Sure, it may be a different .com, but it’s the same staff. And we are more than happy to continue the tradition started 5 years ago over at HOV-MMA right here inside of the FightBooth. Welcome to our 6th annual year-end MMA award extravaganza. Let’s start right at the top.
Fighter of the Year – Robbie Lawler
It was a storybook year for the “Ruthless” one. After losing a hard-fought five round title fight to Johny Hendricks for the strap vacated by Georges St. Pierre, Lawler fought his way back to a title shot with wins over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown. In the final PPV of 2014 he would bring the welterweight title back to AKA by beating Hendricks in another close fight. Lawler turned the volume up to 11 in the final sequence of the fight completing one of the greatest comeback stories in MMA history with an exclamation point. Hearing the words “UFC Champion Robbie Lawler” in the year 2014 was quite the pinch me moment.
Fight of the Year – Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2 (UFC 179)
This rematch happened the right way. Mendes earned it the hard way winning five consecutive fights after being knocked senseless by Aldo back at UFC 142. This time around he went the distance, but the result was the same. King Aldo got his hand raised once again while Prince Mendes gained even more respect in defeat than he ever has in victory.
KO of the Year – Ronda Rousey’s 16-second obliteration of Alexis Davis
Because armbars are so 2013.
Submission of the Year – Anthony Pettis guillotines Gilbert Melendez
There were plenty of incredible submissions in 2014: St. Preux, Rockhold’s kimura on Boetsch, Benavidez’s Joa Constrictor, and Oliveira’s Peruvian are just a few of the pleasing to the eye variety that immediately come to mind. Pettis’ takes the honors this year though for being the most important and unexpected.
After six consecutive losses, Roxanne Modafferi needed a victory in the worst way. In her Invicta FC debut, we witnessed a “Happy Warrior” reborn. A completely reinvented Modafferi was able to best fellow women’s MMA pioneer Tara LaRosa to go up 2-1 in what has to be the best WMMA trilogy to date. She followed it up by teaching the extremely talented and dangerous Andrea “KGB” Lee in December to position herself as a legit contender for a rematch with Barb Honchak’s (for the Invicta FC title this time) in 2015.
Comeback of the Year (Performance) – Cathal Pendred (UFC Fight Night: Dublin)
Holy mackerel. If you missed Pendred’s comeback performance against Mike King (who it turns out was all juiced up mind you) at UFC Dublin I suggest you go back and watch it on Fight Pass….NOW. This was one for the ages folks. Since King did end up popping positive for PED’s, Pendred would be awarded his half of the fight of the night bonus as well. What did Pendred do with that extra $50K? Proving that the good guy truly did win, Pendred donated a portion of King’s bonus to a Children’s Hospital in Dublin.
Upset of the Year: Herica Tiburcio defeats Michelle Waterson (Invicta FC 10)
Like Yasuko Tamada before her, Herica Tiburcio was expected to be another albeit talented, virtually unknown import to make “The Karate Hottie” look good. Instead, the 4’11” Brazilian atomweight prospect became a champion on a December night in Houston, Texas. Her victory over Waterson was just as moving as it was surprising. The shallowness of the division easily warrants an immediate rematch between the new champion and the newest chosen face of the company. Tiburcio-Waterson sits right near the top of our list of 2015 fights to watch for.
Most Vulgar Display of Power: Michelle Waterson abuses Yasuko Tamada at Invicta FC 8
After watching the fight between Michelle Waterson and Yasuko Tamada for the Invicta FC atomweight title at Invicta FC 8 I fully expected Waterson to be escorted off the premises in handcuffs with yellow caution tape surrounding the cage.
Performance of the Year – T.J. Dillashaw upsets Renan Barao to become UFC Bantamweight Champion
A runner up to upset of the year, Dillashaw’s masterful performance at UFC 173 was quite the revelation. Depending on what site you frequent, Dillashaw entered the contest as the +700 dog who clearly had no business ending Renan Barao’s 33-fight unbeaten streak. Dillashaw’s performance on this night would be one that had fans and media alike uttering the words “holy sh*t” out loud and in their minds for a good 20+ minutes. UFC color man Joe Rogan called it the best performance he had ever seen, and he’s seen plenty. While I don’t agree with everything Joe says, this one is tough to disagree with. It certainly was without question the best performance of 2014 in all of sports.
