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Ten best fights of 2010

Cain Velasquez beat Brock Lesnar and made it look easy. Ed Mulholland for ESPN.com

With 2010 basically in the books, it’s about time to recap the last twelve months of MMA action. It was an interesting year in mixed martial arts to say the least. Fedor’s first loss, the WEC/UFC merger, and shakeups in the UFC’s lightweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions were among the highlights this year in MMA. Without further ado, here’s my list for the ten best fights of 2010.

  1. Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar (UFC 121, Oct. 23): Velasquez was able to do what no previous heavyweight contender was ever able to manage: make beating Brock Lesnar look easy. Now the newly crowned baddest man on the planet will face heavy-handed Junior Dos Santos.

  2. Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce, June 26): It took 10 years and 35 fights for someone to legitimately defeat one of the best fighters in the sport. Werdum’s triangle arm-bar submission win over "The Last Emperor" was one of the biggest upsets of the year.

  3. Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis (WEC 53, Dec. 16): Pettis ended the WEC’s reign with a bang, earning his UFC lightweight title shot with a wall-walk kick to Henderson’s head. This highlight reel move will surely be displayed over and over again in the coming years.

  4. Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber (WEC 48, April 24): This featherweight title bout was the main event for arguably the most important event in WEC history. With about 200,000 PPV buys on the books, the event demonstrated that the lighter weight fighters are a legitimate draw. Aldos’s precise leg kicks overwhelmed fan-favorite Faber for five rounds in his hometown of Sacramento.

  5. James Toney vs. Randy Couture (UFC 118, Aug. 28): This bout wasn’t even fight of the night for the event itself, but it made my list because it was an important milestone in the boxing vs. MMA debate.

  6. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen (UFC 117, Aug. 7): Although Silva was being dominated by Sonnen’s outstanding wrestling for much of the five-round main event, it was the last few minutes that fans will never forget. With approximately two minutes left in a bout that Sonnen was on the verge of winning, Silva locked in a triangle arm-bar that forced his opponent to tap. Instead of being two minutes away from being the new middleweight champion, Sonnen became Silva’s latest victim.

  7. The compilation of three dramatic first-round KO finishes by Dan Henderson, Paul Daley, and Robbie Lawler in separate bouts (Strikeforce, Dec. 4): It was a chaotic year for the number two MMA organization to say the least. The CBS-televised brawl in Nashville, the defeat of Fedor, the disappearance of Gina Carano, and the middleweight-tourney-that-never-was were just a few setbacks that Strikeforce faced this year. The Dec. 4 event was a refreshing change for the organization, allowing fans to see what Strikeforce is all about. Three toe-curling knockouts by Henderson, Daley, and Lawler in the final three fights of the evening will ensure fans will tune in again to see what Strikeforce has in store for their next event in January.

  8. Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia (WEC 48, April 24): This was probably the most purely entertaining bout on the list. Although you couldn’t say much about the quality of the fighting, with little or no defense or ground game, Jung vs. Garcia was an offensively geared slugfest that certainly earned both fighters more than a few fans.

  9. Joe Stevenson vs. George Sotiropoulos (UFC 110, Feb. 21): Sotoripoulos’ grappling domination over Stevenson was in essence his announcement to the lightweight division that he’s a contender. Look for the Australian fighter to be part of the 155-pound title picture in 2011.

  10. Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben (UFC 116, Aug. 7): Not unlike Silva’s come-from-behind win over Sonnen, Leben snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the last thirty seconds of his three-round affair against Akiyma. Obviously down on the score cards, Leben locked in a triangle choke that earned him the victory with seconds left in the fight. Now with three wins in a row, "The Crippler" is back in middleweight contention.

That’s my list, what does yours look like?