- Festive Fundown
UFC fights of the year
Christmas season is upon us, so in the build-up to the big day itself we at ESPN Towers will be picking out a host of top-five moments, and then asking YOU to vote for your favourites.
What was the goal of 2012? Who are the top five bad boys of the past 12 months? Who had years to forget? Come back each day for a new topic and cast your vote to pick the winners of each category…
The MMA world waited 19 months for the return of No. 1 box-office superpower Georges St-Pierre, but when the comeback arrived, it more than lived up to expectation. Walking straight back into a champion-vs-champion bout with interim belt holder Carlos Condit, GSP came within a whisker of defeat before posting arguably the win of his career.
Would the knee that needed 19 months' recuperation ruin the welterweight king? No chance. For two rounds he out-struck and out-grappled Condit, cutting him badly with elbows. Condit's response? Snarl at the camera, wipe away the blood and fight back.
Suddenly 17,000 fans were silenced as GSP was floored with a head kick - sending him into the type of survival mode he had not employed for five years. Condit pounced for the finish, but the champion rose up in an inhumane show of defiance.
Senses scrambled and body weary, St-Pierre pushed through the championship rounds, taking his body to the limit for a decision victory. "I forgot that feeling, the suffering that comes with taking your body into the red zone," he said afterwards. The crowd roared their hero home, blood covered both men who had gone to war, but after 25 epic minutes the undisputed welterweight king was back.
Dustin Poirier had never lost in the UFC, and after four straight wins since his debut with the promotion he was the man everybody tipped as the next contender for the featherweight title.
Never had he met the Korean Zombie though. Chan Sung Jung, a fans' favourite, arrived at Patriot Center in the mood to put on a clinic. The fact that it lasted four rounds was testament to the quality of 23-year-old Poirier.
For two rounds he rolled to all corners of the Octagon, defending relentless submission attempts. Poirier even threatened a comeback in the third as he damaged the left eye of Jung, but the Zombie was not to be denied.
Landing a hard right hand followed by a flying knee, Jung snapped on a D'Arce choke in the fourth to end arguably the most technical fight of the year. Even in the act of defeat Poirier did not give in, refusing to tap as the ref pulled the Zombie off his victim.
Former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner returned to the UFC after an extremely unimpressive run of three wins from eight fights, but after stopping the highly-rated Edson Barboza he headed for an all-action showdown with tough scrapper Joe Lauzon. A scrap is what ensued.
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Round one alone had enough action for an entire fight as both men teed off - with Varner getting the better of it. Both men got rocked, but Varner finished the stanza on top after dropping Lauzon close to the bell.
The second saw the tide turn. This time Varner was sent sprawling to the mat, where he nearly got choked out as Lauzon displayed his slippery ground skills. Lauzon's ability to reverse, counter and transition is sniper-like, and it proved decisive in the third.
Varner was forced to go for a takedown after damaging his hand with an earlier punch, and from there Lauzon instantly went to work. Locking on a triangle choke, he cinched the submission tight to force Varner to tap after over 13 minutes of breathless action.
Heading into the first meeting of Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson, there was a belief growing that champion Edgar might just be invincible. In back-to-back fights with Gray Maynard he had been beaten to a pulp before somehow fighting back, and president Dana White even named him the No. 2 pound-for-pounder in the world - ahead of Georges St-Pierre.
The naturally smaller Edgar was always fighting an uphill battle though, and it was only a matter of time before a physical specimen like Henderson would capitalise. Not that it was easy.
Fighting in Japan, the home of Pride where total damage was key to victory, Edgar got busted up - his nose smashed by a second-round upkick that snatched away his early control. Henderson, by contrast, finished the bout unblemished.
Edgar landed regularly and often, while Henderson brought the power. The champion was dropped in the second round, the challenger fell in the fifth. In between neither man took a backward step, Edgar tossing his man to the mat while Henderson threatened with a guillotine. When it all finished nobody could safely say who had won, but it was Henderson who stole the belt 49-46 48-47 49-46.
If there is a definition of "hanging on", Jake Ellenberger may just have provided it at UFC on Fuel against Diego Sanchez. Dominant for two rounds, a damaged hand seriously jeopardised victory as Sanchez threatened to live up to his "Nightmare" moniker at the death.
Ellenberger, a welterweight contender, was explosive in round one, flooring a rival who is known for his steely chin. The assault continued into the second, with elbows cutting Sanchez up in a striking clinic from the Juggernaut.
However, a damaged hand and fading gas tank for Ellenberger gave Sanchez his opening in the third, and he poured it on with a stinging left followed by a body kick. Ellenberger could do nothing but cling on, desperately praying for time to tick away as Sanchez looked for a last-ditch choke. It was too late, Ellenberger saw things out, but not before every fan in the arena was off their seat.