And the Sherdoggy Goes To …

Next: Getting Semi-Serious

By Jake Rossen Dec 6, 2005
Comeback of the Year Nominees:

Gary Goodridge (Pictures) The anvil-fisted pugilist had uneven success in MMA from his debut in 1996; his role as PRIDE’s unofficial “gatekeeper” seemed to infer “Big Daddy” was destined to play only sporadic spoiler. That all changed in July, when the 39-year-old Goodridge won a single-night K-1 kickboxing tournament and bested the likes of Wes Correira and Carter Williams (Pictures).

Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) A 1-2 record in 2004 for this welterweight didn’t encourage his fans: in the words of Tyson, a slow fade to Bolivia seemed imminent. Then Sakurai went on a 4-0 tear this year, including two victories in PRIDE Bushido’s lightweight tournament over Jens Pulver (Pictures) and Joachim Hansen (Pictures).

Phil Baroni (Pictures) Written off by UFC brass after four consecutive losses, Baroni jumped on the next flight overseas. The change of scenery apparently did some good, as he knocked out durable Japanese fighters Ryo Chonan (Pictures) and Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures) in succession. Baroni’s resolve after such a bad streak was athletic stubbornness at its finest.

Tank Abbott Why not? Abbott’s anemic comeback of 2003 was a huge disappointment to fans expecting him to at least make life difficult for his opponents. After taking ‘04 off, the big guy took a rematch with Cabbage Correira and knocked him into another zip code. It was the KO we’d waited seven years for. Too bad no one outside of Hawaii got to see it.

Sherdoggy Goes To: Goodridge. Sure, it didn’t happen in MMA, but show me anyone else from a 1996 UFC event winning a K-1 tourney nearly ten years later.

Upset of the Year Nominees:

Drew Fickett (Pictures) Def. Josh Koscheck (Pictures) Fickett was supposed to be another steamrolled victim for TUF alumnus Koscheck, who spent 13 regulation minutes in total control. Then came a stand up, and a knee that caught Koscheck looking.

Ricardo Arona (Pictures) Def. Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) Pundits had predicted Silva might have trouble with Arona’s smother technique, but it was still amazing to witness the Axe Murderer’s incredible six-year, 20-fight win streak as a light heavyweight come to an end.

Mauricio Rua (Pictures) Def. Quinton Jackson (Pictures) Little was known about Rua prior to his entry into the PRIDE Grand Prix, but most figured his lack of big-stage experience would be his undoing against the nail-tough Jackson. Instead, Rua came out firing knees that had Rampage slumped in a corner within minutes.

Tank Abbott Def. Wes Correira Abbott’s 2003 comeback bid was a wheezing failure: he barely threw a punch in three bouts. Facing Correira for a second time, it seemed inevitable that Abbott would again falter against youth and better training. Instead, Abbott knocked Correira cold.

Evan Tanner (Pictures) Def. David Terrell (Pictures) After Terrell’s split-second KO over rightful No. 1 middleweight Matt Lindland (Pictures), few expected Tanner to give him much grief. Instead, Tanner mounted the Cesar Gracie standout and unleashed his trademark elbows for the one-sided stoppage — and the UFC middleweight title.

Sherdoggy Goes To: Arona-Silva. It may have been a competitive match on paper, but most expected Silva to overwhelm Arona the way teammate Rua did just hours later.

UFC Fight of the Year Nominees:

Griffin-Bonnar The first season finale to the Ultimate Fighter enjoyed the most substantial build-up of any UFC card to date. With a six-figure contract and job stability on the line, reality show contestants Stephan Bonnar (Pictures) and Forrest Griffin (Pictures) went toe-to-toe for 15 minutes. Was it a sloppy, uneven affair? Sure. Was it exciting as Hell? Unquestionably.

Hughes-Trigg II Decorated wrestler Frank Trigg (Pictures) looked sharp in his first bout with champion Matt Hughes (Pictures), until he got careless and fell to a rear-naked choke. The rematch looked to be a total departure, as a low blow allowed Trigg to drop Hughes and nearly get a stoppage. But Hughes recovered, picked Trigg up, carried him across the ring, and beat the snot out of him. There’s tough, and then there’s Hughes.

Couture-Liddell II Dominant at light heavyweight since his first bout with Chuck Liddell (Pictures) in 2003, champ Randy Couture (Pictures) was in phenomenal shape for the rematch. But Couture’s uncharacteristic aggression left him open for a Liddell right hand, and the Iceman finally reaped the rewards of being an Anywhere, Anytime fighter.

