Thoughts, criticisms, and overview of 2011 World MMA Awards

Last night was the World MMA Awards at the Palms in Las Vegas, which are chosen by fan voting organized by Fight! Magazine.

Obviously, when I give out my (far less popular and meaningful) year-end awards, they’re going to look a little different, owing more to my personal views and bias(es) and the different time frames for the awards. But it’s still interesting to see what the fans think was/is the best in the industry in 2011.

I’ve included the winners, nominations, and picks as posted by Steve Cofield over on Yahoo! Sports’ Cage Writer blog. Mostly because I genuinely like Steve and always find his take fascinating, even when I don’t agree with them.

Speaking of which…

CHARLES “MASK” LEWIS FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Dominick Cruz, Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
Winner: Jon Jones; Cofield winner: Nick Diaz

Agreed with Jones as the winner (spoiler alert for my forthcoming awards). I find it hard to fathom an argument against it due to not only his meteoric rise but absolute dominance of the most competitive weight class in all of MMA.  Which, by the way, is why I would disqualify Anderson Silva as the winner. He’s still Silva and still the pound for pound best fighter in the world, but he’s still the great champion of the weakest division in all of MMA and didn’t have any opponents that gave him a potential or literal challenge.

As I’ve said before, I like and respect Steve, but his pick of Nick Diaz confounds me. His two highlights for the year were the fight of the year candidate against Paul Daley in Strikeforce and his recent win over BJ Penn in his UFC debut. In the Daley fight, he was fighting a dangerous but frustratingly mediocre and sloppy opponent and quickly sunk to his level in a way that nearly cost him that fight. I’ll take nothing away from his win against Penn; he looked like a monster and convinced myself and other skeptics that he provides a very real and credible threat to Georges St-Pierre. On the other hand, this is BJ Penn, who we need to remember is at his absolute best at 155, not at Welterweight which is where the Diaz fight was contested. And even at that weight, he’s already been dominated in similar (but not as brutal) fashion by Frankie Edgar.

Again, credit where it is due to Nick Diaz, and that’s coming from a longtime skeptic. But I don’t think there’s even a contest here, and if there is, he’s fourth on this list at best. In all fairness, I’m every bit as perplexed by Dan Henderson making the Top Five and not Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, or anybody else who was far more active and successful against a higher level of competition (the recent Rua fight notwithstanding).

BREAKTHROUGH FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Donald Cerrone, Daniel Cormier, Phil Davis, Demetrious Johnson and Brian Stann.
Winner: Donald Cerrone; Cofield winner: Demetrious Johnson

Cerrone was my vote, too. I think a title shot for him is inevitable, and it’s amazing how much he’s improved since making the jump to the UFC after it officially absorbed the WEC brand. Just a Hell of a year for a guy who went from losing the WEC Lightweight Title towards the end of the promotion and questioning his place in the sport to being, in my mind, a legit Top 5 (#3 IMO) Lightweight.

I also wouldn’t argue with any other of the nominees. Except for maybe Brian Stann, who I still see as being in the exact same place he’s been for several years: a tough fighter with a great story that can’t break through the middle of the pack.

SUBMISSION OF THE YEAR
Nominees: “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia at UFC Fight Night 24, Pablo Garza vs. Yves Jabouin at UFC 129, Richard Hale vs. Nik Fekete at Bellator 38, Vinny Magalhaes vs. Viktor Nemkov at M-1 Challenge 25, and Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader at UFC 132
Winner: Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia at UFC Fight Night 24: Cofield winner: “Korean Zombie”

Chan Sung Jung’s twister submission was very impressive and made Jiu-Jitsu guys across the country mark out. Usually you only see that sort of thing with guys goofing around in the gym with white belts.

However, I can’t say it’s as impressive as Richard Hale’s absolutely ridiculous hanging inverted triangle submission on Nik Fekete at Bellator 38.

See the video for yourself:

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Patricky “Pitbull” Freire vs. Toby Imada at Bellator 39, Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry at UFC Live 5, John Makdessi vs. Kyle Watson at UFC 129, Lyoto Machida vs. Randy Couture at UFC 129, and Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort at UFC 126
Winner: Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort at UFC 126; Cofield winner: Lyoto Machida

All memorable, but really it was a two-man race between  Silva and Machida. My vote went to Silva. Both were similar in scope (and Steven Seagal took credit for both even though the kickboxing instructor I see maybe once or twice a month also taught me the same kick so it really is a fairly basic maneuver). But what gave the edge to Silva was how effortless he made it, and everything else the man does, look.

FIGHT OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick at UFC 129, Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber at UFC 132, Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125, Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley at “Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley,” and Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann at UFC Live 3
Winner: Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125; Cofield winner: Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley

All worthy nominees, but the technique geek in me voted for Edgar and Maynard. Can’t fault anyone who went the same route as Cofield, though. Wild fight. Note – the time frame excluded what I think were the best three fights of the year, all of which unfortunately have taken place in the last three weeks.

INTERNATIONAL FIGHTER OF THE YEAR. Nominees: Michael Bisping, Alexander Gustafsson, Joachim Hansen, Alistair Overeem and Dennis SiverWinner: Alistair Overeem; Cofield Winner: Overeem

Longtime readers will know I’m a fan of Siver and think he’s hands down the most underrated fighter in the UFC. He’d be my pick if he hadn’t been subbed by Cerrone. While you can’t fault a guy for succumbing to a guy like Cerrone who’s been on such a tear this year, there’s no question that of the five listed, Overeem is the best fighter and had the best year.

