Pep Talk: Top 10 Stories of 2009 (Part Two)

In Part One of our special year-end feature on the Top Ten Stories of 2009 we counted down the tenth through the sixth biggest headline makers of the year. Now we’re on to the top five…

5. UFC 100

It was a landmark event for the premiere promotion in all of mixed martial arts. The accomplishment becomes all the more meaningful considering that just a decade ago the UFC was on the verge of bankruptcy, banned from Pay-Per-View and seen by many as “human cockfighting” before Dana White and the Fertitas came along. Now PPV champs, UFC 100 did a reported 1.7 million buys with cash-cow Brock Lesnar in a rematch against Frank Mir for the heavyweight title. The media attention coming into the event was the most we’ve ever enjoyed to this point in our collective history. And the event delivered plenty of controversy for fans and media to debate afterward with Hendo’s finishing shot on Michael Bisping (it was legal) and Brock’s post-fight antics (acceptable emotion in my opinion, not staged). The week following UFC 100 saw the debate rage about Lesnar on ESPN and every major sports outlet, MMA news source and a good number of mainstream media destinations as well.

4. Medical Issues Put Lesnar Out Indefinitely

The UFC’s biggest draw was set to defend the Heavyweight title against Shane Carwin at UFC 106. Then disaster struck in the form of an unknown illness that necessitated removing the fight from 106 and moving it to 108 before it was scratched again. Rumors flew fast and furious, fueled by Dana’s comments that Brock’s situation was very serious and that he might never fight again. What we now know is that the champ had mononucleosis and was suffering from a serious case of an intestinal disorder called diverticulitis. Lesnar underwent surgery to close a perforation in his intestine and may need further surgery.

Brock’s medical issues have a profound effect on the state of affairs in the UFC’s heavyweight division. There is now talk of an interim belt being contested in March between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. Lesnar is also the promotion’s leading Pay-Per-View draw, bringing in legions of new fans from his wrestling past and polarizing existing fans. Couple that with the amount of media the big guy brings to the UFC and this is much more than simply a disruption to the heavyweight division. Already down significantly in weight, will Lesnar be able to fight again, and if so will he be able to recover the amazing size and strength that helped him capture and defend the title? Only time will tell, but we all wish him a speedy, healthy recovery so he can get live a long, healthy life with his wife and children, whether or not he can get back in the cage.

3. Quinton Quits; Compromises TUF 10 and UFC 107

After notching his 30th win at UFC 96 in March over Keith Jardine, Quinton Jackson verbally jousted with Rashad Evans and the rivalry was on. Jackson cited injuries in turning down a fight with Lyoto Machida and later accepted a coaching stint opposite Evans on Season 10 of TUF. The two coaches were scheduled to finally settle the bad blood that we were told boiled over again and again throughout the filming of TUF at UFC 107, booked in Rampage’s hometown Memphis, Tennessee. Several weeks into the airing of Season 10, Jackson accepted the role of “B.A. Baracus” in the movie version of “The A-Team,” rendering him unavailable to fight in the already booked main event at 107. Objecting to comments made by UFC President Dana White about his decision, he “quit” the UFC and badmouthed the company several times on his website. Now that filming for the “A-Team” is complete, Jackson is set to return to the UFC in 2010 but the negative effects of his actions in 2009 were significant. The entire storyline of the animosity between he and Evans was destroyed during season 10 knowing that they would not meet at UFC 107. Not only was UFC 107 compromised without its main event, but several other cards were weakened when the UFC moved fights off those cards to 107 to bolster the event. And what precedent did the UFC set by allowing Rampage to walk away from a main event PPV for a bigger, better deal, even if only in his mind?

2. Kimbo Slice Joins UFC

You could have made a lot of money betting against this one when the year started and even more if you would have bet that he’d be 1-0 in the promotion. To say there was a collective shock throughout MMA when word got out that he was a contestant on Season 10 would be an understatement. The bearded backyard champ turned down offers to go into pro boxing and went into the TUF house as a sponge, impressing many with his easygoing, coachable demeanor. His fights against Roy Nelson during the season and Houston Alexander in the Finale had a total of 11.3 million people tuning in, proving that Slice is still a ratings bonanza. Spike producers must have figured out that in a hurry since virtually every episode after the third week when he was eliminated by Nelson teased a Kimbo return only to have him turn down a chance to come back and fight James McSweeney in the quarterfinals. Kimbo’s fight with Alexander remains one of the more bizarre contests in the modern-day UFC. Alexander’s lack of any desire to engage with Slice brought comparisons to Kalib Starnes’ embarrassing performance against Nate Quarry at UFC 83. At least Starnes had apparently broken his foot in the fight, which might explain his fight-avoiding performance. Can’t say the same for Alexander.

1. Strikeforce Emerges from the Shadows

2009 saw Strikeforce go from a nice regional promotion that sold out venues in Northern California to a major player in mixed martial arts. The promotion signed network and cable television deals with CBS and Showtime, insuring exposure to millions of current and new MMA fans while aligning itself with premiere video game maker EA Sports. The death of Affliction allowed Strikeforce to bolster its roster with the jewel of the UFC’s eye, Heavyweight phenom, Fedor Emelianenko and Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi, both top ten pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Former two-division Pride champ Dan Henderson, pro wrestling superstar Bobby Lashley and NFL legend Herschel Walker all add marketing punch to the mix while “King Mo” Lawal (6-0) and Tyron Woodley (5-0) look to be future MMA superstars. And let’s not forget that they’ve become the home of women’s professional mixed marital arts with marketing goldmine Gina Carano, women’s champ “Cyborg” Santos and the rest of the best females in the world on the way. If Strikeforce can’t survive with all that going for it and an experienced promoter in Scott Coker at the helm, it’s hard to believe anyone can. 2009 was a banner year for the promotion. If they avoid the mistakes of other promotions that flamed away, we’ll look back at 2009 as the year that Strikeforce put itself on the map.

Honorable Mentions

Chuck Liddell Dances with the Stars
Jose Aldo’s Featherweight Dominance
Dana White’s Video Blog Rant
Run Forrest Run…Silva Embarasses Griffin
Jon Jones Serves Notice for the Future
Dan Hardy Goes Undefeated, Gets Title Shot
Welcome to the Machida Era, Maybe

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