Half-Year Awards: Cagewriter’s look at six months of MMA madness

Maggie Hendricks

At this halfway point in the year, MMA takes a little break, allowing for everyone who loves the sport to take stock in the year so far. Cagewriter did just that. Steve Cofield and I broke down the candidates and our picks for the fighter, fight, controversy and fight ending of the year. Stick with us, and then share your picks in the comments.

Fighter of the Half-Year

Maggie: Who is your pick?
Steve: You can put together an interesting list of candidates. I considered Nick Diaz, Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida and even a longshot like Dan Henderson. Diaz for putting himself in a position to bust down the door to the UFC. Guillard finishing fights and putting himself on top of the crowded heap at 155. Guida delivering in a clutch moment against THEEEE guy the UFC probably wanted lined up for title shot.
Maggie: But it's hard to look past what Jon Jones accomplished.
Steve: Exactly, the top two are Junior dos Santos and Jon Jones. JDS was unreal and actually has people thinking the unbeatable young, force at heavyweight is now beatable.
Maggie: And he went through the Chinese water torture of coaching "The Ultimate Fighter."
Steve: That was a long time away from active fighting. He never let opponent change throw him off. But Jones' rise has been crazy. He's gone from longshot, dream 205-lb. champ to the absolute future of the sport. Plus, look at the way he did it. Physically mauled Ryan Bader and made Rua look like he was a middleweight.
Maggie: So, who is it? Jones or JDS?
Steve: Jones is the guy. He has massive crossover appeal and athletically opens the door for so many new fighters
Maggie: I agree. The caliber of opponents, the way he won and what he's done for the sport put him above everyone else. {YSP:MORE}

Fight of the Half-Year

Steve: I took a non-traditional look at this. I included not just great fights, but great fight moments too. My candidates are UFC 129, the entire card, selling 55,000 seats. It was a gigantic moment for the sport.
Maggie: To see an arena filled like that was mind-blowing.
Steve: You remember when some idiot tried to immediately jump to speculations about a Cowboy Stadium fight? UFC 129 may not be duplicated for years. It was a special place, special moment and unique fan base.
Maggie: It was the perfect storm of a crazy fanbase, good card, and city who had been denied MMA. The only thing that could top it is a Madison Square Garden card, but it won't, seating-wise.
Steve: In terms of significance yes, but you're right on the the seating. I also thought for moments, Fedor vs. Big Foot Silva was a crazy fight.
Maggie: That fight shook me, because I realized what we were seeing. A dismantling of a legend.
Steve: Few saw that coming, and to have a guy who was viewed as so unbeatable thoroughly destroyed and follow it up with his spirit clearly broken, was a night to remember and forget for some. Also a look at the future, times are changing quickly. It was a great shot of what happens when the intimidation factor is gone for a fighter
Maggie: For me, the best fight of the year so far is the one we just watched. Cruz-Faber, because it fit one criterion: I didn't want it to end.
Steve: I thought it was very good but not great. I thought Edgar - Maynard was better. One fighter on the edge of defeat and coming all the way back to force a draw and the fact that is was a draw.
Maggie: I just loved the way Faber-Cruz was a chess match, but still allowed both fighters to show their best.
Steve: It was a big moment too.
Maggie: Yeah, the bantams had to deliver, and they did.
Steve: The 135 and 145 divisions have a chance to take over the sport, but because they've been unexposed, they have a good-sized hill to climb. Cruz-Faber sucks and it pushes back the progress of the division.
Maggie: But because they delivered, and most people hadn't lost interest because of the many quick endings on the card, people will remember them.
Steve: The last three that I liked for pure slugging or insanity, Sanchez-Kampmann, Diaz-Daley and Silva-Belfort. The suddenness of Silva's kick was crazy, Sanchez's guts and his face at the end of the fight was jarring. Diaz putting on a show in front of his new bosses, who through all the drama they're witnessed and heard about with Nick, may have forgotten how good a fighter he is. Then he puts on a show.
Maggie: For the insanity, I have to throw in Aldo-Hominick.
Steve: Great choice. Rare fight where both fighters elevated their status.
Maggie: Hominick's hematoma even disgusted Aldo, but Hominick wouldn't quit.
Steve: In the end, I still go with an actual fight in Edgar-Maynard.
Maggie: I'm going to stick with Cruz-Faber, but I think both our choices say something about how good the smaller fighters are. They reliably put on exciting bouts.

