Always the toughest category to sort through, it’s a good problem to have when doling out the yearly unofficial awards because it means that we’ve seen some great knockouts in the past 12 months. 2011 was no exception, and while we saw roundhouse kicks, front kicks, spinning backfists, and everything in between, it was a comeback for the ages that topped the chart in 2011.
10 (tie) - Wanderlei Silva over Cung Le
Blame Johny Hendricks. If not for his stunning finish of Jon Fitch on the last card of 2011, this list would have been nice and clean with 10 entrants. Instead, I was forced to choose a fight to omit, but I just couldn’t do it. Hence, a tie for number 10, and despite a rough stay in the UFC thus far, Wanderlei Silva reached back into his bag of tricks again at UFC 139 in November and rebounded from some rocky early moments to knock out Cung Le with a vicious barrage reminiscent of his prime as “The Axe Murderer” in the PRIDE organization. For longtime fans of Silva, it was the highlight of 2011.
10 (tie) - Anthony Johnson over Charlie Brenneman
Most knockouts (especially ones that end up on year-end lists like these) come suddenly, without any warning. Not this one. In fact, when Charlie Brenneman made it to his feet to clear his head after some rough early going against Anthony Johnson in October, you just knew things weren’t going to end up well for “The Spaniard,” who had his left hand down as he used his right to steady himself on the Octagon fence, leaving himself wide open for what came next, a flush left kick to the head that sent him crashing to the mat. Referee Mario Yamasaki immediately called the fight and fans got a reminder of why they call Johnson “Rumble.”
9 - Junior Dos Santos over Cain Velasquez
This was a knockout for the history books, Junior dos Santos’ right hand finish of Cain Velasquez not only earned the Brazilian the UFC heavyweight title, but it ushered in a new era for the sport, as the bout was the first UFC match televised on network TV thanks to the organization’s 2011 deal with FOX. And to think, it only took 64 seconds for JDS to pull it off.
8 - Chan Sung Jung over Mark Hominick
If you’re buying tickets in 2012 to see one fighter almost guaranteed to bring excitement, Chan Sung Jung would be a pretty good bet. In four fights under the Zuffa (UFC / WEC) umbrella, he’s engaged in what Joe Rogan called “The Fight of the Decade” against Leonard Garcia, finished Garcia in their rematch with a Twister, the first time that move has ever ended a UFC bout, and in December, he needed just seven seconds to knock out hometown hero Mark Hominick at UFC 140, dodging a left hook and countering with a solid right hand down the middle that dropped “The Machine” and set up the final barrage of shots. Yeah, that “Korean Zombie” is must-see TV.
7 - Frankie Edgar over Gray Maynard
It was déjà vu all over again for Frankie Edgar in the first round of his third bout with Gray Maynard at UFC 136 in October, as the lightweight champion was hurt, bloodied, and seemingly one shot away from losing his belt to the only man to ever beat him. The first time this happened, at UFC 125 in January of 2011, “The Answer” rebounded and battled Maynard to a five round draw. The second time around, Edgar closed the show with a rousing fourth round knockout, retaining his title, handing Maynard his first pro loss, and finally putting to rest the specter of that lone pro defeat. Not bad for a night’s work.
6 - Lyoto Machida over Randy Couture
UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture knew his final mixed martial arts bout wasn’t going to be an easy one in the always hard to decipher Lyoto Machida, but that’s why he took it. There have never been any gimmes for “The Natural,” and that’s always been one of the reasons why fans love him. But it was the Machida, a former light heavyweight champion, who stole the show at UFC 129, finishing Couture with a jumping front kick he claimed action film star Steven Seagal showed him. It was the perfect win for “The Dragon,” and it earned him a title shot in the process. And while he lost to Jon Jones at UFC 140, wins like the one over Couture will guarantee that we will always see something interesting out of the Brazil native.
5 - Anderson Silva over Vitor Belfort
By the time Lyoto Machida gave Steven Seagal credit for his finish of Randy Couture, fans began to take such talk from Brazil’s finest seriously, but when UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva did it for the first time, everyone was shocked. But no matter who taught “The Spider” the front kick to the face that ended Vitor Belfort’s night at UFC 126 in February, the bottom line is that the devastating shot became the strike du jour for athletes throughout the sport, who all hoped to match the surprisingly quick finish turned in by MMA’s pound for pound king.
4 - Johny Hendricks over Jon Fitch
Left hand. 12 seconds. Knocking out a top welterweight contender who had not been stopped since 2002. If that doesn’t earn you a top five spot on this list, then nothing else will. And while we all knew Johny Hendricks had plenty of heat on his fastball, his finish of Jon Fitch at UFC 141 last week was a down the pipe delivery that Nolan Ryan would have been proud of.
3 - John Makdessi over Kyle Watson
In his UFC debut against Pat Audinwood in December of 2010, John Makdessi showed a wide array of striking techniques learned during his years an unbeaten kickboxer. His April bout against The Ultimate Fighter alumnus Kyle Watson continued on that same path, but when he saw an opening to be even more spectacular in the third round, he boldly took it, faking a right kick before stepping through and unleashing a spinning left back fist that landed flush on Watson’s face and knocked him out immediately. It’s one of those knockouts that you can replay repeatedly and it just never gets old.
2 - Sam Stout over Yves Edwards
When newer fans of the sport look at Yves Edwards, they probably see a veteran of the sport trying to make another run at glory. And while that’s true, hardcore fans remember Edwards as a man seen as a Top Five or higher lightweight for much of his career, and one who was still dangerous entering his June clash with Sam Stout. So his chilling knockout defeat at the hands of the Canadian wasn’t an easy one to watch, but you have to give it to Ontario’s “Hands of Stone,” who picked up his first KO victory since 2007 in the most emphatic fashion possible, a crushing left hand to the head that ended the bout as soon as it landed.
1 - Cheick Kongo over Pat Barry
Given all the disappointments in recent years when striker met striker but instead turned it into a wrestling match, expectations were that Cheick Kongo would take Pat Barry down in their June bout or that “HD” would even attempt to show off his own growing ground game against the Frenchman. But thankfully, the two decided to live up to their striking reputations, and what followed was a tense trading of thudding leg kicks until all hell broke loose when Barry sent Kongo to the canvas twice, both times appearing to be seconds away from a stoppage victory. But just when all seemed to be lost for Kongo, he got to his feet, planted them, and then ripped off two right hands. The first one stunned Barry, the second put him on his back, and when referee Dan Miragliotta halted the bout, Kongo had just delivered the most spectacular comeback win since Scott Smith finished Pete Sell in 2006. It was a pretty sweet KO for Kongo as well, the best of 2011.
Honorable Mention - Rafael Dos Anjos over George Sotiropoulos, Carlos Condit over Dong Hyun Kim, Chris Leben over Wanderlei Silva, Travis Browne over Stefan Struve, Mark Hunt over Chris Tuchscherer, DaMarques Johnson over Clay Harvison, Erick Silva over Luis Ramos, Alistair Overeem over Brock Lesnar, Josh Koscheck over Matt Hughes, Minotauro Nogueira over Brendan Schaub
Ten Best - 2011 Knockout of the Year
What were the best UFC knockouts of 2011 (unofficially, at least)? They're one click away...