While watching the amazing fight between Pawel Wolak vs. Delvin Rodriguez over the weekend I thought about how tremendous this year has been for me as a fight fan. In this job it is very easy to get caught up thinking about the weakness of the UFC's summer schedule or the ways the sport doesn't always live up to your expectations. So I decided to be positive and run down what I feel are the fifteen best fights in MMA and boxing so far this year. I didn't want to put them in order of "greatness" (lest we see this devolve into an argument over if #4 is really better than #6) and instead just went chronologically.
Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard battle to a draw - UFC 125 - January 1 - Maynard and Edgar kicked the year off with a bang. Maynard pummeled Edgar in the first round, knocking him down multiple times and earning at least a 10-8 round, if not a 10-7. Edgar, bleeding from the nose, came out in round two aggressive, landing big punches of his own and scoring a takedown. The two would go back and forth over five rounds with the final scorecards reading 48-46 Maynard, 48-46 Edgar and 47-47 a draw. The opinion of the majority heading into the bout was that these two men couldn't make for a great fight, but now the third fight is one of the most anticipated fights in all of mixed martial arts. Read Bloody Elbow's live results from the evening.
Nick Diaz submits Evangelista Santos in war - Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg - January 29 - Much as with Edgar/Maynard the bout between Diaz and Santos suffered from negative fan expectations. In this case it was more about Santos' perceived inability to hang with a top ten welterweight in Diaz. 5-5 in his last ten fights but having won his welterweight debut, Santos got a Strikeforce title shot more by default than merit. For the near two rounds that the fight lasted, Santos proved the doubters wrong. He was able to give at least as good as he got and appeared to be winning the second round before an ill advised takedown led to a Diaz armbar. Action packed and violent, Diaz vs. Santos is a fight that deserves to be remembered as 2011 wears on. Read Bloody Elbow's live results from the bout.
Brandon Rios stops Miguel Acosta in tenth - Boxing - February 26 - This was a special kind of fight. Both Rios and Acosta showed tremendous heart through the ten rounds. Acosta proved to be the better boxer for the duration of the bout, but Rios' heart and power eventually proved to be too much. While Acosta would rattle Rios throughout the bout, he was never able to keep Brandon from coming forward and letting his power shots go. The fight was made all the better by Rios' shortcomings as a technical boxer while proving that his style of relentless aggression was likely to be enough to carry him a long way. Read Bad Left Hook's rundown of the fight.
Diego Sanchez wins narrow decision over Martin Kampmann - UFC on Versus 3 - March 3 - It wasn't necessarily the best fight technically as Sanchez got caught from time to time in his wild brawling ways, but it was certainly exciting. Kampmann nullified the aggression of Sanchez in the first round, causing major swelling around Diego's eye but Sanchez would come back in the second and third forcing Kampmann backward. While Martin still landed some nice counter shots, it was the brutal flurries by Diego and sheer aggression that earned him the second and third round on all three judges scorecards for the unanimous decision win. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Edson Barboza beats Anthony Njokuani in shootout - UFC 128 - March 19 - One of the best stand-up fights in MMA this year in terms of flash, use of combinations and diversity of attack. Both men had moments where they came near finishing the other only to see their opponent come back with combinations and aggression that changed the flow of the fight again. Barboza unleashed a spinning kick to Njokuani's head in the final ten seconds of the bout to cement a unanimous decision victory. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Hernan "Tyson" Marquez wins WBA flyweight title against Luis Concepcion - Boxing - April 2 - Luis Concepcion was on his way to establishing himself as possibly the top flyweight in the world until he ran into the young "Tyson" Marquez. It was a stunning upset, made all the better by the fact that the bout saw both men give it all they had. The first four rounds were the best of the fight before Marquez's counter punching and movement left Concepcion charging into right hands that eventually caused enough swelling for the doctor to stop the fight and award Marquez the shocking upset win. Read Bad Left Hook's thoughts on the fight.
