Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - It was another memorable year in the UFC, and 2010 has even more action in store beginning with UFC 108 on January 2nd. But before we close the book on 2009, we will end our unofficial awards season with a look at the top fighters to grace the Octagon over the past 12 months.
By Thomas Gerbasi
It was another memorable year in the UFC, and 2010 has even more action in store beginning with UFC 108 on January 2nd. But before we close the book on 2009, we will end our unofficial awards season with a look at the top fighters to grace the Octagon over the past 12 months.
10 – Jon Jones
If you haven’t been paying attention to the rapid rise of Jon Jones, where have you been for the last year? A New York phenom who passed his first big test in January when he easily decisioned Stephan Bonnar, “Jonny Bones” went on to submit Jake O’Brien at UFC 100 in July before ending the year on what could have been a downer as he was disqualified for illegal elbows against Matt Hamill. But the dominating performance by Jones before the finish was such that more people are talking about his talent and limitless future than the end result. If everything keeps going the way it has, expect to see Jones on these lists for years to come. Watch video: Bonnar, O'Brien, Hamill
9 – Nate Marquardt
As I mentioned in the “Best Knockouts of 2009,” Nate Marquardt went from being a nice guy in and out of the Octagon to a nice guy who saved his smiles for the time before and after the cage door closed. Now when the bell rings, Marquardt is intent on taking opponents out, and he did just that in 2009 with impressive knockouts of Wilson Gouveia and Demian Maia, the latter coming in just 21 seconds. I kinda like the “new” Nate, and I would guess that fight fans are probably are on board as well. Watch video: UFC 102
8 – Dan Henderson
Sure, his former Team Quest teammate Randy Couture first popularized the line ‘not bad for an old man’ after beating Tim Sylvia back in 2007, but Dan Henderson – at 39 years old – certainly earned the right to use it as well after a big 2009. Henderson’s year began with his January win over Rich Franklin, and the victory earned him a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter show that exposed him to a new audience of mainstream fans that may not have followed his storied pre-UFC career. But it was his July knockout of his TUF coaching rival, Michael Bisping, that truly got casual observers of the sport paying attention to the former PRIDE two-division champion. Watch video: UFC 93, UFC 100
7 – Cain Velasquez
Just 4-0 as a pro when the year began, Cain Velasquez went from ‘next big thing’ to ‘heavyweight title threat’ in the space of three 2009 fights that saw him stop Denis Stojnic, survive some flush power shots to batter and decision Cheick Kongo, and then run through legit contender Ben Rothwell in less than two rounds. With performances like that, Velasquez is right on time for what will be his biggest test in February against heavyweight legend Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Watch video: Velasquez vs. Kongo
6 – Dan Hardy
As Nottingham’s Dan Hardy entered 2009, he was coming off a close decision win over Akihiro Gono, and most observers believed that he would have a bit of a climb to get a shot at the welterweight title. Then came a stirring knockout of Rory Markham, a close win over Marcus Davis in one of the most heated grudge matches of the year, and a clear-cut victory over Mike Swick. All of a sudden, “The Outlaw” had made his climb – three steps at a time – and he will now face Georges St-Pierre in early 2010. Add Hardy’s charisma and ease with the media to the mix, and not only was a contender made in 2009, but a star was born. Watch video: Q&A after his latest win
5 – Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Once one of the most feared fighters in the world, former PRIDE star Shogun Rua’s reputation took a hit after he lost his UFC debut to Forrest Griffin in September of 2007 and was forced to undergo two knee surgeries. But 2009 has seen the revival of the Brazilian’s career, and even though he was less than impressive in dispatching Mark Coleman in January, he did stop ‘The Hammer’, and he certainly looked back in form in knocking out Chuck Liddell in April. But it was his five round battle with Lyoto Machida in October that truly saw the resurrection of Rua, as he pushed the champion to the brink, only to lose a controversial decision. In 2010, Rua will get another shot at “The Dragon”, but for now, it’s safe to say that the old Shogun is back. Watch video: UFC 104
4 – BJ Penn
By the time February rolled around, it didn’t look like it was going to be a great year for Hawaiian icon BJ Penn, considering his one-sided welterweight loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94. But around the middle of the year, Penn got a new attitude when it came to his fighting life, and with an August submission of Kenny Florian and a December destruction of Diego Sanchez, “The Prodigy” had not only defeated two top challengers to his crown, he established himself as the greatest 155-pound fighter the UFC had even seen. How’s that for a turnaround? Watch video: UFC 101, UFC 107
3 – Anderson Silva
With a 2009 cut short due to injury, fight fans only got to see the pound for pound king twice this year, but in those two bouts, he proved why he’s considered to be the best in the game. In April, Silva successfully defended his middleweight crown with a decision win over Thales Leites in which he may have gone 25 minutes without getting hit cleanly once. And though that victory may have been less than scintillating, action-wise, “The Spider”s return to 205 pounds certainly remedied that as he stopped former light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin in the first round with a frightening display of precision striking, forever cementing the fact that if you want to engage with Silva, the end result might not be pretty. Watch video: UFC 101
2 – Lyoto Machida
After a career defining decision win over Tito Ortiz at UFC 84 in May of 2008, it was clear that Lyoto Machida would be moving on to bigger and better things in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. How he would fare in those bouts was still a question mark though, despite his unbeaten record and wins over the likes of Ortiz, Rich Franklin and BJ Penn. There are no questions now, after the Brazilian knocked out previously unbeaten Thiago Silva in January, and then repeated the feat in May over Rashad Evans, a win that earned him the UFC light heavyweight title. And despite a razor-thin decision win over Mauricio Rua in his first title defense in October, “The Dragon” is still standing atop the 205-pound weight class and ready for what should be a very interesting 2010 campaign. Watch video: UFC 104
1 – Georges St-Pierre
Beating BJ Penn and Thiago Alves in successive bouts is impressive. Doing it without losing a round in either fight is nothing short of amazing. But that’s what St-Pierre did in defending his UFC welterweight title twice in 2009, first by scoring a TKO victory in his January superfight with lightweight champion Penn, and then following that up with a decision win over Alves in which he had to battle through the final ten minutes of the fight with a groin injury suffered in the third round. If anything, St-Pierre seems to be getting better with every fight, a scary proposition for anyone competing at 170 pounds. Watch video: UFC 100
Honorable Mention – Jon Fitch, Gray Maynard, Terry Etim, Frankie Edgar, Tomasz Drwal, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Stefan Struve, Alan Belcher, Roy Nelson, Paulo Thiago, Ross Pearson, Dennis Siver, Joe Stevenson, Junior Dos Santos, Tyson Griffin, Nate Quarry, John Howard, Chael Sonnen.