Sanchez-Diaz Detested TUF winner Diego Sanchez (Pictures) seemed pre-destined to get a lesson in submission from the durable Nick Diaz (Pictures). Instead, he scored a decision victory after the two produced the most kinetically exciting display of grappling seen in the Octagon to date.

Arlovski-Sylvia Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) put on a three-dimensional destruction of champ Tim Sylvia (Pictures). After knocking him down with a punch, Andrei jumped in to secure the Achilles lock and the tapout.

The Sherdoggy Goes To: Hughes-Trigg II. Not only for the symmetry in its finish, but for the incredible mid-fight comeback of Matt Hughes (Pictures). Bonnar-Griffin was a war, but these two men collided like two angry rams with brutal efficiency. Beautiful violence.

PRIDE Fight of the Year Nominees:

Fedor-Filipovic The only obstacle standing in Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)’s coronation as the sport’s greatest heavyweight was Filipovic. Time and again, the bout had been put off. When it finally happened in August, Fedor didn’t work the expected ground-and-pound. Instead, he stood in front of “Cro Cop” and out-struck the striker, proving his game is as complete as the sport has ever seen.

Gomi-Kawajiri A quarterfinal bout in PRIDE Bushido’s lightweight tournament featured two of that division’s marquee athletes. After an extended slugfest, Takanori Gomi (Pictures) was able to sink the choke on Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) and eliminate possibly his greatest challenge in the draw.

Sakurai-Pulver Despite being outsized, Jens Pulver (Pictures) showed tremendous heart in exchanging firepower with Hayato Sakurai (Pictures). He was eventually overwhelmed, but the action on the feet never let up.

Rua-Arona After Ricardo Arona (Pictures)’s celebrated victory over the seemingly unstoppable Silva, teammate Murilo Rua (Pictures) scored the win by pummeling his BTT rival. It was instant retribution.

Rua-Nogueira En route to his PRIDE Grand Prix victory, Rua hashed it out with Rogerio Nogueira in a battle that encompassed wars both standing and on the mat.

Sherdoggy Goes To: Gomi-Kawajiri, a thrilling battle between the division’s best. Fedor-Filipovic was a long time coming, but never shifted into third gear.

Fighter of the Year Nominees:

Chuck Liddell (Pictures) Two fights in a year isn’t exactly working overtime, but quality over quantity counts for a lot. In Couture and Horn, Liddell knocked out two fighters celebrated for their defensive skills. Neither had ever been stopped by standing strikes. By the time Liddell was finished, that statement was null and void.

Mauricio Rua (Pictures) Rua darted out of mentor Silva’s shadow in ‘05, scoring one of the most impressive light heavyweight tears the sport has ever seen. “Shogun” bulldozed Quinton Jackson (Pictures), decisioned the smaller Nogueira in a war, KOed the formidable Alistair Overeem (Pictures), and then avenged Silva’s loss to Ricardo Arona (Pictures) in brutal fashion.

Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) Granted, Arlovski has not faced the caliber of competition found in PRIDE or in the lighter divisions. But when he did step into the ring, he decimated the opposition with formidable efficiency. He put the “mixed” into mixed martial arts with his knockdown and immediate submission of Tim Sylvia (Pictures) to win the UFC heavyweight title; he so overwhelmed Justin Eilers (Pictures) that the former football player walked out of the ring with the worst laundry list of injuries possible; and he KOed heavy-hitting Paul Buentello (Pictures) in a mere 15 seconds. Unlike some uneven match-ups (Sakuraba-Arsene, anyone?), when Arlovski has to sandbag it, he lets everyone know.

Takanori Gomi (Pictures) PRIDE’s lightweight sensation is a perfect 4-0 on the year, with wins over Chute Boxe terror Luiz Azeredo (Pictures) (twice), Jean Silva (Pictures), and Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures).

Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) Another year, another undefeated stint for the most dominant fighter of the modern era. While only two fights were on tap, they were significant: in bludgeoning Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (Pictures), he avenged the only blemish on his record. In beating Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) at his own stand-up game, he put to rest rumors that he was afraid to face the vaunted contender.

Sherdoggy Goes To: Rua. Beating four fighters who conceivably belong in any thinking individual’s Top 10 is an extraordinary accomplishment for an entire career, let alone a single year. And he’s only 24 years old.
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