Like any other year in recent memory, the close of 2010 will undoubtedly be full of "best of" lists and individual awards. So why shouldn't the local MMA scene also be represented and recognized in a similar fashion? Let's stroll down memory lane and take a look at an unforgettable year. Everyone raise your glasses of off-brand sparkling wine as we toast to perennial greatness in Trinity River area combat sports.
Promotion of the Year
Winner: Xtreme Knockout – Although the number of local DFW MMA events was few and far between this year, Xtreme Knockout was indeed a shining star among locally-based fight promotions. With the implementation of championship belts, a consistently packed venue and a long list of talented and familiar fighters, XKO has proven that they are the premier organization in the area. With the recent associations with Team Takedown and Mark Laimon’s Cobra Kai, fans should expect 2011 to be an even bigger year for the promotion.
Runner Up: Steele Cage – Despite hosting only one event this year, it was by far their best effort. A record crowd attended Steele Cage III, which included an awards ceremony for UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell -- who was in attendance for the show. In addition, the organization crowned their first welterweight champion, Joey Gorczynski, at the event. If this promotion can address the financial/sponsorship aspects of their business, expect Steele Cage to give XKO a run for their money in 2011.
Honorable Mention: TAFL.
Professional Fighter of the Year
Winner: Chris Jones – Jones' last fight was a dismantling of one of the area's hardest hitters, Roy Spoon. Jones controlled the cage and really showed a knack for the scramble. While Jones has not been the most active fighter in 2010, he represented the sport with such class and sportsmanship that he gets a narrow nod for this award. Hopefully spectators will have numerous chances to watch Jones defend his XKO title often in 2011.
Runner up: Edwin Figueroa – He has elite stand up and is very competent on the ground. In his last bout, he defeated Johnny Bedford, who is seen as one of the best grapplers in the area. Figueroa kept busy and avoided taking damage while on the ground. Once he was up and had the chance, he landed a clean hook to the momentarily unconscious head of his opponent. Figueroa is now undefeated and has never had to go to decision in his seven wins. Look for great things on a national stage for this Saekson striker.
Honorable Mention: Jason Sampson, Joseph Christopher, Johnny Bedford, Chas Skelly.
Amateur Fighter of the Year
Winner: Evan Cutts – The busy 20-year-old Cutts has competed five times in the past year, winning four. The one loss was an early first-round KO that can be chalked up to a learning experience. His SWCA performance in August put him on the map, and he completed the year with a first-round arm bar in an Arlington event in November.
Runner up: Javier Obregon – Obregon beat a very tough Michael Lytle at the last Texas Amateur Fight League promotion. Hopefully the Travis Lutter student adds to his 2-0 start early in 2011.
Honorable mention: Steven Cloud.
Debut of the Year
Winner: Chris Holdsworth – He's one of the transfers from Las Vegas that relocated with the Cobra Kai Jiu Jitsu squad. His debut professional fight was against a very dangerous area striker, Andy Villarreal. Holdsworth held his opponent in check and controlled the action in the cage for the 125 second entirety of the bout. He should return to action early in 2011.
Runner up: Jordan Gaza – The 17-year-old submission specialist came into her first match at the TAFL Annihilation card highly touted, and rightfully so. She dominated her opponent and won by first-round TKO as she showed off an impressive right hand that mixes well with her Jiu Jitsu. While she is not an area resident, she made her fighting debut in the Metroplex. With an early jumpstart, the sky is the limit for this prospect.
Honorable mention: Quaint Kempf.
MMA Celebrity of the Year
Winner: Anthony Njokuani – The Dallas-area striker adjusted his game and won a hard-earned TKO victory at WEC 52. It’s hard not to enjoy the stylings of a kickboxer that KOs opponents. Hopefully the trend continues on pay-per-views to come.
Runner up: Will Campuzano – The Mohler fighter made the cut into the UFC and recently lost in the third round of a hard-fought match against Nick Pace. Hopefully Dana White acts on his impulses to add a Flyweight division, as Campuzano is probably a better fit at 125.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Hicks, Johnny Hendricks, King Mo.
Fight of the Year
Winner: Kashif Solarin vs. Michael Sierra – This fight, which took place in Arlington last October, had a bit of everything. The two flyweights were throwing crisply and moving well, and the fight took on an added dimension when it went to the ground. The two looked like snakes entangled in a fight to the death. At one point, Solarin seemingly defied gravity and walked the cage to reverse position. The end was dramatic and clinical -- Solarin locked in a triangle and held on as he was slammed, a la Rampage Jackson.
Runner up: Joey Gorczynski vs. Joe Christopher – These two seasoned fighters met in the main event at Steele Cage 3 in August. Both combatants had to dig deep in their arsenals of grappling tricks and timing. The little time that the fighters were on their feet was filled with some great boxing action. Once the two were engaged, the crowd rose to its feet to follow the furious action on the ground. In the end, Gorczynski would solve the Christopher puzzle and catch him in a choke.
Card of the Year
Winner: Bellator 19 – This was a truly great card that was worthy of "Card of the Year" nationally. Joe Soto, Ben Askren and Dan Hornbuckle were on the star-studded main card. The undercard included local favorites Joe Christopher, Johnny Bedford and Josh "The Pool Boy" Smith. Those in attendance were treated to some great submissions, TKOs and a smack-talking Askren, who won his rematch over Thomas.
Runner Up: Steele Cage 3 – The third installment of the Steele Cage series brought together the cream of the crop in a much improved set up. Everything from the lighting to the celebrities to the huge crowd in attendance gave a Vegas feel to the local card. Chuck Liddell was signing autographs, The Marines were flying the colors and some really high-level MMA was on display.
Honorable Mention: XKO 8, SWC 11.
School of the Year
Winner: Alliance (Mohler Jiu Jitsu) – It seems that almost every fighter in the North Texas area trains at Alliance -- either partially, previously or exclusively. They put out well-rounded fighters and keep a stockpile of good talent that helps perpetuate a high level. Fighters succeed at every level, all the way from local amateur to the UFC.
Runner Up: Fitness Fight Factory – This small, family-style school is run by local area professional Johnny Bedford and is starting to really have some competent amateur level fighters. The F3 moniker will be recognized regionally in the near future as they continue to produce.
Honorable mention: North Texas MMA, Saekson Muay Thai, Carlos Machado BJJ, Team Takedown