Controversy of the Half-Year

Maggie: Judging, juicing, Seagal, Oh my!
Steve: That's funny I still don't get that worked up over the judging stuff, maybe it's my age and background covering boxing. Plus I find myself in so many fights saying I don't know who hell won that round. But I understand the fans' angst in many cases.
Maggie: With judging, I just wish it was more transparent. In the other judged sports I cover, there is a more definitive rubric to follow. It's too vague in MMA.
Steve: I do believe the five rounders will help, it's a small amount of fights, but it's some of the biggest fights we have. My "controversy" stories of 2011 include something recent, that hasn't blown up yet. Zuffa telling Cyborg adios and Carano not fighting. Those are awful signs for female fighting at the highest level.
Maggie: I am so concerned about what it means for WMMA. Miesha Tate and Marloes Coenen have a huge burden to deliver on July 30.
Steve: I think Cyborg says it all, "we're not signing anyone long term. Work out your contracts and head to the minors." One that grabbed the fans and some of the MMA media was Michael Bisping and the spitting incident.
Maggie: Yeah, that was like the traffic accident you could see coming but do nothing about.
Steve: For me, the hatred and anger was ridiculous. It was more indicative of how much people dislike Bisping. Fighters get emotional and do stupid things after fights. Childish? Yes. A fire-able offense? Absolutely not.
Maggie: Rivera did everything he could to piss off an emotional fighter, but Bisping took it too far.
Steve: Bisping did. He served a penalty, sort of. Of course, for some he made out like a bandit with another TV gig.
Maggie: The UFC knows that he sells. For some reason, people love to tune in to watch people they hate.
Steve: Controversy may not be the right word, but for some it was Zuffa buying Strikeforce.
Maggie: It's definitely the STORY of the first-half of the year. It changed the game completely, and made many fighters question their futures. You know Josh Barnett and Paul Daley had to wonder what was in their future. Not to mention the effect it could have on women's MMA.
Steve: It doesn't leave fighters with a great option for big money. The real controversy of the year has to be the TRT stuff with both Chael Sonnen and Nate Marquardt, plus Chael vs. California.
Maggie: It is, because it's an open-ended question that must be resolved by state commissions.
Steve: It's made Chael into an even bigger star and I think this last week was gigantic with the way Sonnen was welcomed back by the UFC essentially saying screw you to California. UFC rarely pushes back on commissions but it's doing it here. The TRT angle is huge. It's very fishy, and the fact that Nate tested positive in the past and now has testosterone issues. If this were Jason Giambi or Shawne Merriman and it was discovered they were getting an exemption and using TRT to treat something they caused years ago by cheating, all hell would break loose.
Maggie: Yep. But the difference with fight fans is that they are loyal to their fighters, not a team, which is so different. You can still be a Yankees fan if Giambi is caught juicing. You either love Sonnen -- and all his faults -- or you don't.
Steve: Obviously, Marquardt being immediately fired is a big part of the story too.
What else?
Maggie: Well, the fighters fighting friends drama played out in a huge way with Jones vs. Evans.
Steve: I just wish "the doctors" had gotten it right the first 23 check-ups with Jones.
Maggie: It turned the light heavyweight title contenders into bickering teenagers, which was just weird to see.
Steve: The build-up and ending was coming, now we have to wait and may never get it.
Maggie: I'm so sad that we don't get to see that fight, and I still don't get how Rampage, who lost to Rashad, leapfrogs over Rashad.
Steve: It's a weird deal. Maybe a final chance to get Rampage in a big promotion.
Maggie: But in doing that, it's screwing over Rashad. Carlos Condit should pay attention. Don't wait for that title shot, son.
Steve: Some will say Rashad screwed himself over. Should've been the guy who controlled his own destiny. And yet there's Anthony Pettis and Rick Story, who both lost as they took fights while waiting for a title shot.
Maggie: There's no good way to handle it, so you may as well pull down a paycheck.
Steve: My COY is ... damn this is tough!
Maggie: Mine is the PED problem, and how it's being dealt with. It's a huge story that is bigger than MMA, but affects MMA.
Steve: I go Sonnen and what looked like a permanent career derailment for a while there.

Fight Ending of the Half-Year

Maggie: And fittingly, let's end with the best fight ending of the half-year. So many good candidates: Daley-Diaz, Jones-Bader, Ortiz-Bader.
Steve: I'll start with three on my lower end: Pitbull destroying Imada. We get introduced to a new star. I personally loved and fans did too: Korean Zombie with his twister finish.
Stout's overhand left on Edwards, Machida's Seagal kick on Couture, the Kongo Hail Mary punch(es) against Barry, Anderson Silva nearly kicking Belfort's head off in such sudden fashion. But my favorite ending, because of the storyline and emotion was Tito pulling the upset on Bader.
Maggie: Sentimental!
Steve: He's such a polarizing dude, but fans united before the fight in the arena and immediately after to say thanks for all the good shows and drama outside the cage.
Maggie: You named a bunch of my favorites: TKZ with the twister, Machida's front kick, Silva's front kick. With Silva, one of the reasons I loved it is that until that bout, he was getting tagged with being a boring fighter, and being questioned on his abilities.
Steve: That was a big moment, he needed to remind us all of how sick he can be
Maggie: And he completely delivered, on Super Bowl weekend in Vegas. An underrated one on 129 was Matyushenko's 20-second KO of Brilz, and I loved Diaz/Daley. It taught you to never, ever count out Diaz.
Steve: That was awesome. Diaz can says whatever he wants, he was getting rocked at times by Daley.
Maggie: But partly because I was there and felt the arena erupt around me, and partly because it was so damn amazing, I'm going with Kongo-Barry. I was ready to write Barry's win, but that KO was so ridiculous that even press row erupted.

Maggie: Anything to add on this crazy half-year of MMA?
Steve: I actually think the second half will probably be crazier. Strikeforce HWT GP, Fedor's return, when will Brock come back? And so many fighters have been injured. There's going to be some awesome fights the rest of the way. And I'm sure even more drama outside the cage.

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