Event of the Year – UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida
A fight of the year contender in the main event, our KO of the year in the co-main, some unfortunate live drama that saw a heavyweight fight scrapped, Uriah Hall’s toe, and plenty more from a cast of supporting players like Urijah Faber and Rob Font made certain that the UFC’s 3rd annual International Fight Week offering provided fireworks from start to finish.
Brandon who? The Cal-State Bakersfield wrestling standout entered 2014 as a 5-0 MMA prospect poised to make an impact in Bellator’s season 10 middleweight tournament. After winning the tourney, Halsey would end Alexander Shlemenko’s 13-fight win streak inside of the middleweight division in just 35-seconds to become Bellator’s middleweight champion. Halsey joins the likes of previous breakout fighter of the year winners Anthony Pettis, Daniel Cormier, Nick Newell, and Conor McGregor. Just saying, you may want to keep an eye on this one.
Staredown of the Year: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
While the fight didn’t materialize in 2014, one would be hard pressed to find a better “staredown” than the one that happened when these two shook up the world inside of the MGM Grand on August 4th.
Rivalry of the Year: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
Not every great rivalry in the fight game requires in your face antics and pre-fight smack talk. The 10 rounds of pain that took place between now former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and current champ Robbie Lawler certainly cemented these two fiery competitors as strange bedfellows for life. With their trilogy bout recently scrapped, one can only thank the UFC Gods for letting this ongoing battle linger on a little longer. There’s no need to match these two men up again straight away; the damage they did to one another in 2014 mentally and physically was immeasurable. Next up for Hendricks will be the tough as nails Matt Brown at UFC 185 in Texas. For the new champ and 2014 FOTY Robbie Lawler you can expect a well deserved resting period in the immediate future.
Cyborg’s Bellator Invasion Begins
Bellator MMA will kick of their year and their decade this Saturday night for the third year in a row at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and as has often been the case with Bellator, they do not waste time.
The main event will feature Bellator’s latest big name acquisition-former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, trying to make some massive history against the best opponent the promotion can offer, current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, the only titleholder in the promotion’s history who will be defending her title for the fourth time.
The matchup was formally announced back at Bellator 228, in the cage itself and signaled to everyone that Bellator would not be playing when around when it comes to showcasing the star power of Cris Cyborg. She represents a rare commodity to Bellator, an acquisition who has proven she can actually move the needle when it comes to ratings and pay per view buys, someone who has headlined and sold tickets for three different promotions.
Yet Bellator has something to offer Cyborg that she has long craved-a legitimate featherweight division. Whereas the UFC has done next to nothing to bolster their 145 pound weight class, Bellator has worked to go out, look for, and sign fighters for their 145 pound weight class, one of the two women’s weight classes that are fully active in the promotion. Until Cyborg signed with the promotion-that has been to find opponents for Julia Budd.
For many MMA fans, the enduring image of Julia Budd comes from over eight years ago, when she was in short order, taken down, mounted, and arm-barred by some chick named Ronda Rousey. Budd was submitted in November 2011 by Rousey, her elbow trashed in just thirty-nine seconds. The image of Budd’s dislocated elbow just hanging from its socket is not something you forget easily.
Since then, however, Budd has completely transformed herself into a 5’8 145 pound female tank, a ripped kickboxing machine who hasn’t lost a fight since being submitted by Rousey all those years ago. She has won eleven fights in a row since then, beating some big names, including retiring women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion in March 2017.
Budd has defended her title three times and is coming her most impressive win yet, stopping Olga Rubin with a body kick in the first round last July. With her size, confidence, and kickboxing skills, she represents a legitimate challenge to Cyborg-hopefully one of many the women’s MMA legend faces in the promotion.
Of course, the Cyborg that Budd is facing is not the invincible Cyborg who tore through the women’s divisions for ten years. This is a Cyborg who has had the hell knocked out of her in one round by Amanda Nunes in December 2018, one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Then Cyborg had a much more difficult fight than expected with the much less experienced Felicia Spencer last July in Winnipeg at UFC 240. Spencer, a very good grappler, managed to win a lot of exchanges with Cyborg and give her a lot of trouble for the first two rounds, before Cyborg’s class began to show in the third.
