The mixed martial arts world has paused for a bit of a break as 2013 hits its midpoint. Three weeks will pass before the major event schedule kicks up again, as Anderson Silva will defend his UFC middleweight title against unbeaten Chris Weidman in the main event of UFC 162 in Las Vegas on July 6.
With that in mind, it’s a good time to take a look back at the best of the past six months. Not all these picks will still be on top when the year comes to a close, but there’s no denying there’s been plenty worth watching up to this point.
Fight of the Half-Year: Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann, UFC on Fuel 8, Saitama, Japan, March 3.
The cold-hearted world of mixed martial arts rarely pauses for sentimental moments. Older fighters get left behind as the conveyor belt chugs along from event to event, and new fighters take their place. That’s why Wanderlei Silva’s TKO victory over Brian Stann was such a rare and special treat for longtime MMA fans. Silva, the former Pride champion, returned to the scene of his many of his greatest victories, the Saitama Super Arena in suburban Tokyo. Why Stann chose to stand in the pocket and engage “The Axe Murderer” in the latter’s greatest strength, we may never know. But it resulted in a glorious brawl, as the two combined to throw exactly 200 strikes (Stann 65 of 103; Silva 49 of 97) in nine minutes before Silva finished the bout with a vintage Silva flurry. For one night, time stood still, and all was right with the MMA world.
Runner-up: Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit, UFC 158, March 16: Hendricks earned his shot at Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight title in a marvelous, action-packed bout. Condit came on strong in the third and may have won the bout if it went five rounds. But it only went three, and Hendricks took across-the-board 29-28 scores for the win.
Fighter of the Half-Year: T.J. Grant.
There have been no obvious candidates for this category – like Jon Jones in 2011 – over the first six months of 2013. Most of the major names have only fought once so far, and some noteworthy names, like Anderson Silva, have yet to fight. One fighter, however, broke through over the first six months of the year. T.J. Grant is humble, quiet, hard-working, and dedicated to improving his craft. The Canadian lightweight improved to 5-0 since dropping down from welterweight with a pair of first-round finishes. First he took out wily veteran Matt Wiman at UFC on FOX 6 on Jan. 26, then he announced his arrival as a top contender with a stunning dismantling of Gray Maynard at UFC 160. If Grant can defeat Benson Henderson on Aug. 31 in Milwaukee, he’ll have the inside track on Fighter of the Year, but for now, what he’s accomplished is enough to take half-year honors.
Runner-up: Vitor Belfort. No doubt, the 36-year old former light heavyweight champion has looked impressive, with knockout wins against Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. But when your physique going into the Bisping fight causes the UFC to change its testosterone replacement therapy policy on the spot, then you don’t get Fighter of the Half-Year honors. Sorry.
Knockout of the Half-Year: Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt, UFC 160, May 25, Las Vegas
A spinning heel kick is a difficult move to pull off if you’re featherweight. If you’re a 6--foot-4, 250 lb.-ish pound heavyweight? Almost unthinkable. And yet Junior dos Santos not only pulled off the move, he used it to finish the concrete-skulled Mark Hunt. And he did so in the final minute of a bout in which he very likely would have taken across-the-board, 30-27 scores after a memorable slugfest, had he chosen to play it safe. Instead, the former UFC heavyweight champion had a knockout for the ages and set himself up for his trilogy fight in October with current champ Cain Velasquez.
Runner-up: Antonio Silva vs. Alistair Overeem, UFC 156, Las Vegas Feb. 2. Rarely is mixed martial arts more primal and visceral than “Bigfoot’s” ferocious finish of Overeem in Las Vegas. Overeem openly disrespected Silva in the buildup to the fight, but he paid for his words in the end. Silva crumpled Overeem with a flurry of powerful punches that few will forget.
Submission of the Half-Year: Urijah Faber’s rear-naked choke of Ivan Menjivar, UFC 157, Feb. 23, Anaheim, Calif.
There has been no lack of solid choices for submission of the year thus far in 2013. On the June 8 UFC card in Brazil alone, there were eight submissions of five different varieties. But when push comes to shove, we’re going with Faber’s rear-naked choke finish of Menjivar at UFC 157. Faber was dominating the bout on the ground when Menjivar broke free and got back to his feet. Then, showing the trademark on-the-fly inventiveness which made him the biggest star in the much-missed WEC, Faber climbed Menjivar, mounted his back, bodylocked him with his leg, and got the tap ... all with Menjivar staying in the standing position. In a crowded field for best submission, a classic finish from a classic fighter is enough to seal the deal.
Runner-up: Kenny Robertson’s unique first-round finish of Brock Larson on the UFC 157 card has been called different things. Wikipedia calls it a Suloev stretch. Sherdog’s Fight Finder calls it a kneebar. MMAFighting says it was modified kneebar. We contacted Robertson on Thursday and asked him to clear it up. Robertson said he calls the move “the kickstand.” Whatever you want to call it, it was pretty damn cool.
Event of the Half-Year: UFC 157, Anaheim, Calif., Feb. 23
There are only a handful of mixed martial arts events which break through and become major news items in the mainstream culture. The historic UFC 100 in 2009 was one such event. UFC 129, held in front of a record North American MMA crowd of 55,724, was another. UFC 157 can be added to the short list. The first women’s fight in UFC history, between bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche, caught fire in the media and earned the sport attention in places that don’t usually touch it. Better, the event delivered, as Rousey weathered an upset bid from the Marine-tough Carmouche before retaining her title late in the first round with her signature armbar. That capped an action-packed night which also included Faber’s above-mentioned win; Robbie Lawler’s first UFC win in nine years in a knockout of Josh Koscheck; and a match-of-the-year candidate in Dennis Bermudez’s split-decision win over Matt Grice.
Runner-up: UFC 160, Las Vegas, May 25. UFC 160 had a little something for anyone, from Khabib Nurmagomedov’s UFC record 21 takedowns in a win over Abel Trujillo to Grant’s stellar display in his win over Maynard. In the top two bouts, dos Santos had his slugfest with Hunt and Velasquez destroyed Antonio Silva in the main event, setting up the trilogy fight between the duo which has traded the heavyweight title back and forth.
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