Continuing in the same vein of thought as my previous post, today I’ll be discussing some more of my favorite stories in a retrospective look at 2013. We begin our 2nd installment with the stories that nobody expected, but we were all thrilled to see.
Dark Horse Workers
The fight game is filled with peaks and valleys. The adversity suffered by our favorite warriors makes their shining moments all the sweeter, and in 2013 the view from the top for a select few was absolutely glorious. Two men in particular had some crazy successes and some terrible setbacks. And their respective storylines culminated in one of the greatest heavyweight fights ever.
Let’s get the epic tale of Silva and Hunt underway.
Bigfoot is the tragic character in this story. Stomped by giant killer, Cain Velasquez, twice in just shy of a year’s time, Antonio will never be a champion. He will, however, be known as one of the guys you can never sleep on after his performances in 2013.
Silva began his year by bludgeoning an overconfident Alistair Overeem into unconsciousness with a lighting quick boxing combination made of grit and steel. He then went on to challenge Cain for the strap, and got appropriately handled. This is more of a statement about how good Velasquez is than it is a check on Silva’s skill. The rematch came too quick for Bigfoot, it speaks to the much discussed lack of depth at heavyweight. Sad for Silva, who will likely never receive another title shot. But on the bright side, for the fans anyway, this setback brought him into direct conflict with the second Dark/Workhorse of 2013.
Hunt continued an improbable run to start the year by steamrolling Stephan Struve. The Super Samoan surprised everyone by surviving against the lanky Dutchman on the ground, a true testament to the continued evolution of his grappling skills. This, interestingly enough, paralleled Silva’s own progress in the striking game. After escaping a couple of bad positions and near submissions, Mark Hunt found a home for his left hook. One that robbed Struve of his ability to chew solid food for the better part of six months.
Next, in compelling contrast to Antonio’s 2013 path, he faced the consensus second best heavyweight in the world, Junior Dos Santos. Hunt took JDS deep into the 4th round and gave the Brazilian his fair share of lumps, catching him against the cage and cracking him with left hooks. Dos Santos, however, proved too dynamic and caught Hunt with an impressive spinning back kick and ended the New Zealander’s unlikely ascent.
So after breaking through their respective ceilings against highly regarded opponents, both Silva and Hunt were blasted back down the ladder by the two toughest heavyweights on the planet. Thsi brought the two men into a conflict that was unquestionably in the top 3 of the most entertaining fights of the year. I broke the fight down in an earlier piece, but it’s worth going into briefly here.
The quick version:
- 5 round war
- Both men have their moments
- Both men out-do the other in unexpected ways
- You could award 10-8 rounds to either man
- A draw decision that you can't complain about
- Silva gets busted for elevated T
- Hunt delivers badass quotes and proves to be the winner in our hearts
If this had been a title fight, it’d be FOTY without any debate. As the stakes were lower, I think I might have to give the nod to Jones and Gustaffson. Regardless, Silva vs Hunt was a historic fight we’ll all be talking about when we’re old and grey.
The appeal of this story was its surprising nature, and the willpower of the two men to get into the spotlight and put on performances so spectacular that no one can deny the opportunities, or the accolades that these fighters which they both richly deserve.
It’s a real shame that Silva was popped for elevated testosterone, as it puts a permanent black mark on what was an otherwise incredible event in UFC history. Putting drug test questions aside though, Antonio gave us some of the biggest jaw dropping moments of the year and that’s worth praising.
You could have said that both the following fighters were in tough spots at the beginning of this year. You’d have been perfectly justified, and perfectly perplexed by the contrary result. As it turns out, both men coming off of losses in their final fights of 2012, had by far the most impressive runs of 2014.
Faber was coming off a loss to Renan Barao in his first fight in February of 2013. And somebody must have told him he was getting older, because he acted like a man who doesn’t want to waste any time.
He outclassed Ivan Menjivar in less than one round, ending the night with a rear naked choke. He continued his march with another dominant display of suffocation supremacy in his fight with Scott Jorgenson less than 2 months later. It took a savage young up and comer by the name of Charles Oliviera to make Faber look mortal this year. He put him in a bad spot in the first round and threatened Faber on the feet all night, but Faber still managed multiple takedowns, and landed flashy/deadly ground and pound to end the evening with a unanimous decision victory.
Finally, in the most impressive showing of the year, and perhaps of his entire career, Faber smashed through Michael McDonald in two rounds to secure a signature guillotine submission, a sub of the night award, and my vote for fighter of the year.
Many counted the Barao title fight as Faber’s final shot at UFC gold. He’s now slated to fight the winner of Barao v. Cruz early 2014. Thank the good Lord for defied expectations.
Vitor Belfort made history twice this year. He started out in a relatively subdued manner, braining Michael Bisping with the broad side of his left shin. Then he became the first man to land consecutive head kick knock outs by delivering a picture perfect spinning back kick to the side of Luke Rockhold’s face. Then he did it again by becoming the first man to stop Dan Henderson with strikes, as well as becoming the first man to achieve 3 CONSECUTIVE HEADKICK KNOCKOUTS.
Now he’s the number one contender, and Weidman’s hold on the throne begins to look rather precarious.
