We’ve played witness to some stunning career declines this year. Former champions have fallen left and right, while proposed “prospects” have run into brick walls when making the leap to the big leagues. I suppose that’s the nature of the beast, as combat sports aren’t often associated with overtly lengthy reigns as “top dog”. The business is brutal, and it takes a toll on both the body and the mind. In fact, in regards to mixed martial arts, a successful 10 year career is a damn respectable accomplishment. Some manage to surpass that, while some strive but come up short. Here now, is a look at some of the most noteworthy career declines of 2011.
Two years ago B.J. Penn was not only a pound for pound considerate he was also viewed as unbeatable while competing at 155 pounds. In 2010 Frankie Edgar proved that to be a myth, as the Jersey native dethroned the champion at UFC 112, and turned in an even more impressive showing in their immediate rematch at UFC 118. Penn had been knocked from his lightweight pedestal, but given the success he’s enjoyed at 170 pounds in the past, most believed plenty of options remained for the Hawaiian. 2011 only served to reignite heated debate in regards to Penn’s future. In his first fight of the year Penn battled Jon Fitch, and looked solid for a round and a half. Penn faded in the latter portions of the fight however, and Fitch was able to battle back to eek out a majority draw. While there’s no shame in fighting Jon Fitch to a draw, Penn would be embarrassed in his next outing, as he met the tough-as-nails Stockton anti-hero, Nick Diaz. Penn looked fantastic for five minutes, but upon the bell signaling the second round, Diaz took complete control of the contest, and battered his way to a unanimous decision win over the former champ. After the fight Penn announced his retirement, though he’s since recanted, to an extent, claiming uncertainty as to whether he will or will not compete again.
Mirko “Crocop” Filipovic
“Crocop’s” career has been on the decline for a number of years, but 2011 really reminded longtime fans of the Croation’s rapidly diminishing skills. Fighting only twice in the calendar year, Crocop was blasted by heavy shots and left unconscious in both affairs. Brendan Schaub first victimized the one time Pride tournament champion at UFC 128: While Mirko kept the fight interesting for the better portion of 15 minutes, fatigue and a bit of carelessness eventually enabled Schaub to land a series of strikes that put the legend down and out with less than two minutes remaining in the fight. Crocop would return at UFC 137 to meet Roy Nelson in an intriguing striker versus grappler contest. The grappler won, decisively, and the loss triggered the announcement of Filipovic’s retirement. Coincidentally it was the same evening in which Penn was felled and announced his departure from the sport.
Although Dan only fought twice this year, just as our previous two entrants on this list, he hasn’t picked up a victory since 2009; dropping four consecutive fights. This year the outspoken Englishman met Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle inside the cage, and both men had their way with the one-time title challenger. After dropping Hardy with a high kick, Johnson utilized his wrestling to completely stifle “the Outlaw’s” offense. Lytle in contrast offered forth a noteworthy display of striking, as he bettered Dan while exchanging a plethora of strikes from the vertical position. It wasn’t until the fights final moments that the action hit the mat; Hardy attempted a takedown, only to get sucked into a perfect guillotine choke from Lytle. Though Hardy exited the cage the loser, it was Chris Lytle who announced his retirement.
Fedor hasn’t had the worst year when compared to this lists other selections (he’s gone 1-2 as of today), but when you consider his overall legacy, suffering back-to-back stoppage defeats is a glaring blemish on a hypnotizing ledger. Fedor kicked the year off by taking on the massive Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in February. The Brazilian managed to control the fight, and unleash enough ground and pound to warrant a referee stoppage after two rounds of competition; the fight would mark the first time Fedor had been truly outclassed. He returned to competition five months later to meet one of the sports’ most dangerous competitors in Dan “Hendo” Henderson, and while Emelianenko looked impressive early, swarming and flooring Henderson, his pursuit of the finish provided the only opening Henderson would need to finish the fight. Just over four minutes into the bout “Hendo” gained superior positioning during a scramble and snuck an uppercut through the guard of Fedor. Fedor crumbled face first to the mat, and Dan swarmed for the finish. While Emelianenko proved he still has something to offer the heavyweight division by thoroughly battering Jeff Monson in November, it’s evident that he’s no longer the man to beat north of 205 pounds.
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