For the past week, we've proudly presented a number of the Yahoo! Sports 2013 MMA Awards. We've announced the winners of Event of the Year, Breakthrough Fighter of the Year, Comeback Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, Male & Female Fighters of the Year, KO of the Year, Submission of the Year and Comeback Fight of the Year.
There are only four more awards left, and we announce those today.
MMA Trainer of the Year:
Choosing a gym and head coach can be as crucial for professional fighters as it is difficult. A true MMA trainer understands the game from first-hand experience and can instruct their charges not just in broad strokes, but in the finer points of applicable technique.
A top MMA trainer gets in the ring and on the mat with their fighters to teach them what they need to know to win on fight night. All of our nominees know what they're talking about because they've put years in not just as coaches but as martial arts practitioners.
When they teach their fighters something, those fighters can rest assured that they are getting the real stuff, tested in the fires of real combat.
Duane Ludwig - "Bang" accomplished a great deal as a fighter throughout his long, international competitive career but he may end up being an even better trainer and coach than fighter. Since turning over the reigns to Ludwig, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Joseph Benevidez and the rest of Team Alpha Male were virtually unstoppable in 2013.
Ray Longo - It's time that the world realize just how good a trainer Ray Longo is. The kickboxing coach now has two world champions on his resume, Matt Serra and Chris Weidman. Furthermore, Serra and Weidman unseated perhaps the two best MMA champions in history in Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. Oh, and both men won their titles with KO strikes despite starting from scratch as grapplers with Longo.
Andre Pederneiras - This Carlson Gracie Sr. protege doesn't get enough attention in the states but he may have the best fighters in the world, pound for pound, under his direction. Featherweight king pin Jose Aldo and bantamweight champ Renan Barao both call Pederneiras' Nova Uniao team home and Pederneiras coach. Both Aldo and Barao have been nearly perfect for as long as we can remember and were a combined 4-0 in 2013.
Duke Roufus - The former kickboxing champion Roufus had quietly developed one of the best MMA teams over the past decade. His Roufusport team's excellence is no longer a secret with UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, brother Sergio, undefeated Bellator champ Ben Askren and many more. Like our other nominees, Roufus may be retired but it doesn't stop him from getting in there and mixing it up with his fighters to both better inform him as a teacher and to prepare them for their fights.
Any one of the above nominees could have very well be named the Trainer of the Year for 2013 but we're choosing the man who seemed greatly responsible for the much improved striking and overall game of the most top-level fighters last year. The Yahoo! Sports MMA Trainer of the Year Award for 2013 goes to...
Congratulations to Ludwig. He'll be busy in 2014 as his fighter Urijah Faber takes on Pederneiras' Renan Barao in a rematch for the bantamweight title in February.
Referee of the Year:
It might seem strange to choose a "best" of folks fans usually spend most of their time yelling at or complaining about. A true referee is there just to keep the proceedings honest and to protect fighters. The best referees hate to be more involved than they have to but have keen eyes and are never afraid to intercede when needed and make the tough calls.
No referee is going to get it right 100% of the time, but a real ref respects their sport, understands it intimately from years of their own practice in it, doesn't have an ego but has plenty of intestinal fortitude to go with their ability to see things mere mortals can only pick up on slow-motion replays.
All of our nominees share those qualities. Our nominees for top MMA ref of 2013 are:
Steve Mazzagatti - Because of the vitriol spewed at him publicly from UFC president Dana White, Mazzagatti has gotten a bad rap in some circles for the past few years. The reality is that few referees have as much fight-world experience as the Nevada fire fighter. Mazzagatti has fought, he's coached and he's refereed some of the biggest fights in the world for the past decade-plus.
Herb Dean - Dean has trained and fought in MMA extensively and that experience helps him understand the positions the fighters he refs are in. Additionally, Dean seems to always keep his calm in the cage and may just have the best eye in the business.
