Let The Debate Begin: Awards 2008

Note: I follow the pro wrestling awards method meaning these awards are for events from December 1, 2007 to December 1, 2008

WINNER: Quinton Jackson Vs. Forrest Griffin, UFC 86, July 5
2nd Place: Wanderlei Silva Vs. Chuck Liddell, UFC 79, 12/29/07
3rd Place: Roger Huerta Vs. Clay Guida, The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale, 12/8/07
4th Place: Miguel Torres Vs. Yoshihiro Maeda, WEC 34, June 1
5th Place: Georges St. Pierre Vs. Jon Fitch, UFC 87, August 9

Previous winners:
2006: Kazushi Sakuraba Vs. Kestutis Smirnovas, HERO’s 6
2007: Takanori Gomi Vs. Nick Diaz, Pride 33

In the end, there really was no other option. The fact that it was a title fact, the fact that it was someone UFC fans had watched basically from the beginning, the fact that it was controversial all make the Jackson/Griffin light heavyweight title fight the best fight of 2008. GSP/Fitch was just as exciting a five round fight as Jackson/Griffin was, but only because of Fitch’s enormous heart and unwillingness to die. Huerta/Guida and Torres/Maeda showed the true non-stop action and excitement of the lighter weight classes as well as Guida failing to secure a win he had one more time. Unbelievably Liddell/Silva survived seven months as the best fight in MMA and for a reason: it was literally a battle of titans in the sport and unlike most big fights with a ton more momentum than this one had going in, this fight lived up to the hype and then some. Had they been allowed to and gone another two rounds, it would be the fight of the year.

WINNER: Georges St. Pierre (UFC)
2nd Place: Thiago Alves (UFC)
3rd Place: Anderson Silva (UFC)

Previous Winners
2006: Mirko Cro Cop
2007: Quinton Jackson

Nobody in the world of MMA looked more impressive in 2008 than GSP. Wins over Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, and Jon Fitch showed how GSP was able to shine in the spotlight and how he had matured since the Serra loss in ’07. Anderson Silva had just as dominant a year and did move up a weight class beating a fighter who turned out to be juiced in a minute flat, but GSP had better overall opponents and Silva’s performance in the Cote fight killed his chances. Thiago Alves did deserve this award have an incredible year, but GSP’s résumé reads better: three main-event wins in dominating fashion, one against someone on a fifteen fight win streak, one against someone he had lost to a year earlier, and a second straight win completing the trilogy against another.

2nd Place: WEC
3rd Place: DREAM

As if this one was going to be close. DREAM had a good year under normal standards, but they didn’t have normal standards going in. WEC had a very productive year and showed patience and intelligence when they booked Faber/Pulver in a larger than normal arena, but didn’t air it on pay-per-view opting for free T.V. instead. While they were just as consistent in putting on a good show as UFC, you just can’t argue with the buy numbers and crowds that UFC continued to draw through ’08.

2nd Place: World Victory Road
3rd Place: Affliction

Another one that wasn’t even close. When a promotion is fine as one of the top Indy promotions in the country at the beginning of the year and is out of business before the year is out, it is the definition of worst promotion of the year. How they were able to live up to the “too much too quick” moniker within the space of around six months is still baffling. WVR may have had some horrendously bad cards and didn’t draw much, and Affliction paid fighters way too much for an event that didn’t draw what they needed and was an overall disappointment, but they’re still in business.

WINNER: The EliteXC Saga
2nd Place: Brock Lesnar wins UFC heavyweight title in fourth professional fight
3rd Place: Randy Couture returns to UFC
4th Place: Satoshi Ishii declares intent to go into MMA in Japan, signs with UFC instead
5th Place: MMA K-1 folds HERO’s, forms DREAM
6th Place: Tito Ortiz leaves UFC, future uncertain
7th Place: Anderson Silva makes successful 205-lb debut
8th Place: Affliction clothing brand starts MMA promotion
9th Place: Chuck Liddell loses third of last four fights
10th Place: Mirko Cro Cop, Mauricio Rua’s injury woes

I’m not piling on, but again: when a promotion is virtually fine at the beginning of the year and is dead before the year is out, the details make up the story of the year. The disintegration was set in motion with the first push of Kimbo Slice early in the year and continued from there with the Noons/Diaz fiasco as well as the Gina/Cyborg fight never materializing. The fact that the shows during the meltdown weren’t that bad is just another element to a tragedy brought about by stupidity. Ishii’s story was a great one, but it didn’t go anywhere after the signing. The other major stories (Ortiz’s UFC exit, DREAM’s formation, Affliction’s formation) were things that many saw coming and thus they didn’t have quite the impact they could’ve had, but were still big stories this year.

WINNER: Rashad Evans knocks Chuck Liddell out
2nd Place: Brock Lesnar TKO’s Randy Couture to win UFC heavyweight title
3rd Place: Kimbo Slice TKO’d in 14 seconds
4th Place: Jeremy Stevens’ uppercut from hell
5th Place: Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva finally fight
6th Place: Fedor demolishes Tim Sylvia
7th Place: Anderson Silva knocks James Irvin out in one minute (Silva’s 205-lb debut)
8th Place: Badr Hari calls out DREAM, sabotages himself in K-1 World Grand Prix Final
9th Place: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira chokes out Tim Sylvia for UFC Interim Heavyweight Title
10th Place: EliteXC, MMA debut on national T.V.

