June 30, 2013

Roy Billington's 2013 Half-Year Awards

By Roy Billington

We’ve passed the midpoint of the year, and we at MMA Ratings are taking a moment to look back over the first six months -- January through June -- to see who and what has stood out within the world of mixed martial arts. At this point of 2013, I believe that these fighters, fights and moments have distinguished themselves as the best among the best in this sport, and have the potential to win the overall awards once the year comes to a close.

Fighter of the Half Year: Vitor Belfort

It’s amazing to think that Vitor has been a pro since 1996. Belfort was a mixed martial artist before it was cool, and at 19 he was the youngest-ever UFC champion (regardless of what the UFC tells you). Fast forward 16 years, and 2013 so far has arguably been the best year yet for the “Phenom.” Following a perfect performance at UFC on FX 7 against perennial contender Michael “The Count” Bisping, Vitor was pitted against the last ever Strikeforce middleweight champion and heavily-touted UFC prospect Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8, and not many could predict the outcome. From the get-go Vitort used his trademark aggression to fluster Rockhold and to leave his foe constantly on the back foot, which helped set up an amazing fight-ending spinning kick.

Vitor is obviously on the back end of his illustrious career, but I believe if his second half of 2013 is as good as his first, he will soon be fighting for UFC gold again.

Event of the Half Year: UFC on FOX 7

For years, fans and pundits alike had fantasized about seeing Strikeforce’s big names in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and in San Jose in April we finally got to witness it. And it was amazing. The event started off with fireworks, as Olympian Yoel Romero knocked Clifford Starks out cold with a beautiful flying knee just 92 seconds into the fight. Two brutal finishes followed on the preliminary card broadcast, and then street fighter turned mixed martial artist Jorge Masvidal took on Tim Means in a very exciting fight. Other highlights included The Ultimate Fighter alumnus Myles Jury scoring one of the most brutal knockouts of the year against Ramsy Nijem, and Josh Thomson becoming the first man to knock out a Diaz brother when he landed a precise head kick in the second round, after dominating throughout their bout.

In the main event, two of the best fighters in the world were paired together, as Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez battled to unify the Strikeforce and UFC titles, and after a back and forth bout from bell to bell, the judges were split. Although Henderson got the nod, it definitely set the scene for a rematch within the next 18 months.


Fight of the Half Year: Matt Grice vs. Dennis Bermudez

The Fight of the Year so far without a doubt took place at UFC 157, as The Ultimate Fighter Season 14 runner up Dennis Bermudez faced Division I wrestler Matt Grice. From the get-go this fight was a barn burner, with Grice showing much improved standup, including great lateral movement and technical boxing. He used the aforementioned standup improvements to land a pin point perfect left hook, which dropped Bermudez and almost led to Herb Dean stopping the fight, but luckily he didn’t.

After a dominant early display from Grice, Bermudez was left with it all to do, and boy did he deliver. In the third, Bermudez landed hard and often, at one point he had Grice backed against the cage and unleashed a hellish combo reminiscent of Pat Curran vs. Joe Warren. In my opinion, the ref could have stopped it, as there was a 30-second period that Grice didn’t intelligently defend himself.

Although we so often see the UFC fights with lots of hype falling short of exciting the fans, luckily there will always be up and comers like Grice and Bermudez eager to entertain them.

Knockout of the Half Year: Uriah Hall

Weeks before the airing of the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 17, UFC President Dana White began his usual rhetoric trying to hype up the upcoming series of “TUF.” He spoke of an amazing knockout, but not many took notice of the serial exaggerator's assertions, and I for one definitely didn't believe him. But much to my shock, in episode 3 of the show, I bore witness to the most spectacular knockout I have ever seen. Maybe it was the high production value of TUF and the multi-angle slow-mo shots which made it so amazing, but when Uriah Hall threw his spinning hook kick, my jaw dropped. Hall's knockout started the latest Octagon trend, as since his KO of Adam Cella, both Belfort and Junior Dos Santos have used spinning kicks to finish fights.

Submission of the Half Year: Kenny Robertson submits Brock Jardine

In the final Facebook preliminary bout of UFC 157, Kenny Robertson faced a very tough test in Brock Jardine, and passed with flying colours. In the opening minutes of the fight Jardine locked a tight arm-in guillotine on Robertson, but Robertson used his experience to calmly defend before showing his own repertoire of submission skills. After Robertson locked in a very unorthodox knee bar from back control, his opponent was left with no other option but to tap.

Breakout Fighter of the Half Year: Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor entered the UFC as arguably Europe's most exciting fighter, with a 12-2 record, and having finished every single win of his pro career within two rounds. A champion in both the lightweight and featherweight divisions of the Cage Warriors promotion, he trains at Dublin’s Straight Blast Gym under BJJ wizard John Kavanagh, and in Iceland with another European phenom, Gunnar Nelson.

Conor debuted in Sweden at UFC on FUEL TV 9 and left a lasting impression with fight fans worldwide, as he put on a debut performance reminiscent of that of middleweight champion Anderson Silva. McGregor’s foe Marcus Brimage seemed to be fighting in slow motion compared to the debuting Dubliner, and within 70 seconds “Notorious” scored a knockout. McGregor looks to continue his rise to the top on August 17th, as he faces Andy Ogle in Boston at the UFC on FoxSports1 debut.

With this half of the year finished, we fans can look ahead to the remainder of 2013, which appears promising, as all of the UFC champions are expected to defend their titles against worthy adversaries. The next six months should be quite the thrill ride, and we'll see whether the standouts at the end of December bear any resemblance to those at the end of June.

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Click here for additional 2013 Half-Year Award Winners.

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