Even though March is only 11 days old, Martin Kampmann’s come-from-behind, last minute submission win over Thiago Alves in the main event of the UFC on FX 2 event in Sydney, Australia marked the end of the first quarter of the event calendar in the UFC.
With the Octagon not scheduled to make another appearance until it lands in Stockholm, Sweden for the first time in mid-April, I thought this would be a great time to look back at the highlights from the first three months.
From the explosive knockouts and stunning submissions to the great fights and genuinely entertaining moments, here’s a look back at the best of best so far in 2012.
Edson Barboza KO, R3 (Spinning Wheel Kick) vs. Terry Etim — UFC 142
Not only was this easily the best knockout of the year thus far, Barboza’s finish in Rio de Janeiro stands as one of the best knockouts in UFC history. The unbeaten Brazilian connected on a beautiful spinning wheel kick, stiffening Etim on impact, sending the Liverpudlian crashing to the canvas as everyone watching picked his or her jaw up off the floor.
Barboza earned Knockout of the Night honors for the performance, and took home his third straight Fight of the Night award as well, making his next bout likely to be one of the most anticipated lightweight contests on the calendar.
Stephen Thompson KO, R1 (Front Leg Round Kick) vs. Dan Stittgen — UFC 143
If not for Barboza’s ridiculous finish a month earlier, “Wonderboy” would be leading the Knockout of the Year race for his first round finish of Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut back in February.
The decorated kickboxer and undefeated welterweight connected with a combination he and his coaches call “The Moneymaker,” a right cross followed by a lead-leg round kick that — if delivered properly — the opposition doesn’t even see coming. Such was the case with Stittgen, who leaned out of the way of the right hand only to be laid out by the right leg of Thompson that landed flush on the side of his head.
Next up for the 28-year-old South Carolina native is a meeting with TUF 7 alum Matt Brown at UFC 145 in April.
Nick Denis KO, R1 (Standing Elbows) vs. Joseph Sandoval — UFC on FX 1
“The Ninja of Love” didn’t waste much time making an impact in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Denis needed just 22 seconds to put away Sandoval in the opening bout of the UFC’s inaugural event on FX, grabbing a half collar tie with his left hand while unleashing a barrage of elbow strikes to the side of the Texas native’s head with his right.
The Ottawa, Ontario native who holds a Masters degree in biochemistry will return to action against TUF 14 semifinalist Johnny Bedford in May on the UFC on FOX 3 undercard.
Honorable Mentions: Issei Tamura KO, R1 (Punch) vs. Tiequan Zhang — UFC 144; Anthony Pettis KO, R1 (Head Kick) vs. Joe Lauzon — UFC 144.
Dustin Poirier SUB, R1 (Mounted Triangle Armbar) vs. Max Holloway — UFC 143
After going the distance in his first two UFC appearances, the 23-year-old featherweight contender has shown off his submission skills in each of his last two outings.
In February, Poirier followed up his second-round submission win over Pablo Garza with a beautiful mounted triangle armbar finish of young Hawaiian Max Holloway on the Condit vs. Diaz undercard.
A purple belt under TUF 7 alum and UFC middleweight “Crazy” Tim Credeur, Poirier returns to the cage in May to face “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 3 in Fairfax, Virginia.
Charles Oliveira SUB, R1 (Calf Crusher) vs. Eric Wisely — UFC on FOX: Evans vs. Davis
The energetic 22-year-old Brazilian made his featherweight debut a memorable one by earning Submission of the Night honors for this first round finish.
Wisely defended a series of submission attempts from Oliveira, avoiding both a heel hook and a kneebar before getting caught in the unexpected hold, which saw Oliveira triangle his legs around Wisely’s calf and pull him to the ground, putting immense pressure on the calf, as well as torquing his knee simultaneously.
Oliveira looked comfortable making the cut to 145-pounds for the first time, rebounding from a three-fight winless skid after winning 14 straight as a lightweight.
