By Benjamin Bieker
Breakthrough MMA Fighter of the Year (Johny Hendricks)
It is hard to deny that Johny Hendricks is an amazing welterweight fighter. Obviously, he was not an unknown after 2011 where he closed out the year with a thunderous knockout of Jon Fitch, but after the initial shock wore off people called it a fluke, a lucky punch, and that Fitch would tune him up in a rematch. Well, Hendricks proved the pundits wrong with two big wins in 2012. He took out perennial top five welterweight Josh Koscheck, and plastered Martin Kampmann to the canvas almost the same exact way he did to Fitch a year before.
The craziest thing about Hendricks is that instead of sitting out and waiting for his title shot, or complaining about being passed up for one is that he continues to fight. He is already lined up for a match against Jake Ellenberger while Nick Diaz gets the title shot. With tremendous power in his hands, being a Division one ranked wrestler, and at 11-1 in Zuffa fight companies he could prove to be the biggest test for GSP in a long time. He just needs to be locked in a cage with him first, and hopefully his shot comes in 2013.
BJJ Match of the Year (Buchecha vs. Rodolfo Vieira)
While some hail it as the greatest BJJ match ever that is a big claim to make, but it is easily the best match of the year. Marcus Buchecha Almedia burst onto the grappling scene this year, but many thought he would have trouble with the much more experienced Rodolfo Vieira who has been known as “The Black Belt Hunter”. This match could almost be seen as not about the points as both fighters fought for sweeps, submissions, and never giving up.
Vieira threw on a very tight submission with only seconds left in the fight, but Buchecha fought through it and the match ended with him winning on points. The craziest part about this match is that it was in the beginning rounds and that Almedia had a lot of fights to still compete in. This match opened up the BJJ game world, because Vieira had been so dominate at Absolute that many did not know who would ever beat him. Well, Buchecha had plans and this match captures the BJJ Match of the Year.
Check out the match here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7DLFqLCFqg
Submission Grappling Match of the Year (Justin Rader vs. Samuel Braga)
While the Ultimate Absolute tournament may not be the most well known tournament in the world when the prospect of making 10 grand is on the line you are going to attract some of the best grapplers. Starting with a field of 16 competitors by the time Rader and Braga took to the mat to compete they had already had two matches. That did not stop them from putting on a great match.
Justin Rader is the first student under the great Rafael Lovato to attain a black belt, and is probably one of the best jiu jitsu practitioners in the world. Braga hails from Brazil but currently resides in Tennessee, and he was given his black belt from Gracie Barra coach Vinicius Magalhaes. The match may have ended in a points victory for Rader in overtime, and neither of them won the tournament. The truth is that no one losses when a match turns out like Braga’s and Rader’s did.
Check out the match here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUGeEup0TLk
MMA Fight of the Year (Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon)
Fight of the year in MMA gets harder and harder to pick every year, because the amount of matches that takes place just continues to grow. Plus, anytime you have Joe Lauzon fight you know you are in for a show. No one thought much of this match between Miller and Lauzon going into the UFC 155 PPV, because Miller was a late replacement for what fans thought was a more intriguing match between Lauzon and Gray Maynard. Well, the people who thought that were very wrong.
From the onset of the first round, Miller displayed an improved striking game that busted Lauzon right open. Blood continued to pour throughout the rest of the fight as the two lightweights fought tooth and nail to win. Lauzon did not give up at all, and even tried to drop for a last minute leg lock submission. While Lauzon ended up the loser he continues to gain fans, bonuses, and scars through all of his fight, and both competitors proved that they are a real fighters after this bout.
BJJ Player of the Year (Female) (Michelle Nicolini)
Michelle Nicolini has always been an amazing grappler who has been training in BJJ since the age of 17, and at age 31 she has only continues to get better. Having her best year in competitive Jiu Jitsu Michelle Nicolini took the European Championship in her natural weight class of light-featherweight and the absolute title, The World Pro Cup Championship, and won her 6th World Championship as well. Michelle Nicolini trains with the famed Checkmat BJJ Team, and she received all of her belt promotions from Robert Drysdale.
Some of the biggest wins this year came in a match against Kyra Gracie at the World Pro Cup. Nicolini immediately tried to pull guard on Gracie, but as Gracie tried to pass she slipped to butterfly guard and used it to get in top position. While Gracie tried to use open guard Nicolini spun to an ankle lock, and finished the match in less than a minute. That was not her only big win, but it was an impressive one. That is why Michelle Nicolini was our pick for Female BJJ Player of the Year.