|Image via CombatLifestyle.com|
Ah 2011, you have been an epic year full of movers and shakers for the sport of MMA. From Zuffa's acquisition of chief rival Strikeforce, the UFC's network debut on FOX, selling out the 55,000 large Rogers Center, all the way to fall of the old guard in MMA and the rise of young phenoms like Jon Jones, 2011 was the beginning of that next major step necessary for this young sport. New divisions and new faces paved the way to a year of exciting events, fights, and moments.
Many websites have covered the year's most significant and monumental moments ad nauseum , and to be certain, none of us can deny how great an impact many of the events of 2011 will leave. However, here at It's MMAzing, we decided to simply take a look at what we enjoyed personally from the year of events. There were moments that were good for the sport, good for media coverage, great for business, but our moments here, were great to us simply because we are fans.
1. Tito Ortiz and the return of the Grave Digger
I'll be honest, I make jokes about Tito just like most fans do nowadays, but that doesn't mean that I don't remember what Tito has meant to this sport. As a kid in middle school, you loved Tito. The guy was a star, he had personality, and to this day he's been the best COACH through the seasons of TUF. He has fallen on many hard times over the last few years up to the point that his name has become a punch line in most circles. But oh boy, when he finally got that win against Ryan Bader? The roof came off. Tito had been known for his demonstrative displays of victory and disrespect. Before the Diaz brothers entered the fray, you had Tito with the smoking gun middle fingers. Tito's guillotine choke victory and subsequent Grave Digger celebration routine brought this nostalgic rush of joy where me and the boys were just on our feet yelling in the living room. I think I ran a lap around the room letting out some Ric Flair "WOOOO"s.
2. The War to End them all
Myself and the It's MMAzing staff have been very fortunate that every event we have attended has held some type of historical significance in the sport, or some jaw dropping moment. We saw Anderson's triangle choke hail mary on Chael, his front kick to Vitor, Fedor's first real loss, the ascent of Nick Diaz against BJ Penn, the coronation of the Jon Jones era, and even the WEC's sole ppv of Aldo vs Faber. However, the war that stood above them occurred on one fateful San Jose eve, as Dan Henderson took on Shogun Rua. There are a lot of fights out there that are billed into being wars, but then usually you get a fast KO, or a one-sided beatdown, but this matchup led to everything you could hope for. Displays of the massive power each man possesses in their striking, to the legen... wait for it... dary chins and resilience these men have been known for. Everyone was on their feet from start to finish in the HP Pavilion that night, and in between rounds you just heard murmurs from everyone talking to each other about how they might just be witness to something historic here. Slightly controversial decision at the end be damned, you couldn't do a damn thing but applaud after what those two warriors left for the fans in the cage. Oh, and getting to yell "PRIDE NEVER DIE!" belligerently always makes for a great evening.
1. ZUFFA purchases Strikeforce
On March 13, 2011 Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC announced, with the help of the best reporter in MMA, Ariel Helwani, that they had purchased Strikeforce from Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment. This was news that absolutely NOBODY was expecting. I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was in Brooklyn with Mike (Lavender Gooms) waiting outside of Peter Luger Steak House (because that's how we roll) for some friends to show up. I checked MMAFighting.com on my phone and saw the link to Helwani's interview with Dana White. When I told Mike the news, he said "wait, what" at least 4 times. We were both completely shocked and immediately thought of the possibility of seeing guys like Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz in the UFC. Don't get me wrong, I always enjoyed watching Strikeforce fights and they were, as DJ Mark put it, "our" MMA promotion, given their Bay Area roots. However, their attempts to compete with the UFC likely lead to their downfall. In any case, their ability to put on an entertaining card (almost always filled with 1 or 2 squash fights) ensures that they will not be forgotten.
2. Nick Diaz's post fight interview from UFC 137.
UFC 137 marked the second It's MMAzing staff trip to a UFC fight in 2011; the first being Anderson Silva's defeat of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 via kick to the grill. We all went from excited to see Diaz getting a shot, to unhappy that he was off the card, to happy he was back on the card, to angry that GSP owed us at least $80 because of the inflation his name adds to ticket prices.
All of that went away after we saw Nick Diaz absolutely beat the stuffing out of BJ Penn like no one had before. In front of a very pro-Penn crowd, Diaz put on an absolutely fantastic performance in the most important fight of his career. What really was memorable for me, however, were the events that took place after the fight. Before the decision was read, Diaz started stomping around the cage yelling "I won that sh*t." After the referee raised his hand, Nick screamed at "Where you at Georges! Where you at motherf*cker!" He then proceeded to tell Joe Rogan how scared GSP was and how he wasn't really injured. Most importantly, he left you with the gem you see below about Joe Rogan's podcast which was, for avid listeners like me, simply awesome.
DJ Mark with a "K":
2011 was a hell of a year for MMA, we had amazing fights, huge steps for the sport itself and have seen new stars rise to the top. However, there were two things that really stuck out for me.
1. The Reem beating Lesnar.
Maybe it sticks out cause it just happened, maybe it sticks out because I won the beard bet, but the real reason Alistair's win sticks out is because I ABSOLUTELY LOVE it when the Reem wins with a body shot! I was in the crowd when he won the Strikeforce belt from Paul Buentello with a knee to the body and I lost my shit. See someone getting a sub or clean KO isn't as satisfying to me because guys always just say they got caught, with a body shot you lose cause the pain is so intense you just want to curl up and cry, and seeing Brock do it cause of Alistair was just awesome sauce served on a plate of justice.
2. Ronda Rousey breathes life back into womens MMA. Ronda on the other hand is the fresh new blood that women's MMA needs. She's a hell of a fighter, a great self promoter and she's gorgeous. She'll bring interesting match ups to both the 145 and 135 divisions.
This was definitely a year to remember. One of my favorite moments of the year was back in February at the Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort fight. It was the first UFC event that I ever attended. Seeing the introduction montage while Teenage Wasteland was playing in the background got me hyped like crazy. Going to that event with the Doc, the DJ and the “Kid” (this group of degenerates), along with the rest of that crazy weekend was good times. Keeping in line with Brazilians kicking the fillings out of people’s teeth, Machida going “Daniel-san” on poor Randy Couture mouth was a sight to see as well. Every athlete wants to go out with a spectacular finish and The Natural got his wish granted, although he was probably on the wrong end of that finish if you ask him (or anyone else).
Witnessing the first ever twister submission, courtesy of the Korean Zombie. I was expecting him to have another war with Leonard Garcia, it didn’t disappoint and a sick submission to end the fight put it high on the “Holy Sh@t!” meter.
Another stellar moment has to be during the Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn fight. Among the 100 people in our section, I’m pretty sure we were the only ones cheering for Nick Diaz. I love BJ Penn, but if I’m not driving I’m at least riding shotgun on the Diaz bandwagon, so his baptizing of Penn was special to watch live. As Diaz was putting in the work on Penn, me and the boys were the only ones cheering him on amongst a large throng of people that LOVED Penn. There were moments I thought we might get jumped.
And graduating from law school was also a special moment for me as well. Although I knew I still had a summer of bar prep to kick my ass right around the corner, it was cool to reflect back on the last three years. And I’ll never have the opportunity to wear graduation robes again. I’ll never be able to dress like I’m a student from Gryffindor again, so that’s depressing.