Vaughan Lee SUB, R1 (Armbar) vs. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto — UFC 144
The diminutive Birmingham native dealt the Japanese crowd a blow with his slick finish of hometown favorite “Kid” Yamamoto at UFC 144.
While the former K-1 Hero’s standout was getting the best of things in the stand-up department, he made a mistake on the ground late in the opening frame, and Lee capitalized. The 29-year-old British bantamweight grabbed Yamamoto’s arm, and transitioned from a triangle choke into an armbar, becoming the first person to submit Yamamoto.
The win leveled Lee’s record at 1-1 in the UFC, and sets the British submission specialist up as someone to watch in the coming months.
Honorable Mentions: UFC on FX 2 Submission Trio — Daniel Pineda SUB, R1 (Triangle Choke Armbar) vs. Mackens Semerzier; TJ Waldburger SUB, R1 (Armbar) vs. Jake Hecht; Martin Kampmann SUB, R3 (Guillotine Choke) vs. Thiago Alves
Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson — UFC 144
Regardless of whom you had winning this fight, there is no denying that it was one of the most exciting of the year thus far.
Once again, Edgar showed the heart of the champion and the incredible resiliency that carried him through the dire opening rounds of his two engagements with Gray Maynard last year, continually pressing forward, never slowing down. Across from him, Henderson stood his ground, a calm look on his face, casually clearing the hair from his eyes between throwing heavy punches and kicks.
The judges saw the fight in favor of Henderson, making him the second former WEC champion to claim UFC gold already this year, but each round was closer than the final scores show. For a third straight year, Edgar will fight in a rematch, as the two will meet again later this year in a bout that will most likely join this one on a list of the best fights of 2012.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall — UFC on FX 2
The flyweights finally made their UFC debut at the start of the month in Sydney, Australia, and the first fight in the history of the 125-pound division was one of the best of the year.
As expected, former bantamweight title challenger Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall, the top-ranked flyweight in the world, paired off in a spirited affair that revved up to 100mph right out of the gate and never backed off the gas pedal.
Like Edgar and Henderson, McCall and Johnson will also meet for a second time later this year. The fight, which is officially ruled a draw, should have advanced to a “sudden victory” round, but a transcription error led to the contest being declared a majority decision for Johnson.
Three more rounds of “Mighty Mouse” vs. “Uncle Creepy” later this year? Sounds good to me.
Mike Easton vs. Jared Papazian — UFC on FX 1
These two bantamweights went toe-to-toe, meeting head on in the center of the Octagon in the middle of January before spending the next 15 minutes trading punches and kicks all over the cage.
Easton emerged victorious, earning the majority decision with scores of 29-28, 30-27, and 29-29 to push his record to 2-0 in the UFC and 12-1 overall. “The Hulk” returns to the Octagon on May 15 to face Yves Jabouin on UFC on FUEL TV 3.
Papazian, who took the fight on short notice after Ken Stone was forced from the bout due to an injury, put up a valiant effort, and established himself someone to keep an eye in the bantamweight ranks.
Honorable Mentions: Matthew Riddle vs. Henry Martinez — UFC 143; Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez — UFC on FUEL TV 1.
10 ADDITIONAL HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2012 THUS FAR
Jose Aldo celebrates with the crowd
After defeating Chad Mendes and defending his UFC featherweight title in the main event of UFC 142, the dynamic Brazilian champion ran from the Octagon and celebrated his victory amongst the crowd assembled at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. This was one of the most genuinely entertaining post-fight celebrations ever.
Jorge Rivera goes out with a win
Heading into his fight with Eric “Red” Schafer at UFC on FX 1, TUF 4 alum and UFC veteran Jorge Rivera announced he’d be calling it quits after the bout.
Through the first round, it looked like the Milford, Massachusetts native would end his career on a three-fight losing streak, but in the second, Rivera took charge, earning the stoppage win just 91 seconds into the round. The 40-year-old finished his career with a 20-9 record overall, and an 8-7 mark in the UFC.
