2017 All-Violence Second TeamHeavyweight: Vitaly Minakov
Light Heavyweight: Ovince St. Preux
Middleweight: Thiago Santos
Welterweight: Paul Daley
Lightweight: Eddie Alvarez
Featherweight: Brian Ortega
Bantamweight: Marlon Vera
Flyweight: Tyson Nam
Strawweight: Rose Namajunas
HEAVYWEIGHT: It’s hard to believe that Bellator MMA let its heavyweight champion walk after his last bout for the company almost four years ago. Vitaly Minakov isn’t just some big-hitting brute getting by on heavyweight power, the 32-year-old Russian is a lithe striker who can pick foes apart on the feet, in the clinch or most preferably, with his accurate and unrelenting ground-and-pound. The Fight Nights Global rep’s competition in 2017 was a mixed bag: journeyman D.J. Linderman, faded contender Antonio Silva and fellow Bellator vet Tony Johnson Jr. However, outside of briefly getting rocked by Linderman, Minakov smashed all three men standing and on the ground, from distance and in tight quarters. There is nothing flashy about Minakov’s game, but the 21-0 heavyweight’s pressure, punching and pounding make him one of the most imposing and entertaining fighters in the division.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Ovince St. Preux now has two All-Violence appearances and it’s a particular pair of performances that largely inform his spot here. In April, when he hit his trademark Jason Von Flue tribute choke on Marcos Rogerio de Lima, it was easy to write off St. Preux’s win as a combo of his unique physicality and de Lima’s lack of a ground game. Then, five months later, he choked respected, defensively-savvy veteran Yushin Okami out cold with another wacky shoulder choke in less than two minutes; Okami had never been submitted in over 15 years as a pro. Two Von Flue chokes in one year will always get you an All-V examination, but throw in OSP’s head-kick decapitation of Corey Anderson and the fact he should’ve won the decision over first-teamer Volkan Oezdemir in February and the former University of Tennessee volunteer had one mean 2017.
MIDDLEWEIGHT: After taking second-team honors in 2015, “Marreta” is back in a familiar spot. Santos’ year actually started at its lowest point in February, hitting the canvas off of a Jack Marshman right hand. Then? The Welshman got absolutely cleaned out with a picture-perfect spinning wheel kick. However, spinning attacks aren’t the Santos’ normal oeuvre and the switch-stance striker got back to his normal business in his subsequent stoppages of Gerald Meerschaert and Jack Hermansson. Meerscheart and Hermansson, two high-output offensive fighters, looked positively terrified of Santos as the explosive Brazilian chased them around the cage with his trademark left roundhouse kick to the liver and two-handed punches. Both fights wound up with the wounded middleweights wilting under Santos’ strikes -- which for whatever reason as startlingly audible in the cage -- and rolling around on the mat while Santos battered them “Whack-a-Mole” style. If you can routinely reduce UFC-level opposition to that hapless position, you’re always a good candidate for this team.
WELTERWEIGHT: Two out of three ain’t bad, right? Yes, in May, Paul Daley was used as a showcase opponent in his own native England to get former UFC title challenger and recent Bellator MMA signing Rory MacDonald over; promoter Scott Coker’s plan worked to a T and Daley was predictably tapped in the second round. You expect that with Paul Daley. When he’s not dying on the ground, there’s something else you can expect from Daley: jaw-dropping V. To even earn the MacDonald fight, “Semtex” exploded all over brawler Brennan Ward with a sublime and grisly flying knee. After the MacDonald loss, the brash Brit was lined up to be a tune-up opponent again and made his promoter look silly, laying waste to another recent Bellator free agent acquisition in Lorenz Larkin with a three-punch combo, anchored by his inimitable left hand. The Ward knee was a visceral reminder of his explosive fight-ending versatility, but the Larkin lamping was vintage Daley, one of the greatest left-handed punchers in MMA history. With his second All-V berth, the Nottingham, England native is the only fighter on this list who also appeared on the inaugural 2010 squad.