Belfort’s another fighter haunted by controversy. His awful interview skills virtually assure that no one will credit him with anything but the best doctor’s note in the business. But based on his performances, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t added significant tools to his wheelhouse in 2013
Champions gone to War and Brought Low
The biggest story of the year has to be the surprising challenges brought to the 3 most dominant champions in UFC history. All three of the UFC’s biggest stars, who were thought to be untouchable by the end of 2012, were made to look all too vulnerable in 2013.
Jonny Jones always looks invincible. Unless boxed by a swede of comparable size apparently. I don’t personally see the controversy in this bout. It looked like a clear 3-2 decision for Jones to me. But I do understand how close the fight really was. Gustaffson had the 4th until that spinning elbow, but as we’ll cover in just a moment with GSP and Johny Hendricks, a challenger can never rest on his laurels.
This was undoubtedly the most shocking fight of the year. No one expected Alexander to find success, and what an incredible shock it was to see Jones’ face bulbous and bloody by the end of the night. It was as if we never gave the Mauler full credit after beating Shogun Rua, writing that win off as Shogun’s well documented inconsistency. Perhaps it was more due to the fact that tall strikers are a tough out at 205. Or maybe… just maybe, Alexander is a hardened Viking competitor.
Regardless, we got to see a hurt and humbled Jon Jones. But the most exciting aspect of the competitive bout will be to see how both fighters respond. How they will grow and improve from the battle. I personally have this as the biggest story to look forward to in 2014.
Georges St Pierre
Georges has been under fire for quite a while. He’s been at the very top of an extremely competitive weight class for a very long time. And the poor guy just can’t seem to pick up a finish. He dominates, but doesn’t put away. Well, normally that’s how it goes.
At UFC 167 we were treated to an aberration. GSP couldn’t jab and shoot his way to a UD. Instead he had to scrape, scramble, and survive the final bell against Johny Hendricks, in what many people considered a robbery of a decision.
I won’t go that far, but I must admit that I gave Hendricks the nod on my personal scorecard. Though the fight was much closer than many pundits made it out to be. This awkward ending accompanied by an awkward exit from the sport by GSP left a bad taste in my mouth, but it has set up a very interesting title match, and left room for a fire fight in the top 5 of the division to battle for UFC gold. An exciting prospect that hasn’t really been feasible for nearly a decade.
There weren’t an excess of supporters giving Chris Weidman much of a shot going into his first fight with Anderson Silva. Silva’s title defenses were just unfolding inevitabilities. You simply knew he’d take the first round off, and then show you something incredible.
Well, that still ended up being a fairly accurate assessment.
Ray Longo and Matt Serra knew he could do shock the world. And Weidman himself must have thought so, because he opted to renegotiate his contract following his first title fight with Anderson. A savvy bit of foresight that pocketed the New York native a pretty penny.
Silva paraded his reaction time a bit too carelessly and got caught with a left hook he never saw coming. It was like letting the air out of the balloon, or snatching Keanu Reeves out of slow motion and watching him tumble to the floor. The un-killable, and invincible champion of this generation was at last dethroned, and the middleweight strap was in American hands. It’s the beginning of a new era, and the start of an extremely promising career.
And despite all the cries of "fluke" or "freak accident," Weidman beat the Spider again, this time with destructively cringe inducing defense. The check seen round the world shattered Silva’s shin bone, and effectively put the great champion and his legacy to rest. A chapter closed, though perhaps there’s yet an unwritten epilogue. 6 to 9 months will have to pass before Silva is able to train again, but I think it’s safe to say at this point that his days as champion are finished for good.
The Duality of Mortality
3 champions were hurt this year, and shown to be extremely human in their limitations. It certainly made for exciting spectating and an even more exciting uncertainty in the atmosphere. No one is invincible, nothing is safe, and our lives are hanging by a single pendulous thread.
Unfortunately, these theoretical examples aren’t the only scenarios that illustrated these truths this year. Two fighters were made to look mortal outside of the cage in very tragic circumstances.
Grice, after competing in an early FOTY candidate with Dennis Bermudez at UFC, took a different kind of hit in September. He was hit in a car while standing still at an intersection. By a driver moving at a speed of 65 miles per hour.
We talk about car crash level collisions in an effort at hyperbole in our sport, and this is why. Matt Grice should have been killed. The paramedics told his wife as much, and the way he’s bounced back shows what kind of true competitive spirit the guy really has.
They removed a portion of his freaking skull to alleviate brain swelling, and he wants to get back into the cage and fight. My hat’s off to Matt Grice, whose massive balls can be viewed from orbit.
On the other side of that coin, former UFC heavyweight Shane Del Rosario, fought with circumstance as well this year. The battle, unfortunately, did not go as well for him. After suffering back to back heart attacks, Del Rosario’s heart gave out far before its time, and really capitalizing the theme of uncertainty that dominated this year.
It seems wrong to end a synopsis of such an exciting year on a somber note, but it’s important to put these incredible performances in proper perspective. With cries for GSP to return, for Silva to miraculously recover, and Jones to immediately defend his belt still ringing in my ears, I think it extremely appropriate to afford these warriors with due respect, and recognize the stakes of the game that they play.
Larger than life figures battle for our entertainment and they deserve at least that much: our recognition, praise, and appreciation. And moreover, our patient understanding when the curtain closes on careers and opens on new possibilities. There’s a new year ahead of us, and a new set of prospects, promises, and potentials to consider.
MMA’s golden age is unfolding before our very eyes. Enjoy, appreciate, and try to keep your complaining to a minimum folks.