2012 tazmma Fighter of the Year

Benson HendersonIn a very strange year for elite fighters, the 2012 Fighter of the Year honour seems less definitive than it has in a long, long time. 2011 was clearly the year of Jon Jones, while 2010 belonged to Cain Velasquez, and 2009 saw the rise to dominance of Jose Aldo. There was some room for debate in those years, but that was due to multiple fighters having impressive runs, whereas 2012 has been muddled by being such a transitional year for the organization.

Combined, all 10 UFC champions (including Interim Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao and Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey) will have fought a total of 18 times by the end of this year, and only 14 of those will be title fights (13 if Cain Velasquez defeats Junior dos Santos at UFC 155). Since this award is normally handed out to a major champion, let’s examine some of those nominees first:

  • Benson Henderson seems to be the leading candidate for the award at first glance with his 3-0 record in Lightweight Title bouts, but many people feel as though he lost two of those fights, so how does that affect the overall perception of his year?
  • Ronda Rousey saw her star shine almost as brightly as any other in MMA, winning both of her title fights in Strikeforce impressively, but she must battle the reality of Women’s MMA not being very deep at the top of divisions. Even Shannon Knapp, in an interview with Sherdog recently, admitted that the women have a long way to go in terms of attracting and developing elite fighters.
  • Demetrious Johnson was one of the few champions who fought three times in 2012, and he posted a 2-0-1 record en route to becoming the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion. Johnson, like Henderson, is hurt by the fact that many thought he should have (or would have) lost to Ian McCall had their fight gone to the 4th round it was supposed to.
  • Perhaps Junior dos Santos or Cain Velasquez could put on an impressive performance at UFC 155 and capture the award with their second dominant performance of the year, but the flipside to the beauty of those extra year-end PPV dollars is missing out on year-end awards, since they will all likely be published by then.

None of those nominees immediately jump off the page as THE fighter to choose, so perhaps 2012 is the year that the award doesn’t go to a fighter with a belt, but instead someone who remained active and found success against quality competition.

  • Johny Hendricks was two days away from posting the most impressive year of anyone in MMA (his KO of Jon Fitch happened on December 30th of 2011), but a two-fight resume is hard to build a case around.
  • Some people have even gone so far as to say that Matt Brown could be worthy of consideration for the award, since he has compiled 4-0 record in 2012, but that should be put to bed immediately looking at his level of competition.
  • A fighter who went 4-0, but actually faced some decent competition is Daniel Straus, who defeated Marlon Sandro and Mike Corey on his road to capturing the Bellator Featherweight tournament.
  • Keeping things in Bellator, the man who likely had the best year outside of the UFC was Rick Hawn, as he earned a title shot against Michael Chandler in early 2013 by emerging from the promotion’s Lightweight bracket and going 3-0 in 2012.
  • Cub Swanson was one of the few fighters in the UFC who went undefeated in 3 or more fights during the calendar year, and he did so by finishing all of his opponents (George Roop, Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira) by KO.
  • Michael Johnson has emerged from being a seemingly lifetime undercard fighter, to having a chance to go 4-0 in 2012 if he can pick up a win at UFC 155. While his competition was better than Brown’s, it didn’t match up with the type of wins Hawn and Swanson posted.

While all of these fighters have had impressive years in one way or another, I can’t move past my original thought of Benson Henderson deserving the award. Despite both Edgar fights being close, neither was lopsided to the point of being a ‘robbery’, so Henderson shouldn’t be punished for having competitive bouts with one of the most accomplished Lightweights ever. Plus, his most recent performance against Nate Diaz was the type that solidifies a fighter as the best in his weight class. Add in the fact that Henderson was the only fighter to compete in three UFC title bouts in 2012, and you’ve got a recipe for a fighter to be named the best of the year. UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson is 2012’s Fighter of the Year. His toothpick is also 2012’s most notable accessory.

At the very top level of the sport, 2012 was a relatively inactive year and it showed in the nominees for fighter of the year. If 2013 continues the pace set by the UFC to close out this year however, the race for next year’s fighter of the year will be much more interesting.

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About bradtaschuk

An MMA enthusiast who also fancies himself a writer, I've been following the sport in depth since moving off to University in the fall of 2004 allowed me more free time than I knew what to do with. Quickly, an obsession with watching as much MMA as possible developed, which has continued to this day in the form of writing and editing articles for various MMA sites, and now to my own blog about my views on the sport.
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