Before I begin, I want to offer up my sympathy to Anderson Silva and Anderson Silva’s leg. The past 5 days have been rough for me, as my family has experienced two deaths. Well, this felt like a family member dying. It really did. When people close to us die, the rhetoric is sometimes “This puts things in perspective … this lets us know what really matters.”
Agreed. But, that said, sports still matter. MMA still matters to me. I tuned into UFC 168 hoping to see some good fights and maybe forget about the turmoil my family and I were going through for a few hours. Instead, more turmoil. To see Anderson in agony like that, knowing that his career is likely over on such a sour note, was truly sad. If he ever comes back at even half of what he was, he’s even more of an all time MMA hero.
Let’s get to the fights of the year.
This is one of the most exciting, dramatic years I can remember since getting into MMA. 2007 obviously stands out, with all the stunning upsets and the untimely death of PRIDE. But 2013? I don’t know exactly where it ranks in “all time batshit crazy MMA years”, but it has to be up there. Before we get to my personal picks for “2013 Fight of the Year”, here are a few honorable mentions …
Matt Brown vs. Jordan Mein (The emergence of Matt Brown is one of the craziest subplots in UFC history. It used to be, most guys with a pulse could tap this guy. Now, he’s a dangerous maniac wherever the fight goes. Wild fight in which Brown took out the underrated Mein)
Alexander Shlemenko vs. Brett Cooper (A fun barnburner, no matter how you slice it)
Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson (an underrated tactical battle)
Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler II (Which was Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler II)
Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann (Stann retired, Wanderlei will probably sit on the shelf for another 7 years before he fights again)
Fight of the Year
Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice @ UFC 157
On paper, this appeared to be a solid featherweight preliminary fight, which you could have said about 2,103 other UFC bouts this year. Nobody expected these two to go out and freak out on each other the way they did. Realistically, this was a solid wrestler with bad luck fighting an Ultimate Fighter runner up who didn’t seem to have any skills that were even remotely elite. This fight boiled down to two big factors: The power and hittable head of Dennis Bermudez, and the improved boxing and zombie-like punch absorption by Matt Grice.
Grice, coming off of a UFC tenure filled with failed opportunities and downright awful luck, came out of the gate and boxed Denny B. around the octagon for two rounds. He landed clean hook after clean hook, and Bermudez appeared to be figuratively finished. He just didn’t have the skills or the maturity that Grice had.
Then the third round happened, and Bermudez teed off on Grice to the point that I almost WANTED Grice to fall. He didn’t. I have never seen a guy take that many clean, hard punches without falling down. Never. Sure, heavyweights tee off on each other, but this was different. This was two small men fighting like they both weighed 225 pounds. This was a tremendously fun fight to watch, and watching it now is poignant because of Matt Grice’s bummer of a car accident that likely ended his fighting career. What a way to go out.
Honestly, I can’t fully put into words why this fight had such a profound effect on me. There were far more high level, more meaningful fights that happened in 2013. It just did. I’m not a good enough writer to describe it. Beautiful fight.
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson @ UFC 165
I almost always prefer to watch fights with the sound on, mostly because I want to hear the crowd. However, in fights like this, I end up just hearing really weird and obvious favoritism. Joe Rogan sometimes decides in the first minute of the fight that he likes the way a guy is fighting, and then subsequently calls the rest of the fight from that point. Joe, I think you’re great. But you gotta tone it down sometimes.
This was a great contest not because of it’s insane, high octane action, but because of the accumulation of damage both men inflicted on each other (and with totally different techniques).
It’s my favorite Jones performance by far. He silenced his harshest critics that accused him of being a front runner, a softy, precisely the kind of guy who would crumble as soon as things weren’t going his way. No more. He’ll always have his haters, but nobody can say with a straight face that Jon Jones isn’t tough. Gustafsson was drumming him with hard, clean combos, and the fight looked like it might be slipping away from Jon. He answered with a resounding series of elbows and knees against the cage to end the 4th, and by the 5th, Alex was shot. Great fight for both men, great resilience shown by both men, and a fight I undoubtedly want to see again in 2014.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez @ UFC 166
Almost every single punching exchange in this fight (and there were many) consisted of Diego wading in with slow, plodding hooks, missing, and getting nailed with Gil’s straight right. This happened over and over and over again, and Gil just kept landing that right hand, moving it back to his chin, and landing it again. It was like watching a spirited game of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, only if one of the robots was a ghost.
In the third round, Diego finally connected with a big punch that sent Gilbert to the canvas, and all of a sudden people mistook this as Diego somehow making the fight A) closer and B) more awesome. While “B” is true, “A” is not. Diego Sanchez is one of the toughest people on the planet, and I admire him. But this was a drubbing.
The only reason I’m including this on the list is because I want to clarify that this was not even close to being the fight of the year. It was 2013′s token “Wild and wooly fight that was entertaining enough to make people forget that it was a one sided ass kicking”. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a riveting 15 minutes. It definitely was. But does it stand up to other fights on this list? Hardly.
“I think we’re the two best lightweights out there, bro.” – Diego Sanchez to Gil Melendez backstage after this fight, proving that Gil did significant damage to whatever brain activity Diego Sanchez had left
Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva @ UFC Fight Night 33
This is going to come off as suspect, since this fight basically just happened. But this is the fight of the year to me.
I can’t believe this fight went 5 rounds. I can’t believe this fight went 5 rounds, at heavyweight. I can’t believe this fight went 5 rounds, at heavyweight, with all rounds being fought at a reasonably high level considering the damage done by both fighters. I can’t believe Bigfoot took one of Mark Hunt’s best punches and kept fighting, considering his checkered history of being hit with other dudes’ best punches. I can’t believe Mark Hunt fought all five rounds at UFC level, hitting much needed takedowns, landing enough left hooks to make Muhammad Ali blush, and fighting through horrible positions and terrible spots with adversity that could only be described as “Mark Hunt-ish”. I can’t believe the awesomeness of the Australian crowd, who, while clearly rooting for Hunt, were also cheering for Bigfoot by the end of the fight (They knew this was bigger than playing favorites … more than could be said for any Brazilian crowd. Just saying.)
This fight had more momentum shifts than a triple OT basketball game. It really should have been announced by the guy who does horse racing, or just a straight up auctioneer.
(That reminds me, in all seriousness, I wish Rogan and Goldie had called this one. Kenny and Jon can be good when it comes to even keeled, thoughtful analysis, but they just don’t match the energy needed to call a brawl like this. We needed Rogan’s high pitched “OOOHHHH!!!” and Goldie shrieking “TOE TO TOE!!” We just did.)
Three more things that made this fight so fantastic, and then I’m done:
1. The most exciting, awe inspiring action of a UFC heavyweight fight took place in the fourth and fifth rounds. Thank goodness for five round non-title fights. Also, thank goodness for a good heavyweight fight every once in awhile.
2. Upon first watch, I had the fight 48-47 for Hunt. Upon second, I had it 48-47 for Silva.
3. And that’s what made the draw so cool.
Happy New Year.