This year has been an eventful one in the world of mixed martial arts. Since it is thanksgiving, I figured it would be appropriate to reflect on just three of the many things that I am thankful for in MMA from 2013.
The End of Strikeforce
On January 12, Strikeforce held their last event in Oklahoma City and with that, the remaining fighters that were on contract with Strikeforce were able to come over to the UFC. This year we were finally able to see fighters like Tyron Woodley, Daniel Cormier, and Josh Barnett make their octagon debuts. All three came out the victor in each of their fights. I’m thankful for this because it set up matchups that would answer the question we were all asking while both companies were up and running: Who would win between a Strikeforce fighter and a UFC fighter. So far it looks like the SF fighters match up pretty closely with UFC fighters. Nick Diaz and Jake Shields came over from SF before they closed their doors and were not successful in their title shots against the UFC champs and in 2013, Gilbert Melendez continued the streak. On April 20, “El Nino” made his UFC debut on UFC on Fox 7 and gave the, then champion, Benson Henderson, a run for his title. Many thought that Melendez had done enough to earn the decision after 25 hard fought minutes, but the judges did not see it that way, awarding Henderson a split decision victory. To follow up his stellar performance in his championship fight, Melendez came back with another very impressive showing against Diego Sanchez at UFC 166, which leads me to the next topic
Less than one month after Jon Jones nearly lost his title to Alexander Gustafsson in a controversial decision, came UFC 166 in
Houston, Texas where Cain Velasquez was set to face Junior Dos Santos for a third time to settle, once and for all, who the best heavyweight was. The card did not disappoint, the prelims started off with a bang, the first four bouts ended early by either KO, TKO, or submission. Three of the next four went all three rounds but, for the most part, they were entertaining fights. The maid card was highlighted by the “fight of the year” front runner as previously mentioned, Melendez faced off with Sanchez. Sanchez had been battered and bloodied in the first two rounds but came out in desperation mode in the third. There was not one body in a chair in the Toyota Center when Sanchez dropped Melendez and it looked as if he was going to pull off a come from behind victory. With the crowd on their feet and in a frenzy, Melendez recovered and was able to finish the round and pulled off the win. The buzz in the crowd carried over to the main event as Cain Velasquez punished Junior Dos Santos for over 20 minutes before the referee finally stopped the contest in the fifth round. I am very thankful that the UFC came back to Texas and held an exciting series of fights, and more importantly that I was able to attend.
Mainstreaming of Women’s Fighting
Since I began attending MMA shows in 2006, I always made sure to not miss the women’s fights. Even in the amateur shows, women, more often than not, have exciting fights. It was nice to see women get some TV exposure in other organizations but in February, the UFC finally brought the women into the big show. The women were able to show the mainstream MMA fans what they were all about. Shortly after the women began competing in the octagon, the UFC reached another historic milestone by having the first “The Ultimate Fighter” with women contestants. The show seems to have been a success. The women showed that they work just as hard as the men, they go through the same grueling weight cutting regiment as the men, and in the end, demanded the respect of all the doubters. The first women ultimate fighter will be crowned this Saturday Nov. 11 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. To wrap up this historic year for women, the UFC’s New Year card will feature the grudge match between Meisha Tate and the bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
So many things to be thankful for this year, these were just three of the many. But as the sport keeps growing the harder it will be to make this kind of list. I just hope that the sport continues on this upward trajectory and it keeps giving something to be thankful for every year.
Let me know what you are thankful for in MMA in the comments below.