There’s nothing like a good upset to shake things up in the world of mixed martial arts, and the UFC had its share of interesting ones in 2010. And though the winners in the second installment of the 2010 Highly Unofficial awards were underdogs going into these defining bouts, it’s safe to say that they won’t be sneaking up on anybody else anytime soon.
10 – “El Dirte” shows “Filthy” Tom Lawlor some veteran tricks
Despite carrying a five fight winning streak and a boatload of experience into his UFC return against Tom Lawlor, late replacement Joe Doerksen was looked at by many as a mere hurdle for hot prospect Lawlor to hop over on his way to the next level of the fight game, especially considering that “Filthy” Tom was coming off a 55 second submission win over CB Dollaway and a controversial three round decision loss against Aaron Simpson. And early on, the fight went according to plan, as Lawlor rocked Doerksen standing and seemed to be one punch away from finishing him. But hard-nosed vets like Doerksen don’t go away that easily, and in round two, he roared back, catching Lawlor in a rear naked choke that finished matters at the 2:10 mark.
9 – Sonnen decisions Marquardt
Everyone assumed that Chael Sonnen was going to be a stiff test for Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 in February, but few believed that the outspoken Oregonian was going to stop the streak that saw Marquardt knock out Martin Kampmann, Wilson Gouveia, and Demian Maia in consecutive bouts. But with an aggressive ground attack and an inhuman pain tolerance, Sonnen kept pushing and pushing for 15 minutes until the judges awarded him a well-earned unanimous decision win that also put him the number one middleweight contender’s spot.
8 – Dos Anjos surprises Etim
Terry Etim will never be confused with countrymen Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy when it comes to dominating newspapers and websites with quotes come fight week, but after four consecutive UFC wins from October 2008 to November 2009, he had established himself as one of the UK’s top exports. But at the same time, Rafael dos Santos, in an even quieter manner, bounced back from an 0-2 UFC start to even his slate with wins against Rob Emerson and Kyle Bradley. And when dos Anjos took Submission of the Night honors with his UFC 112 armbar over Etim, it made a statement that when it comes to lightweight prospects, you can’t overlook this Brazilian up and comer.
7 – Pyle delivers career defining performance against Hathaway
When your first two professional fights are against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Jon Fitch, it’s safe to assume that competing against an undefeated young gun in hostile territory isn’t going to rattle you too much. And that was the case when 11-year vet Mike Pyle traveled to England to face John Hathaway in October. In control from the opening bell to the end, Pyle never let Hathaway get untracked, and the unanimous decision win – Pyle’s biggest in the UFC – was a mere formality.
6 – Bader shows he’s big time with win over Lil’ Nog
Ryan Bader has all the tools to make it big in the talent-rich light heavyweight division – physical gifts, heavy hands, stellar wrestling, and competitive drive. The only thing missing in his 12 pro fights was world-class experience. So when pitted against legit 205-pound contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, many expected that the experience gap would be too big for Bader to leap this early in his career. Not so, said young Bader, and though his three round win over the former PRIDE star won’t hit any Fight of the Year lists, the victory was a solid one that has propelled the former Ultimate Fighter winner into a highly-anticipated February showdown against fellow rising star Jon Jones.
5 – McCorkle shows more than internet savvy against veteran Hunt
If you knew who Sean McCorkle was before his UFC 119 debut against Mark Hunt, you were either the hardest of hardcore fans or a member of the Underground forum. The rest of you were probably wondering what the unbeaten Indiana heavyweight had done to get UFC matchmaker Joe Silva angry, as there was simply no way he matched up with former PRIDE and K-1 star Mark Hunt. Then the bell rang, and the hometown hero fought like he had been in the Octagon since birth as he submitted Hunt with ease in just 67 seconds. Add in his recent bout against Stefan Struve (albeit a losing effort), and the notoriety of “The Big Sexy” has extended far beyond the internet.
4 – Beltran spoils the return of the Gracies
The Gracie name is royalty in the UFC, and rightfully so. So when unbeaten Rolles Gracie became the first member of MMA’s first family to appear in the Octagon since his cousin Royce did so in 2006, it was a big deal. And when Joey Beltran was asked to come in on short notice to replace Mostapha Al Turk against Gracie, no one blinked twice, despite the fact that “The Mexecutioner” was coming off a second round TKO over Houston Alexander a few weeks prior to the bout. But Beltran wasn’t coming in to lose, and after weathering an early storm, he finished Gracie with strikes at 1:31 of the second round, shocking the MMA world in the process.
3 – Hathaway becomes Sanchez’ Nightmare
England’s John Hathaway was solid in his UFC victories against Tom Egan, Rick Story, and Paul Taylor, but few thought the 22-year old had the experience to deal with veteran Diego Sanchez, whose previous three fights saw him in against BJ Penn, Clay Guida, and Joe Stevenson. Hathaway was a revelation though, as he welcomed Sanchez back to the welterweight division with a master class that left no doubt who the winner was after three rounds. It was ‘The Hitman’
2 – Russow KO’s Duffee
After a seven second KO of Tim Hague that set a UFC record for fastest knockout, Todd Duffee was going to be a favorite over a lot of people, including his second Octagon foe, Mike Russow. And for much of their bout at UFC 114 in May, things went according to plan for Duffee, who hit Russow with everything but the ring stool while building up an insurmountable lead. Well, it was insurmountable until Russow cracked Duffee with a right hand that ended the bout at 2:35 of the final round, capping off one of the more spectacular comebacks in recent history.
1 – Edgar Shocks Penn
No surprise when it comes to the fight at the top of the list here, but it was a surprise at Abu Dhabi in April, when scrappy New Jersey native Frankie Edgar put on a career-defining performance by defeating BJ Penn for the UFC lightweight title. And while the fight was competitive and close, there was little doubt that Edgar’s crisp striking and effective movement, as well as a couple points-scoring takedowns, solidified the new champ’s unanimous decision win. And if that wasn’t enough, Edgar repeated the feat in more dominant fashion four months later, proving that the first win was no fluke.
Honorable Mention: Dave Branch- Tomasz Drwal, Chris Leben-Yoshihiro Akiyama, Dennis Hallman-Ben Saunders, Frankie Edgar-BJ Penn II, Yushin Okami-Nate Marquardt, Nik Lentz-Tyson Griffin, Charles Oliveira-Efrain Escudero, Evan Dunham-Tyson Griffin