There are a lot of factors which go into determining a fight of the year. Action, story, personalities, and crowd response can all play a role.
On that rare occasion when they all fall into place, it can be magic.
For the first half of the year, the one fight that had all of those elements was the Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann fight on March 2 in Saitama, Japan, just outside Tokyo. Silva, one of the biggest stars in Japanese mixed martial arts history, was brought back to an arena he had fought in 13 times.
In the building that was considered home base to the PRIDE Fighting Championships the company’s longtime middleweight (205-pound) champion had scored wins over the likes of Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba (twice), Kiyoshi Tamura, Yuki Kondo, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ricardo Arona and Kazuyuki Fujita. Those were some of the biggest stars of their era, but that was a time long ago.
Brian Stann, born minutes from the arena on the American military base in Yokosuka, had vowed to meet him in the middle and fire away. While people promise all the time to deliver the rock ’em, sock ’em robot-style fight, it rarely takes place.
Silva knocked Stann down almost immediately, bringing the Japanese crowd to believe that it was 2003 again instead of 2013. Silva was trying to finish when Stann knocked him down. This was all in the first minute. They regrouped, got in front of each other, and started swinging until Stann knocked him down a second time. The pace slowed late in the round, when Stann scored a third knockdown, and was pounding him on the ground at the end of one of the wilder rounds in recent years.
The second round started off where the first ended, and Silva landed a punch so hard it made Stann momentarily back off. Late in the round, Silva landed a right that hurt Stann bad, and then knocked him out with a left hook. For the 14,682 fans in attendance, they got a fight that exceeded anyone’s logical expectations. Although it is unlikely to be the case, had Silva decided to hang it up on that night, it would be the rare storybook ending to a Hall of Fame career.
A week earlier in Anaheim, Calif., two fighters in a prelim bout, Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice, had the closest thing to a competitor to Silva-Stann for the year’s best bout. The fight, a split decision win by Bermudez, was most notable for the third round, where Bermudez gave Grice a beating with punches and elbows on the ground, and then hard knees standing. Watching Grice take the knees that would have finished almost anyone, and not even go down, but fire right back, was among the most vivid fight moments of the year.
Every time it appeared it was about to be waved off, Grice would start coming back with punches. These two had the consensus best fight at UFC 157, which speaks volumes considering Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, arguably the year’s most important fight, and one of its most exciting, headlined that show.
In the No. 3 position for the year was a classic on the Deep promotion show on Jan. 15 from Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan. South Korea’s Doo Ho Choi finished Shoji Maruyama of Japan at 2:33 of the second round of a bout that saw both men fire away with an assortment of punches and kicks from all angles. Given they weren’t fighting with the rules in place in most of the world, the match featured brutal kicks to downed foes, the likes of which don’t happen in North America. The two landed solid shots, and went for submissions, escaped, and came back until Choi got the knockout.
The Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz welterweight title fight at UFC 158 turned out to be the biggest fight of 2013’s first six months in terms of fan interest. But the No. 4 spot for the best fight of the half-year goes to the No. 1 contender battle that stole the show on March 16 in Montreal. Johny Hendricks earned the next shot at GSP’s belt, winning a straight 29-28 decision over Carlos Condit. Condit was winning the striking battle, but couldn’t stop Hendricks’ ability to constantly throw him around and take him down, which was enough to take the first two rounds. Hendricks was essentially holding on, trying to avoid getting finished in the third, to take the decision.
As the year 2011 ended, Matt Brown had lost four of his previous five fights and was on the verge of being pink-slipped from UFC. Since then, he’s won five in a row, none more exciting that the UFC on FOX 7 main-card opener on April 20 in San Jose, where he defeated highly-touted Canadian newcomer Jordan Mein.
Brown dominated early, until Mein caught him with a paralyzing body shot late in the first round. Brown later admitted he was just about finished. But he was able to regroup on the ground and had Mein in trouble seconds later with a triangle. Mein got out and let Brown up, only for Brown to land a high kick, and finish the round with punches, knees and a hard elbow. Round two was all Brown, landing punches and hard elbows before John McCarthy called it off. The strength of the first round was enough for it to land in the No. 5 spot.
The rest of the top ten:
6. Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate, April 13, Las Vegas
7. Tom “Kong” Watson vs. Stanislav Nedkov, March 16, London
8. Pat Curran vs. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, Jan. 17, Irvine, Calif.
9. Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, February 23, Anaheim, Calif.
10. Jessica Penne vs. Michelle Waterson, April 5, Kansas City, Mo.
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