just over a minute. This would earn him a spot versus former Olympic Judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida. Cro Cop would defeat the Japanese star, forcing him to submit due to having his leg kicked into a living death over the span of 7 minutes.
Advancing to the semi finals held in September of 2006, Cro Cop would square off with Pride 205 lbs champion Wanderlei Silva. These two feared strikers would not disappoint, but in one of the final highlights of his career, Cro Cop knocked out Silva with a vicious left high kick. This would allow him to move on to face Josh Barnett that same night for the GP title. Cro Cop would finally fulfill his destiny when he shattered Barnett's orbital bone to earn a stoppage in the first round. This would be the pinnacle of Filipovic's career, as he would never again live up to these high standards.
5. Chuck Liddell 2006
Victories: Randy Couture 3, Renato Sobral, Tito Ortiz 2
2006 was easily the peak of Chuck Liddell's career. He was finally the UFC Light Heavyweight champion, and had defended it once since defeating Randy Couture. He would enter 2006 with the end of the storied trilogy between himself and Randy Couture. When they met at UFC 57, it was one of the most anticipated fights in the history of the company. Chuck would make relative short work of Randy, KOing him in the 2nd round and vaulted himself further into the MMA stratosphere. He would follow up this victory with a rematch with Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
Babalu would enter the fight with Liddell at UFC 62 on a 10 fight winning streak, including victories over Shogun Rua, Jeremy Horn, Jose Landis-Johns, and Chael Sonnen. None of this seemed to matter, as Chuck landed a huge uppercut that left Sobral in a pile on the mat at 1:35 of the first round.
Chuck would end the year with another huge rematch, this time against bitter enemy Tito Ortiz. Tito came into the fight riding a 5 fight streak since he lost to Chuck at UFC 47. The rematch would be the biggest fight in the UFC's history at that point, and Chuck would not disappoint, finishing Ortiz via TKO in the 3rd round. Despite maybe not a more impressive stretch as say Nogeuira in 2001, the historical significance of Chuck's fights in 2006 propelled him to the number 5 spot.
4. Takanori Gomi 2005
Victories: Jens Pulver, Luis Azeredo, Jean Silva, Tasuya Kawajiri, Luis Azeredo, Hayato Sakurai
UFC fans may know Takanori Gomi as that hyped up Japanese fighter who likes to come into the Octagon and do a poor man's imitation of Dan Henderson. Constantly looking to land the fastball of an overhand right, he has not looked good in any of his appearances in the Octagon. But once upon a time, in the mythical land of Japan, The Fireball Kid was arguably the best 155 pounder in the world. He would begin his 2005 on New Years with a huge KO victory over former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver. He would meet up with Chute Boxe fighter Luis Azeredo in May of 2005, where Gomi was getting pummeled until landing a left/right hook combo that caused the Brazilian to drop like his strings were cut. Gomi apparently didn't think he had had enough, as he continued to try and hammer Azeredo even as the ref and Pride officials tried to hold him back.
7 weeks later, Gomi was back in the Pride ring (thank you no commissions in Japan) to fight another Chute Boxe opponent in Jean Silva, taking a decision. 8 weeks after that, Gomi would enter the Pride Lightweight Grand Prix looking to be crowned the first lightweight champion in the company's history. He would meet the Shooto champion Tasuya "Crusher" Kawajiri in the first round of the tournament. They put on what was voted the Pride 2005 fight of the year, which Gomi won via a first round rear naked choke. That same night, Gomi would rematch Luis Azeredo, roughly 15 weeks after they had first met. Gomi would win this fight via decision, earning his spot in the tournament finals on New Years eve.
In the finals, he would square off against former teammate and Japanese MMA legend Hayato Sakurai. Sakurai was in the midst of a career rival since moving to the US to train with Matt Hume, and this was considered an epic fight. Gomi would waste little time, KOing Sakurai in 3:56 of the very first round. With this victory he would become the first Pride lightweight champion, and can be considered the best stretch of Gomi's entire career.
3. Dan Henderson 2011
Victories: Rafael Cavalcante, Fedor, Shogun
Dan Henderson is like a good bottle of scotch, he just becomes more awesome and intoxicating as he gets older. Despite already having a legendary career, 2011 has arguably been his best. After defeating Babalu Sobral in Dec of 2010, Hendo would meet up with Strikeforce's 205 lbs champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in March. Henderson didn't disappoint, winning his first championship since winning the Pride 205 championship back in 2007 by loading up the H Bomb and dropping Cavalcante face first, Rick Flair style on the mat.
After his victory, as opposed to defending his title, Henderson decided he wanted to move up to heavyweight to meet fellow Pride legend Fedor Emelianeko in July. In a crazy back and forth first round, Henderson would show that nothing could stand up to the power of his right hand, when he slipped out the backdoor on Fedor, took his back and landed a couple of punches, being the first man to stop the MMA legend via strikes.
With his stock at an all time high, Hendo came back to the UFC after leaving for Strikeforce in Dec of 2009 to face another Pride legend in Shogun Rua. As most MMA fans are well aware of, Henderson and Shogun put on a fight for the ages, arguably the best fight of all time to cap of Henderson's impressive and epic 2011. Two finishes, one over a former cyborg, and an all time classic fight is enough for him to crack the top 3.
2. Mauricio Rua 2005
Victories: Hiromitsu Kanehara, Quinton Jackson, Antionio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Ricardo Arona
Shogun's 2005 was what once was the epitome of a great single year in MMA history. He would start his 2005 with a victory over former pro wrestler Hiromitsu Kanehara via brutal KO. (Oh Pride head stomps, you were vicious but effective). Eight weeks later, Shogun would enter the Pride Middleweight (205 lbs) GP with a first round destruction over the heavily favored Rampage Jackson.
Following the first round upset of Jackson, Rua moved on to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira where they put on one of the best fights in MMA history at Pride Critical Countdown 2005. Shogun would manage to win a decision over the BJJ black belt, moving on to meet Alistair Overeem in the semi finals. Rua would continue his Cinderella story, defeating the Dutch kickboxer via TKO in the first round, to move onto the finals.
In the finals he would meet Ricardo Arona, of the rival Brazilian Top Team. Arona had defeated Shogun's Chute Boxe teammate Wanderlei Silva earlier that evening, and Shogun had a taste for revenge. In under 3 mins, the then 24 year old Rua would vault himself from virtual unknown to a top 3 Light Heavyweight in the world when he stopped Arona with hammerfists.
1. Jon Jones 2011
Victories: Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida
What else needs to be said. Jon Jones is a monster, and could potentially be a dominant force for the next 10 years in this sport. This will be the year people will always talk about when we discuss the single best year a MMA fighter has ever had.