The definition of the word knockout was given to us in Atlanta one night last September when young upstart Rashad Evans knocked out the man who was thought to be the human version of the word, Chuck Liddell. The knockout itself was truly memorable and will live on for years, especially if 2009 is the last year The Iceman is in the cage. Lesnar’s win was another truly memorable moment that would’ve won for its overall importance if it weren’t for Evans’ knockout being a more memorable moment. Stephens’ uppercut on the Couture/Lesnar show was another brutal knockout that went largely unnoticed (sad thing). I talked about Liddell/Silva above and stand by the fact that the moment of those two standing nose-to-nose during the instructions is one of the more memorable moments of all-time in the long run.

WINNER: UFC 91: Couture Vs. Lesnar
2nd Place: UFC 84: Ill Will
3rd Place: WEC 34: Sacramento

While UFC 84 was a card built around personalities, UFC 91 was built around action. UFC 91 was a one-fight card with Couture/Lesnar, but is also featured several incredible knockouts, a messed up submission win, Kenny Florian leaving nothing to chance, and some very, very entertaining fights. While UFC 84 and WEC 34 both had their showcase fights live up to that moniker, UFC 91 was probably the definition of a complete card proving once again that you can predict what people will want to see, but you can’t always predict what will turn out good.

WINNER: Sengoku Sixth Battle
2nd Place: Senguku Fifth Battle
3rd Place: UFC 90: Silva Vs. Cote

The fact that the show went six hours is already bad enough. The fact that it featured two tournaments getting started with bad matches is only adding salt to the wound. Gomi losing a tune-up fight via controversial decision just leaves such a bad taste in one’s mouth that there was no card as bad as this with the time being such a factor as well. While WVR’s fifth installment of the Sengoku series was pretty bad, it wasn’t as long and the matches weren’t quite as bad, and UFC 90 is only on the list because the main-event was one of UFC’s worst main-events of ’08.

WINNER: UFC uses Brock Lesnar’s previous career in WWE to promote his first UFC fight
2nd Place: WEC running larger than normal arena for Urijiah Faber hometown title defense
3rd Place: DREAM inks deal with HD-Net to broadcast events in U.S.

This is why Dana White can be called a smart individual. Knowing that few people saw or even knew about Lesnar’s fight with Min Soo Kim in the L.A. Coliseum in ’07, he instead advertised Lesnar’s UFC debut to WWE fans who still recognized Lesnar and would likely order the show for that fact alone. He was proven right as the show ended up doing double what most predicted it would have without Lesnar. While WEC ended up with a huge payday for having Faber/Pulver in a larger arena and DREAM has their programming on U.S. T.V., nothing compares to one simple advertising move that resulted in millions of dollars being made.

WINNER: EliteXC marketing Kimbo Slice as an unbeatable monster
2nd Place: WVR running Saitama Super Arena shows with few marquee fighters on roster
3rd Place: EliteXC never pulling trigger on Gina Garano/Chris Cyborg fight

If a move you make kills your promotion, it’s the worst kind right? While Kimbo was a victim of the people promoting him, his loss to Seth Petruzelli on my 22nd birthday was the end of EliteXC as a promotion. The fact that the promotion had basically banked their future on Kimbo’s success solidified that fact. Kimbo’s loss left the promotion without a major star in the big leagues where a promotion needs at least one major star. WVR mainly ran Saitama to say that they had as even the first terrible showing should’ve been a wake-up call, but they’re still running and still running Saitama without much better results.

WINNER: Kimbo Slice (EliteXC)
2nd Place: Phil Baroni (Freelance)
3rd Place: Takanori Gomi (WVR)

Kimbo wouldn’t even be in this category if it weren’t for all the hype that surrounded him even at the mention of his name. No debuting fighter deserves that much fanfare or treatment as if he’s a sensation who just got noticed. The fact that James Thompson—the most inconsistent heavyweight fighter ever—took him to the third round and was beaten by a bullshit stoppage only shows how unready Kimbo really was. But that didn’t stop him from getting main-event build and main-event hype and that is what made people believe he was so unstoppable, and that’s also why the roof caved in when he made a rookie mistake and was taken out quickly.

WINNER: Eddie Alvarez (DREAM)
2nd Place: Andrei Arlovski (Affliction)
3rd Place: Carlos Condit (WEC)

Eddie Alvarez wins this one despite his loss to Shinya Aoki because that loss took place on New Year’s Eve, thirty days out of this voting period; so don’t expect Alvarez to repeat in this category. But Eddie Alvarez does deserve the award because despite having the blowaway performance of DREAM’s lightweight tournament and only failing to win the title because a swollen eye kept him out of the final, Alvarez’s popularity and overall standing in the MMA world didn’t rise quite as much as I felt was warranted. Condit’s in third because UFC ended up signing him and because those who follow WEC and WEC fans all know how great he is. Arlovski is second because despite beating two opponents he had clear advantages over, Arlovski’s UFC exit early in the year was because he had apparently lost the ability to pull a decent string of wins together. Arlovski proved people wrong in that department in 2008, but Eddie Alavarez shined the most amongst those who get no love.