Names “Shogun” & Gomi 2005 Fighters of the Year

By Staff Jan 1, 2006 has selected Brazilian Mauricio Rua (Pictures) and Japanese Takanori Gomi (Pictures) as its 2005 Fighter of the Year recipients. This is the first time the honor has been shared.

Both men dominated competition en route to winning separate PRIDE Grand Prix belts.

Fighting out of Brazil’s famed Chute Boxe academy, which also houses’s 2004 FOY Wanderlei Silva (Pictures), Rua was 5-0 over the past 12 months.

Four of his five wins came in the prestigious PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, where “Shogun” (12-1-0) defeated Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures) on separate cards before stopping Alistair Overeem (Pictures) and Ricardo Arona (Pictures) the same August night to take the belt. Combined, his four tournament opponents (including their losses to Rua) carry an impressive 67-17 record into the ring. Rua, 24, began his 2005 campaign by blowing out Hiromitsu Kanehara (Pictures) in February.

Gomi capped off his fantastic 2005 by knocking out Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) on New Year’s Eve to capture the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix title, becoming the first native Japanese to hold a PRIDE belt. Like “Shogun,” the 27-year-old Gomi was unbeaten in five fights this year, doing all his dirty work from May through December.

Gomi’s road to the title was not an easy one. Before stopping Sakurai the former SHOOTO welterweight champion submitted the man many felt would be his stiffest challenge in the tournament, Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures), by rear-naked choke 7:42 of round one. Later that same evening, Gomi (23-2-0) would scrap for 15 minutes against Chute Boxe’s Luiz Azeredo (Pictures), winning a unanimous decision and advancing to the Grand Prix finals. That also marked his second victory over Azeredo in 2005, the first coming by way of vicious first-round knockout. Rounding out his year’s effort, Gomi decisioned a scrappy Jean Silva (Pictures) in July.

Fight of the Year: “Shogun” vs. “Minotoro”

Winning by just one vote over Forrest Griffin (Pictures)’s brawl with Stephan Bonnar (Pictures) at April’s finale of “The Ultimate Fighter,” 2005’s fight of the year, as determined by staff, is Mauricio Rua (Pictures) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures), which took place June 26 on the PRIDE “Critical Countdown” card.

For 20 minutes, these powerhouses out of Brazil’s two elite gyms punched, kicked, kneed, grappled, attempted and escaped submissions and recovered from peril, making this the finest display of MMA this calendar year.

Matt Hughes (Pictures) one-round war against Frank Trigg (Pictures) came in third, while Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)’s PRIDE heavyweight title defense versus Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) fell in at No. 4 in the balloting.

Event of the Year: Bushido 9

For fans of tournament-style fighting and the smaller guys, PRIDE Bushido 9 was as pure a showcase for mixed martial arts as you could find in 2005. In total, 14 fights — featuring the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the PRIDE Welterweight (183 pounds) and Lightweight (160 pounds) Grand Prix — left people talking about this card weeks and months after it’s culmination in late September.

Coming in a close second was August’s PRIDE “Final Conflict” card. The finals of the Middleweight Grand Prix, which saw Ricardo Arona (Pictures) defeat Wanderlei Silva (Pictures), the emergence of “Shogun” and epic heavyweight clash between Fedor and “Cro Cop,” meant that this was perhaps the most talent packed on one fight card in a long time.

Honorable mention, according to staff, goes to the finale of season one of “The Ultimate Fighter,” a supremely important card for mixed martial arts in North America.

Breakout Fighter of the Year: Georges St. Pierre (Pictures)

Unbeaten in four fights in 2005, Quebec’s Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) burst onto the UFC stage this year, leaving in his wake three battered and bruised world-class welterweights (170 pounds).

Rebounding from his loss to Matt Hughes (Pictures) in October of 2004, St. Pierre stopped veteran Dave Strasser (Pictures) in less than two minutes at TKO 19 in January. Next was a war against “Mayhem” Jason Miller (Jason Miller' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures), decisioning the unforgiving 170-pounder after 15 minutes.