Nick Diaz stops Paul Daley in first - Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley - April 9 - Unlike Diaz's bout with "Cyborg" Santos, this saw Nick taking on a more established welterweight. For one round the men exchanged huge shots with Daley dropping Diaz to the mat on multiple occasions. Diaz continued to fire back though, and eventually he caught Daley flush. The Brit dropped to the floor and a few follow-up shots led to the referee calling an end to the bout. The combination of the Daley win and the need for interesting fights for Georges St. Pierre saw Diaz head to the UFC looking to add another belt to his collection. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Victor Ortiz saves career against Andre Berto - Boxing - April 16 - Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz both suffered from being somewhat protected "HBO golden boys." Protected by the network in hopes of eventually cashing in on a huge fight. Unfortunately, Ortiz crumbled the first time he met an opponent who offered serious resistance, effectively quitting in a fight against Marcos Maidana. Ortiz came out and blitzed Berto, dropping him twice in the first (only getting official credit for one). Berto came back and put Ortiz down in the second round, but came back to take over the fight in the next few rounds. The sixth round saw Ortiz crushed by a Berto right hand, only to climb to his feet and score a knockdown of his own that same round. Ortiz got the well deserved win on the scorecards, proved that he has more guts than anyone gave him credit for after Maidana and earned himself a huge fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Not bad for a man most had written off. Read Bad Left Hook's fight recap.
Jose Aldo outlasts Mark Hominick - UFC 129 - April 30 - Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick battled in the first ever UFC featherweight championship bout. Aldo surprised many by looking to win points throughout the bout with takedowns, Hominick was able to win the stand-up portion of the bout in round two but it appeared that Aldo had taken over in the third and fourth rounds even causing a huge amount of swelling on the forehead of his opponent. The fifth round saw Hominick end up on top of Aldo on the ground where he punished the heavily favored champion until the final bell. It was too little, too late though as Aldo retained his title by unanimous decision.Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Jorge Arce shines against Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. - Boxing - May 7 - While fans didn't get their money's worth from the bout between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley, they got some reward for their money when Jorge Arce did what Jorge Arce does. Arce and Vazquez went to war and the much older than his years Arce came away with the twelfth round stoppage victory. Read Bad Left Hook's fight recap.
Demian Maia falls to Mark Munoz - UFC 131 - June 11 - It isn't the kind of fight that one will remember come December, but Maia vs. Munoz was a solid technical fight between two middleweight contenders. Maia showcased some improved striking that made the fight interesting on the feet while a good amount of positional struggling never fell into the "need action" trap. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Nik Lentz gets no-contest against Charles Oliveira - UFC on Versus 4 - June 26 - Despite being ruined somewhat by an illegal knee to a downed opponent by Oliveira, this was an exciting fight with plenty of wild momentum swings packed in to a short amount of time. The knee by Oliveira, while Lentz was still clearly down, set up the rear naked choke that finished the fight. That fact alone meant that the athletic commission later overturned the result and made the fight a no-contest. Still, Oliveira appeared to be on his way to winning the fight handily and eliminated the need for a rematch.
Cheick Kongo rallies to stop Pat Barry - UFC on Versus 4 - June 26 - The shortest fight on the list also has the most incredible finish. Barry badly hurt Kongo on multiple occasions shortly after the opening bell. While Kongo appeared on rubber legs and on the verge of having the fight stopped, he unleashed a huge right hand that knocked Barry out cold. 159 seconds don't come much better than that. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Dominick Cruz defends title against Urijah Faber - UFC 132 - July 2 - The rematch between UFC bantamweight champion Cruz and the only man to ever defeat him turned into an incredible bout. The speed, timing and striking both men displayed for five rounds was exactly the kind of thing that the UFC needed to legitimize the lightest weight class currently in the division. Cruz earned a clear decision victory but Faber had nothing to be ashamed of and most fans would gladly watch a rubber match between the two any day. Read the Bloody Elbow live results from the event.
Pawel Wolak vs. Delvin Rodriguez - Boxing - July 15 - ESPN 2's Friday Night Fights has not always delivered the best fights in the world. But they've been red hot as of late with tremendous fights. But there are very few fights that can touch Wolak vs. Rodriguez in terms of drama and quality. Both men had moments where they were able to do what their strategy called for them to do. Rodriguez was able to get space on occasion and unleash powerful punches to the head of Wolak while Pawel was relentless in his forward charge. Wolak fought much of the bout with a horribly swollen eye (pictured) but refused to back down and the fight ended in a majority draw. The fight drew immediate demands for a rematch and it appears that the men might do it again on the undercard of the rematch between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. Read Bad Left Hook's recap of the fight.
Agree? Disagree? What'd I miss?