Five down, three to go. We’ve given you 2011’s best MMA photos from the great James Law. We’ve given you our unanimous choice as Fighter of the Year, Jon Jones. And the year’s best fight between Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua. We’ve given you the best knockouts and submissions. And today, HeavyMMA hands out its award for the year’s biggest upset.
So check it out, and then hit up the links to our previous Best Of entries in case you missed them. We’ll close out the series with 2011’s best event on Tuesday, and Wednesday we’ll release our Newcomer of the Year.
1. Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader
UFC 132 | July 2 | MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Matt Brown: This fight was a LOCK for Upset of the Year. Tito Ortiz entered this fight as high as a 5.5-to-1 underdog to the Top 10-ranked Bader. There’s argument to be made that this was one of the biggest upsets of all time – even greater than Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre. Everyone thought it’d be the last time we’d see Tito inside the Octagon and one guillotine later, we’ve got him for another year.
Duane Finley: By the time this fight rolled around, the MMA world had nearly forgotten what Tito Ortiz was capable of. Years had gone by without Ortiz winning a fight, and when the UFC lined him up against former TUF winner Ryan Bader, it seemed a certainty he would add another notch to the loss column. Bader was coming off the first loss of his career and, looking to bounce back, he asked specifically to face Ortiz. He got his wish, but it was far from what he hoped for or what anybody expected. Early in the first, Ortiz landed a punch that dropped Bader, and before he could recover, Ortiz had already secured a fight-ending guillotine. This fight not only marked an upset win for Ortiz, but changed the late tide of his career as he became the feel-good story of the summer.
Matt Erickson: I’m not gonna lie. I picked Ortiz to win this fight. Seriously. Scroll back to July on my Twitter feed if you don’t believe me. But I’ll also admit that I picked him publicly because no one else was taking him. It was more of a value pick from a potential wagering standpoint than it was something I realistically saw happening. Ortiz was a huge underdog because he was constantly fighting injuries, getting one fight a year and, most importantly, not winning those fights. But he hadn’t really been blown out in any of them, either. So the thinking was with a healthy back, maybe we’d see the Ortiz of old. And we did. From purely a numbers standpoint, with Bader around -550 for the fight (and as high as -825 at some online books), it was a huge upset. But considering what was at stake for Ortiz – certain forced retirement from Dana White – it was a clutch performance for the ages.
2. Joe Lauzon vs. Melvin Guillard
UFC 136 | Oct. 7 | Toyota Center, Houston
Matt Brown: Everyone, including me, thought Joe Lauzon was just a minor hurdle in Melvin Guillard’s run at a UFC lightweight title. Not that Lauzon is any sort of slouch, but the way Guillard had run through guys during his five-fight winning streak leading into this fight, the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Instead, Lauzon caught Guillard with a quick punch that afforded him the opportunity to sink in the rear naked choke in a mere 47 seconds of Round 1.
Duane Finley: Prior to the fight at UFC 136, Guillard was the lightweight no one wanted to fight. He had been settling fools in a variety of ways and quickly rose to the top of the heap. Despite Guillard asking to fight fellow contender Jim Miller, the UFC tapped former TUF competitor Joe Lauzon for his next fight. Guillard agreed, never being one to turn down a fight, and the matchup was sent to Houston. Guillard was the heavy favorite coming in and he, along with a large majority of MMA fans, began to look past Lauzon and on to the next step. Lauzon, who has a knack for being the underdog, came into the fight focused and unphased. As the fight got underway, Guillard walked into a punch and before his head could clear, Lauzon was on his back forcing the tap. The kid from Bridgewater Mass., not only proved how costly a mistake it is to overlook him, but also threw himself into the 155-pound title picture in the process.
Matt Erickson: After what happened to Jim Miller in August, no one should have been too shocked by Joe Lauzon’s upset of Melvin Guillard. Guillard came in around -400 with a five-fight winning streak in the lightweight division. A win was likely going to put him next in line for Frankie Edgar‘s belt. But the same had been said about Miller, who had his seven-fight winning streak snapped by Ben Henderson six weeks earlier. But very few people could have predicted the way Lauzon calmly laid Guillard out, then took his back for a 47-second finish. All of a sudden, Guillard was sent back to the middle of a very crowded 155-pound pack, and Lauzon made himself a serious contender. There is no question he’ll be taken a lot more seriously against Anthony Pettis next month in Japan.
