• Review of the Year

ESPN UFC Awards: Silva the man to stop in 2013

Ben Blackmore December 24, 2012

How do you possibly define the past 12 months in the world of the UFC?

Was it the year of the little man, after the inauguration of the flyweight division? Was it the year of women's MMA, after Ronda Rousey's installation as the first female UFC champion?

It was most certainly the year of the injury curse, following a plethora of cancelled fights - including a catalogue of main events.

Perhaps 2012 could also be defined as the year of the Brazilians, with Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva and Junior Dos Santos all owning their respective divisions, while Renan Barao is the interim king at bantamweight.

Has there been any year more controversial than 2012? A card was cancelled for the first time in UFC history, high-profile names including Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz received lengthy bans for drugs, while Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) became a firm part of everybody's vocabulary.

Most importantly, 2012 has been the year of the new breed. Yes Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Junior Dos Santos, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz still hold the titles they took into the year, but the new crop are coming. Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks and Erick Silva are in the hunt for St-Pierre, Chris Weidman is targeting Silva, while Renan Barao and Michael McDonald have Cruz in their sights.

The true fruits of 2012 will only be seen when 2013 unravels. Already some of the strongest cards in UFC history have been announced, already the buzz is greater than ever, and already we cannot wait.

Benson Henderson won three title fights in 2012, confirming himself as one of the top pound-for-pounders on the planet © Getty Images

Fighter of the Year

Winner: Benson Henderson

Runner-up: Demetrious Johnson

Difficult to argue the merits of Benson Henderson after he won three title fights in 2012, totalling 15 high-paced rounds of action. First he snatched the lightweight belt from Frankie Edgar in one of the fights of the year, and then he defended it against the same man - albeit thanks to a controversial decision. There was nothing cloudy about his last display though, a dominant win over No. 1 contender Nate Diaz, and after all three bouts the champ emerged unblemished.

Honourable mention: Johny Hendricks

Georges St-Pierre's return to the Octagon was memorable for a plethora of reasons in front of his home crowd © Getty Images

Fight of the Year

Winner: St-Pierre v Condit

Runner-up: Zombie v Poirier

The MMA world waited 19 months for the return Georges St-Pierre, but when the comeback arrived, it more than lived up to expectation. Walking straight into a champion-vs-champion bout with Carlos Condit, GSP came within a whisker of defeat before posting arguably the win of his career. For two rounds he out-struck and out-grappled Condit. Condit's response? Snarl at the camera, wipe away the blood and fight back. 17,000 fans were silenced as GSP was floored with a head kick, but the champion rose up in an inhumane show of defiance to defend his belt.

Honourable mention: Joe Lauzon v Jamie Varner

Tim Boetsch lost the first two rounds convincingly before turning the fight on its head against Yushin Okami © Getty Images

Comeback of the Year

Winner: Boetsch v Okami

Runner-up: Kampmann v Alves

If ever a fighter followed the words of his coach, Tim Boetsch did so at UFC 144. The American was outboxed for two rounds against Yushin Okami, and when he returned to his corner the message was delivered: "You're two rounds down, time to leave it all out there". Cue an onslaught from Boetsch, who sparked the turnaround with a crunching uppercut.

Honourable mention: Ben Rothwell v Brendan Schaub

Dustin Poirier was choked out cold by the Korean Zombie, who produced one of the outstanding performances of 2012 © Getty Images

Sub of the Year

Winner: Zombie v Poirier

Runner-up: Oliveira v Wisely

Chan Sung Jung, the Korean Zombie, produced arguably the most complete individual performance of 2012, and it was sealed by a clinical D'Arce choke. The Zombie gave the highly rated Dustin Poirier a masterclass for the first two rounds, and then stepped on the gas again in the fourth. An uppercut, followed by a flying knee, set up the finish, and the Zombie sunk it in so tight that Poirier went to sleep - literally - after he refused to tap.

Honourable mention: Rousimar Palhares v Mike Massenzio

Terry Etim's lights were out before he hit the mat after a quite breathtaking wheel kick by Edson Barboza © Getty Images

KO of the Year

Winner: Barboza v Etim

Runner-up: Hendricks v Kampmann

As highlight reel moments go, this was just about one of the all-time greats. And in the case of Terry Etim, it was a moment to haunt him. After two competitive rounds, edged by Edson Barboza, Etim looked to accelerate in the third. However, it was at that very moment that Barboza produced a stunning wheel kick, turning out the lights before Etim even hit the mat.

Honourable mention: Anthony Pettis v Joe Lauzon

Erick Silva looks a world class talent capable of ending fights on his feet or on the mat. 2013 could be his year © Getty Images


Winner: Silva

Runner-up: McDonald

This award could quite easily go to Rory MacDonald, who has enjoyed a superb year, but we gave it to him last year and therefore wanted to look elsewhere. If one man looks like MacDonald's future rival to the 170lb strap it is Erick Silva, whom MacDonald says it is "inevitable" he will meet. Silva was beaten by Jon Fitch last time out, but there were way more positives than negatives for the brilliant Brazilian.

Honourable mention: Rory MacDonald

Jon Jones was nowhere to be seen at UFC 151 after he refused to fight Chael Sonnen on eight days' notice © Getty Images

Controversy of the Year

Winner: UFC 151

Runner-up: Diaz v Condit

The ghostship 151. The first event in UFC history to have no results. It didn't take place, and blame was sprayed everywhere. Was Dan Henderson the cause for not revealing his knee injury sooner? Was Jon Jones to blame for not accepting a replacement fight with Chael Sonnen on eight days' notice? Or was Dana White to blame for not putting on a strong enough card to cope with a high-profile pull-out? Whichever, UFC 151 never happened, and we were all the poorer for it.

[Dis]Honourable mention: Alistair Overeem

Jon Jones fought through adversity to beat Vitor Belfort, earning himself much-needed respect in the process © Getty Images

Champagne moment

Winner: Jones v Belfort

Runner-up: St-Pierre v Condit

Jon Jones' redemption, plus arguably the greatest jump-out-of-the-seat moment of 2012. First Vitor Belfort almost produced the shock of all shocks with a first-round armbar that popped the champion's arm. But then Jones, much maligned for the cancellation of UFC 151, fought for four rounds with a damaged arm, submitting Belfort to defend his belt. The heart of a champion.

Honourable mention: Anderson Silva v Chael Sonnen

Nobody saw Jamie Varner's win over Edson Barboza coming as the American produced a shock at UFC 146 © Getty Images

Upset of the Year

Winner: Varner v Barboza

Runner-up: Boetsch v Lombard

Jamie Varner was cannon fodder. Winner of three fights in his last eight heading into his showdown with Edson Barboza, he was facing a man who had tied up the Knockout of the Year after only 14 days of 2012. Yet Varner ambushed the Brazilian, ruffling his feathers with punches in bunches, stopping him at 3.23 of the first round. Barboza's career was left in the recovery phase as a result.

Honourable mention: Carlos Condit v Nick Diaz

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk