The fights – they’re why everyone tunes in when the UFC is on television or in a local arena, and when it comes to classic bouts, 2010 has kept the organization’s history of excellence intact. So without further ado, here are this year’s Highly Unofficial best.
10 – Jeremy Stephens W3 Sam Stout
On paper, this UFC 113 bout had all the stylistic makings of a Fight of a Night, and neither Stephens or Stout disappointed, as the lightweights went at it tooth and nail for 15 minutes, with Lil’ Heathen emerging victorious via three round split decision. Early on, it was all Stephens thanks to his harder strikes, but Stout’s resilience and fast hands kept him in the fight, and when he scored with a big body shot in the third, it looked like he was going to pull out the win. But Stephens shook it off, got back to his feet, and the two ended the fight the way they began – by throwing punches.
9 – Diego Sanchez W3 Paulo Thiago
Diego Sanchez was running out of options. He lost a lightweight title bout to BJ Penn in 2009, jumped back to welterweight in 2010 but lost his return to John Hathaway, and then he went back to his original trainer, Greg Jackson, in order to find his mojo again. Well, he found it in October, and with his back against the wall, the “Nightmare” returned to pound out an exciting three round decision win over ultra-tough Paulo Thiago. And it wasn’t just that Sanchez got the job done, it was that he did it with the aggressive style and varied attack that made his name in the first place. It may have been the fastest 15 minutes you’ve seen in a long time.
8 – Mark Munoz W3 Aaron Simpson
When I think of friends fighting friends, I always refer back to the 1991 welterweight title bout in boxing between Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker, the gold standard when it comes to two buddies putting their friendship aside and going to war. Mark Munoz and Aaron Simpson definitely did their part to add to this combat sports legacy in November with a three round scrap that had you wincing when it came to some of the blows landed by both wrestlers. And when the former college standouts weren’t going toe-to-toe, they were showing off high-level wrestling on the mat, making this a complete and visceral display of why this sport is so great. Munoz got the nod this time, via unanimous decision, but I wouldn’t mind seeing another one in the future.
7 – George Sotiropoulos Wsub2 Joe Lauzon
Early in their pivotal lightweight bout at UFC 123, it looked like Joe Lauzon’s striking was going to be the key to figuring out the riddle of George Sotiropoulos. But the Aussie contender had no intention of giving up his unbeaten UFC record yet, and after a fast-paced first round that featured high-level action both standing and on the mat, he made the necessary adjustments in round two, got his own game back on track, and finished Lauzon with a tight kimura.
6 – Carlos Condit TKO3 Rory MacDonald
Going into their UFC 115 match in June, fight fans wondered whether 20-year old wunderkind Rory MacDonald had the experience to hang with former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Well, that answer came early and often against ‘The Natural Born Killer’, as MacDonald took the first two rounds of the bout thanks to a dynamic attack that kept the aggressive Condit off-balance. But in the third, Condit’s experience paid off as he got MacDonald to the mat and grounded and pounded his way to victory with seven seconds left. In the end, Condit got the victory, MacDonald got respect, and the fans got a helluva fight.
5 – Sean Sherk W3 Evan Dunham
Regardless of what you think of the controversial split decision rendered in Sean Sherk’s favor, the fact remains that the former UFC lightweight champ and rising star Evan Dunham put on a three round classic back at UFC 119 in Indianapolis. Sherk showed little in the way of ring rust after a 16 month injury-induced layoff, and after a couple big slams and some crisp standup that opened up a nasty cut over Dunham’s eye, it looked like the “Muscle Shark” was going to run over the up and comer. But Dunham, who already had a breakthrough in 2010 with wins over Tyson Griffin and Efrain Escudero, dug deep, put on his hard hat and went to work, apparently winning the next two frames. The judges disagreed, awarding the bout to Sherk, but there were no losers in this one in the eyes of the fans.
4 – Brock Lesnar Wsub2 Shane Carwin
If you happened to doubt the punching power of Shane Carwin, it didn’t take long for you to become a believer in July as he cracked Brock Lesnar in the first round and proceeded to lay down a hellacious beatdown on the then-heavyweight champion. It was a stunning turn of events that was topped by Lesnar’s ability to weather the storm to make it out of a round he had no right surviving. Then, as the bell was about to ring for the second round, he smiled at Carwin as if to say “you got yours; now I’m about to get mine.” And he did, taking an exhausted Carwin down and submitting him with an arm triangle. In a nutshell, it’s what all heavyweight title fights should be like.
3 – Stephan Bonnar TKO2 Krzysztof Soszynski
The first fight between Stephan Bonnar and Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 110 in February was damn good. Their rematch at UFC 116 made the first one look like a three round lay and pray fest. Filled with intense exchanges that could have ended the bout at any number of times, Bonnar and Soszynski earned their Fight of the Night bonus checks, but it was Bonnar who resurrected his career with the type of performance that will guarantee him a job for as long as he decides that he wants to put on the gloves, bite down on his mouthpiece and go punch for punch with all comers in the Octagon.
2 – Chris Leben Wsub3 Yoshihiro Akiyama
It wasn’t an enviable position to be in – following the third and fourth entries on this list on the epic UFC 116 card in July, but Chris Leben and Yoshihiro Akiyama may have taken that as a challenge, as they went on to put on one of the best fights of the year. Featuring fierce toe-to-toe action, changes in momentum, and a shocking and exciting finish, this bout had it all. And in the process, Leben, fighting for the second time in two weeks, completed his transformation from MMA’s problem child to legit middleweight contender.
1 – Anderson Silva Wsub5 Chael Sonnen
The drama before this UFC 117 bout took place couldn’t hold a candle to what happened on fight night, as Silva and Sonnen engaged in a championship fight for the ages. Yes, Sonnen dominated the majority of the bout with his ground and pound attack, but each moment before he would take the previously untouchable title holder to the mat was filled with tension as Silva unleashed the strikes many believed would end the fight. But even though he got rocked on a few occasions, Sonnen was resolute in his attack, and as the seconds ticked by, he was getting closer and closer to one of the sport’s great upsets and the realization of a dream. Then, like the truest of true champions, Silva pulled off a fifth round submission. Calling it a spectacular comeback doesn’t do it justice, but judging this fight to be the best UFC bout of 2010 certainly does.
Honorable Mention – Kendall Grove-Mark Munoz, Jared Hamman-Rodney Wallace,
Pascal Krauss-Mark Scanlon, Brian Stann-Mike Massenzio, Kyle Kingsbury-Jared Hamman, Michael Bisping-Yoshihiro Akiyama, Matt Mitrione-Joey Beltran, Leonard Garcia-Nam Phan, Nate Diaz-Marcus Davis, Ricardo Romero-Seth Petruzelli, Evan Dunham-Efrain Escudero, George Sotiropoulos-Joe Stevenson, Chris Lytle-Matt Serra II, Mirko Cro Cop-Pat Barry, Sam Stout-Joe Lauzon, Krzysztof Soszynski-Stephan Bonnar I, TJ Waldburger-David Mitchell