DISCLAIMER: All of the superlatives listed below are solely based on my own personal opinion. Feel free to disagree.
What a year 2013 has been for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The three invincible champions (Jones, Silva, St. Pierre) proved to be anything but, with Silva losing his title by vicious knockout, and St. Pierre stepping away from the sport and vacating his belt. The UFC finally accepted Women’s MMA and we saw a new UFC Lightweight Champion crowned. While UFC 168 has yet to occur, I’m jumping the gun a bit and will present to you my MMA superlatives for the year that was. Without further ado, lets get to the winners.
Camp of the year: Team Alpha Male
No MMA camp had a more successful year then Team Alpha Male. A camp that was once just considered Urijah Faber and his crew has now breaded some of the best light weight fighters in MMA. The addition of Duane “Bang” Ludwig as their head coach has payed dividends to their top tier fighters. Faber had a “fighter of the year” campaign, Chad Mendez went 3-0 and is the top featherweight not named Jose Aldo, TJ Dillashaw and Danny Castillo have become mainstays in their respective divisions, and Joseph Benavidez clawed his way back to a flyweight title shot before falling short to end the year. UFC TUF Bantamweight champion Chad Holdsworth also has a bright future in the UFC. All in all, Team Alpha Male stood out amongst the crowd and was the top camp in 2013.
Others Considered: Jackson’s MMA; The Blackzillians; Ceazer Gracie Jiujitsu
Comeback of the year: Travis Browne over Allistar Overeem
I may be a little bias here because I was in the crowd watching this fight, but “The Reem” had Browne dead to rights while firing accurate shots at Browne’s head while it was up against the cage. No one would have blamed the ref for stopping this fight, but Browne willed his way up and fought a now gassed Reem, who left his center open for a front kick to the face, a la Anderson Silva. It was interesting that the referee, Mario Yamasaki, didn’t afford Allistar they same opportunity to defended himself the same way he let Browne, but what’s done is done, and Browne’s comeback was one to write home about.
Others Considered: Silva over Overeem, James Te Huna over Ryan Jimmo
Submission of the Year: Anthony Pettis via Armbar Over Benson Henderson
2013 didn’t have that incredible never before seen or rarely before seen submission like Toby Imada’s inverted triangle, The Korean Zombie’s twister, or Phil Davis’s “Mr Wonderful Bar”. With that being said, there were plenty of meaningful submissions that changed the landscape of MMA. There where a few reason why I selected Pettis’s armbar for the top spot. For starters, it was such a slick and fast submission, that no one knew it even happened until a few seconds after the fight had ended. But what made it even better was the fact the Bendo wore a jiujitsu Gi to the ring, AND wore a black belt on his fight shorts. Add the fact that the fight crowned Pettis as the new UFC Lightweight Champion in his hometown of Milwaukee, and you have the submission of the year.
Others Considered: Faber RNC Over Menjivar, Burkman Guillotine Over Fitch, Barao Guillotine Over McDonald
Knockout of the year: Emanuel Newton Spinning Backfist Over Mo Lawal
Don’t Kill me for not picking Weidman over Silva, but there’s no denying the Newton’s spinning Back fist over King Mo was the most stunning, and visually appeasing KO of the year. King Mo was heavily hyped going into his Bellator debut against the little know Emanuel Newton. King Mo may have taken Newton lightly, but after taking a spinning backfist to the face, The king was dethroned rather quickly. Lucky for him, Emanual Newton was there to catch Mo’s Lifeless body and place him on the ground to sleep it off. While this may not have been the highest profile KO of the year, it was the most satisfying one.
Others Considered: Weidman Over Silva, Kim Over Eric Silva, Hunt Over Struve, Johnson Over Benavidez
Fight of the Year: Jones vs Gustafson
In a year that had an incredible amount of amazing 3 and 5 round fights, Jones vs Gustafson stood in a pedestal all their own. Very few gave “The Mauler” and legitimate chance to go the distance, let alone contend, but that’s exactly what the Swede did. While Jones has always had a reach and height advantage against all of his opponents, fighting a new foe, with a similar height and reach, proved to be a kink in the champs impenetrable armor. “Bones” over came the adversity of the first few rounds and fought with the heart of the champion to close out the fight. When the dust settled, and all the bloodshed ceased, it was determined that Jones did enough to win two of the three judges’ scorecards in a close, and controversial decision. Who ever you believe won this fight, this rivalry has just begun and we will definitely see these two warriors lock horns in the future.
Others Considered: St. Pierre vs Hendrix, Melendez vs Sanchez, Bigfoot vs Hunt, Bermudez vs Grice
Breakthrough fighter of the year: Khabib Nurmagomedov
The influx of Russia MMA fighters making a splash on the big show is in full swing, and they are lead by the young and brash Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib is 25 years old and sports a perfect 21-0 record with 5 wins inside the Octagon. 2013 was nothing short of a breakthrough year for the Russian import who defeated 3 tough fighters in Thiago Tavares, Abel Trujillo, and Pat Healy. The sky’s the limit for this 155er and a top 10 opponent is likely in his sights as he begins his 2014 campaign.
Others Considered: Conor McGregor, Julianna Pena
Fighter of the Year: Vitor Belfort
No body had a year quite like ageless Brazilian Vitor Belfort. His 2012 ended in a sour note as he lost his UFC Light heavyweight Championship opportunity to Jon Jones, but 2013 was the year of reinvention for the Phnom. Fighting all three of his fights in front of his rabid Brazilian fan base, Belfort bested Top 5 UFC fighter Michael Bisping, The last Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold, and former Pride Middleweight and Welterweight Champion and former Strikeforce Light-heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson. Betting these three man would make anyone a fighter of the year candidate, but what puts Vitor over the top was the manor at which he accomplished this feat. Each win was by vicious headkick Knockout and the next more spectacular then the last. While Vitor has had a TRT cloud hanging over his head, he nevertheless finds himself as the next contender to the UFC Middleweight Championship and will face the winner of Weidman vs Silva II.
Others Considered: Chris Weidman, Demetrious Johnson, Urijah Faber, Georges St. Pierre