Greatest Fight Cancelled Due to Injury: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar
Well, this was a rather competitive category this year, given that 2012 was the year of horrible, mind-boggling, sport-killing injuries. There were so many to choose from, and I can’t help but given an honorable mention here to Jon Jones’s ill-fated title defense against Dan Henderson, which was scrapped, along with the entirety of UFC 151, when Henderson blew out his knee. The less said about that whole incident, the better.
But when it comes down to it, even though that cancellation made history and provided the inspiration for one of Dana White’s most hyperbolic quotes of all time – which is saying something – there’s no way you can’t not pick Frankie Edgar’s drop to featherweight to take on Jose Aldo as the greatest “could have been” of 2012. Yeah, we get to see this fight in about a month, but still. This was a chance to see Edgar, one of the best boxers in MMA, an excellent wrestler, and viewed by many as the true lightweight champion, face Aldo, the undisputed featherweight champion and the best pure offensive fighter in the sport.
On paper, this was the fight of the year, bar none. Off paper, it didn’t even happen. Hopefully Zuffa will learn from this, and avoid desecrating any more Native American burial grounds or invoking the wrath of ancient Sumerian deities.
Or, you know, they could stop giving their fighters motorcycles. - George Shunick
The Minowaman Freak Show Hall-of-Fame Award: Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar @ UFC 153 (10/13/12)
If there’s one thing I appreciate as a Minowaman fan, it’s a good ol’ fashioned freak show fight. Regardless of what the UFC tries to say about its stance on booking such matches, I know one when I see it. Using my patented Minowaman Formula, I’ve concluded that the UFC produced one of the absolute best freak show fights of all time this year, possibly without even trying.
The Minowaman Formula for a memorable freak show fight involves putting a mediocre fighter against a far superior, yet smaller opponent outside of the United States, testing whether a few extra pounds are a comparable substitution for actual talent. As the main event of UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar passed this test with flying colors.
Freak Show purists may argue that having Anderson Silva fight against someone only one weight class higher than his natural weight class — and not in an open-weight fight, either — would disqualify this fight from freak show status. To which I say no: The fact that Silva was fighting someone reasonably close to his size only made this fight more awesome. Unlike Minowaman, Anderson Silva didn’t have to worry about being crushed by someone hundreds of pounds heavier than him with one lucky punch. His situation was simply being locked in a cage with a far inferior opponent who held a slight size advantage, and holy cannoli did it show.
Silva fought as if he was personally addressing every fan who felt that this fight wasn’t a total freak show. As sportswriters, we often write that fighters landed strikes at will or made their opponents look like amateurs. In this case, Anderson Silva genuinely did those things. Silva started the fight as if he knew his biggest enemy bet his life savings on Bonnar surviving until the second round, making it look like Bonnar actually stood a chance at winning. When that got boring, he put his back against the cage, calmly stepping away from punches and kicks from Bonnar only to walk right back to where he was standing and lean against the cage again. Once Silva felt that the fans got their money’s worth, he knocked Bonnar out. It was glorious. It was terrifying. It was the best ending to a freak show fight I’ve seen since Genki Sudo was still competing. - Seth Falvo
Honorable Mentions: Cody McKenzie vs. Chad Mendes @ UFC 148, the 62-year-old who taught Chael Sonnen how to throw a spinning backfist vs. Weeg Hewson
Most Satisfying Beatdown: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Dave Herman @ UFC 153 (10/13/12)
Unfortunately, Michael Bisping did not see Christ through a superior opponent’s fists this year, so as much as we’d like to include him here, we cannot in good conscience. Likewise, although Anderson Silva was finally able to end the fanboy debate regarding Chael Sonnen: True Middleweight Champion, the ending of their fight came so unexpectedly and quickly that it left many of us who were hoping to see Sonnen beat within an inch of his life rather disappointed. So with all that in mind, there is no fighter out there who talked himself into a karmatic ass-whooping quite like Dave “Jiu-Jitsu Doesn’t Work” Herman did against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 153.
You see, Big Nog is kind of like the dog you’ve had since you were a child. Sure, nowadays he wheezes when he breathes and shivers when he poops, but God damn it, you love him and you are not prepared to let him go gently into that good night. But when Nogueira had his arm snapped by Frank Mir at UFC 140, that was our “Old Yeller defends the family from a rabies-infected wolf” moment, and we were finally ready to take Big Nog behind the shed for a tear-filled, 12-gauge goodbye. But miraculously, Nog Dog was able to not only rid himself of the rabies that had once ravaged his system, but was able to track down the wolf’s shit-talking, stoner brother and bring us a beautiful, polished European mount of his head at UFC 153. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Maybe it was because Herman approached Jiu Jitsu with the attitude of a certain homophobic Sport’s Illustrated writer, or maybe it was because he chose to spend the majority of two rounds mirroring Paulo Filho circa 2008, but when Nogueira was able to drop, then submit Herman in the fashion he did, we’d like to imagine that a thousand angels were given their wings black belts. Because even if we never see Nogueira score another win in the Octagon before he decides to retire, the fact that he was able to defend the honor of BJJ practitioners worldwide at UFC 153 will forever be remembered as the perfect conclusion to a legendary career. - Jared Jones
Honorable Mention: Nate Marquardt vs. Tyron Woodley @ Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy.
Comeback Fighter of the Year: Demian Maia
Did you Taters really think that I would get several assignments for the 2012 Potato Award ceremony and not mention my man, Georges St. Pierre? Well, all the haters can save their breath because GSP miraculously is not my winner for this category even though he probably deserves it. Instead, I am going to be rational and bestow the honors on Demian Maia and his rebirth in the welterweight division. Maia broke even with a record of 4-4 during his last eight fights at middleweight, and all but one of those went the distance (his knockout loss to Nate Marquardt). Don’t get me wrong, I would totally kill hobos while dressed like Minnie Pearl to win four fights in the UFC, but Maia had clearly hit a plateau and he took the necessary steps to continue being a paid fighter because he was closing in on a CP headline that included his name and the words “And Now He’s Fired.” Maia dropped to 170 lbs and TKO’d Dong Hyun Kim and then he literally milked Rick Story’s brain (which in all fairness made him the victor in this category because that double nose blood squirt was freaking awesome). Now, Maia is a win or two away from getting a shot at the welterweight champion — and losing in awesome fashion, probably via submission due to handsomeness. *SWOON* - Nathan Smith
Honorable mention: Matt Brown