It feels that if there was ever a time for Julia Budd to fight Cris Cyborg, this would be the time. Cyborg is still formidable, but not the invincible killer who had most women beaten before the caged door was even locked. Amanda Nunes proved that she was human, that you can go right at her, and it would be smart for Julia Budd to come forward, back Cyborg up and try to put real hurt on her. Cyborg has looked to develop real boxing skills in recent years, and it would be smart for her to use those skills, box, and look to set up her grappling, one place she should have a huge advantage.
That’s how it should go. But the biggest question may be how does Julia Budd handle the spotlight, which will be on her more than it ever has before, in front a big crowd at the Forum, on the biggest stage of her career. Cyborg has been there many times before. Even if Budd can have a good round or two, when it gets into the championship rounds, with the bright lights on, can Julia Budd deliver? Its question that will determine how long Cyborg’s invasion of Bellator goes from here…
The Monday Wrap-Up: Shakur Rises, MacDonald Falls, Jiu-Jitsu Rules
With our combat sports weekends getting busier and busier, every Monday, FightBooth’s Frank Anguiano will come to you with his weekly report, telling you what have you have missed, and what might deserves a second look…
Shakur Is Special
Special is a word that may be used to liberally in combat sports, an arena where special things are happening all the time. But this Saturday Night on ESPN+, New Jersey featherweight star and former Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson proved he was truly special.
At only twenty-two-years-old and in just his thirteenth professional fight, Stevenson dominated undefeated twenty-six-year-old Joet Gonzales of Los Angeles over twelve rounds in front of a nice crowd in Reno, Nevada, bringing championship boxing back to a once great fight town.
Stevenson was excellent, slowly breaking down Gonzales and for the first six rounds, he barely got touched. Gonzales picked it up a little in the middle rounds, but Stevenson just picked up the pace and with a steady right jab, a stabling straight left to the body, and a little bit everything else, controlled nearly every round. Gonzales, thought by most to be a very good prospect himself, only landed eleven percent of punches throughout the fight.
This fight was given extra fuel due to the fact that Stevenson is remarkably the boyfriend of Joet’s sister Zamora, a former amateur boxer herself. That being said, Stevenson never lost his cool and was calm and classy after the bout, and why not? He’s the new WBO featherweight champion and now has his sights on IBF title holder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) of England, who has already made three successful title defense. That should be a very interesting fight.
The co-main event saw female 130-pound prospect Mikaela Mayer of Los Angeles advanced to 12-0 with a sixth round TKO of Argentina’s Alejandra Zamora (7-4, 1 KO).
Mayer was sharp, landing good punches to the head and body, and landing hard left hooks over and over. It was Mayer’s fifth win by knockout. Mayer has everything needed to be a star. She can fight, she has a great social media presence, she’s hot, and as Muhammad Ali once said, she has the right complexion and the right connections. Most of all, she’s in the weight range of a lot of prominent female fighters at 130. She will do some business in the near future.
Lima Bests McDonald to win the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix
The final of the year-long Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Tournament ended a bit of an anticlimax, as Douglas Lima won the Bellator welterweight title for the third time, besting Rory MacDonald over five rounds at the Mohegan Sun Casino.
Needing little more than the occasional well timed jabs and leg kicks Lima managed to keep MacDonald in a mostly defensive stance for much of the fight. MacDonald, try as he might, was unable to take Lima down for most of the fight, even when he did get into with good shots. Lima simply refused to go down! MacDonald finally managed to get on top in the fifth round, but by that time the fight had been decided.
Welterweight remains Bellator’s busiest division and Lima will have plenty of options going forward in defending his title. But part of me can’t help but wonder what Douglas Lima could do in the UFC! He’s a big welterweight with great striking and wonderful takedown defense, and against the breed of power wrestlers that currently dominates the 170-pound division, he would be a great matchup for many of them. It probably won’t happen, but it’s a damn good dream.
Other Bellator Thoughts
Nick Newell dropped his second Bellator fight on Saturday, getting smothered by Oklahoma’s Manny Muro for much of the last two rounds. It’s the way most guys are going to fight him from now on, and that’s a bad thing for Newell, and fans who like exciting fights.
