Between Junior Dos Santos’s knee injury, Strikeforce phasing out their heavyweight division in 2012, and the general lack of UFC heavyweight fights lately (just three in their last five events, to be exact), it seems like MMA’s big-man scene is in hibernation mode.
But starting with Friday night’s UFC 141 main event of Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem — promoted as the “biggest” fight of the year — and continuing on to Josh Barnett vs. Daniel Cormier in March, the action among 265′ers is about to start heating up. With that mind, we decided to pay tribute to the greatest and most important heavyweight MMA fights from this past year. Enjoy, and let us know if we left out any of your favorites…
#6. DANIEL CORMIER vs. ANTONIO SILVA
Strikeforce World Grand Prix: Barnett vs. Kharitonov, 9/10/11
What happened: The smaller man fought like a giant. Cormier landed his punches at will and easily shrugged off Silva’s attempts to take the fight to the ground. Entering the tournament as an alternate, Cormier punched his ticket to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix finals with a hook/uppercut combo that stiffened the Brazilian Frankenstein.
What we learned: Undersized doesn’t always mean outgunned — and a big chin doesn’t always mean a strong chin.
#5. ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA vs. BRENDAN SCHAUB
UFC 134, 8/27/11
What happened: After smashing Mirko Cro Cop in his previous outing, Brendan Schaub was looking to put another aging veteran out to pasture. But with Brazil’s adoring fans at his back, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira stayed calm and confident until his found his opening, blitzing Schaub’s jaw with power-punches. And the crowd goes wild…
What we learned: Never count out an MMA legend against a TUF finalist.
#4. JUNIOR DOS SANTOS vs. CAIN VELASQUEZ
UFC on FOX 1, 11/12/11
Dos Santos KO Velasquez by Mazden90
What happened: A historic five-round fight on network television that only lasted 64 seconds. Once JDS connected on an overhand right to Cain’s ear, Velasquez’s title reign quickly entered “one and done” status.
What we learned: Nobody, except for maybe Alistair Overeem, should try standing and trading with Junior Dos Santos. The UFC heavyweight belt is one seriously hot potato.
#3. DAN HENDERSON vs. FEDOR EMELIANENKO
Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson, 7/30/11
036 – Fedor Emelianenko Vs Dan Henderson -… by vinniciusmachado
What happened: Riding a late-career surge, Dan Henderson decided to challenge a heavyweight icon. The frantic one-round thriller ended with Henderson slipping in a knockout uppercut from behind. Hendo picked up one of the greatest wins of his career, and the once-invincible Russian increased his losing skid to three.
What we learned: When legends decline, they decline fast. But as long as Dan Henderson has his H-Bomb, he’s a danger to anybody in the sport, from middleweight to heavyweight.
#2. FRANK MIR vs. ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA
UFC 140, 12/10/11
What happened: Looking to redeem himself from his previous TKO loss to Mir in December 2008, Nogueira came out strong and managed to rock Mir standing. But instead of going for the kill with follow-up strikes, Big Nog tried to finish on the ground with a submission. Mir reversed him and snapped his arm with a kimura at 3:38 of the first round.
What we learned: Hubris can sink even the most experienced fighters, and Frank Mir still enjoys a good bone-breaking.
#1. CHEICK KONGO vs. PAT BARRY
UFC on Versus 4, 6/26/11
What happened: Pat Barry knocked Kongo out twice — then Kongo knocked Barry out for good. One of the greatest “back from the dead” fights in MMA history
What we learned: Referee Dan Miragliotta knows what he’s doing sometimes. Growing a Kimbo-beard can give you brief periods of invincibility.