Select winners will receive a special Rear Naked News care package (details next week). Please argue all you want about how stupid or smart I am in the comments section.
Knock-Out of the Year
Rampage/Silva - UFC 92
There was so much more to simply seeing Rampage knock Silva out cold. This was a guy who beat him bad two times previously, the second time leaving him hanging between the ropes like a gutted deer. He also was coming off the insane police chase, killing a fetus, dumping his trainer, and joining a new gym in another country. To then go out and get a revenge knockout over a UFC 205 pound title contender on the biggest show of the year makes this an easy choice.
Fighter of the Year
Winner - Rashad Evans
Aoki and Mousasi are very close runner-ups. Aoki went 5-1-1 and almost made me refer to Eddie Alvarez as "Eddie Averagez" during the Fields Dynamite Live Blog. That has to be worth some extra points. Mousasi is a beast that mainstream MMA fans still are sleeping on. He went 7-0 in 2008 and captured the DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix with an upkick knockout of Jacare (who was taken off the above list at the last second). Evans gets it by winning the title in the toughest division in MMA with two brutal finishes of Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. I think to be the Fighter of the Year, you have to perform under extreme pressure against upper-echelon opponents and look good doing it. Evans succeeded in both respects.
Worst Fighter of the Year
Winner - Brandon Vera
It's pretty bad that Vera wins out over a guy he beat and Jules, who I think might be retarded.
Most Annoying Fans of the Year
Eddie Alvarez Fans
Stop emailing me. I already know all about him.
Steve "The Robot" Cantwell
Reese "Riptide" Andy
Winner - "The Robot"
I wanted to avoid the old standbys like Sean "Muscle Shark" Sherk and Pedro "The Pedro" Otavio. I think "The Robot" is worse because at least some people (old ladies?) fear "Riptides". I've never heard anyone say, "Watch out for that robot!"
Comeback of the Year
It's not even close. Mir was considered a sacrificial lamb for Brock Lesnar's UFC debut until he admirably withstood a storm of strikes and pulled out a submission victory. Then he spent weeks being criticized on The Ultimate Fighter as a terrible coach and unlikeable jerk before demolishing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. It's like he thrives on proving people wrong. I bet he went through a fat stage as a kid then got into shape and broke some seventh grade limbs with sick ass kimuras.
Fight That Should Have Happened, But Didn't
Fedor vs Couture
Santos vs Carano
Liddell vs Rua
Silva vs Anyone
Alvarez vs Diaz
Winner - Silva vs Anyone
It's gotten to the point where I actually got excited when there was a tiny rumor Silva would fight Chael Sonnen. Please get this man top tier opponents in 2009. I want to see him end Chuck Liddell's career, beat Georges St-Pierre, then win the Light Heavyweight Title. That's my wishlist for 2009. I don't think I'm asking too much. The craziest part is he would be favored in each of those fights. That right there tells you how wasted his talents have been so far.
Unsung Heroes Award
DREAM Ringside Officials
One of my favorite parts of watching DREAM is seeing the ringside officials who are in charge of making sure the fighters do not fall through the ropes. I don't speak Japanese or pay attention enough to know if they have another job. Either way, watching them get paid to put their hands up, hold the ropes, and look concerned is always a great time.
Most Exciting Fighter
Winner - Anderson Silva
I don't care about how the Cote fight ended. Every time he moves a muscle, millions of eyes open wide. Lesnar is a distant second, thanks to his successful crossover from the WWE.
The DREAM referees have the most common sense in the sport. Their instincts are almost always right when it comes to splitting up a boring a clinch, standing a fight up, and not stopping things just because a fighter ate a few strikes on the ground. They know the sport. It's as simple as that.
Fad of the Year
The Leg Kick
Forrest Griffin deserves the most blame for basically winning a five round fight against Rampage Jackson with leg kicks. After that it became the rage and one of the most talked about things in MMA. There is no middle ground for MMA fans with leg kicks. They either think they're more devastating than Godzilla or as insignificant as wrapping paper.
Worst Fight of the Year
Vera vs Andy - UFC Fight Night 14
The UFC needs to listen up, because I figured something out. Pairing a major fighter coming off two losses with a former collegiate All-American wrestler who has zero striking ability is never a good idea. I'd like to mention one other thing about this fight. Reese Andy came out to "Mama Said Knock You Out", which brings me to my next item.....
Least True Entrance Song
"Mama Said Knock You Out" - Reese Andy
Trainer of the Year
I'm an admitted DellaGrotte fag and still think he does more with what he gets than any other trainer, but you cannot deny the kind of success Greg Jackson and his team have had this year.
Submission of the Year
Aoki/Nagata - Gogoplata
Hazelett/Burkman - Arm Bar
Penn/Stevenson - Rear Naked Choke
Jacare/Galesic - Arm Bar
Winner - Dustin Hazelett
The gogoplata was nice, but after I saw it a couple times the coolness wore off. Hazelett's otherworldly arm bar gets the nod. Penn's choke gets on the list because it's one of the most memorable submission images maybe ever.
Fight of the Year
Alvarez vs Hansen - DREAM 3
Shamrock vs Le - EliteXC/Strikeforce
Condit vs Miura - WEC 35
Nogueira vs Sylvia - UFC 81
Torres vs Maeda - WEC 34
Winner - Alvarez vs Hansen - DREAM 3
Nothing gets fans more heated than Fight of the Year debates. First, I had about a dozen other fights I almost included in the above list. It's splitting hairs when you're trying to decide between the 6th best fight and the 7th. I think the Fight of the Year needs to have something large at stake. The Cerrone/McCullough fight was excellent, but it lacked significance. Same with Lytle/Taylor.
Two glaring omissions are Griffin/Jackson and St-Pierre/Fitch. Let me explain before the Legion of Griffin Fags and St-Pierre's Hugger Squad fill up my inbox. Another requirement I have is that during the fight you feel both fighters are in imminent danger. Was there ever a point where you felt like Rampage or St-Pierre might get finished? Griffin had a triangle attempt, but it wasn't like when the fight went to the ground everyone stood up to see a possible submission. Each of the other fights featured tons of those moments when it wouldn't have surprised you to see the fight end decisively for either side.
My last component is entertainment. This is more subjective than the other two because different fans like different things. I don't think you can break this one down to particulars other than, "It made me sit up and pay attention the entire time."
I think all of the five fights listed succeed in each of my categories, but one must rise above the rest. This year it was the bout between Eddie Alvarez and Joachim Hansen. In the first thirty seconds, Alvarez dropped Hansen with a right that sounded like a wet flounder hitting a window. Somehow Hansen regained his composure and a minute later forced Alvarez to give up top position because his arm was about to be turned all sorts of ways. The entire fight was like this. At any moment it would not have surprised me to see the fight end badly for either fighter. When all was said and done, both fighters knelt on the mat in awe of each other and what they just did. MMA does not get any better than that.