3. Antonio Silva vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva | Feb. 12 | Izod Center, East Rutherford, N.J.
Matt Brown: After Fedor shockingly dropped his bout with Fabricio Werdum, everyone actually felt sorry for “Bigfoot” Silva – as he was certainly going to feel the torrid wrath of “The Last Emperor.” But 10 minutes after the opening bell, the doctor in East Rutherford, N.J., had seen enough of Fedor getting bludgeoned and called a stop to the lopsided fight. Fedor lost his second fight in a row, and the rest of the MMA world’s jaws collectively dropped.
Duane Finley: Fedor Emelianenko is an enigma in MMA. The Russian’s run in the Pride days is the stuff of MMA folklore, and when he was submitted by Fabricio Werdum, many in the MMA community chalked the defeat up to luck or happenstance. When Strikeforce announced Fedor as a competitor in the heavyweight grand prix, talk fired up in regards to an expected showdown with former champion Alistair Overeem – but the fight would never come to be. In the first round of the tournament, Fedor drew the much larger Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, and where Fedor’s power punching neutralized opponents in the past, he would have no answer to Silva’s size. The massive Brazilian worked Emelianenko to the canvas, and after a bloody ground-and-pound display, the fight was stopped and Fedor was handed his second consecutive loss.
Matt Erickson: Fedor’s first loss in almost 10 years, to Fabricio Werdum, was one of the most monumental upsets the sport has ever seen – arguably its biggest. No WAY was Fedor going to lose two in a row. But when you saw him standing in front of Silva, who just towered over him, there was this collective throat lump kind of like when Rocky Balboa stood in front of Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” Except Fedor didn’t have a Rocky moment. He took a beating like he had never been given before, and in a heavyweight tournament that was more or less designed to showcase a potential finals between him and Alistair Overeem, no less. Suddenly, Fedor wasn’t such a massive favorite his next fight against Dan Henderson, also a loss. Werdum’s upset of Fedor in 2010 could be written off as “he just got caught.” Silva’s win will go down as the one that made “The Last Emperor” mortal.
Dustin Poirier vs. Josh Grispi: UFC 125 | Jan. 1 | MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Dennis Siver vs. George Sotiropoulos: UFC 127 | Feb. 27 | Acer Arena, Sydney, Australia
Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle: UFC 127 | Feb. 27 | Acer Arena, Sydney, Australia
Rick Story vs. Thiago Alves: UFC 130 | May 28 | MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
George Roop vs. Josh Grispi: TUF 13 Finale | June 4 | The Pearl at The Palms, Las Vegas
Charlie Brenneman vs. Rick Story: UFC on Versus 4 | June 26 | Consol Energy Center | Pittsburgh, Pa.
Johny Hendricks vs. Jon Fitch: UFC 141 | Dec. 30 | MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
HeavyMMA’s Best of MMA 2011 Series
Best of UFC 2011: The Photographs. Acclaimed MMA photographer James Law shares some of the best captures of the year in a slideshow that has been viewed all around the world in the last 24 hours.
Best of MMA 2011: Fighter of the Year. With a spotless 4-0 record and four stoppages, it should come as no surprise UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones is our Fighter of the Year.
Best of MMA 2011: Fight of the Year. It was a fight years in the making, but Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was worth the wait – and one for the ages.
Best of MMA 2011: Knockout of the Year. In a year jam-packed with great knockouts a couple coming from the feet, and not the hands, lead our list. Whose foot topped the list – the Spider’s, or the Dragon’s?
Best of MMA 2011: Submission of the Year. Was it the introduction of “The Twister” to the world, or a BJJ legend’s arm getting snapped in half? See who delivered the year’s best tapout.
Coming Tuesday: Event of the Year
Coming Wednesday: Newcomer of the Year