There were no shortage of great performances in mixed martial arts in 2007, but three men stand clearly above the pack in the race of the Fighter of the Year. In my mind, the only legitimate candidates are Randy Couture, Anderson Silva and Rampage Jackson.
Couture ended a retirement to win the UFC heavyweight title in a major upset over Tim Sylvia, then defended it successfully with a dominant performance against Gabriel Gonzaga.
Jackson made his UFC debut with a win over Marvin Eastman, won the light heavyweight title by knocking out Chuck Liddell and then retained it by scoring a decision over Dan Henderson.
Silva, the UFC's middleweight champion, won a non-title bout over Travis Lutter, then made successful defenses against Nate Marquardt and Rich Franklin.
Any one of the three would be a deserving winner, but I'm choosing Jackson. Some saw the win over Liddell as simply a lucky punch, but he proved himself as a mixed martial artist by defeating the dangerous Henderson.
The Fight of the Year, though, is no question. Liddell's win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 on Saturday clearly was the best of the year. Chris Horodecki's win over Shad Lierley in the IFL was an amazing bout, but the stakes were so high and Liddell-Silva delivered in a big way.
I'm sure I'll answer your comments about those choices in future mailbags, but here's what you were thinking about in the last week in my first MMA mailbag of 2008:
After watching the Liddell-Silva fight, would you say that we definitely saw a different Wanderlei Silva in the cage on Saturday? From years of watching him in the past, I thought he was a lot more passive then usual. His stamina looked great, especially after a few knockdowns, but he just looked laid back compared to his normal aggressive fighting style. It's hard to say age is catching up to him, because the guy has a monster training routine. Is it maybe one too many blows to the head?
Silva was plenty aggressive with his hands, but didn't use his knees like he has in other fights. Much of that was due to Liddell, who kept the fight at a distance with his powerful strikes. Silva couldn't get in tight enough to use his knees. He was definitely woozy a half hour after the bout. I was walking out of Liddell's locker room and saw Silva leaving the arena and he was walking very gingerly.
Where and when is Chuck going to try to get his belt back? I hope they give him a chance to actually finish the fight instead of the refs jumping in to stop it. He is a great fighter and the next time they should give him some dignity and respect to try and finish the fight even if he gets knocked down, but not knocked out cold. I have respect for the rules and safety of the fighters but next time give it some time for them to finish.
Robert, the correct call was made when Liddell was stopped by Jackson in May. To have allowed the fight to have proceeded would have, literally, endangered Liddell's life. He was incapable of defending himself and Jackson is a big, strong man. Fighter safety must always come first.
Why would UFC president Dana White pit a severe underdog like Forrest Griffin against the top fighter in the world, Quinton Jackson? If he's looking for a Matt Serra-type upset, it isn't happening. I just don't get the need for White to give his boy a chance at a title. Jackson has earned his time off; Griffin has not. Secondly, if Jackson were to face Shogun Rua or Wanderlei inside the UFC within the next year, do you think it would go down the same path as his fights against them in Pride or do you feel he would own them like he's owned everyone in the UFC? To me, there's no better fighter in the world right now. Ever since hooking up with Juanito Ibarra, he's been on a roll. The guy is the future of the sport. And it's great to watch him.
Griffin earned his title shot in my opinion. He defeated Rua, who was regarded as the No. 2 fighter in the world at the time. He's an aggressive fighter with a lot of fans who should make a good match with Jackson. And, importantly, he'll make good television on The Ultimate Fighter. There is no one clearly skipped over for the title shot, so it's fine as far as I'm concerned. At this stage, I think Jackson is the world's best light heavyweight and I'd favor him against anyone, Griffin and Rua included.
How do you think Brock Lesnar will do against Frank Mir at UFC 81 on Feb. 2? Also, is a guy who is 6 feet and weighs 240 pounds too small for the heavyweight division?
If Lesnar, a former WWE wrestling champion and an NCAA champion while at the University of Minnesota, can beat Mir, he will stamp himself as a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division. Mir's experience and his jiu-jitsu skills will be difficult for Lesnar, who has only one MMA fight. As far as size, a 6-foot, 240-pound fighter is definitely not too small. Think about Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko, among others.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Why are you calling the Y! Boxer of the Year the Fighter of the Year? In your fight and fighter of the year you only considered boxing matches, in a year with some big fights and upsets in mixed martial arts. If you do not accept MMA or don't think it stands up to the test against boxing that is one thing, but why bring such a prejudice to your journalism?
I was picking a Fighter of the Year in boxing and see above for my Fighter of the Year in MMA. There is no slight to MMA. They are different sports and I consider the award winners separately.
I would like to reiterate a concern that moving MMA to prime-time networks will result in the dumbing-down of the sport, as well as risk unwanted censorship attention when the untutored public witnesses a few of the bloodier fights. MMA belongs and thrives on the back channels like Spike and Versus, where the viewing public gets to see the kind of stuff network TV won't show. Bringing MMA out into the limelight will cause the regulators to change the rules for safety reasons, thus dimishing the product that has been carefully crafted over the years by the UFC and others. Wider exposure doesn't necessarily make this the right move to ensure the health of the sport in the future.
Virginia Beach, Va.
I'm not sure I buy that argument, Barry. The rules are already in place in most states and states like Nevada aren't going to change the well thought out rules to appease television. I understand your concern, but I think by showing more people what a great sport MMA is and how gifted the athletes are it would benefit the sport's growth.
Do you think that there will ever be a unified MMA league? It is the ideal situation because it would allow all the best fighters in the world to fight against one another. The NFL and NBA are both examples of unified leagues that sprung from multiple fractured leagues that became obsolete once each respective sport gained popularity. If MMA gains enough popularity, do you think all the best fighters will come together under one association?
Cos Cob, Conn.
I just don't see that happening. It's one thing for a team sport to merge into one. It's another for an individual sport like MMA. The UFC is dominant at this point and has most of the best fighters, but there are a lot of intriguing fighters and matches that can be made in other organizations.
NOT GOING TO MMA
Let me get this straight: Floyd Mayweather, the best boxer in the world who makes a zillion dollars a fight, is going to risk it all by fighting some street brawlers with almost no rules? Right, and Hillary Clinton is going to run for city council in Mesquite Springs, Texas, Tom Brady will play in the Arena Football League and Tiger Woods is going headline a Putt Putt Golf League. This is not even a good publicity stunt.
I don't think Floyd is planning to fight full-time in MMA. I do believe he's interested in promoting MMA fights as a partner of Mark Cuban.
LINDLAND TO HDNET FIGHTS
Matt Lindland was on an HDNet Fights broadcast recently and told the interviewer that he's signed on with them.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Lindland's company, Sportfight, has signed with HDNet Fights, but Lindland himself remains a promotional free agent. It would still make great sense for the UFC to pursue Lindland to beef up a thin middleweight division. It would be a coup for HDNet to sign Lindland out from underneath the UFC.
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