There's something I feel I should get out of the way, to prepare myself for whatever criticisms, both valid and bizarre, that are sure to come. One is that this "best of" list is meant to be comprehensive, but it's meant to be comprehensive in accordance with my own tastes. In other words, it's a personal list.
In addition, "writing" will not always be featured. At the time of putting together this list, I had only writing in mind, but as I went through some great features (like some of Helwani's interviews, and Jack Encarnacao's Rewind series), I felt like this series needed to represent great and interesting work regardless of category.
Hence why I included Luke Thomas' interviews with Henry Cejudo and Jordan Burroughs the other day. It's true my intelligence (or lackthereof) doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt, but I'm aware of the difference between writing and transcription. Now, to those annoyed by the inclusion of BE work I'll do you one better: I'll admit my unabashed love for this site.
As a longtime reader of Bloody Elbow, I've found it to be the one place I could stomach being around MMA fans (who I typically sort of despise). The bar hasn't been set high when you contrast this place with say, Sherdog.net (a place that feels like it was created by The Onion to parody internet trolls), but BE has been a fantastic source for discussion among its educated readers (some of whom will actually be featured on this list).
If there's a reason for that, you can probably trace it back to one of the staples of BE: the Judo Chop. For some of us, but especially for casual fans, it's often difficult to decipher the action in the cage. The arts themselves are complicated enough. Who actually knows that Ryo Chonan's submission win over Anderson Silva is technically a flying kesa besama into an inverted heelhook? Not I.
And so it's always interesting to learn just what exactly the fighters themselves have learned, and how they use that information to create violence.
Two Judo Chops that I feel stood out more than others this year were Fraser Coffeen's look at Anderson Silva at UFC 134 and his use of the "anchor punch", and Ben Thapa's begrudging analysis of Frank Mir's submission win over Antonio Nogueira at UFC 140.
The inclusion of Anderson Silva in a Judo Chop seems almost formulaic. Even Silva's more bizarre performances involve incredible acts. But it's also a testament to his arsenal.
While we mock (and rightfully so) the comparison of any modern athlete with zero cultural impact to Muhammad Ali, it's nonetheless worth noting that Silva bares at least a few similarities to the boxing icon from a technique standpoint. Namely, the use of the anchor punch: a strike that almost carries with it an urban legend status. For many boxing fans at the time, the punch had more sinister associations: as evidence that the fight was fixed (given the speed and seemingly delicacy with which it was thrown). Here's Fraser with the breakdown of Ali's use of it:
You see Ali, hands low, dodge Liston's left with quick head movement. As he dodges, he brings the right hand up and around, connecting square on Liston. Ali also moves slightly to his right with the punch, putting himself at an angle to Liston, who is moving forward. Ali throws that punch over Liston's extended punching arm, guaranteeing Liston won't be able to defend it. The combination of Liston's forward motion and Ali's clean shot are enough to put Liston down. If there's still any doubt that the punch lands, watch the way the force of the punch ripples all down Liston's right side.
Switching gears from a more graceful violence to a raw and brutal one: enter Frank Mir at UFC 140.
The sequence is still fresh in everyone's minds. Mir gets rocked. Nog rolls for a guillotine. Mir escapes by rolling which leads to Nog attempting to sit-out which leads to Nog going for back control, which Mir counters with a kimura. What did Nog do wrong in this sequence? It's hard to believe a grappler of Nog's caliber would make such a mistake, but here's Thapa with the breakdown:
The wrestling-style sit out allows a fighter to use the slightly askew center of gravity of the opponent on top to sprawl sitting up towards one particular side - and potentially offers avenues to rear mount or at least a bodylock on a turned away opponent. This particular sit out is nicely timed and showcases the more recent vintage of grappling the Nogueira brothers now train. However, Big Nog leaves his right arm down low, between Mir's legs. The left hand is controlling Mir's right hand nicely and the body is sprawled out in good fashion. The only weak link is that right hand. It should be up around Mir's waist and tight to the body.
It's a sequence that has likely earned Mir a submission of the year, and for good reason: he submitted one of the most respected BJJ practitioners, while dazed no less.