ESPN recently announced that the UFC’s Georges St. Pierre has been recognized as a finalist for ‘Fighter of the Year’ at the ESPY awards which will air July 20, and hosted by none other than Sports Legend…. Justin Timberlake? What? Ya. We were caught off guard too.
Also nominated alongside ‘Rush’ are Floyd Mayweather Jr, Joe Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik and Holly Holm. In case you were wondering, the other nominees are all boxers. Now, I know some of you are thinking: Who the heck is Holly Holm? And the rest of you, are googling the word ‘boxing’ into your browser, because you aren’t convinced the sport still exists. I however have decided to take a slightly different approach to this subject. We could argue all day long about how far boxing has fallen, but instead I wanted to identify other MMA stars that could have been nominated along with the French Canadian for this year’s ‘Fighter of the Year’. In conjunction with Federal FOTY regulations June 30, 2008 will be used as our year end.
The ‘Prodigy’ began the year with a dominating win over former rival Jens Pulver on the Finale of The Ultimate Fighter 5. Based on BJ’s prior tendency to ‘undertrain’ for his fights, this fight appeared closer on paper than what took place in the cage. Jens was smoked and submitted in the second round. Penn followed this up with demolishing Joe Stevenson, leaving him covered in blood and tapping out with just over a minute left in Round 2 to capture the vacant Lightweight UFC title. Penn would then face his ‘toughest test’ this year when he took on former champ Sean Sherk in May. Sherk proved to be no match for Penn who knocked Sherk out to finish off Round 3. BJ dominated each of his 3 fights this year and no one looks to be able to touch him at 155 lbs. Penn continues to be acknowledged worldwide by many as the best pound for pound fighter, and it’s difficult to argue with the year he has had. If Penn can somehow manage to get his ‘super fight’ with GSP and win, there will be little doubt to who is the worlds best in their weight class.
The career the Spider has achieved in the UFC can only be described as remarkable. Undefeated inside the Octagon, he began the year by rolling through Nate Marquardt, who was unable to get by the first round. In his next fight, he silenced 17,000 fans at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, as he put another hurting on Rich Franklin in front of Franklin’s hometown crowd. Then came someone who was going to stop Silva. And as much as we want to love Anderson, if there is zero competition for a guy, over time this becomes boring and often times we want the King to be dethroned. Dan Henderson was the guy who was finally going to do that!… until they actually fought. Henderson suffered the same fate as all of Silva’s octagon opponents before him and lost. And actually lost fairly convincingly. Henderson may have won the first round, but was unable to manufacture much offense, as he spent most of the round laying on Silva and covering his mouth with fingers. The Spider ended up submitting Dan in Round 2. Henderson did not have his best night, but as Bruce Buffer was announcing Henderson’s submission loss, we all wondered if Dan had really had a bad fight or was the ‘Spider’ just that good.
There is one word to describe both Faber and the year that he had – Explosive.The 145 lbs WEC champ has the cardio of a Thoroughbred and skills to match. Faber was 3-0 on the year, including a dominating (yet closer than most expected) decision win over former UFC champ Jens Pulver.
The fight proved 2 things: 1. That Faber was a legitimate top pound for pound fighter, and 2. That he really had a chin. Pulver hit him with everything but the kitchen sink, but Faber did not melt under the pressure. At 21-1, the ‘California Kid’ had another impressive year and should have many more.
Probably the biggest ‘ummm who is this guy?’ from our list, Torres tore through the WEC’s 135 lbs division this year, and at year end his record stood at 34-1. hmm not bad. Torres has brought some serious interest to a division that not many have ever cared about. During the year, Torres triangled Jeff Bedard, submitted Chanse Beebe with a guillotine choke and doctors had to stop Yoshiro Maeda from taking any more punishment in their June 1 title fight. The Maeda battle was a ‘Fight of Year’ candidate but one could argue that Torres should also be recognized in the same category as a Fighter.
All 4 above have had tremendous years and deserved to be alongside GSP for FOTY nominees. As MMA becomes more mainstream, the shift in the nominees should begin to move towards more MMA fighters. Some would argue it should have begun this year.