Yves Lavigne - The Canadian referee is great at staying out of fighters' ways during competition. He doesn't have the size of a Herb Dean or John McCarthy but he always still manages to command respect from fighters in the cage.
Marc Goddard - The former fighter has been involved in controversial fights and stoppages but never shies away from explaining his rationale and the way he saw things to the public. And, no matter what they felt prior, after fans listen to a Goddard explanation - like his no contest ruling with Melvin Guillard and Ross Pearson in October - they have a hard time disagreeing with the British ref.
The winner of the 2013 MMA Award for Referee of the Year is...
Congratulations to Herb. We're not the first to name Dean the ref of the year for this and many other years. With his consistency it likely won't be the last time, either.
TV Commentator of the Year:
Our nominees include commentators of many varieties. There is the play-play-man, the color commentator, the show anchor and the post and pre-fight analyst. Because their jobs are each so distinct, it is especially difficult to call any one of them more essential or "better" than the other.
Mike Goldberg - Hipster, know-it-all MMA fans are fond of dumping on Goldberg because of his radio voice, trademark phrases and...well, fans just like to pick on him for all sorts of silly things for some reason. When it comes down to it, however, Goldberg is the best at what he does (MMA play-by-play) and has been for years. In an MMA play-by-play world crowded with ignorant blowhards who try in vain to sound clever or expert at every turn in order to bring the spotlight back to themselves, Goldberg stands out as a truly professional voice. No play-by-play guy in MMA, including Goldie, is an expert in the sport right now. Unlike his peers, however, Goldberg always shows respect to the fighters and defers to the analysis and perspective of informed practitioner partners like Joe Rogan.
Joe Rogan - Rogan brings two things to every fight he calls - passion and an informed perspective. The former national Tae-Kwon-Do competitor and now Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Rogan trains all year round with professional fighters on the mats and so he knows what he's talking about. He routinely gives valuable insight into what a fighter went through during a recent camp and is also able to break down techniques that the audience watches to their minutiae. Also, the dude is funny. Real funny. That never sucks to have in a commentator.
Kenny Florian - The former three division fighter will go down as one of the best of his generation. As a multi-threat television commentator, Florian is proving a quick learn as well. He provides color commentary for UFC telecasts and also interviews personalities and provides analysis as a pre and post-fight television co-host.
Brian Stann - Stann went into broadcasting full-time after providing a fight of the year candidate bout against Wanderlei Silva and then retiring last year. If we can't watch the former serviceman compete any longer, he made the right choice in going into television. Stann is fair with his analysis and assessments, is a clear, well-spoken communicator and isn't above joking around with occasional co-commentators like Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans.
All the nominees are deserving in their own rights but our choice for 2013 MMA TV Commentator of the year is...
Congratulations to Joe. No one combines humor, insight and the courage to highlight and confront important issues like Rogan does. For that reason, he's our 2013 recipient.
Upset of the Year:
After an upset, everyone claims to have seen it coming. However, the below fights turned out nothing like we thought they would before hand.
Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva I (UFC)
Travis Browne vs. Alistair Overeem (UFC)
Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne (Invicta)
Josh Burkman vs. Jon Fitch (WSOF)
All of the above fights shocked us in their own ways but to us, none was a bigger upset than...
Josh Burkman choking Jon Fitch unconscious at the World Series of Fighting 3 event last June. Fitch was still a top-ten welterweight when he was shockingly released by the UFC after losing a decision to Demian Maia in February. When Fitch signed with the WSOF, most assumed he would steamroll their welterweight competition. In his first fight for the promotion, however, Fitch lost to Burkman, who had not competed in the UFC for five years. Not only did Burkman beat the former title challenger, he choked him out with apparent ease and with a quickness, just seconds into the first round. For that, Josh Burkman vs. Jon Fitch is our 2013 Yahoo! Sports MMA Upset of the Year.
Congratulations to Burkman and all our winners and nominees. Thanks for reading and don't forget to tell us who you had picked in the comments section!