By Nathan McCarter
2013 has kicked off with plenty of interesting bouts, and surprising results. As the we have passed the halfway mark for the year it is a good time to pause and reflect on the best of the first six months.
At the halfway point here are my awards for 2013.
Fighter of the Half-Year
Vitor Belfort is the only fighter to knock off two top five fighters thus far in 2013. He is the unquestioned leader for Fighter of the Year at the halfway point of the year.
Belfort TKO'd Michael Bisping in January, and followed that up with one of the best knockouts in UFC history against Luke Rockhold.
Belfort may campaign for a title shot next, and he definitely has earned that opportunity. Time will tell if he challenges for the gold at 185 pounds, but Belfort is on his way to earning the rare distinction of being the best fighter in 2013.
Fight of the Half-Year
Invicta FC Atomweight Championship: Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne (Invicta FC 5)
There have only been a small number of fights that are worthy of consideration in 2013. Wanderlei Silva vs.Brian Stann and Matt Grice vs. Dennis Bermudez are two of those. However, at the midway point of the year it is the ladies who are leading the way.
Waterson vs. Penne had it all. A back-and-forth title bout, incredible technique and a surprising finish.
If you missed this fight you should seek it out. Waterson and Penne put on one hell of a show, and their fight was the class of the first six months of the year.
Submission of the Half-Year
Michelle Waterson armbars Jessica Penne (Invicta FC 5)
After proving she could hang with Penne on the ground early in the fight, the champion rebounded and started to gain control against Waterson. At one point, Waterson had to defend a near armbar from Penne. The Fight of the Mid-Year was already underway with both women having their moments.
It was capped off with Waterson catching Penne in an armbar out of nowhere. A shocking result.
“The Karate Hottie” pulled off the upset, claimed gold, and now has the best submission through six months.
Knockout of the Half-Year
Vitor Belfort's spinning heel kick and punches vs. Luke Rockhold (UFC on FX 8)
It may be predictable to select this as the Knockout of the Mid Year, but when something special happens that is often the case.
Belfort's knockout may be his best yet, and that is saying something. We have started to see more spinning techniques in MMA, and the old dog of the organization added some to his repertoire. After he dropped Rockhold with the spinning heel kick, Belfort pounced and finished Rockhold off brutally. The totality of the KO moves it to the top of the list.
Upset of the Half-Year
Entering UFC 156 this bout was seen as a lock for Alistair Overeem. He was a sizeable favorite (-450 at Bovada.lv), and would earn a title shot with a victory.
For the first two rounds Overeem teed off on Bigfoot. He was unable to truly hurt Silva for the finish, but there was no debating who took those first two rounds. He was confident in his striking, which progressed into being cocky as the fight drew on.
That would cost him in the third frame.
Bigfoot rallied and put together a brutal slew of punches to upend the former K-1 champion and steal his title shot.
For many, this fight may have been the top upset of the half-year. Penne walked in to the cage as the Invicta FC Atomweight Champion, and as high as a -580 favorite (5Dimes.com). Her improving striking, length, and excellent ground game seemed like a solid bet.
Waterson's surprising performance wasn't a come from behind fairy tale. She begun from the opening bell. “The Karate Hottie” won the first round, and won the grappling exchanges against the supposed superior grappler.
Penne would rebound to make this a Fight of the Year contender. It was a fight that had everything: High drama and championship stakes.
Why is this not the top upset of the first half of the year? Michelle Waterson.
While Waterson entered as a heavy underdog, everyone in the know of women's MMA knows what kind of fighter she is. She was a legitimate top five atomweight who was undeserving of such big odds. Those odds spoke more to the oddsmakers’ lack of knowledge of the women's game than Waterson's chances.
It was an upset, but it wasn't as big of one as the odds indicated.
Kelvin Gastelum defeats Uriah Hall by split decision (The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale)
Uriah Hall was The Golden Child of The Ultimate Fighter 17.
From the premiere he was edited to look like a legitimate threat to any top middleweight. He received high praise from both coaches, as well as UFC President Dana White. Hall was supposed to mow through the young Kelvin Gastelum.
Gastelum was unassuming. He had several excellent performances on the show, but he failed to match the flash and devastation of Hall. The mild-mannered wrestler was just going to be Hall's final victim before they handed him the hardware.
The undefeated prospect had other ideas.
Training and living with his opposition during the course of filming surely helped remove the aura of invincibility, and thus gave Gastelum more confidence heading in to the fight. Not only that, but Hall had all the pressure on his shoulders.
It was a close fight, one that could have been scored for Hall, but at the end of the day Gastelum picked up the victory. He used the tools allotted to him to control Hall for a lot of the fight, and take down the crown for The Ultimate Fighter.
Gastelum did what virtually no one thought he could do. And in the process he ruined all the momentum that Hall had built. There was talk of him potentially fighting some of the middleweight elite, and Gastelum halted that silly notion.
Upsets are more than big underdogs winning, and they are more than someone coming from behind on the scorecards. Gastelum had to sit through months of hype, suffered through a media circus surrounding his opponent, and did not get much love from pundits or oddsmakers, but at the end of the day he stepped through the cage doors and won.