By Thomas Gerbasi
No explanation necessary for this one – this is a collection of the fights that got you up off your seat and cheering from beginning to end. And whether these fights were displays of high-level grappling, toe-to-toe standup battling, or a mix of both, they’re certainly ten for the 2009 time capsule.
10 - UFC 80 – January 19 – Paul Kelly W3 Paul Taylor
Nothing like a little local rivalry to spice things up, and when British welterweights Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor locked up, they were fighting as if the fate of England itself was at stake. Punctuated by an opening 30 second sequence that saw both fighters standing and trading punches at close range, the fight was fast-paced throughout, with the two even exchanging blows while on the mat. As the bout progressed, the bigger and stronger Kelly pulled ahead and away, but Taylor, despite being cut and overpowered, never stopped battling, almost pulling off a kimura in the second round and still landing enough punches and kicks while standing to keep Kelly honest. In the end though, it was Kelly by unanimous decision in a memorable Octagon debut.
9 - UFC 84 – May 24 – Goran Reljic TKO2 Wilson Gouveia
Wasn’t Goran Reljic the jiu-jitsu guy? Well, for all his grappling accolades, the Croatian debutant apparently picked up some pointers from his countryman Mirko Cro Cop over the years, because he came out looking for the knockout from the opening bell. That wasn’t a strategy that frightened Gouveia though, and these two light heavies battled it out with punches and kicks that made thuds and thumps which were clearly audible at Octagonside. By the second round, Gouveia seemed to have gotten into a rhythm, but Reljic interrupted that with a left hand to the face. Moments later, the fight was over at the 3:15 mark.
8 – UFC Fight Night – September 17 - Nate Diaz W3 Josh Neer
A lot of fighters say that they would fight for free – guys like Nate Diaz and Josh Neer actually mean it, and their bout in Nebraska was a clash between two pure competitors who kept going at each other for 15 minutes until the judges declared Diaz the winner via split decision. Technically exciting from start to finish, this was a chess match with gloves, and it showed that for the lightweight division, the future is certainly a bright one.
7 – UFC Fight Night – April 2 – Nate Diaz Wsub2 Kurt Pellegrino
This fight is here for a number of reasons. First, it’s Kurt Pellegrino’s outstanding groundwork and control of much of the first round. This was one of the New Jersey native’s best performances, despite the loss. Second is the ground work of both men, which showed that you don’t need to have a standup war to be involved in an exciting fight. And while the action was fast-paced, the technique, both offensively and defensively, was solid. Finally, Nate Diaz showed that he can not only keep his cool and come back from adversity, but that he can do it in highlight reel fashion with a triangle choke that prompted him to thrust his fists in the air as if to say ‘I got it’ and then flex before the tap came. Great stuff, and it was also the day Diaz went from prospect to contender.
6 – UFC 87 – August 9 – Georges St-Pierre W5 Jon Fitch
After the first round and a half of this championship bout, it looked like Jon Fitch was just going to get run out of the Target Center by welterweight boss Georges St-Pierre. But towards the end of the second stanza, Fitch stuffed a takedown, started to land some punches, and let GSP and the world know that he wasn’t going anywhere. And he didn’t, lasting the five round distance with St-Pierre. And despite losing every round on the judges’ scorecards, Fitch made this fight memorable because of his unyielding heart under the assault of a champion at the top of his game, whose own stellar performance made this fight worthy of inclusion on this list.
5 – UFC 87 – August 9 - Demian Maia Wsub3 Jason MacDonald
The next time your boxing-loving buddy tells you that he doesn’t want to watch mixed martial arts because he only likes standup fighting, pop this fight into the DVD player and see the looks of amazement as Maia and MacDonald compete in a state of the art display of modern groundfighting. In the end, Maia finally broke through for a third round submission win, but not until we had seen a courageous display from MacDonald, who gave as good as he got until the finish.
4 – UFC 90 – October 25 - Sean Sherk W3 Tyson Griffin
Who would have thought that one of the best standup wars of 2008 would take place between two fighters known for their wrestling and ground attacks? But that was precisely what happened when Sherk and Griffin met in the center of the Octagon and threw bombs for 15 minutes. Featuring rapid-fire combinations and thudding power shots, the bout saw Sherk pound out a decision victory, but it was one where he had to dig deep to get his hand raised against rising star Griffin.
3 – UFC 85 – June 7 – Matt Wiman KO2 Thiago Tavares
Matt Wiman scored the biggest win of his career by taking out Thiago Tavares in an exciting back and forth battle that saw a dizzying array of submission attempts by both men, some crisp standup, and finally an emphatic knockout. Everything you could want in a mixed martial arts match was here, and both fighters should be commended for showing what the sport can be when done right.
2 – UFC 88 – September 6 – Kurt Pellegrino W3 Thiago Tavares
If you only saw the first few minutes of this lightweight clash, you may be wondering why this fight isn’t among the best knockouts of the year, that’s how dominant Pellegrino’s first round performance was. But Tavares wasn’t about to go away that easily, and he roared back to make a fight out of it with Pellegrino in rounds two and three, earning the respect of the crowd and his opponent, and proving that you can’t keep a true warrior down for long.
1 – UFC 86 – July 5 – Forrest Griffin W5 Quinton Jackson
What hasn’t been said about this fight already? It was everything you hope a championship fight is, and for five rounds, Griffin and Jackson fought as if more than just a belt was on the line. Filled with knockdowns, tactical stalemates, bone rattling power shots, submission attempts, and drama, this fight had it all. And though there were rumblings in certain sectors about the decision, the point is that this was a close fight that could have gone either way, and Forrest Griffin shouldn’t have to explain himself for winning, and Quinton Jackson shouldn’t have to hang his head for losing. Both men did the sport proud on July 5th.
Honorable Mention – Kenny Florian over Joe Lauzon, Dustin Hazelett over Josh Burkman, Jonathan Goulet over Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Kurt Pellegrino over Alberto Crane, Josh Koscheck over Dustin Hazelett, Thales Leites over Nate Marquardt, Diego Sanchez over Luigi Fioravanti, Antoni Hardonk over Eddie Sanchez, Chris Lytle over Paul Taylor, Aaron Riley over Jorge Gurgel.
The Highly Unofficial 2008 UFC Awards - The Fights
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - No explanation necessary for this one – this is a collection of the fights that got you up off your seat and cheering from beginning to end. And whether these fights were displays of high-level grappling, toe-to-toe standup battling, or a mix of both, they’re certainly ten for the 2009 time capsule.