– BEST & WORST OF 2005

by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Well, we are coming to the end of another year and overall this was a very good year for mixed martial arts. The UFC is beginning to gain the type of mainstream notoriety that the founders of the organization could have only dreamed of. Pride has managed to put on two of the best tournaments in fight history this year, along with a heavyweight title fight that was years in the making. And organizations like the WEC, Rumble on the Rock, and King of the Cage have started to make waves and put on some shows that could rival either of the “big two.” So here is a list of what I consider the top and bottom moments for MMA in the year 2005.

The Best:

The Ultimate Fighter Season 1
This was everything the UFC could have hoped for out of their debut show on Spike TV. Yeah, fight fans complained that it was too much reality television drama and not enough fighting, but the fact is that show single handedly drew in more new fans than any single UFC fight or event has in the last 10 years. The season had a little bit of everything that good television needs…they had their likeable guys with Forrest and Stephan…they had their bad guys with Bobby and Josh…they had the troublemaker and definite catalyst for the show with Chris Leben and probably the fighter most likely to be a champion someday in the future with Diego Sanchez.

The coaches were a great backdrop to the show, but overall the UFC did the smart thing and let the fighters make the show. The finale showcased one of the best fights in UFC history with a three round war between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, and the middleweight winner Diego Sanchez dominated in his win as he has done in every fight since that night as well. Nate Quarry came out of the show without fighting a single time and managed to become a fan favorite almost immediately. And a few of the other fighters are truly up and coming stars that the UFC will be able to depend on for years to come. “The Ultimate Fighter” season 1 was truly a success for mixed martial arts in America.

Pride Lightweight and Welterweight Grand Prix
An absolutely fantastic show from start to finish, especially with the showcase of the very best lightweight fighters in the entire world. Japanese fighter Takanori Gomi took one step closer to becoming the “hometown” fan favorite that dominates his weight class that Pride has to have been quietly rooting for ever since Sakuraba’s title fight loss to Wanderlei Silva a few years back. Joachim Hansen, Yves Edwards, Jens Pulver, and not to mention now finalist Hayato “Mach” Sakarai who made his debut at lightweight a very successful one in this tournament.

Dan Henderson, who just about everyone has been saying for years would dominate the 185lb weight class once he decided to put himself there for good, did exactly that with his impressive run in the first round of the tournament. Along with Henderson was the return of former UFC middleweight champion, Murilo Bustamante, to glory after a tough run over the past couple of years. Bustamante was able to win both of his fights and secure a rematch with Henderson, who he lost to in 2003. It was a spectacular show from the first fight to the last and probably the best overall card of 2005.

Dana White swallows his pride and does what’s best for the UFC
Well, maybe Dana hasn’t done everything in the best interest of the UFC (see the bottom 5 things below) but when he announced that he re-signed Tito Ortiz, who he said on multiple occasions would never be in the UFC again, and B.J. Penn, who left the organization under much scrutiny, with both sides filing lawsuits against the other for a contract dispute that was never really settled. Tito Ortiz, arguably the most recognizable and popular fighter in UFC history, being re-signed and placed as a centerpiece as coach on the UFC’s flagship “The Ultimate Fighter” season 3, made everyone realize that regardless of how Dana White may have personally felt about the “Huntington Beach Badboy”, he had to know that putting Ortiz along side his nemesis, Ken Shamrock, guaranteed for good television. Ortiz is also rumored to take on season 1 competitor, Forrest Griffin, in April in what will most likely be a main event caliber fight.

B.J. Penn really had no reason to comeback to the UFC outside of his need to prove to everyone that he is the best fighter in the world. He could pick and choose his spots when or when not to fight, and with “Rumble on the Rock”, Penn has become a promoter and has reached almost iconic status in his home state of Hawaii. Now, the UFC has probably the best division, pound for pound, in the world. Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, Diego Sanchez and now the champion who never lost his title with B.J. Penn. 2006 is sure to be a great year in this division.

