The calendar tells me it’s now 2013, and even though I have no idea how that can possibly be, I’m inclined to believe it as true.
With 2012 apparently over, it’s time to look back on the last 12 months of mixed martial arts action and pass out pretend trophies to real fighters who delivered memorable performances this year in the UFC.
TOP NEWCOMER: Erik Perez
Three first-round finishes in the last six months of 2012 have turned Perez into a fighter to watch heading into next year, and earned him my pick as the top newcomer in the UFC.
While there were some flashy debuts, no fighter who started the year off the UFC roster put together the kind of results “Goyito” was able to deliver through his first three fights. He’ll face much tougher competition in 2013, but there is no denying how impressive Perez has been, earning stoppage wins over John Albert, Ken Stone, and Byron Bloodworth.
With the UFC looking to make a big push into Mexico in the coming year, Perez’ emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.
BEST POST-FIGHT CELEBRATION: Marcus Brimage and Maximo Blanco have a tumbling competition
This was an easy choice because it differed from the standard “Climb the cage and pound your chest” celebration, but also because the post-fight battle was actually more entertaining than the fight itself.
Brimage and Blanco offered tepid offence over their 15-minute bout at UFC 145, and when the final horn sounded, the fun really began. The two featherweights went backflip for backflip in the Octagon, with Brimage winning the gymnastic competition — and the fight.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Jamie Varner returns to stop Edson Barboza
No one saw this one coming.
Barboza started the year with a phenomenal knockout of Terry Etim at UFC 142, and was viewed as one of the top prospects in the lightweight division. Varner agreed to step in for Evan Dunham on short notice, and most expected the unbeaten Brazilian to get the better of the former WEC champion.
Quite the opposite occurred as Varner came out of the corner on fire to start the fight, mixing his hands and his wrestling like he did during his best stretch atop the WEC lightweight division. Just over three minutes into the contest, Varner earned the stoppage and the Upset of the Year.
WHAT THE HELL? AWARD: Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida
This looked like a great fight on paper — two perennial lightweight contenders returning for the first time in 2012 after suffering tough losses to end 2011. “The Bully” and “The Carpenter” were paired atop the marquee for the UFC on FX show in Atlantic City, N.J., and as the fight got underway, it was clear we weren’t going to get the entertaining toe-to-toe battle we had in mind.
Guida looked to use a stick-and-move strategy to stay away from Maynard’s power. While he did a relatively good job with it in the first round, Guida did more moving and less sticking as the fight went on, leaving Maynard to chase him around the cage in frustration.
Maynard won a split decision, but both men lost some of their footing with the fans. This was a very, very difficult fight to watch.
BEST PROSPECT HEADING INTO 2013: TJ Dillashaw
There were a lot of prospects that emerged as full-blown contenders in 2012 including Alexander Gustafsson and Chris Weidman.
Dillashaw has a tremendous opportunity to follow in their footsteps in 2013. The Team Alpha Male bantamweight scored a pair of wins last year, and was originally scheduled to square off with fellow 135-pound up-and-comer Mike Easton at UFC on FOX 5 in Seattle before being forced to withdraw due to an undisclosed injury.
Bantamweight is wide open right now, so there is room for advancement for emerging talents like Dillashaw. He has a strong wrestling base, steadily improving hands, and is a fierce competitor, so don’t be surprised if another member of the best team of lighter weight fighters in the business produces a new contender in the new year.
BEST COMEBACK (FIGHT): Tim Boetsch stops Yushin Okami
As the third round of their UFC 144 meeting began, Okami was up 2-0 on the scorecards, and five minutes away from getting back into the win column. Boetsch needed a finish if he hoped to prolong his winning streak, and that’s exactly what he got.
“The Barbarian” came out guns blazing in the third, taking the fight to Okami and putting the former title challenger on his heels. It was a complete reversal from the previous two rounds, and after managing to do very little over the opening 10 minutes, Boetsch put Okami away with a series of shot along the cage just 54 seconds into the third.
BEST COMEBACK (FIGHTER): Matt Brown
Brown entered 2012 with his back against the wall.
Having lost four of his last five fights, “The Immortal” began his year with a must-win meeting against Chris Cope at UFC 143. After dispatching the former Ultimate Fighter contestant, Brown went on to defeat Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Luis Ramos before finishing the year with a blistering knockout of Mike Swick at UFC on FOX 5.
Brown was the only fighter on the UFC roster to earn four wins this past year, and after starting 2012 in a fight for his job, he enters 2013 on the cusp of contention in the welterweight division.
THAT JUST HAPPENED AWARD: Ryan Jimmo knocks out Anthony Perosh in 7 seconds.
Jimmo had won 16 straight heading into his UFC debut, but over his last seven, the only stoppage the former MFC light-heavyweight champion had earned came when the doctor brought his second fight with Dwayne Lewis to a halt in February 2011.
That’s why most people were caught off guard when the New Brunswick native needed just a single punch to put away the Australian veteran at UFC 149. Jimmo blasted Perosh with a big overhand right that left him crumpled against the cage with one of the best “knockout faces” of the year.
The performance has many wondering what the 31-year-old Canuck will be able to do for an encore when he takes on James Te Huna at UFC on Fuel TV 7 in February.
BREAKTHROUGH FIGHTER: Ronda Rousey
Even though her two fights were in the UFC’s sister promotion Strikeforce, there is no one else who could possibly take home this award. Rousey didn’t just break through in 2012, she went supernova.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist won the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title from Miesha Tate with her fifth consecutive first-round submission win, and then followed it up with a dominant title defence — and another first-round submission — against Sarah Kaufman in August.
Outside of the cage, Rousey was on the cover of the ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, appeared on Conan, and became a staple on TMZ. In December, she was formally introduced as the first ever UFC women’s champion, and announced as the headliner (with Liz Carmouche) for UFC 157.
TOP CANADIAN: Rory MacDonald
After being heralded as a future champion during his first year in the UFC, MacDonald used his second year to move from prospect to contender in the welterweight ranks.
The 23-year-old Canadian stopped Che Mills at UFC 145 in April, but it was his dominant performance against BJ Penn late in the year that cemented his standing as the top Canadian in 2012. MacDonald battered the “The Prodigy” in early December, controlling every second of their contest in Seattle. His personality — or lack thereof many would say — garnered a great deal of attention as well, landing MacDonald the nickname “The Canadian Psycho.”
2012 was a big year for the British Columbia native, and he has designs on bigger and better in 2013.