UFC champ Robbie Lawler has earned first-team honors in another weight class. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
2014 All-Violence First TeamHeavyweight: Fabricio Werdum
Light Heavyweight: Anthony Johnson
Middleweight: Luke Rockhold
Welterweight: Robbie Lawler
Lightweight: Donald Cerrone
Featherweight: Frankie Edgar
Bantamweight: T.J. Dillashaw
Flyweight: John Moraga
Heavyweight: Yes, Werdum, the man who started his MMA career fighting in a rash guard and who for a large part of his career was associated with the butt scoot more than any legitimate offensive maneuver. Over his 12-year career, Werdum has kept his nose to the grindstone, emerging from a world-class grappler with an awkward overall MMA game to a well-rounded, dynamic heavyweight finisher. Werdum was an All-Violence second team selection in 2012, but his constant improvement manifested in brutal first-team honors this year.
In April, Werdum battered a bigger, faster, younger Travis Browne for 25 minutes in a fight he was perceived to be at a standup disadvantage, more than doubling “Hapa” in significant strikes (121 to 60) and total strikes (177 to 77). He followed it in November by joining the still-fairly-exclusive “I Knocked Out Mark Hunt Club” along with Jerome Le Banner, Melvin Manhoef, Semmy Schilt and Junior dos Santos. Better still, he did it with a clever fake shot-flying knee that vividly displayed his technical development, creativity and surprising power. He might be a 37-year-old pony, but this ain't your father's “Go Horse.”
Light Heavyweight: After being tapped rather easily by Vitor Belfort at UFC 142, Johnson went wild in 2012, vaporizing fools for the rest of the year to make the All-Violence second team. This year, however, Johnson's tireless KO campaign finally helped him overcome the crippling baggage that surrounded him and his habit of constantly missing weight early in his career. First, a two-minute bashing of Mike Kyle in his World Series of Fighting exit paved his way to the UFC.
When he got back to the Octagon at UFC 172 in April, he figured to get a rude welcome back from divisional standout Phil Davis, but instead, “Rumble” cracked him with hard punches early and had the former NCAA Division I wrestling champion running scared for 15 minutes. Terrorizing “Mr. Wonderful” did not sate Johnson, who took to the cage again in July, when he obliterated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with a volley of Mortal Kombat-style uppercuts in 44 seconds. There might be more technical strikers, and hey, maybe there is someone out there that can hit a punching machine harder in an arcade, but there is no one at 205 pounds that is a more realistic threat to erase your memory banks than “Rumble.”
Middleweight: Like everyone who stepped into the cage with Vitor Belfort in 2013, Rockhold was humiliated, getting knocked stiff into a highlight reel by a spinning heel kick in Brazil. This year, Rockhold was the ultimate tormentor, and like any poster boy model-type worth his salt, he did it with the utmost style.
Why punch Costas Philippou in the face when you could just kick him in the liver, twice at that? Why waste all that energy trying to knock out the battle-hardened Tim Boetsch, when you could butter him up with a clever inverted triangle kimura off of a takedown counter? And though Michael Bisping's detractors love to see him get knocked out, why not be the first man to submit him in his 10-year, 32-fight career? But hey, if you wanna basically knock him out with a head kick seconds before you sweep him to full mount and force him to tap to a one-armed guillotine, that is even better. Surf's up on Violence Beach, so bring a helmet.
Welterweight: When I started this dirty little list in 2010, it felt apropos for Lawler to slide into a middleweight second-team spot. After all, Lawler is the sort of fighter this mechanism is designed to reward. Yet, a year later, I would have bet my soul on Lawler never being mentioned in another one of these things, unless it was as the victim of another entrant. More unusual: Lawler fought four times this year and finished just one opponent, yet I do not even have to really explain to you why he is here. Jake Ellenberger got hammered by knees and punches, left cowering in the fetal position along the fence.
The sport's favorite technical brawler, Matt Brown, was topped in his very brand of a technical brawl over 25 minutes, as Lawler nearly stopped him with both punches and body kicks, leaving “The Immortal” looking like someone started a lawnmower on his face. The only guy Lawler lost to? Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 in the “Fight of the Year” -- a grueling, high-volume battle for the vacant UFC welterweight title. Nine months later, he avenged the loss, taking the split nod and the 170-pound title from Hendricks at UFC 181 by going positively gangbusters in the first, late fourth and fifth rounds -- the moments of the first fight when he took his foot off of the gas.
