If you have watched MMA from its beginnings, and hung in there, you experienced many ups and downs in this sport's brief history. There have been years that have thrilled and other years that required staying up in the middle of the night to see some of sport's biggest fights. But, this year is turning out to be an unparalleled year for us American MMA fans. Let's look at what has already transpired in this nascent year and everything we have to look forward to in the months to come.
The year started off with a bang as Maynard and Edgar engaged in an all out battle that was enough of a see saw event that it put "Showtime" on hold so we can see these two lock up again. We witnessed something that has become almost extinct in MMA. A draw.
2. Nick Diaz vs Cyborg Santos
Nick Diaz cemented his place as one of Strikforce's biggest draws on this night. His fight drew 853,000 eyes on the exclusive SHO network. Yes, Cyborg is a mediocre challenge but he looked fierce with his Muay Thai and seemed, early on, a dangerous fighter against Diaz. But, what we eventually watched was the third submission of the night. Everyone loves the KO, like Strikeforce's December offering gave us, but I will take the technical submission any day of the week.
Wow. After watching this event I just sat in front of my TV with my draw dropped for about 2 minutes. When the Silva/Belfort fight started I was concerned it was going to turn into one of Silva's dancing performances and then BOOM he proved my ass wrong. That front kick was a huge exclamation point on the fact that Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world today.
The event also brought us a dominating performance from Jon Jones which launched him into title contention. It was a surprise moment that added to the event's must see feel.
4. The Heavyweight Grand Prix Begins
This event is a turning point for Strikeforce. So much has already been written about this Gran Prix, but now just days away, it is finally here and more importantly, finally real. Fedor has a ton to prove to modern fans and it starts this Saturday night. But, on top of that, how cool is it that in the same night we see Fedor fight we get to see two of the top Heavyweight prospects in Del Rosario and Johnson lock up.
5. Penn vs Fitch
The UFC returns to the land down under, where last they experienced tremendous success. The card is headlined by one of the sport's iconic figures as he begins to define what his career will be remembered as. BJ Penn has been a dynamic and polarizing figure in MMA. Does he have what it takes to stand up against the best of the UFC's Welterweight divison?
6. Feijao vs Henderson
Scott Coker promised that in 2011 that a Strikeforce belt will be defended every month. Well, he closes out the first quarter of the year with a great title bout and fulfilling his promise. Something he had trouble with in the past. The Strikeforce Light Heavyweight division is developing into quite an interesting group of fighters. This should be a slug fest that sets the direction for the division.
7. Shogun vs Jones
What the hell did us NJ MMA fans do to have the MMA gods look down on us with such favor. Two huge cards back to back. And what a friggin card this is. If you are a fan of the modern era of MMA you have the future of MMA in guys like Jones or Schaub. If you are an old Pride fan you have two of that organizations biggest stars fighting in Shogun and Cro Cop. It is a fascinating night of fights and will go a long way in etching out the future of what has been UFC's most decorated division, the Light Heavyweights.
8. Overeem vs Werdum
The Gran Prix continues and right now this card is starting to look amazing. As much as I am looking forward to Fedor's return to the cage this weekend I can't wait for Werdum vs Overeem. The match up of styles is what makes this so special. Werdum's BJJ has reached an epic level. He is a fighter that can literally end a fight without throwing a punch. Overeem's striking is frightening. Really, really frightening. Technically, it is just a dream match up that we almost never get to see at Heavyweight these days. The rest of the card is shaping up with some excitement as well as Gegard Mousasi v Mike Kyle and Gil Melendez v Kawajiri are rumored for this card.
9. GSP v Shields
A new era in MMA has arrived as UFC brings their brand to Toronto in the massive Rogers Centre. There is so much to be said about this event and its relevancy to the past, present and future of MMA. Only a card in the World's Most Famous Arena could mean more, I believe. Oh yeah, and then there are some fights. GSP looks to clean out the division and he does it against a very unique fighter, Jake Shields. This is not going to be a walk in the park for GSP. Shields is as versatile as they come, he is different than any of the other fighters GSP has faced, with his knowledge of wrestling and jiu-jitsu he has put together an impressive win streak. The ground game in this fight will be incredibly entertaining for fans of that style. If GSP is successful, a super fight looms on the horizon.
10. TUF: Lesnar v Dos Santos
This is kind of like a Rolo or Twinkie. Something amazing on the outside and inside of it. First, we get to witness what should be a fascinating spectacle of the actual TUF show with these two unique characters facing off as coaches. I have no idea what to expect from either of them but if it works right, it could be riveting. Brock typically needed Paul Heyman in the past next to him to be entertaining and until recent years Dos Santos needed an interpreter to be understood. I have no idea what kind of TV this will produce, the editors will have their work cut out for them. But, the core of it will bring us a highly anticipated, and completely unexpected, number one contender bout between Brock and arguably the fiercest striker in the MMA heavyweight division. I can't wait.
Ok, that is just the first half of the coming year. The second half will see the semi-finals and finals of the epic Gran Prix that will likely determine the #1 HW in the world. It will also see the UFC go to Brazil for what should be a fascinating event. We will also likely see Nick Diaz face his biggest challenge in a long time against Paul Daley. And, if the stars all fall into alignment, we might see the bout that will crown the best pound for pound fighter in the world if Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre finally enter the cage to face off against one another. Wow. There are so many other matches that will be made that will have us all salivating, I just scratched the surface here. Can you think of a better year to be an American MMA fan, really. UFC, Strikeforce, it doesn't matter. This year we are the winners.