Best of 2008

By the MMA Ratings team.

At the last minute MMA Ratings decided it would be cool to do an “official” awards piece for 2008, instead of Garth’s ridiculous one (which he’s still deciding on, by the way). But since we have no awards to give, maybe we should just call it recognition.

We did a back and forth group email message, changed the rules, misread each other, argued over each other’s picks, name-called, and pretty much had the website equivalent of a 6-year-old’s soccer game, but eventually came up with a list of who we thought was the best of 2008. Click through to see the winners, and why we voted how we did.

I highly recommend you leave a comment telling us what dopes we are/how brilliant we are if you disagree with any of our choices for the Best of 2008.
Fighter of the Year: Thiago Alves

Thiago Alves had an extremely impressive year. His three dominant wins against top 10 competition propelled him past the rest of the candidates.

Warren said:

Prior to 2008, Thiago Alves was relatively unknown to the casual MMA fan. In 2008, “The Pitbull” made quick work of Karo Parisyan, effectively demoting Parisyan from “Gate-Keeper” to “Key-Master”, put the final nail in Matt Hughes’ career-coffin by knocking him down (via stunning flying-knee) like the stack of bibles that he is and dominated the phenomenal (and I’m not being sarcastic here) Josh Koscheck. Alves is set to face the winner of BJ Penn vs. GSP for the UFC’s WW title in 2009. I wouldn’t be surprised if GSP trains for BJ during the day, but has nightmares of Thiago while he sleeps.

Rashad Evans came in a close second. Had Rashad Evans had another fight in 2008, surely the fact that he won the title would be the tie-breaker, but he did not. Those two fights, as impressive and shocking as they were, did not cut it at this high level.

From Garth:

Rashad Evans takes Fighter of the Year. His wins over Griffin and Liddell cap a streak of impressive victories (discounting the draw that looked like a loss) culminating in a light heavyweight title. While he didn’t have as many wins as Gegard Mousasi, Thiago Alves, or my second place pick Kenny Florian, his wins in context are huge, and resulted in gaining a strap widely considered the most prestigious in the sport. I give Kenny second place because, unlike most of the other FotY candidates, no one has expected him to get where he’s gotten. He’s an everyman who’s raised himself by the bootstraps to a top five lightweight.

Other notables included Gegard Mousasi, Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian and Miguel Torres.

Fight of the Year: Miguel Torres vs. Yoshiro Maeda from WEC 34

Warren said this was a no-brainer:

This fight had it all; dueling, double heel hooks, stellar boxing (Miguel’s devastating, fight-ending jabs) and everything in between. If I ever had to convince a non-MMA fan that this is a real sport with multi-talented, high-level athletes that fight with honor and grace, this is the match-up I would show them. I believe this was also the win that placed Torres solidly on everyone’s top pound-for-pound fighter list.

As indicated by it’s #1 spot on MMA Ratings’ user driven 2008 Fight Rankings Carlos Condit vs. Hiromitsu Miura from WEC 35 was a close runner up.

Garth said:

I remember watching this fight live, and just being on this rollercoaster, not knowing who was going to take it. Unlike some other fights like Torres-Maeda, where I was pretty sure Torres would take it despite the total warfare going on in the cage, up until the fourth I thought Miura had a solid shot of taking the belt from Condit. Second place I’d put Torres-Maeda and Cerrone-McCullough. The WEC itself has to be a major story for the year.

Other contenders included BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk, Eddie Alvarez vs. Joachim Hansen, Donald Cerrone vs. Rob McCullough and Eddie Alvarez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri.

Knockout of the Year: Rashad Evans vs. Chuck Liddell from UFC 88

This was an easy consensus to reach. As Nick said:

It’s going to be hard to find a cleaner KO, Chuck fell in a cool way (always a requirement for KO of the year/night) and it was a huge punch.

Submission of the Year: Dustin “McLovin” Hazelett armbar vs. Josh “The People’s Warrior” Burkman from the TUF 7 Finale

This perfectly executed whizzer to armbar was another easy decision. Garth said:

Dustin Hazelett’s insane instinctive flying armbar transition on Burkman. That move just took my breath away, and I’ve watched it twenty times.

Most Improved Fighter: Kenny Florian

This was a tough one. With so many fighters improving and changing perceptions, Kenny took this by a slim margin.

Eric said:

Considering where he came from and how he was perceived, compared to where he is now, I give it up to Kenny. Coming into 2007, who would have thought him a legit challenger to BJ Penn. In 2007 he lost a contender elimination fight to Sean Sherk. In 2008 he beat Roger Huerta via superior planning and tactics, and he submitted Joe Stevenson in a fashion never seen.

Other notables were Frank Mir, Rashad Evans, Thiago Alves, Eddie Alvarez and Gegard Mousasi

Garth said:

Even though he only fought twice, I’ll give Frank Mir my vote for most improved fighter of 2008. After an uninspired, downright miserable 2006, and a single fight in 2007 (though a good sub win over “Raging” Hardonk), Mir was pretty much seen on the edge of retirement, offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the monster Brock Lesnar. I remember watching that fight, yelling “Back of the head!”, and then, a minute later, yelling “THAT’S JIU JITSU BABY!” Mir’s death-grip on Lesnar’s leg is still one of my favorite images of a BJJ fighter’s utter determination, as he goes airborne when Lesnar tries to escape the hold by jumping. Then his utter domination of the unbeatable Minotauro Nogueira…no one went from as low as Mir was to as high, and no one showed the improvement Mir did.

Nick said:

Rashad Evans went from uninspired split decisions over Bisping and an ugly draw with Tito Ortiz to KOing Chuck with one punch and smashing Forrest for the belt. That’s very impressive.

Event of the Year:

We didn’t debate this last category, but let the MMA Raters decide. As indicated in the MMA Ratings Event Rankings, UFC 84: Ill Will was the best event of 2008. This event could also be called the most frustrating event of 2008, for the fighters that is. Fans got to see 9 out of the 11 fights televised, but Thiago Silva came close to getting upset by Antonio Mendes. Tito Ortiz struggled in vain to close the distance with Lyoto Machida, eventually locking on a sweet triangle after taking a beating, only to lose it along with the decision and his UFC contract. Wanderlai Silva, after losing a unanimous decision to Chuck Liddell, took on the last guy to beat Chuck and smashed The Dean of Mean – Keith Jardine into smithereens in 36 seconds. And in the climax we got to see BJ Penn shrug off the wrestling of Sean Sherk and jab his way to victory for 3 whole rounds before eventually landing a knee at the very end to seal the deal at the closing bell.

2008 was a great year to be an MMA fan, and from the way 2009 is getting started, it’s only getting better!

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