When it is put in the record books 2012 was a year of challenges for Zuffa to say the least. With so many fights broken up due to injuries, especially those in the main event, 2012 was a challenging year to say the least. But the in-ring action was still up to par in nearly every card, even in a year where the prevailing wisdom was to wait until a week before the card to see who was still left standing.
I did this a year ago and this year had just as much to discuss as it did a year ago. Thus come the Top 12 moments of 2012. If you want to talk about movies, as well, feel free to check out my Top 10 Films of 2012 of Inside Pulse.com
Georges St. Pierre was close to pulling out of his UFC title fight against Carlos Condit because he felt he didn’t have it anymore six weeks before. Four weeks before he finally got it together and looked like the man we all know and love. And then, after all this trouble after nearly two years away from the cage with knee injuries, came out and completely dominated Carlos Condit in four of five rounds. He even survived an early knockdown in the third, rebounding from a near certain stoppage to nearly take that round as well.
One can see why he wasn’t thrilled to take the superfight with Anderson Silva so soon in retrospect; he’s not feeling 100% right now and wants another fight or two underneath his belt to have that feeling of being back all the way.
It didn’t make a ton of sense at the time if you thought Miguel Torres was still a top tier fighter in the bantamweight division. So when he got knocked out cold by Michael MacDonald, and then cut, it seemed a bit gratuitous to cut the man from the roster when he still was potentially a Top 10 fighter. Turns out his love of tweeting jokes about forced sex were his downfall and his subsequent loss to a relatively unknown fighter on the inaugural World Series of Fighting card made Zuffa’s decision seem all that more justified.
One of the things that seperates fighters from their counterparts in the professional athlete realm is that they don’t have nearly the scrutiny. With MMA getting bigger expect incidents like this to be a bellwether for changes in fighter behavior in terms of how they tweet, et al.
In retrospect running into the crowd may not have been the best thing he could’ve done considering the sorts of people who can be in an MMA crowd. However he did it in Brazil in front of a partisan crowd after one of the best knockouts of the year, so he was probably safe. And the sight of him being carried back into the cage made for one of the best visuals of the year, as well. It may have been UFC security bringing him back to the cage, not the fans, but I like to remember it as a country embracing a native son in a career-defining victory and bringing him back in to claim the trophy for that night’s kill.
Cain Velasquez is the best heavyweight in the world right now. It used to be JDS, who held the distinction (and the UFC heavyweight title) after knocking out Cain and Frank Mir (amongst others). Any normal human being would’ve wilted in the first round. JDS survived 25 minutes of Cain Velasquez, the man with a legendary gas tank who emptied it to beat the now former champion. I’ve had them both as 1a and 1b in terms of the heavyweight division, as there’s a clear gap between them and the rest of the heavyweight world. On the final card of the year Cain vs. JDS lived up to the hype and the fact that JDS survived that whooping only made everyone look at him in a higher light. It’s hard to think of a fighter who took that sort of beating and came out in a better light.
Between TUF: Live, Brazilian and Australian editions as well as a taped version with Shane Carwin vs. Roy Nelson the series didn’t do much to connect with fans on Friday nights. It’s the one downside of TUF, which is kind of like “American Idol” in that it still serves a purpose but needed a massive format change several years ago to stay relevant as compelling television. And with two foreign versions of the show, alongside two seasons of American fighters competing for the right to be in the UFC, none of them were all that relevant or noteworthy.
The Korean Zombie and Matt Serra’s prodigal fighter impressed on Fuel TV cards that no one saw. Weidman wrecked Mark Munoz in ways Munoz never thought he could be wrecked a couple of days after the biggest card of the year. Sung wrecked Dustin Poirier in a card that few saw (but should’ve). Both men were also on the verge of getting title shots based on these performances, as well, but got hurt en route to another fight on a bigger card.
You know the craziness about UFC 151 was that Dan Henderson waited until the last minute to tell the brass that he got hurt and no one blamed him en masse, right? Nearly a month out and he was hurt, no one knew, and the week before he pulls out and Jon Jones doesn’t take a last minute fight against a dangerous opponent with no prep time. I’ve been following Henderson since he was a Greco-Roman wrestler for the U.S team, back when he was nicknamed “Hollywood” by a lot of wrestling community types because he was an ugly SOB, and I had no problem with Jones pulling out.
I think he was unfairly blamed and he (and Greg Jackson) was both unfairly criticized for doing the right thing with millions on the line. Hendo has kind of walked away blame free in all of this despite the fact that if he’d said something earlier UFC 151 could’ve been saved. Jones took Vitor on three weeks’ notice and he could’ve taken someone else with close to similar notice. The funny thing about all of this is that Hendo walks away unscathed in the realm of public opinion because people never really looked at him as being at fault; Jon Jones was supposed to just take someone much different on no notice because “that’s the way things are supposed to happen.”
I even had a friend of mine discuss how he thought Dana should’ve cut Jones to “send a message” … a lot of people just blamed Jon Jones for not taking a last minute fight that wasn’t towards his liking. Shawn and I had an Epic Debate about this but it was the first blow towards fighters having a bigger say in things. Forget all the talk about unions and such; that’s only going to happen when Fox ponies up enough cash to make the UFC move away from PPV entirely ala the NFL. When sports broadcast fees for MMA reach NFL level cash, as their current Fox deal is a drop in the bucket of what Roger Goodell got for the NFL, then a union will happen.
Right now it won’t but Jones exercising his rights is going to be a much bigger thing in the future and a much better thing for fighters as well. That’s the biggest thing to take away from all of this and I think it’s going to end up becoming a much bigger issue in years to come. With the money increasing for guys on top it’s going to give them the ability to have a stronger say in their careers. Jon Jones said no when plenty of fighters would’ve said yes in years past. That’s going to mean something for the future, of course, and if/when MMA gets significantly bigger it’ll be a moment people point to for a lot of reasons.
To put it in a different way: there was a time when for most fighters there wasn’t a massive difference between working regional shows and the UFC a fighter could take a replacement on with minimal time. It was just how things got done. Now, when the gap between working the RFA’s and MFC’s of the world and being on the UFC roster is noticeable, fighters are more protective of their careers.
What happens when you win a fight by being smart about it but it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing? People crap all over it because they feel you should fight to “entertain” a bunch of drunks watching a fist fight on a Saturday night instead of to win. It’s the craziness that is MMA sometimes, I think, in that people thought Carlos Condit would walk up to Nick Diaz and trade with him until one of them fell down instead of trying to, you know, win, because of some deep seated root to make sure they’re entertained before actually winning. It set the line in my mind from the difference in your fandom. If you were a former pro wrestling head who just wanted to see people “Just Bleed” you probably hated that Condit fought smart and pulled off a close win. You probably thought less of him because he chose to try and win instead of taking the cop out and trying to “entertain” people if you hated that fight.
If you are a sports fan that likes to see competition you had no problem with it because it made perfect sense to do so. Me I loved his strategy because I appreciate the sporting and strategy aspects of it. It brought out a more interesting point: in no other sport is there this weird dichotomy; you don’t hear football fans complaining that their team played to win instead of to “put on a good show” like you hear with many combat sports fans.
For years it always lingered around the K-1 champion that he was built with the best that anabolic steroids could provide. His resurgence as a heavyweight came with the muscle he kept gaining. He went from being a big light heavyweight to being a solid-sized heavyweight when he stopped cutting to 205. He then kept growing as eventually he began to cut weight to make 265. All the while he kept testing negative on urine tests the rumors persisted. It even became a running joke for a lot of people: “eating horse meat” became a euphemism for using steroids for many diehards. So when he pissed hot before his scheduled fight against Junior Dos Santos it was a moment that many people had been waiting for. His subsequent licensing hearing was the stuff of high comedy, as well, but it was one of the moments that many people had been waiting for.
If there ever was a fighter for whom people had significant doubts about it was Benson “Smooth” Henderson. Many people thought he lost two decisions to Frankie Edgar, once in Japan and then in Denver, and thought he was the definition of a paper champion. It was an easy pick to have Nate Diaz taking the lightweight title from him on 2011’s final UFC on Fox show, of course, and going in confidence in Henderson from everyone outside his camp had to be fairly low. I even picked Henderson to win in another awful decision the week before.
And then Benson Henderson gave out the shit-kicking of the year in a UFC title fight to the younger Diaz brother.
There was no doubt as to how good “Smooth” could be it was on display. He owned Nate Diaz in a way no one ever has and to do so in such emphatic fashion, in front of one of the biggest audiences to watch a fight on terrestrial television. If there ever was a star-making moment for a fighter that needed it UFC on Fox 5 was it for the man some call Bendo. Nate Diaz was fighting until the final bell, of course, but one thing was for certain. Benson Henderson had arrived and deserved his place as among the ten best fighters in the world regardless of weight class.
At this time a year ago only hardcore MMA fans knew who Ronda Rousey was and even less cared. Women’s MMA is tough to get into for even the most passionate of fans, much less the most powerful man in MMA in Dana White. You know how he got to embrace WMMA? Ronda Rousey destroying an entire division without mercy or compassion, that’s how. Women’s MMA is now tied to Rousey, for better or worse, as Zuffa is now getting their own Kimbo Slice. Dana White is right now praying that he doesn’t have own Petruzelli moment until he’s rang out as much blood from this stone as he can.
Right now Ronda is the fighter of the year, by far, because she’s poised to become a trailblazer of the highest order. This is potentially MMA’s Jackie Robinson moment; years from now this could either be either a little experiment that blew up in the UFC’s face or potentially something that changed the paradigm of MMA. Zuffa and Rousey are walking in the steps of giants right now.
There are times when you write about MMA like many of us do that a feeling sets in: dread. You tend to get jaded about events and fights after a while. It’s a grind and there are only a few times per year that a fight feels important, honestly, as many of them are enjoyable for what they are instead of having that big fight buzz around it. It was a problem in combat sports as a whole; even the year’s biggest boxing fights (Pacquiao vs. Marquez 4, Cotto vs. Mayweather) didn’t have the sort of luster they usually do. The rematch of 2010’s fight of the year was as big as it got in MMA and the feeling right beforehand was electric. It’s hard to get excited for every event, even if you’re Dana White, but only the most cynical of cynical MMA fans couldn’t get amped for this one.
I remember being at the bar with a friend of mine for the fight and there was electricity in the air right before the introductions. It was a moment in time that very rarely happens.