2011 proved a few very interesting things: veteran fighters with countless years of experience are still capable of evolving and remaining relevant, and the new breed of uber athletic fighters are every bit as frightening as their physique’s and potential ceilings would indicate. From the rejuvenation of Dan Henderson, to the otherworldly resilience of Frankie Edgar to the mesmerizing performances offered forth from Jon Jones, it’s been a great year for mixed martial arts, and these three particular men not only turned heads, but turned in remarkable years that command acknowledgement.
Nick’s been on absolute tear for three consecutive years, compiling 11 straight victories in that time; amazingly, all but two of those fights ended within the bouts allotted time frame. 2011 however, has perhaps been the most rewarding year of Nick’s storied career. Diaz took to the cage thrice this calendar year, taking on Evangelista Santos, Paul Daley and the legendary B.J. Penn. The Stockton native stopped both Santos and Daley in spectacular fashion before putting a serious beating on Penn in his return to the octagon at UFC 137. Not too shabby!
Believed to be on the downside of his nearly 15 year long career, 41 year old Dan Henderson proved all naysayers wrong this year. “Hendo” picked up three amazing victories inside of 2011, capturing a “Fight of the Year” nomination, the Strikeforce light heavyweight title and toppling the man most consider to be the greatest heavyweight of all time in the process. A first round TKO victory over former Pride heavyweight title holder, Fedor Emelianenko was bookended by a title winning stoppage over Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, and most recently a grueling five round decision victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in one of the sports’ most scintillating affairs. It looks like Randy Couture isn’t the only man alive capable of being a highly competitive post-40 year old fighter.
There is no man alive who had the year that young star, Jon “Bones” Jones experienced. Not only did the (now) 24 year old become the youngest man to capture UFC gold, he disposed of four incredibly talented fighters in the process. Ryan Bader served as Jones’ first challenge of the year: Bader nearly survived two rounds, but was never once truly in the fight, and he was forced to succumb to a tight guillotine choke late in the second frame. Jones’ next victim would be Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the Greg Jackson product’s first bid at UFC gold. Jones emerged victorious, as he absolutely throttled the champion for two and a half rounds before leaving the Brazilian a crumbled mess on the canvas, tapping the mat. Jones followed that bout up by being the first man to stop Quinton “Rampage” Jackson inside the octagon; the champion retained his belt in the fourth round, when a rear naked choke brought the bout to a halt.
In what may have been Jones’ most important fight to date, the young champion overcame adversity, as former champ Lyoto Machida managed to connect on the chin of “Bones” and do a fair job dictating the pace in the first round (two judges had scored the round for Jones, though I saw Machida being the far more effective striker). The second round however was a completely different story, and showcased Jones’ ability to make adjustments during the fight. A take-down from Jones led to a big elbow that opened up a sizeable gash on Machida’s forehead; moments later a tight standing guillotine choke left “The Dragon” unconscious.
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