Fedor takes his place as the best in the world…maybe the best ever.
Although the current Pride heavyweight champion only fought twice this year, both went a long way to proving his dominance in this sport. First, Fedor avenged his only career loss (a doctor’s stoppage by the way) by pummeling and dismantling MMA veteran, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in April. The Russian fighter managed to erase the only blemish from his otherwise perfect record. Next up was possibly the most hyped and highly anticipated heavyweight fight in Pride’s history when Fedor took on Mirko CroCop in late August.

It was truly the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Fedor seemed unstoppable but if one fighter had the ability to end the champion’s reign it was the devastating striking skills of Mirko CroCop. In a great battle between two unbelievable fighters, Fedor again came out on top, leaving little doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the best fighter in the world.

The Pride Middleweight Grand Prix and the immergence of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
I don’t want to hear about how this is a “I love Pride” article, but they had a very good year in my estimation. Although, the tournament format has been over done a little bit by Pride recently, running one for each weight class every other year ( I think once every 4 years like the Olympics would make a better show), they managed to put together a great selection of fighters for this show. Wanderlei Silva, who could be seen as one of the most dominant fighters of our time, stepped in to this tournament as the favorite once again, but he definitely had a big target on his back for every fight. Ricardo Arona, who has managed to become one of the most hated fighters with American fans, made it to the finals and along the way beat Wanderlei Silva, the current Pride middleweight champion.

But this tournament was a showcase for new star, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to make his name known to the world. First he defeated top ranked Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who many people thought would make it to the finals again in his second Grand Prix appearance. He had one of the best fights of the year in his decision win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, another big win over Alistair Overeem in the semi-finals and then he was able to stop Ricardo Arona in the finals, crowning himself champion. Although, “Shogun” will have a tough time getting the title unless his teammate Silva relinquishes it soon, 2005 belonged to the Chute Boxe member and he has to be strongly considered the fighter of the year.

The Worst:

The Ultimate Fighter Season 2
Again, I promise this is not an article that is out to get the UFC, but for as many great things they did in 2005, they did have a few setbacks along the way as well.

“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 did manage to get some good ratings along the way and the finale was definitely the kind of show the UFC had to be hoping for, but the season itself was pretty boring and not very watchable at all. Hardcore fans still followed week to week just waiting for something good to happen, but with Monday Night Football and the WWE leaving Spike TV during the season, “The Ultimate Fighter” suffered some very poor ratings during their run. Nothing happened in the house with any of the fighters to bring some much needed drama into the fights on the show.

I don’t care what anyone says about how people watched for the fights…that may very well be true, but it’s the drama between the fighters that led up to the biggest spikes during season 1 (i.e. Koscheck and Leben). None of the fighters showed an ounce of personality during the filming, or somehow the editors took everything out of the final cut. While a few of the fighters from season 1 showed promise to be successful once in the big show, outside of Joe Stevenson, who already had more than 20 fights under his belt coming into the show, none of the fighters from season 2 seem ready to step into the octagon. Rashad Evans proved just about everybody wrong by winning the heavyweight division, but he also didn’t manage to finish any of his fights and that’s something that won’t garner him many fans in the UFC front office if it continues. Joe Stevenson was already very accomplished and the biggest fan favorite to come out of the show may end up being the runner up, Luke Cummo, but none of them look like we’ll see them holding championship gold anytime soon.

UFC 55: Words Can’t Describe
I truly don’t think anyone would disagree that this show was just plain bad. First off, the heavyweight division in the UFC is in serious need for some competition for their champion Andrei Arlovski and while Paul Buentello may not have been a top five guy, his ability to stand and trade at least made for an interesting fight. Unfortunately, Buentello got knocked silly in the first :30 seconds of the fight and not only was it not “highlight” worthy, he fell over on top of Arlovski confusing fans watching in attendance and at home as to what had just happened. The UFC did manage to keep their title around the best hope they have to a dominant heavyweight champion, but it was a terrible main event and truly the culmination of this event.

