July 2, 2013

Raphael Garcia's 2013 Half-Year Awards

By Raphael Garcia

Although it’s only halfway through 2013, mixed martial arts fans have experienced a number of big moments so far this year. From shocking knockouts to extremely close fights, these moments will stand out amongst the others when this year is recalled. At this point in the year, these are my choices for the top fighters, knockouts, submissions, and other standout moments that have made an impact in 2013:

Fighter of the Mid Year
Josh Burkman

Nearly five years ago Josh Burkman was given his walking papers from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. When that occurs, most competitors are written off as “UFC Washouts” and struggle to find their way back into the Octagon. Burkman, however, has bided his time outside of the UFC, and his two wins this year in the World Series of Fighting have made him relevant in the welterweight division, and valuable to Zuffa once again.

In four months Burkman stopped both Jon Fitch and Aaron Simpson in a fashion that has increased his stock to a point where, if he were to so choose, he could potentially leave the WSOF and make his way back to the UFC for bigger paydays. However, for now he’s established himself as the front runner to become the WSOF’s first welterweight champion.

Fight of the Mid Year
Gilbert Melendez vs. Benson Henderson

For years Gilbert Melendez had been on the outside looking in, as the debate around who the best lightweight in the sport was skipped over his name. Now, he has had his opportunity to walk into the cage with his Strikeforce belt and leave as the UFC's lightweight champion. The UFC on Fox 7 fight with Benson Henderson was extremely close, as some fans and media members felt the bout could have gone either way. In the end, “Bendo” was able to emerge from the show with the title still slung over his shoulder, but the rivalry between these two competitors is far from over, as we could see them back in the Octagon against each in the near future.

Submission of the Mid Year
Urijah Faber chokes out Ivan Menjivar and poses

At UFC 157 the sports world was caught up in the idea that Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche would be headlining a UFC card. While those two competitors put on a show that resulted in Rousey continuing her submission streak, there was a submission victory earlier that night that not only proved how great of a fighter Urijah Faber truly is, but it created one of the best MMA images of the year.

In under five minutes, Faber disposed of bantamweight contender Ivan Menjivar. After a few quick exchanges, Faber found his way to Ivan's back and locked in a rear-naked choke that forced the veteran to submit while standing. With his legs still locked around his defeated foe, Faber raised both arms in celebration. The sight of Faber perched on Menjivar's back with his hands raised in victory was an unforgettable moment that will likely be a staple of highlight reels for years to come.

Knockout of the Mid Year
Emanuel Newton drops “King Mo” Lawal

Any fighter that leaves the UFC and joins one of the smaller promotions in the sport automatically enters that promotion with high expectations. Such was the situation for “King Mo” Lawal when he walked into Bellator earlier this year. He was expected to storm through the Season 8 Light Heavyweight tournament and become the champion, but Emmanuel Newton put a stop to that with a spinning back fist in the first round of their February matchup.

That quickly Lawal's ride to the top was derailed, and instead it was Newton who placed himself in the position to eventually challenge for Bellator's light heavyweight title. Yet the turning point of his career can be pointed back to that moment at Bellator 90, when he put Lawal out in such a highlight reel fashion.

News Story of the Mid Year
Jon Fitch and others cut from UFC roster

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is a sports promotion that considers itself a business first, and like many other businesses, in sports or otherwise, it has to ensure that the company is making money before anything else. In furtherance of that objective, UFC President Dana White announced that more than 100 fighters would be released from their contracts before the year was over.

While the UFC has always released fighters from their contracts that didn't perform at a satisfactory level, fans were shocked when Jon Fitch was released from his contract after his loss to Demian Maia at UFC 156. At that point in time he had lost 2 of 3 bouts, but he was still considered one of the best welterweights in the sport. His release let the MMA world know that no UFC fighter is safe.

With six months left in the year, more exciting moments are still to come. These events and individuals are front runners for the awards, but to truly earn them, the year needs the full 12 months to develop. Because in just a matter of seconds, each one of these awards can be overshadowed by something which makes a bigger impact within mixed martial arts. But for now, these are the standouts that have made MMA worth talking about in 2013.


Click here for additional 2013 Half-Year Award Winners.


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