His biggest challenge came next. Still considered a top contender despite falling to Hughes earlier this year, Frank Trigg (Pictures) came in as the favorite versus “Rush.” But St. Pierre left little doubt as to his place in the welterweight division, steam rolling the veteran to win by rear-naked choke 4:09 of round one. And in November, St. Pierre dominated one of the toughest welterweights is the sport, the powerful Sean Sherk (Pictures).

The 24-year-old St. Pierre left little doubt that he was a fighter to be reckoned with in 2005.

Coming in a close second was Mauricio Rua (Pictures), though voters favored “Shogun” for FOY based on his winning the GP belt.

These were the only fighters to receive votes.

Upset of the Year: Arona ends Silva’s run

Inside the deep PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix tournament there was one bout that stood out. After years of jawing and genuine dislike, Ricardo Arona (Pictures) finally had his shot against PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). He did not fail in his opportunity, doing what he needed to do to win a unanimous decision, becoming the first 205-pounder to defeat Silva since Tito Ortiz (Pictures) in April 2000.

Silva earned revenge on New Year’s Eve, taking two judges to Arona’s one after a 20-minute bout.

Tying for second spot were a pair of upsets in the UFC: Drew Fickett (Pictures)’s last-second knockout of Josh Koscheck (Pictures) and Pete Sell (Pictures)’s third-round submission over Phil Baroni (Pictures).

Knockout of the Year: Irvin’s Flying Knee

After a lackluster opening round in his UFC 54 bout versus Terry Martin (Pictures), James Irvin (Pictures)’s corner told their fighter to come out with a flying knee — he did just that. Nine seconds after the bell for round two, a perfectly-timed and perfectly-placed, Irvin knee landed square to side of Martin’s head, dropping the Chicago-based light heavyweight as if he’d been shot with an elephant gun.

For three minutes Martin was motionless on the canvas while Nevada State Athletic Commission medical personnel attended to him. Martin had to be carried out of the Octagon on a stretcher.

A close second to Irvin’s KO was Rich Franklin (Pictures)’s beautiful counter left that stoned Nathan Quarry (Pictures) 2:34 into the opening round of Franklin’s first UFC middleweight title defense.

Honorable mention goes to two knockouts: Joachim Hansen (Pictures)’s knee versus Masakazu Imanari (Pictures) at Bushido 8 and Tim Sylvia (Pictures)’s brutal high kick on Tra Telligman (Pictures) at UFC 54.

Submission of the Year: Chonan

Yes, Ryo Chonan (Pictures)’s flying-twisting-inside-heelhook happened on New Year’s Eve 2004. But it was so good that staff ranked it the best in 2005 as well. Rare are the moments that you pause and realize you’ve never seen anything like that before. Chonan’s submission over Anderson Silva (Pictures) definitely qualifies.

For a submission that happened in calendar year 2005, staff had it a tie between Matt Hughes (Pictures)’ choke of Frank Trigg (Pictures) and Andrei Arlovski (Pictures)’s Achilles lock on Tim Sylvia (Pictures) to capture Interim UFC heavyweight title.

Comeback Fighter of the Year: “Mach”

While Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) may have lost on New Year’s Eve to Takanori Gomi (Pictures), there’s no denying 2005 provided a fresh start for the Japanese veteran. Before facing Gomi, “Mach” was 4-0 this year, defeating the likes of Jens Pulver (Pictures) and Joachim Hansen (Pictures), which many considered a major upset.

Making it to the finals of the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix was a coup for Sakurai, whose body appeared to agree with his new fighting weight of 160 pounds, down from the 167 he was a champion at in his early SHOOTO days.

Starting with his loss to Matt Hughes (Pictures), Sakurai went 4-5 from March 2002 to October 2004.

Coming in a distant second to Sakurai was Brazilian Murilo Bustamante (Pictures), who also fell short of PRIDE Grand Prix goal on Dec. 31 when Dan Henderson (Pictures) defeated him by unanimous decision.

Fight Camp of the Year: Chute Boxe

Chute Boxe’s new generation established itself in 2005. Mauricio Rua (Pictures) was dominant in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. It’s group of lightweights performed well. And its leader, Wanderlei Silva (Pictures), overcame a bump in the road to avenge his loss against Brazilian Top Team’s Ricardo Arona (Pictures).

Second on the list is Arona’s gym, BTT, which placed two competitors in Grand Prix finals and enjoyed its regular slew of victories.
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