LIGHTWEIGHT: Eddie Alvarez’s year was far from perfect. After weathering an early storm from a worthy All-Violence candidate in Dustin Poirier in May, the former UFC and Bellator MMA lightweight champ just started to get into the fight, then illegally kneed Poirier while he was down, ending the bout in a controversial No Contest. Nonetheless, action is the name of the game here and in the Poirier bout, Alvarez was part of nine minutes of some rollicking business. However, as tight and competitive as the 155-pound All-Violence field is, I simply cannot overlook the fact that he was one half of his Dec. 2 bout with Justin Gaethje and more importantly, he won the damn thing by knockout. In a fight everybody had earmarked to be a classic, Alvarez exceeded expectations, landing 155 of 356 significant strikes, wearing down Gaethje in his own style of fight, punishing him with early body work, then overwhelming him in the clinch. This is just Alvarez’s second appearance on this list after debuting in 2012, too, which feels wrong for one of the wildest, most thrilling fighters ever. Lightweight has a million great candidates, but if I overlook Alvarez’s bloodthirsty achievement in the Gaethje fight, is there really a point in having this team?
FEATHERWEIGHT: Brian Ortega is an unusual All-Violence veteran and not because he’s primarily a grappling specialist; we’ve had plenty of those over the years. No, Ortega is just an extremely exaggerated caricature of a dynamic grappler. He throws awkward kicks standing and can land some crafty knees, but as he showed in his July win over Renato Carneiro, he is able to outlast opponents and simply march them down with volume, forcing them into brief grappling exchanges that he ends in a heartbeat. The win over “Moicano” was his fourth consecutive third-round finish, a testament to the bizarre nature of his sudden offense. In December, Cub Swanson, like Carneiro, got caught a beautiful guillotine from “T-City.” Here’s how Swanson described the choke: “It crushed my head and it’s like my neck just flared up and I panicked … I felt like I was going to die.” Sounds like violence to me.
BANTAMWEIGHT: “Chito” Vera’s appearance on this list has a lot to do with context and style points. In March, he was down two rounds in London, England to an imminently-retiring Brad Pickett, then head kicked and hammerfisted the lovable Brit silly. Pickett is a sweetheart and it sucked to watch him hang up his trilby hat and gloves like that, but it was nonetheless an audacious, swaggering way for Vera to gain widespread attention. He followed up with one of the year’s very best submissions, armbarring Brian Kelleher out of a standing kimura sweep he used to counter a single-leg attempt. Yes, Vera went 2-1 on the year, but who was the guy willing to be John Lineker’s comeback opponent? Chito. Also, the Ecuadorian got hit 93 times by Lineker and didn’t even hit the deck once, which is a tough guy badge of honor in itself.
FLYWEIGHT: Like Marlon Vera’s place on the team, context and style figure in heavily for Tyson Nam’s second-team berth. Nam, 34, has been a pro for nearly 12 years and outside of his one great win, an August 2012 dusting of former Bellator MMA bantamweight champ “Dudu” Eduardo Dantas on the road in Brazil, the Hawaiian transplant always seemed like a bit of an underachiever until his recent drop to 125 pounds. In 2017, Nam looked to get his career on track by signing with Russia’s Fight Nights Global, who in turn, wanted to use him as a showcase opponent for former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov. Then, with one second left in the third round of a fight he was losing, Nam ripped off a right head kick that put “The Puncher King” in rigour instantly and dumped him along the fence. Nam returned Fight Nights in October to produce another aesthetically gripping knockout, landing a chopping overhand right that rocketed Russia’s Rizvan Abuev face-first at the floor. Never hurts to have a certified road warrior around.
STRAWWEIGHT: At just 25 years old and still only 10 pro MMA fights, it’s inconclusive if we’ve seen the best of Rose Namajunas yet or if she’s still just scratching the surface of her potential skill. Regardless, “Thug Rose” put the all the best dimensions of her multi-dimensional game on display this year. Her April showdown with Michelle Waterson wasn’t even competitive; Namajunas was thriving in scrambles and taking back control instantly. She ground-and-pounded, she dropped “The Karate Hottie” with a head kick, she choked her out. Then, of course, as a +500 underdog, she positively blistered previously unbeaten and increasingly untouchable Joanna Jedrzejczyk, running roughshod over the previously unbeaten Pole in just over three minutes and taking the UFC women’s strawweight title. Perhaps this dynamism is to be expected when you’re hitting 12-second flying armbars in your second pro fight. After making her first appearance in 2015, this is Namajunas’ second of what I’m sure will be many All-Violence teams.
Finish Reading » Third Team
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