I will say, however, that I find this category redundant and unnecessary. All these guys are fighting stateside for North American organizations. Those that do fight internationally do so against far lesser competition, and as such it becomes harder to gauge where they’re at. And if we’re just going to have a category for best non-American fighter, what about all the Brazilians and Canadians? What’s the criteria?

Once this sport is able to break into the European market (and European MMA overcomes its severe grappling deficiency) and expand Eastward, this award might be necessary. But we’re a long way off from that happening.

REFEREE OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Herb Dean, “Big” John McCarthy, Dan Miragliotta, Josh Rosenthal and Mario Yamasaki. Winner: Herb Dean; Cofield winner: Josh Rosenthal

Being a ref is an often thankless job that is not nearly as easy as it looks. Dean is always dependable. My vote went with Dan Miragliotta, who I think because of his style – he’s every bit as attentive but stands further away from fighters and usually out of camera range – often gets overlooked.

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Marloes Coenen vs. Liz Carmouche at “Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson,” Cheick Kongo vs. Pat Barry at UFC Live 5, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (career), Tito Ortiz (career) and Joe Warren vs. Joe Soto at Bellator 27. Winner: Cheick Kongo: Cofield winner: Tito Ortiz

I’m with Cofield. I don’t think there can be any question that Ortiz has made a Hell of a turnaround. This is a guy whose first fight was at UFC 13 – THIRTEEN! – and has gone literally from fighting for his job to being a legitimate threat and potential title contender. Nogueira is a close second. Kongo I’d take seriously in this category if he had fought someone other than Barry. I love watching Pat fight and he seems like a great guy, but he always gives it away in the cage. It’s maddening.

FEMALE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Marloes Coenen, Zoila Gurgel, Sarah Kaufman, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.
Winner: Miesha Tate; Cofield winner: Tate

Cyborg was conspicuous by her absence. Not in this category, but in the calendar year of 2011. With that, it’s Tate, hands down.

RING ENTRANCE OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133, Vitor Belfort at UFC 133, Dave Herman at UFC 131, Mark Hominick at UFC 129 and Jason “Mayhem” Miller at DREAM.16
Winner: Jason “Mayhem” Miller; Cofield winner: How is Tom Lawlor not on this list?

Again, I’m with Cofield. What the Hell is wrong with you people? There should have been six slots, all occupied by Lawlor, and his entrances at weigh-ins should also have counted.

OTHER AWARDS (courtesy MMAJunkie):

GYM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Alliance MMA, Black House, Jackson’s MMA, Roufusport and Xtreme Couture
Winner: Black House

A toss-up between Black House and Jackson’s MMA (my vote). But no argument here. Black House (which includes Jose Aldo, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, and the Nogueiras amongst others) had a Hell of a year.

BEST TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT
Nominees: Bad Boy, Everlast, Hayabusa, Rival and Venum
Winner: Everlast

The gloves I use are Everlast so, uh, yeah.

MMA JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
Nominees: John Morgan, Gareth A. Davies, Josh Gross, Ariel Helwani and Ben Fowlkes
Winner: Ariel Helwani

All great guys. My vote went with Fowlkes, though, who I think in all honesty is the best pure writer covering MMA. Personally ,I’d go even further: he’s one of a small handful of guys writing for any media that I will actively go out of my way to read, no matter what the subject. How this guy hasn’t landed a book deal is beyond me, and I can only assume it’s because he hasn’t pitched one yet. And if he has, then what the Hell?

COACH OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Rafael Cordeiro, Eric Del Fierro, Cesar Gracie, Greg Jackson and Shawn Tompkins
Winner: Greg Jackson

No contest.

BEST LIFESTYLE CLOTHING
Nominees: Affliction, Bad Boy, Form Athletics, RVCA and TapouT
Winner: TapouT

Ugh. MMA lifestyle clothing.

PROMOTION OF THE YEAR
Nominees: BAMMA, Bellator Fighting Championships, DREAM, Strikeforce and UFC
Winner: UFC

It’s hard for me to argue against this. In fact, it’s impossible. My vote went to Bellator, and I can only justify it by saying that we need a strong number two in the sport and they seem to be on the rise and have found the right model and niche for it. Their lighter weight classes are also super competitive and, in many ways, on par with the UFC’s.

MEDIA SOURCE OF THE YEAR
Nominees: “Inside MMA” on HDNet, MMAFighting.com, “MMA Live” on ESPN, MMAjunkie.com and Sherdog.com
Winner: MMAjunkie.com

BEST TECHNICAL CLOTHING
Nominees: Bad Boy, Hayabusa, Jaco, Sprawl and Venum
Winner: Bad Boy

MMA PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Bruce Buffer, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Joe Rogan, Bas Rutten and Burt Watson
Winner: Joe Rogan

I have a love/hate relationship with Rogan. Always have, going way back to well before he was even doing UFC commentary. Actually, maybe love/hate is the wrong phrase, because it’s not as if I’m ever angry at the guy. He just says things sometimes that make me shake my head.

RING GIRL OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Arianny Celeste, Kelli Hutcherson, Brittney Palmer, Chandella Powell and Mercedes Terrell
Winner: Arianny Celeste

LEADING MAN OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Scott Coker, Lorenzo Fertitta, Marc Ratner, Bjorn Rebney and Dana White
Winner: Dana White

No comment. In that none’s necessary.

I’m thinking that my own MMA year-end awards will come sometime late next week. Keep an eye out!

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