By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s already been a memorable year in the UFC, and we’ve still got five months of shows left before we close the book on 2009. So what better way to end the Half-Year awards than with a look at the top first-half performers to grace the Octagon.
5 – Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua
Once one of the most feared fighters in the world, former PRIDE star Shogun Rua’s reputation took a hit after he lost his UFC debut to Forrest Griffin in September of 2007 and was forced to undergo two knee surgeries. But 2009 has seen the revival of the Brazilian’s career, and even though he was less than impressive in dispatching Mark Coleman in January, he did stop ‘The Hammer’, and as boxing Hall of Fame trainer George Benton once said ‘win today, look good next time.’ That’s precisely what Rua did, and he certainly looked good in knocking out Chuck Liddell in April. Is the old Shogun back? It sure looks like it.
4 – Dan Henderson
Sure, his former Team Quest teammate Randy Couture first popularized the line ‘not bad for an old man’ after beating Tim Sylvia back in 2007, but Dan Henderson – who is approaching his 39th birthday – has certainly earned the right to use it as well after a big 2009 thus far. Henderson’s year began with his January win over Rich Franklin, and the victory earned him a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter show that exposed him to a new audience of mainstream fans that may not have followed his storied career in PRIDE. But it was his July knockout of his TUF coaching rival, Michael Bisping, that truly got casual observers of the sport to pay attention to one of the best fighters in history. In September, he looks for win number three of 2009 when he rematches Franklin.
3 – Diego Sanchez
Diego Sanchez has always marched to the beat of his own drummer, so he didn’t listen when some questioned whether a drop to 155 pounds was the wisest course of action for the former welterweight contender. But with back-to-back wins over former title challenger Joe Stevenson and aggressive up and comer Clay Guida, Sanchez quickly established himself as one of the lightweight division’s leading contenders. And at 155, the doubters are now proclaiming him as the most dangerous threat to the title belt that will be worn by the winner of August 8th’s battle between champion BJ Penn and challenger Kenny Florian.
2 – Lyoto Machida
After a career defining decision win over Tito Ortiz at UFC 84 in May of 2008, it was clear that Lyoto Machida would be moving on to bigger and better things in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. How he would fare in those bouts was still a question mark though, despite his unbeaten record and wins over the likes of Ortiz, Rich Franklin and BJ Penn. There are no questions now, after the Brazilian knocked out previously unbeaten Thiago Silva in January, and then repeated the feat in May over Rashad Evans, a win that earned him the UFC light heavyweight title. And what may be even more impressive than the two wins is the way he won each fight, with a style that seems indecipherable at this point. ‘Karate is back,’ said Machida after beating Evans. It sure is.
1 – Georges St-Pierre
Beating BJ Penn and Thiago Alves in successive bouts is impressive. Doing it without losing a round in either fight is nothing short of amazing. But that’s what St-Pierre did in defending his title twice thus far in 2009, first by scoring a TKO victory in his January superfight with lightweight champion Penn, and then following that up with a decision win over Alves in which he had to battle through the final ten minutes of the fight with a groin injury suffered in the third round. If anything, St-Pierre seems to be getting better with every fight, a scary proposition for anyone competing at 170 pounds.
Honorable Mention – Cain Velasquez, Martin Kampmann, Jon Jones, Tomasz Drwal, Paul Kelly, Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar, Krysztof Soszynski, Dan Hardy, Terry Etim.
The Highly Unofficial Half-Year UFC Awards - The Fighters
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - It’s already been a memorable year in the UFC, and we’ve still got five months of shows left before we close the book on 2009. So what better way to end the Half-Year awards than with a look at the top first-half performers to grace the Octagon.