The Highly Unofficial Half-Year UFC Awards - The Fights
Well, at least the best UFC fight of 2008 thus far was an easy call. The rest of the top five (or in this case, top six) was a little tougher, as there were plenty of action-packed and drama-filled bouts that could have easily fit in among the best of the first-half. Here’s to a second half of 2008 that’s just as exciting.
2008 First-Half Fights of The Year (including last weekend’s UFC 86 event)
5 (tie) – UFC 85 – June 7 – Antoni Hardonk TKO2 Eddie Sanchez
It’s not one of my lists if I don’t have a tie in there somewhere, and my indecisive nature forces me to make my top five a top six. But I don’t feel too guilty about putting this one in there, as a good ol’ fashioned brawl has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Eddie Sanchez could probably lose a hundred fights and I’d still watch him because he goes in there and leaves it all in the Octagon. He took this fight on short notice and was putting a hurt on Antoni Hardonk, cutting him and knocking him down twice. But as the fight progressed and Sanchez’ gas tank emptied, Hardonk made his move with vicious leg kicks which opened Sanchez up for punches to the head, and eventually the end came in the second round. I know I wouldn’t mind seeing Sanchez try his luck with Hardonk again with a full training camp behind him.
5 (tie) - 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.
4 – 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 debut.
3 – UFC Fight Night – April 2 – Nate Diaz Wsub2 Kurt Pellegrino
This fight is here for a number of reasons. First is 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 fighting 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 Nate Diaz went from prospect to contender.
2 – UFC 85 – June 7 – Matt Wiman KO2 Thiago Tavares
Speaking of taking that next step in your career, Matt Wiman did just that in 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.
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 have been 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, and the only thing I can say is – let’s do it again.
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.