Also on the card was internet legend Sean Gannon as he took on Hammer House fighter, Branden Lee Hinkle. Gannon, made famous from his underground street fight with Kimbo Slice, was signed on the hype and prospect that he would come in and show he had a great spirit and ability to match. Their was way too much hype for this guy.

He got absolutely dominated by Hinkle, who isn’t exactly a top caliber fighter himself, and while being introduced to the crowd, commentator Joe Rogan managed to legitimize underground street fighting and almost sound like he longed for the days of no holds barred fighting in the UFC again. The card was just bad and the fights proved that point to a very convincing end.

Wanderlei Silva admitting that he and “Shogun” would have worked their fight if it had happened in Pride.
A great many people started screaming work when some of the fights in Pride came to surprising ends early on and still to this day, if a fight ends early or a submission gets pulled out of nowhere, fans are quick to point out that a fight might be a work. But when Pride middleweight champion, Wanderlei Silva admitted to a reporter that if he and his teammate, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had made it to the finals of the middleweight Grand Prix, they had already pre-determined who would win.

Now, I understand that no teammates want to fight each other and if at all possible, they would avoid it at all costs but if they don’t want the prospect of fighting each other to happen, only one of them should have entered the tournament to begin with. Now all eyes will be on Wanderlei in his return match with Ricardo Arona to see if he loses in a suspect way, giving up his title opening up a shot for his teammate to get a shot at the championship. “Shogun” was a definite bright spot of 2005, but his teammate admitting to a fix, put a dark cloud over an otherwise shining moment for MMA.

Ken Shamrock’s Free Fall in 2005
It’s sad to see a legend perform past his years. It was like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform, and even though he made it to the playoffs it just wasn’t the same watching Joe Montana playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, but in MMA very few fighters have reached legendary status. Ken Shamrock is one man who is widely considered to be a legend, but he had a very rough 2005. First, he couldn’t get a fight with Tito Ortiz booked no matter how hard he lobbied for it, but then he stepped into the main event of the season 1 finale show for the “The Ultimate Fighter.” His opponent was rising star Rich Franklin, and despite sinking a deep ankle lock during the fight, Shamrock’s night ended with Franklin’s fists bouncing Ken’s head off the mat. A couple of suspect moves during the fight even had fans shouting work afterwards, and with the loss Shamrock went back to the drawing board.

Then Pride had the good sense to book one of their greatest stars in Kazushi Sakuraba to fight Shamrock in October. Shamrock again promised fireworks but again fizzled when he took a tough shot from Sakuraba in the first round, landing him between the ropes and forcing the referee to stop the fight. It was no surprise that Shamrock was upset because of the stoppage, but he was not the dominant fighter that night either way.

Shamrock will have the chance to truly redeem himself in 2006 when he is the co-coach of the “Ultimate Fighter” season 3, and at the end his shot at perennial arch rival, Tito Ortiz. But Shamrock will work very hard to forget 2005 as soon as possible.

The UFC Bans the MMA Media
It’s been discussed to death on every site and let me preface my statement by saying this is my opinion, not necessarily those of MMAWeekly, or anyone else in the MMA media.

When I met Dana White at UFC 53 he was nothing but friendly and a truly a nice guy to a first time reporter at one of his events. He sat and talked with me and another writer from this site for almost an hour one night and never seemed like he was ashamed to have us cover the UFC. Understanding that the reasons given why the internet media was banned was laced with half-truths, Dana White decided that the people he personally thanked for keeping the UFC alive during the dark days, were no longer welcomed at the events.

It’s not about ringside seats and it’s not about free admittance…it’s about our ability to give the fans the best coverage that we can, and no one can dispute that the UFC is the biggest show in America and while they will surely survive without anyone from any website covering their events, we as the internet media survive by covering the UFC. I hope that we’ll all get our media credentials back and the ban will be lifted, but this was a big story for 2005 and definitely one of the low points for all the good that the UFC did this year.