Earlier this week, I looked at 2011: The Year in Kickboxing, with a focus on the big news stories of the year, and asked you, the reader, if you thought the year was one of transition or decline for the sport. An overwhelming 70% of you said it was in decline. Sad, but understandable given all the bad news kickboxing fans were subjected to over the past 12 months.
Today, I take one final look at the year, but this time with a focus solely on the good. Here, my picks for year end awards in the world of kickboxing. Because despite all the trials and tribulations, there was still a lot of action this year, with amazing fights, jaw-dropping KO's, and beautiful performances from some of the best strikers in the world. So let's take a look at the highlights of 2011:
2011 Kickboxer of the Year
It seems almost automatic to hand the award to Petrosyan once again, but he's undeniably deserving. Petrosyan is the clear-cut top kickboxer in the world, and I'd place him on a level with men like Anderson Silva and Manny Pacquiao as the best stand-up fighters in the world, period. Just look at the stats: a remarkable record of 69-1-2. Undefeated in 5 years. The two time (and, in theory, reigning) K-1 MAX champion. And, unlike some top names (Buakaw, I'm looking at you), Petrosyan is not slowing down with a more relaxed or sparse schedule. He fought 5 times in 2011, all while taking care of his nagging hand injuries, defeating men like Sudsakorn and Cosmo Alexandre.
In fact, Petrosyan is so good that any minuscule chink in his armor is seen as a huge deal. Some look at his 2011 as a down year for him because he did not actually defeat Chahid Oulad El Hadj (an accidental low blow led to a No Contest) and because some extremely questionable judging led to a Split instead of Unanimous Decision win over Zeben Diaz. When those are the biggest signs of weakness you can come up with, you're dealing with a serious force.
Up next for The Doctor is Abraham Roqueni on January 21, and, in what should be a massive fight, Artur Kyshenko on March 24. Kyshenko is one of the few names Petrosyan still needs to vanquish - a win here will only further the dominance of this rare and gifted artist.
Fight of the Year and KO of the Year, with videos, in the full entry
2011 Fight of the Year
ARTUR KYSHENKO vs. YODSAENKLAI FAIRTEX
If you have any doubt why Petrosyan vs. Kyshenko is such a big deal, let this fight from Rumble of the Kings 2011 on November 26 explain it to you.
From roughly 2007-2008, Kyshenko looked like the heir apparent in K-1 MAX - the next super fighter to put his name next to Buakaw, Souwer, and Masato. He made it to the 2008 Max GP Finals, defeating Andy Souwer along the way, and when Masato retired, many (including myself) picked him as the next Grand Prix champion. That didn't happen. He fell to Souwer in 2009, then had a tough 2010 with a pair of unexpected loses. After that, he changed camps, joining up with Mike's Gym (home to Badr Hari and Melvin Manhoef), and absolutely got his career back on track. 2011 was a great year for him, with a series of impressive wins and his only loss coming in the finals of a grueling tournament. Heading into this fight, Kyshenko was undeniably back.
Yodsaenklai was, at one time, the clear cut best Middleweight Muay Thai fighter on the planet. From 2005-2010 he was virtually unbeatable, establishing himself as a dominant force in the international scene. Starting in 2010, his 200+ professional fights began to catch up with him, and the once unassailable Yodsaenklai suddenly started to lose a few fights. But don't take that to mean he was falling apart - just that the formerly undefeatable Thai fighter was in fact beatable now, if you played your cards just right.
When these two came together, the result was a classic. Huge shifts in momentum, technical brilliance from both ends, great heart - it's everything right about the sport. Enjoy:
2011 KO of the Year
MARK MILLER vs. NIKOLAJ FALIN
From the United Glory World Series Finals on May 28, this incredible 9 second KO would merit discussion for the punch alone, but it's the backstory that really makes it unique.
After gaining some exposure in the international kickboxing scene thanks to fights in K-1, in 2006, Miller discovered he had a very serious heart condition. In 2007 he had open heart surgery. For most athletes, such a massive operation would spell the end of their professional careers, and for awhile, that seemed to be the case with Miller as well. But Miller never gave up. He continued training, and in 2011, his first fight back after the surgery was set.
Simply stepping into the ring on May 28 would have been a huge accomplishment - winning, an even greater feat. But for Miller, just competing - even just winning - wasn't enough. He wanted to prove to everyone what he could still accomplish. And with a bomb of a right hand, he did just that. A beautiful story, capped off by a beautiful punch straight out of a Rocky movie. It's one of those rare moments that transcends the sport - where the action becomes not just a story of two kickboxers, but a story of true human struggle and triumph.
There you have it - my picks for the kickboxing highlights of 2011. Let's see what 2012 brings us.
What about you? What were your favorite kickboxing moments of 2011?