Jake Hager’s third pro fight ended a no contest, as an accidental knee to the groin was enough for Kansas City’s Anthony Garrett to pack it in. When two guys are as inexperienced as these two, with only a combined eight pro fights, this stuff happens.
Welterweights Ed Ruth and Jonathan Jackson tore it up on a Friday in a three round war that could have gone either way. I would love to see those two guys in the cage again.
I don’t really need to see Roy Nelson in the cage anymore, or Frank Mir for that matter…
Maia Submits Askren
The battle for grappling supremacy lived up to its hype as Demian Maia submitted Ben Askren late in the third round, once again using his patented rear naked choke. While most of this fight took place on this feet (and actually wasn’t bad, except Askren’s atrocious footwork), the grappling exchanges were hella fun, mostly because Maia was dedicated constantly attacking with submissions. The heel hook sweep he used to finally gain the advantage was a thing of beauty, as he was the squeeze he used to get the finish. Maia didn’t even have to grab his bicep or wrist to complete the hold. He’s that strong.
Other UFC Thoughts
Heavyweights finishing with heel hooks, as undefeated Frenchman Ciryl Gane against American Don‘tale Mayes in third round, is the kind of energy I need in my life. Even though Beneil Dariush got his third win in a row and second Performance of the Night in a row, I can’t see him became a huge threat again a lightweight. Didn’t catch much of the undercard this week, since it was on in the AM on Saturday.
Have heard great things about the Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis fight this Saturday in England, where Taylor won by decision to unify two 140 pound titles. We now have two guys with four belts, lets have Taylor versus Jose Ramirez as soon as Ramirez gets healthy. It was good to see Showtime Championship Boxing running again, as they have been quiet for most of the second half of the year.
Fedor vs. Rampage to headline Bellator Japan on Dec 29
LOS ANGELES – For the first time in the organization’s history, Bellator travels to Japan and the iconic Saitama Super Arena for an historic event, as Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13) square off in a long-awaited heavyweight showdown. Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage, powered by RIZIN, takes place Sunday, December 29 and will air LIVE on Paramount Network.
Tickets for Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage go on sale November 3. Additional bouts are expected to be announced in the coming days.
“For Bellator’s debut in Japan, we wanted to bring a massive event and fighters that the Japanese fans really connect with,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “Given the vast history of martial arts and MMA in Japan, and especially at Saitama Super Arena, this will be a very special show that no one will want to miss. This will, unquestionably, be a monumental event for Bellator and I am looking forward to the moment that Fedor and ‘Rampage’ walk out to a crowd that has known them since their careers began. I would also like to thank RIZIN for their help in making this event a possibility and we look forward to working together in the near future to showcase the best talent each organization has to offer.”
Fighting out of Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, Russia, Fedor Emelianenko returns to Japan following a successful run in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix earlier this year, where he earned consecutive first-round knockouts over Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir. A former PRIDE FC Heavyweight Champion and PRIDE 2004 Heavyweight World Grand Prix Champion, “The Last Emperor” returns to where his career started. Often referred to as “The GOAT” by fans around the world, his career resume stands as one of the most impressive in the history of the sport with victories over Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman and Andrei Arlovski, to name a few. With 29 career victories ending via finish, the punching power and world-class Sambo of the stoic Russian could result in yet another defining moment in his illustrious career.
An eight-fight veteran of Bellator, “Rampage” Jackson’s legendary career has seen him compete against some of the top names in the sport, generating a loyal army of fans along the way. The former PRIDE and UFC champion is the proud owner of many epic highlight reel slams and knockouts that he has racked up throughout his epic battles with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal, Kevin Randleman and, perhaps most-notably, his four-fight series with Wanderlei Silva. The Memphis, Tennessee-native has long been seen as an icon to MMA fans around the globe and has openly voiced a desire to face Fedor in front of a Japanese crowd before his career comes to an end. Now, the two legends will finally meet inside the Bellator cage on December 29 at the famed Saitama Super Arena.
Updated Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage Fight Card:
Heavyweight Main Event: Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13)
*Card subject to change.
Please visit Bellator.com for more information.
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