Still the only awards you should give a @#$! about, because we call them like we see them. The Rivalry Pt 1: Roger Gracie vs Jacare
This is a rivalry that has been going on for quite sometime between the two top competitors in the sport today: Roger Gracie and Jacare at one time both flew the banner of Gracie Barra but shortly after their confrontation at the brown belt absolutes Jacare left igniting this rivalry to new heights. Roger drew first blood, avenging his controversial loss at the Mundials 2004 by beating Jacare at the European Championships. He further put an exclamation point by submitting Jacare in the finals of the Abu Dhabi championships. Jacare had the last laugh however, as he successfully defended his Absolute Title at the Mundials, perhaps the title that Roger wants the most. This rivalry shows no signs of slowing down, and only promises to heat up in 2006!
Female Competitor of the Year: Kyra Gracie
Kyra Gracie put on an impressive performance at ADCC, to win the women’s under 60K division. She later put on the gi to take second at the Mundials. Kyra was among the youngest competitors in either field, and having the last name of Gracie, perhaps the one who had the greatest spotlight on her, but she has definitely shown her talent on the mat.
The Too Much Heart Award: Jake Shields
Perhaps the gutsiest performance of the year has to go to Jake Shields. Fresh off a victory in an incredible back and forth match against Diego Sanchez, Jake had to face Cameron Earle, one of the insiders favorites in the tournaments. Jake withstood an Earle armbar that hurts just to watch it, but not only escaped the manuever, but he came from behind to take Cameron’s back and score the win. After the match it was dubious as to whether or not Jake could continue, it was obviously that the armbar did quite a bit of damage. Jake sacked up and covered both arms but lost in a effort against a calculating Pablo Popovitch. Still, Jake had earned his third place title match against Leo Santos and was determined to compete, despite the fact that his elbow now looked like it had a softball at the end of it and he could barely extend his arm past 90 degrees. The next day Jake stepped on the mat with both arms bandaged up again and almost immediately fell into a Leo Santos triangle, who began attacking the very arm that was injured the day before. Somehow, someway Jake managed to escape, and he eventually took Santos’ back, choking him out with one arm! Wow! You look up toughness in the dictionary, and you would likely find a picture of Jake Shields, his performance continues to amaze us after repeat viewings.
The Giant Killer: Marcelo Garcia
Probably the craziest match witnesses this year or any year had to be Ricco Rodriguez vs Marcelo Garcia. Aside from the obvious weight difference between the two (Marcelo competed in the under 76 K category and Ricco was in the over 99 category) Ricco was very content to play the heel versus crowd favorite Marcelo Garcia, which electrified the audience. Then came the infamous slam which really polarized the crowd, followed by the heel hook submission from Marcelo Garcia. This was entertainment at it’s finest and Marcelo Garcia once again proves the saying that jiujitsu is about technique over power.
The Rivalry Part 2: Bill “the Grill” Cooper vs Jeff “the Snowman” Monson
One competitor is the ADCC over 99K champion. The other competitor is the terror of the lightweight divisions. One or both of the competitors may be active on any given weekend that there is a tournament. They have each met in the finals of the absolute division in a WGG sponsored tournament three times this year. On paper you would think this would be a mismatch, but this always turns into one of the most exciting fights of the year. Cooper, despite giving at a minimum of 80 pounds in this match up, does something that no other competitor successfully does against the Snowman, he actually attacks. Far too many competitors are too scared to mount much of an offense against Monson for fear of letting him scoring the first points, but Cooper keeps coming, and coming and coming after Monson. For his part, since his tremendous size is definitely an adantage, Monson always tries to make this as technical of a battle as possible, and often forgoes many of the brute strength manuevers against the game Cooper. That is not to say that that Monson isn’t trying to submit the Grill, but Cooper has proven to be an esape artist and has gotten out of many manuevers which have brought bigger men down. The last epic contest between these two ended after 30 minutes in overtime! Although Monson is 3-0 in these battles, Cooper is just waiting for his opportunity for his rematch, where he truly believes he can even the score.
Referee of the Year: Herb Dean
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, refereeing is the toughest, most thankless jobs in this sport and it takes a real talent to be considered among the top in this profession. While there have been many calls that looked questionable to the outside observer (and we should point out that things often look different when you’re on the mat as oppossed to the vantage point of being a spectator), we always breathe a sigh of relief when we see that Herb Dean is the man in charge, because he always seems to make the right call. Herb is the perfect combination in the precarious balance between keeping the bout exciting, keeping the bout within the rules, and most importantly, keeping the fighters safe.
To close out 2005, Herb Dean even ended a brawl that happened at the K-1 event between Heath Herring’s corner and Yoshihiro Nakao
Surprise of the Year: UFC brings back Mir, Ortiz and Penn
Alright, we admit we haven’t been as high on the UFC product as of late, but we’ll give credit where credit is due, when Dana White entered the Octagon and announced the long awaited return of Frank Mir we were happy to see the former Heavyweight Champion back. Bringing back Tito Ortiz to coach in the third season of The Ultimate Fighter was absolutely brilliant. And being that we’re OntheMat, we absolutely marked out when they announced the return of BJ Penn (and did you check out the shirt he was wearing?) Now we can’t go ahead an reveal the details of the backstage dealings that lead to this announcement (let’s just say that the terms of the arrangement were far more favorable for the fighters than other sources would lead you to believe) but we have to hand it to the UFC for taking what could have potentially been a disastrous situation for themselves and turning it into the best surprise for the fans all year.
Instructor of the Year: Renzo Gracie
All right, for a second, let us disregard the fact he has one of the most successful academies on the East Coast. Never mind that he’s produced more high level black belts than anyone in the United States. Forget that he cornered two of the OTM competitors of the year (Roger Gracie and Kyra Gracie). That he not only takes his students to the highest levels of the sport, but he still competes there as well. Ask anyone who’s ever met him and they will tell you the same thing: that Renzo Gracie is the man.
We’ve all known this about Renzo for years. In 2005 Renzo did all of this and more, but he also gave us all two lessons we can all take: how to lose with dignity and how to win with grace. You may have seen his bout with BJ Penn at Rumble on the Rock this year, in which a revitalized Renzo gave BJ everything he could handle and then some. BJ won a much deserved decision from Renzo in this bout and despite the tensions that were surrounding this match Renzo was very respectful in defeat and congratulated his opponent. That is losing with dignity. When Roger Gracie defeated Jacare to win the Absolute title at ADCC, the entire Gracie clan and then some stormed the mat to congratulate their champion. Renzo Gracie however, first went to the side of the dejected Jacare to check on him and to offer him encouragement. That is being a gracious winner. Renzo Gracie is our choice for instructor of the year 2005. Stay classy Renzo!
All right, how did we do with our year end awards? If you have any commentary or want to nominate your own choices for the Best of 2005, let us know! E-mail Gumby@onthemat.com and we’ll publish your choices!
Thanks for the support and good luck in 2006 to everyone!
Train HardFight HardParty Hard
Scotty and Gumby