Knockout of the Year: Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin, UFC Macau

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Unlike in some other categories in 2012, there was no lack of solid candidates for Knockout of the Year.

There were so many memorable knockouts this year, you could easily swap several of the honorable mentions into the main list. Or added about another dozen knockouts or so to the honorable mentions. But still, even with what seemed like an endless highlight reel, some knockouts stood out more than others.

Picking one over another is often a matter of taste. Sheer spectacularity counts for something. Making a highly complex knockout look easy is another way to stand out. Knockouts which cement a fighter as a legit contender also rank high. The stakes and the quality of opposition matter, too.

The choice for knockout of the year came down to two strong contenders: Cung Le’s stunning one-punch knockout of Rich Franklin at UFC Macau last month, and Edson Barboza’s amazing spinning heel kick finish of Terry Etim at UFC 142.

When push comes to shove, we’re going with Le-Franklin over Barboza-Etim simply because it was such an unexpected, shocking moment.

The 40-year-old Le was an underdog coming into the fight, and he came into the bout with a foot injury.

Franklin, meanwhile, was coming off a fight in which he manhandled Wanderlei Silva on short notice, and we’re still not too far removed from the memories of Franklin brutally knocking Chuck Liddell into retirement in 2010.

So when Le wound up with a big right hand and put out Franklin’s lights, it was a moment as unexpected as it was jarring. Like Rashad Evans’ knockout of Liddell or Gabriel Gonzaga’s head-kick finish of Mirko Cro Cop, it was the sort of finish which will live on for years as an iconic moment in the sport. And that’s enough to give it the edge for first place.

Before we get to the list, a quick reminder that this is specifically for knockouts and not TKOs. So, for example, while Anderson Silva’s knee to Chael Sonnen’s chest was one of the year’s most memorable strikes, their UFC 148 fight was stopped due to punches after the knee, so the fight isn’t eligible.

1. Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin, UFC on Fuel, Macao, Nov. 10 See below (35-second mark).

2. Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim, UFC 142, Rio de Janeiro, Jan. 14 A perfectly executed spinning-heel kick knocked Etim cold. Anytime someone pulls off a move that in theory should only work in the movies, you’ve earned a spot high on the list.

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(Photo credit: Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

3. Johnny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann, UFC 154, Montreal, Nov. 17 On the odd chance anyone still doubted the power of “Bigg Rigg’s” left hand after his one-punch KO of Jon Fitch last year, Hendricks’ similar finish of Kampmann left no doubts.

4. Anthony Johnson vs. D.J. Linderman, World Series of Fighting, Las Vegas, Nov. 3 In what may have been 2012′s most visceral knockout, Johnson, angered that referee Herb Dean didn’t call timeout after an eye poke, unleashed a brutal right hand to the jaw which caused Linderman to fall straight forward to the mat.

5. Jose Aldo Jr. vs. Chad Mendes, UFC 142, Rio de Janeiro, Jan. 14 Aldo’s knockout knee of Mendes in their featherweight title bout was a thing of efficient beauty. There was no running start, no big windup, no histrionics. Mendes had Aldo clinched from behind in the closing seconds of the opening round. In seemingly one motion, Aldo escaped, turned around, and flattened Mendes one second before the horn. It might not have been as flashy as Barboza’s finish or as stunning as Le’s, but it served as a reminder of the scope of Aldo’s striking capabilities.

Honorable mentions (in chronological order):

Brian Rogers vs. Vitor Vianna, Bellator 66, Cleveland, April 20

Chris Weidman vs. Mark Munoz, UFC on Fuel, San Jose, Calif., July 11

Mike Swick vs. DaMarques Johnson, UFC on FOX 4, Los Angeles, Aug. 4

Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard, UFC 150, Denver, Aug. 11

Daron Cruickshank vs. Henry Martinez, UFC on FOX 5, Seattle, Dec. 8

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