Lightweight: Fighting four times in a year is not new territory for Cerrone. In fact, since turning pro in 2006, Cerrone has only had three calendar years (2008, 2010 and 2012) in which he did not fight at least four times. However, in 2014, “Cowboy” was a perfect 4-0 against top-flight competition in MMA's best weight class. Gritty veterans Adriano Martins and Jim Miller got flattened by roundhouse kicks upside the head. One of the division's most powerful strikers, Edson Barboza, got floored with a jab and choked out. Eddie Alvarez, in his UFC debut, was nearly crippled by Cerrone's leg kicks and might have been stopped by them were it not just a three-round fight.
We are but days into 2015, and Cerrone has already thoroughly humiliated a previously unbeaten fighter in Myles Jury and is already scheduled to step back into action on Jan. 18 against former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Cerrone might be out for blood but he is also out for bank, a “Cowboy” out of a spaghetti western from hell.
Featherweight: When it was announced that Edgar would coach “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19 opposite B.J. Penn, the man he took the UFC lightweight title from in 2010, it was presumed to be a pointless exercise in which the Toms River, N.J., native would smoothly box up Penn as he did at UFC 118. When "The Ultimate Fighter 19" Finale rolled around in July, Edgar left onlookers depressed and repulsed, positively destroying the revered Penn, much to the horror of the MMA community. Edgar landed 90 significant strikes to Penn's 13 by FightMetric count and landed 159 strikes overall in the 14-minute beating.
Perhaps Edgar was pissed by folks dismissing his demolition of Penn as nothing more than the mercy killing of a faded legend, as he returned in November to face would-be title challenger Cub Swanson. Edgar did not “derail” Swanson's six-fight winning streak and contender's hype train, he blew up the entire train, everyone on board and then tore up the tracks. His assault of Swanson became more brutal with each passing round, as Edgar took him down seven times and landed a whopping 259 total strikes. Edgar never let up and simply made Swanson quit: With just four seconds left in the fifth round, Edgar cross-faced Swanson so hard he conceded. The man recorded Sherdog.com's No. 2 and No. 3 “Beatdown(s) of the Year” for 2014. He absolutely tortured Penn and Swanson. And to think, when Edgar earned All-Violence second-team status in 2011, I figured it was just a beautiful aberration.
Bantamweight: Dillashaw's shocking upset-slash-annihilation of Renan Barao to take the UFC bantamweight title in May is one of the essential, indelible MMA moments of 2014, but the Team Alpha Male product's year was bigger and more brutal than that. Yes, Dillashaw snapped Barao's 33-fight unbeaten streak and cleaned the Brazilian's clock for 23 minutes, with 140 significant strikes landed, two knockdowns and a head-kick-plus-coffin-nails knockout. However, “Killashaw” -- or “Thrillashaw,” if you are feeling conservative -- was 3-0 on the year and became the first fighter in UFC history to land 100-plus significant strikes in three consecutive bouts, landing 117 against Mike Easton and 151 against Joe Soto in addition to the 140 he put on “The Baron.”
He beat up Easton worse than anyone had in his career, save for when Reynaldo Walter Duarte broke Easton's elbow with a kick, the only time “The Hulk” has ever been stopped. He took out Soto in virtually the same fashion as Barao, with constant attacking offense from unusual angles, culminating in the head-kick KO. Dillashaw landed 408 significant strikes in 2014, more than anyone else in the UFC and had a plus-4.0-per-minute strike differential, which was the highest in the entire promotion on the year. I guess you could say Dillashaw really did a number on the division -- a number like 187.
Flyweight: How many of you can recite any of the details of Moraga's 2014 campaign? For shame, all of you. Moraga is so much more than “that guy Demetrious Johnson tapped” and it is due time that the Arizona scrapper gets his due. In 2014, no UFC flyweight had more fights (four), more wins (three) and more stoppages (two) than Moraga. He likely would have knocked out Dustin Ortiz with his second-round knockdown if not for Ortiz's otherworldly chin; he hit Justin Scoggins with his trademark guillotine; and he tapped Willie Gates with a rear-naked choke.
In his lone loss on the year, he absorbed a hellacious flying knee and follow-up punches from John Dodson at the end of the second round, absorbing a beating that would have knocked out most men. Instead, Moraga had to be halted by the ringside doctor between rounds on account of a broken nose. Moraga embodies all the best traditional stereotypes about rugged Mexican fighters, and frankly, what else would you expect from a guy named “Chicano John?” He even found time to hit the studio, drop bars and shoot a hip-hop video with his crew, because sometimes, being a professional cagefighter just is not hard enough.
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