The 2009 Inside Fights MMA Awards are finish with our fourth and final part where we reveal who won our Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year awards. You can check out Parts 1, 2 and 3 to see who won our other awards.
Fight of the Year
The ‘Fight of the Year’ award goes to the fight that was recognized as being exceptional due to the quality of the contest and its significance to the sport.
Winner: Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Combat sports are haunted by the matches that don’t happen as too often chance, greed and stupidity denies fight fans some of the big matches that define the sport. Separated first by oceans, then by legal battles and finally by bad timing it looked like Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira would be one of those matches that would exist only in our dreams. For years we wondered whether the Greco-Roman wrestling game of the UFC Hall of Famer would be enough to negate the grappling skills of the first-ever Pride FC Heavyweight Champion. The collapse of Pride should have paved the way for the fight but the legal battles between Couture and Zuffa prevented Nogueira from challenging him for the Heavyweight Title. The end of that legal battle in 2008 should have led to an unification match between the liner champion Couture and the interim champion Nogueira but the latter’s role as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter prevented that. Instead both defended their titles in the winter 2008 in separate matches and both lost their titles. In doing so the way had finally cleared for the fight to be made.
At first fight fans were excited as the long awaited match between the two of the most revered fighters in MMA history was announced as the headliner of UFC 102. But as fight day grew nearer many grew nervous. Stories were circulating of Nogueira looking old and beaten-up when backstage at UFC events and after his disappointing performance against Frank Mir some began to say that those infamous beatings he had withstood in Pride had finally caught up with him. And while Randy Couture had been competitive early on in his fight against Brock Lesnar many wondered how long a 46 year old man could compete at the very top of a combat sport. To add to all this, ticket sales were disappointing and a TV build based on mutual respect failed to excite casual fans.
And yet when they both stepped into the Octagon on August 29th all the worries about the health of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and the age of Randy Couture were dismissed and any disappointment about ticket sales and pay per view buys was forgotten. Because for one night it was once again 2002 and these were the two most important heavyweights in the sport.
While the twelve-thousand strong crowd heavily cheered the former Oregon resident Couture it was Nogueira who was the better man on the night. He outclassed Couture standing up showing better boxing technique and greater power, dropping The Natural in both the first and third rounds, stunning him in the second. He was able to frustrate the wrestling game that had been the key to many of his opponent historic victories, being able to stop several takedown attempts and on two occasions even sweep Couture. However this was not a one-sided blowout as Couture was competitive throughout showing impressive boxing technique in several excellent exchanges and effective grappling as he frustrated Nogueira’s submission attempts. When the fight was over, the once partisan crowd was united in the belief that Nogueira was the deserved winner and that they had seen something very special.
While 2009 saw fights that were more action-packed or involved greater levels of skill none were as significant of memorable as the first meeting of Randy Couture and Antino Rodergiuo Nogueria. It was ten years in the making but the final dream fight of the old UFC/Pride duopoly did not fail to live up to the expectations of fight fans worldwide.
Fighter of the Year
The fighter that through his in-ring victories and performances was the exceptional MMA competitor of 2009.
Winner: Georges St. Pierre
For George St. Pierre 2009 started with the biggest fight of his life, perhaps the biggest fight in Mixed Martial Arts history. He defended his Welterweight Title against the reigning Lightweight Champion BJ Penn, the first time that two reigning UFC champions had fought in the Octagon. His opponent was himself a former Welterweight Champion and seemed to possess the takedown defense to frustrate St. Pierre and the boxing and BJJ skills to punish him. Both fighters were dominant champions and both fighters were regarded as contenders for the Best Pound for Pound crown.
And yet at UFC 94 George St. Pierre gave BJ Penn the beating of his life en route to retaining his title on a stoppage just before the fifth round. It was a twenty minute master class, with St. Pierre refusing to panic when in the first round Penn showed a freakish ability to stop his takedown attempts. Instead of being sucked into the standing battle that Penn wanted, St. Pierre used his work in the clinch and repeated takedown attempts to wear down the smaller fighter. Eventually Penn succumbed to the pressure being taken down by St. Pierre at the start of the second round. From there St. Pierre dominanted with superior ‘ground and pound’ and the grappling ability to move out of BJJ specialist Penn’s guard at will. The punishment he inflicted on Penn was as severe as any fighter has suffered this year, and it was no surprised that both Penn’s corner and the ringside doctor told referee Herb Dean that there was nothing to be gained from the fight going to a fifth round.
If anything his title defense against Thiago Alves was even more one-sided with George St. Pierre being able to take him down ten times throughout the fight and impose his will on the ground. This was despite Thiago Alves being the bigger of the two fighters and having displayed impressive takedown defense in previous fights with highly regarded wrestlers such as Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck. St. Pierre also had to contend with a groin injury that significantly reduced his mobility in the fourth and fifth rounds. This injury stopped him fighting again in 2009, with his next bout scheduled to be at UFC 111 where he will defend his Welterweight Title against Dan Hardy.
In 2009 no fighter was the equal of George St. Pierre, while other fighters put in disappointing performances in key matches or were content to fight substandard opposition he dismantled two world class fighters. He won all nine of the rounds he fought in and demonstrated an unparrelled breadth and depth of fighting skills. He is the complete fighter and if anyone encapsulates excellence in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts it is George St. Pierre. Whether it’s a willingness to fight the very best in his division, an ability to regroup and recover from setbacks or the determination to improve every facet of his game he is the fighter that everyone in the MMA world should compare themselves against. He has little left to prove in the Welterweight division and may well have to move up in weight to seek fresh challenges but for now he can reflect on another dominant year as the Inside Fights Fighter of 2009.
Check out the rest of our annual awards.