Eddie Alvarez’s violent 2012 campaign might prove to be beneficial to his bank account. | Dave Mandel
2012 All-Violence Third Team
• Heavyweight: Lavar Johnson
• Light Heavyweight: Anthony Johnson
• Middleweight: Chris Weidman
• Welterweight: Rory MacDonald
• Lightweight: Eddie Alvarez
• Featherweight: Chad Mendes
• Bantamweight: Ivan Menjivar
• Flyweight: Will Campuzano
Heavyweight: A one-trick pony like Johnson does not stand to make too many "Best of" MMA lists, but this one is right up his alley. Owing to his lack of ground skills and perhaps an ill-advised choice to take a fight on 10 days' notice, Johnson was tapped by Stefan Struve in just 65 seconds in his last bout of 2012. However, by that point, Johnson had already brutalized fellow heavyweight bangers Pat Barry and Joey Beltran in truly gasp-inducing fashion en route to two UFC "Knockout of the Night" bonuses. Johnson is one of the sweetest uppercutters in MMA, and he landed a boatload of them in 2012. By FightMetric count, Johnson landed a staggering 10.68 significant strikes per minute on the year; he and his opponents combined for 14.3 SLpM. In English: when Johnson fights, hay gets made in a hurry.
Light Heavyweight: The beginning of "Rumble" Johnson's 2012, well, to put it bluntly, sucked. In January, he was choked out by Vitor Belfort in what was supposed to be a middleweight bout and was then released after missing the 185-pound mark in defeat. Four months later, he missed the middleweight mark again under the Titan Fighting Championship banner against David Branch. Unwittingly ending up as a light heavyweight, Johnson has won four straight. His last three -- surprisingly over decent opposition despite not being under Zuffa employ -- have been brutal. His head kicking of three-time NCAA wrestling champion Jake Rosholt and his lamping of D.J. Linderman showed the intersection between clean technique and electric power. Johnson has used up his good will with MMA fans, yet they maintain an active interest in his comings and goings, largely due to his homer-hitting ability.
Middleweight: Undoubtedly, Weidman’s year could have gone better. He came in on short notice to get a high-visibility win against Demian Maia, but the fight was utterly forgettable. His UFC 155 date with Tim Boetsch could have solidified him as the No. 1 UFC middleweight contender, but his shoulder injury derailed that hope. So, why is Weidman here? Poor Mark Munoz. Few elite fighters got thrashed this year the way Weidman treated Munoz. The former NCAA wrestling champ literally landed one strike in the entire bout to Weidman's 46. More importantly, Weidman finished his handiwork by countering a Munoz right hook with a chopping, standing elbow that put his opponent face down. It was one of the truest “Wow! Did you see that?!” moments in MMA and easily one of the most memorable finishes of all 2012. That sort of creativity and execution is to be coveted and commended in this sport and especially on this list. Plus, at least Munoz did not wipe out on a spinning back fist to set up the finish.
Welterweight: MacDonald caught much criticism in 2012 for his public persona and sartorial splendor, but there was little to complain about inside the cage. MacDonald so badly beat up Brit Che Mills that color commentator Joe Rogan's insistence that Mills was a “solid killer” instantly became a snarky meme; the Canadian dwarfed Mills 47-6 in significant strikes, with most of those coming in full mount. MacDonald's follow-up act was a complete blowout of former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn -- the kind of one-sided thumping usually only put on “The Prodigy” by the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz. MacDonald whooped Penn to the tune of 116 significant strikes to 24. There is not much 23-year-old can't do inside the cage, apart from a coherent post-fight interview.
Lightweight: After losing 2011’s “Fight of the Year” and the Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight title to Michael Chandler, Alvarez got back to business in 2012. After avenging his loss to Shinya Aoki in quick-and-easy fashion in April, Alvarez put his shin upside Brazilian Patricky Freire’s face for one of the year’s snazziest stoppages. As entertaining as Alvarez’s resurgence was to watch, its professional practicality cannot be overlooked, as without these two fantastic first-round stoppages, the Kensington, Pa., native would not be enjoying the present bidding war for his services between Bellator and UFC.
Featherweight: Considering that Mendes was highlight-reeled by Jose Aldo’s tiger knee impression just two weeks into 2012, it seemed unlikely that he would have a successful campaign on the year, let alone an offensively gifted one. Yet, upon his return, Mendes has been a wrecking ball in the standup department. Granted, he has faced Cody McKenzie and late replacement Yaotzin Meza. However, style points matter big here: he ruined McKenzie’s day with a shot to the belly button in 31 seconds, and Meza ate a picture-perfect overhand right counter that laid him flat. Mendes’ average fight time of 2:28 was the quickest of any UFC fighter this year, and who knows how quickly he cleared out that bar in Hanford, Calif. All praise due to the athletes who keep the show moving along, especially in the case of a fighter like Mendes, whose reticence to let his hands fly in the past often forced us to watch a full 15 minutes.
Bantamweight: Throw out his July clunker with the usually clunktastic Mike Easton. Menjivar is one of MMA's most reliable action fighters. He self-admittedly sees himself in the role of a luchador of sorts, whose real calling is to entertain and thrill crowds rather than to focus solely on getting his hand raised. For better or worse, that brings thrills. In his “Round of the Year” grabber against John Albert, the 12-year vet showed his remarkable grit, coming back from the brink of unconsciousness to cinch a rear-naked choke. Against Azamat Gashimov, his sweet armbar earned him his second UFC "Submission of the Night" bonus of the year. Standing elbows, spinning back kicks, German suplexes, flying submissions -- Menjivar has all the weapons in his arsenal and is all-too-happy to show them off in the cage.
Flyweight: A UFC bantamweight veteran, Campuzano proved himself worthy of a Zuffa callback with a violent 2012 campaign at 125 pounds. The Texan ran over two very good flyweights in Joshua Sampo and Jimmy Flick and did so with surgical, stylish striking. Campuzano's knees are notably nifty, as displayed in his counter KO of a mid-shot Sampo, in a fight in which he was behind. Another UFC deal might help create more entertaining fights for Campuzano, too, since it is unlikely he will find too many folks on the regional circuit who are eager to test his striking. Sean Shelby, you know what to do.