WEC Champions Become UFC Champions
Both Carlos Condit and Benson Henderson wore gold during their days in the WEC. This year, the two World Extreme Cagefighting alums became UFC champions, Condit claiming the interim welterweight title at UFC 143, while Henderson earned lightweight gold at UFC 144.
Counting featherweight champion Jose Aldo and bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, four of the organization’s current champions are former WEC title holders. Flyweight tournament finalist Joseph Benavidez could become the fifth later this year.
The WEC may be gone, but these boys are helping make sure it’s never forgotten.
Round of the Year: Ivan Menjivar vs. John Albert — UFC on FUEL TV 1
It may have only lasted three minutes and 45 seconds, but Ivan Menjivar and John Albert crammed an entire fight’s worth of back-and-forth action into that time in Omaha, Nebraska.
Menjivar came out strong early, only to have Albert turn up the intensity and look like he was close to finishing midway through the fight. “The Pride of El Salvador” weathered the storm, and emerged on the other side to submit the Ultimate Fighter Season 14 alum shortly thereafter, earning Submission of the Night honors in the process.
The Imperial March vs. The PRIDE Theme
Though the fight between Ryan “Darth” Bader and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 144 didn’t quite deliver as much excitement as expected, their choice in walkout songs produced the best pairing of the night.
Bader strode to the cage to the sounds of Rage Against the Machine’s rocked-up version of the Imperial March — the music that announces Darth Vader’s presence in the original Star Wars trilogy — while Jackson came out to the theme from PRIDE.
As a big Star Wars nerd, I’ve always loved the Imperial March. As an even bigger MMA nerd, the PRIDE theme still gives me chills, with Jackson’s entrance in Japan making it even more awesome than normal. Too bad the fight wasn’t as good as the entrances.
Tim Boetsch made a lot of writers delete nearly completed fight recaps in his bout with Yushin Okami at UFC 144.
After being dominated throughout the first two rounds, most believed the former title challenger would complete the clean sweep against Boestch as the third round began. “The Barbarian” had other ideas, coming out of the break looking to finish, and doing just that thanks to a series of uppercuts along the cage that flattened Okami.
UFC President Dana White praised Boetsch’s performance after the event, holding it out there as an example of how he would like everyone who is down on the scorecards to approach the final round.
Pat Barry defends submissions, knocks out Christian Morecraft
The charismatic heavyweight showed that all the time he’s been putting in with the heavyweight wrestling monsters who make up the DeathClutch team in Minnestoa has been paying off.
In his UFC on FX 1 encounter with Morecraft, Barry escaped a pair of submission attempts on the ground before knocking out the 25-year-old New York native. Now that he’s shown everyone he can defend on the ground, Barry has vowed not to cut his hair until he gets a submission win over his own inside the Octagon.
His next chance comes in May on the UFC on FOX 3 card against Lavar “Big” Johnson.
Shawn Jordan’s Backflip
After earning a second-round TKO victory over Oli Thompson in his UFC debut in Australia, Jordan, a former fullback at LSU, landed a perfect backflip in the center of the Octagon.
Maybe he can give welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre some pointers next time he’s down in Albuquerque working with Team Jackson.
Brazilian Dominance in Brazil
Brazilian fighters went 10-4 when the UFC returned to Rio for the first time last August, with three of those losses coming in fights featuring two Brazilian fighters.
In January, the local fighters continued their dominance, posting a 9-3 mark at UFC 142, with a pair of those losses stemming from fights pitting Brazilians against one another.
Overall between the two events, Brazilians are 19-7 inside the Octagon, with five unavoidable losses. We’ll see if the trend continues when the UFC heads back to Brazil for the third time.
All Kinds of Awesomeness Ahead
Jones vs. Evans. “Cigano” vs. “The Reem” for the heavyweight title. Cruz vs. Faber 3. The list goes on and on, making the upcoming schedule filled with outstanding fights one of the biggest highlights of the year so far.
The Best of 2012... So Far
A look at the top moments, knockouts, fights, and submissions from the first three months inside the Octagon in 2012