By Michael Ford
2013 was an exciting year in the world of mixed martial arts. There were countless memorable moments and fights in the last 12 months. Looking back at this year in the sport, we at MMA Ratings are picking out particular moments from every month that stand out amongst them all.
Fight of the Month: Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez, UFC 166
It was like man fighting a zombie. Heading into their UFC 166 encounter, Gilbert Melendez, on the heels of his razor-thin loss to Benson Henderson, was considered by some to be the uncrowned champion and best lightweight in the world. His opponent Diego Sanchez was coming off a win in a fight against Takanori Gomi that most observers thought he lost. But Diego is tough, so nobody thought it'd be easy, just decisive.
What followed was one of the most competitive one-sided bouts in UFC history, as Sanchez withstood a relentless onslaught and refused to be slowed or stopped, pressing forward even as his face was mangled and bloody. Melendez continued to dole out the punishment with poise, but for one fleeting moment in the third, "El Nino" let his guard down, and was dropped and nearly finished. Sanchez almost pulled off the miraculous win. However, it was not to be, and Melendez won the much-deserved decision. But Sanchez earned all of our admiration. He may not use the nickname anymore, but on that night, his relentlessness was truly the stuff of nightmares.
• Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez: Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28).
Knockout of the Month: Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz, UFC Fight Night 30
Lyoto Machida was already a Top 5 light heavyweight, but after losing a controversial decision to Phil Davis, he realized that another title shot at 205 would prove as elusive as he tends to be. And with longtime friend Anderson Silva relieved of the title, Machida set out to pursue gold at 185. His first opponent was also a friend, Mark Munoz, but that didn't stop Lyoto from putting "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" down and out with a head kick at the 3:10 mark of round 1. It had to be tough for Munoz, who had been preparing to face Michael Bisping in Manchester, to take on a much dangerous opponent in Machida, but he was game, and the substitute main event gave the fans at the Phones 4U Arena the highlight reel finish they craved.
Machida next faces another light heavyweight looking to make an impact in the wide open middleweight division in Gegard Mousasi. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain the momentum and enthusiasm all the way to a title shot, but right now, fans are excited about "The Dragon" in the title mix again, and this knockout is why.
UFC Fight Night 30
• Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz: Lyoto Machida def. Mark Munoz via knockout (head kick) at 3:10 of Round 1.
Submission of the Month: Mike Pierce vs. Rousimar Palhares, UFC Fight Night 29
In less than a minute, everything changed for Rousimar Palhares. After a PED suspension kept him out of the Octagon for all of 2013, he hoped for a fresh start in a new weight class, and in just over 30 seconds, he had finished the super-tough Mike Pierce by submission. But Palhares's penchant for holding on to submissions for too long reared its ugly head again, and "Toquinho" had raised the ire of both fans and UFC management. Although a few observers attempted to illustrate that the offense wasn't as egregious at it originally seemed, perception was reality, and Palhares was jettisoned from the organization.
But lost in all of the controversy was how impressive the submission was. An unexpected leglock is as effective and sudden as a a knockout, and Palhares is one of the best in the sport. He effortlessly grabbed Pierce's left leg and cranked, securing the submission before Pierce had even hit the ground. Perhaps the speed at which opponents can go from defending to tapping is part of the reason Palhares is slow to the "off switch," but there's no denying that his ability to torque lower extremities in brutal fashion makes him one of the most dangerous submission fighters in the sport, and this fight put that skillset on full display.
UFC Fight Night 29
• Mike Pierce vs. Rousimar Palhares: Rousimar Palhares def. Mike Pierce via submission (ankle hook) at 0:31 of Round 1.
Story of the Month: Tito Ortiz Injury Changes the Face of the Belabor 106 PPV
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz was announced. Their recent UFC history let to them being tagged with the labels of "has-beens," and many dreaded the fight, even if they begrudgingly accepted that their name recognition was beneficial to the promotion. However, regardless of whether you favored the idea of Ortiz-Jackson headlining over Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez II, the news that Tito had suffered an injury a little more than a week before the PPV was due to go down gave rise to a multitude of "doom and gloom" scenarios for the event.
However, unlike Affliction, whose entire promotion melted down because its PPV main event fell apart, Bellator had a backup plan, due to its close relationship with Spike TV through part-owner Viacom. Instead of pushing forward with unproven PPV draws, Bellator decided to turn Bellator 106 into a stacked super-card with three title fights on it, thus insuring that a hardcore fanbase ready to rip the show to pieces would instead be able to check the fights out for free. Now to many skeptics, the fact that the PPV was relatively well-received reinforces the idea that Bellator needn't have been involved in PPV in the first place. And if you believe that, the Ortiz injury was a blessing in disguise. There are even conspiracy theorists who believe that there was no injury, and Ortiz pulled out to help the promotion save face. Regardless of what you believe, though, there's no denying that the Bellator PPV losing one of its headliners was a big deal in October.
After an exciting and action-packed September, October maintained the intensity with incredible fights and cards of its own. There were big fights in three promotions, a few interesting developments, and one fight that blew us all away. When you look back, it's hard not to say that October was one of the best months of MMA action this year.
Do you agree with these choices for October 2013? Rate these fights and others, and be sure to make your voice heard, so that your favorite fights can be considered for the 2013 Fans' Choice Awards.