By Thomas Gerbasi
Last, but certainly not least, we conclude the highly unofficial 2008 UFC awards with a celebration of the top ten fighters of the past year. This one was another close race, but by the time December 31st made way to January 1st, the choice was clear.
10 - Michael Bisping 3-0
The UK’s finest opened the year at a crossroads following the first loss of his career to Rashad Evans at UFC 78 in November of 2007. A drop from light heavyweight to middleweight had been suggested for ‘The Count’ for some time, and he finally made the plunge in 2008. It has apparently been the right move, as Bisping blasted through Charles McCarthy and Jason Day before finishing off the year with a clear-cut unanimous decision win over Chris Leben. Next up for Bisping? A coaching stint on season nine of The Ultimate Fighter.
9 - Nate Diaz 3-0
Stockton’s own Nate Diaz showed in 2008 that he is walking the same path paved by Ultimate Fighter winners turned UFC champs Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin by taking on three solid opponents in Alvin Robinson, Kurt Pellegrino, and Josh Neer and beating all three of them. Add in the fact that the wins over Pellegrino and Neer were Fight of The Year candidates, and Diaz may be on top of this list one of these years.
8 - BJ Penn 2-0
The always unpredictable Mr. BJ Penn had one of his most consistent years ever as he won the UFC lightweight title in January by submitting Joe Stevenson, and then followed it up in May with a TKO of the last man to hold the belt before him, Sean Sherk. 2009 will see his super fight with welterweight Georges St-Pierre later this month, and whatever happens after that, you know it will be entertaining.
7 - Brock Lesnar 2-1
No one got more attention in MMA in 2008 than Brock Lesnar. And though the early press for the former NCAA Division I National Champion and ex-pro wrestler focused more on his past than his present, Lesnar bounced back from a February loss to Frank Mir with a one-sided decision win over Heath Herring in August, and then TKOed Randy Couture in November to win the UFC heavyweight crown. Now people are certainly focused on the present and future of a man many believe will be tough to beat as he continues his MMA education.
6 – Georges St-Pierre 2-0
One of the most versatile fighters in the game today, Georges St-Pierre exorcised some demons in April when he regained his title from the man who knocked him out in April of 2007, Matt Serra, in the main event of the UFC’s hugely successful foray into Canada for UFC 83. Then in August, GSP went five rounds for the first time in his career and he made it look easy as he weathered a spirited assault from number one contender Jon Fitch to pound out a unanimous decision victory. Now it’s off to UFC 94 and his highly-anticipated rematch with BJ Penn on January 31st.
5 - Frank Mir 2-0
If you told anyone at 2008’s New Year’s party that Frank Mir would hold a portion of the heavyweight title and be the first man to stop Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by December, you would have been looked at as crazy. But in the culmination year of an unlikely comeback, Mir submitted future heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar after a rocky start in February, and then TKOed future Hall of Famer Nogueira in a shocking upset to win back a portion of the title he never lost in the Octagon. In 2009, he can take back the whole thing if beats Lesnar a second time.
4 - Anderson Silva 3-0
The pound for pound king continued to run roughshod over the MMA landscape in 2008, and now he’s doing it in two divisions, as he jumped up to 205 pounds in July and blasted out James Irvin in a single round. The win was sandwiched by a second round submission of Dan Henderson in March and an October victory over Patrick Cote that was cut short by injury. What will the “Spider” do next? I know I can’t wait to find out.
3 - Kenny Florian 3-0
2008 saw the continuing emergence of Kenny Florian as one of the premier fighters in the game today, someone seemingly getting better with each passing fight. There were more than a few people out there who gave each of Florian’s 2008 opponents – Joe Lauzon, Roger Huerta, and Joe Stevenson – a good chance of beating him, but in each bout Florian showed that when he’s on, he’s going to be a tough out for anyone, as he stopped Lauzon, decisioned Huerta, and submitted Stevenson. There is no question that the number one contender to Penn’s lightweight crown is “KenFlo”.
2 - Thiago Alves 3-0
Once an erratic performer with great talent but no consistency, Thiago Alves finally put it all together in 2008, and the result was a spectacular year that saw him knock out durable top five contender Karo Parisyan, repeat the feat against two-time welterweight champion Matt Hughes, and then finish off his year with a clear-cut decision win over Josh Koscheck at UFC 90. If not for the December 27th performance of the man ahead of him on this list, Alves would have been my pick for 2008 Fighter of The Year. But…
1 - Rashad Evans 2-0
Enter Rashad Evans. Once ridiculed for his reliance on his wrestling background and tendency to keep his opponents under control for three rounds – which was effective, but not necessarily fun to watch – Evans opened up his game in 2008, showing new dimensions in his striking that led to a highlight reel knockout of former light heavyweight boss Chuck Liddell, and a year-ending stoppage of Forrest Griffin that earned “Sugar” the UFC light heavyweight championship. More importantly, the unbeaten New York native showed an uncanny ability to adjust his gameplan on the fly and stun unsuspecting opponents. It’s a product not only of Evans’ growing experience and his work with Greg Jackson, but of a fighting IQ that is becoming second to none. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t know how to lose yet, so the only thing he knows is finding a way to win. Add all those attributes together, and Evans may very well have a long reign at the top.
The Highly Unofficial 2008 UFC Awards - The Fighters
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Last, but certainly not least, we conclude the highly unofficial 2008 UFC awards with a celebration of the top ten fighters of the past year. This one was another close race, but by the time December 31st made way to January 1st, the choice was clear.