I already did a blog on the 2011 Fighter of the Year, naming UFC Lightheavyweight Champion Jon Jones the recipient of the honor. Jones went 4-0 in the calendar year, taking out three former champions in Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua. I saw where Sports Illustrated recently named Dan Henderson as their Fighter of the Year. Dan is not a bad choice, going 3-0 in 2011, including a victory over Rafael Cavalcante for the Strikeforce title, a defeat at heavyweight of legendary Fedor Emelianenko and his ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate with Rua.
I would name Henderson the runner up to the award however, as Jones not only notched one more win, but defeating 3 former UFC champions indicates a level of competition that is higher. Cavalcante is a decent fighter, but any of the scalps Jones peeled in 2011 are better than him. So I am going to have to go with the honorable mention for Henderson, who is a lock first ballot ‘Hall of Famer’ when the sport gets a real hall of fame going.
This leave us with third place, the bronze medal. I’m going to go with Nick Diaz. Diaz, like Henderson, went 3-0 in 2011, including his explosive return to UFC where he broke down and practically retired BJ Penn. Diaz’ combination of skill and the controversy he shook the division with really livened up the welterweights. Diaz got a shortcut into a title fight, got it taken a way, and then bullied his way back into a title fight, cutting the line again and leaving a lot of UFC tested veterans in his wake.
A couple of things to notice here. Two of the top three ‘Fighter of the Year’ winners by my account came from outside the UFC. I think most people would agree with the short list as well, so there is hope for Bellator, ONE FC, Poland’s KSW and a few of the larger second tier groups to develop fighters and take them to the upper echelon’s of the sport the way Strikeforce did.
And though I am often critical of Strikeforce, they did put on good fights and they worked with and developed good fighters. The second thing I notice is this – do you remember all of Dana White‘s talk about ‘Strikefarce’ and how they weren’t competition? The fact that the UFC is now benefiting and IMPROVING because of the use of the Strikeforce roster and that they went out and bought the company, should serve as a constant reminder that after all Dana White is a pitch man and everything he says is deliberate and contrived, and can’t be taken at face value.