Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time! It has been an extraordinary year of ups and down for all of those involved in the rapidly growing world of mixed martial arts, but all things must come to an end, and it’s time for FiveOuncesofPain.com to dish out our official year end awards for the crazy year that was 2009.
We’ll be diving headfirst into a series of fifteen end of the year awards, with a new award being distributed every single day ending through December 31 with a special two part New Years Eve year-end award extravaganza…. bonanza.
First up, we have FiveOuncesofPain‘s top ten breakthrough fighters of 2009, meaning: The ten fighters that have thrust themselves into the spotlight of the masses by any means necessary through the course of the last year.
1. Jose Aldo – Aldo went on an absolute berserker rampage through WEC’s featherweight division during 2009; racking up a series of four brutal TKO victories, grabbing two “Knockout of the Night” nods, and capturing the WEC 145 pound title in the process. The kid prodigy from Brazil started out 2009 with a bang, literally, earning “KOTN” during a first round beatdown over Rolando Perez in January. From there Aldo went on to pummel Chris Mickle in March before capturing yet another “KOTN” bonus while turning Cub Swanson into a human highlight reel in June with a flying knee that would have made Ong Bak proud, just eight seconds into the bout. Most notably, Jose’s November trouncing of a fighter many believed to be a top ten pound-for-pound fighter in Mike Brown cemented the just twenty-three year old champion as FiveOuncesofPain.com’s Breakthrough Fighter of 2009.
2. Dan Hardy – Having fought the majority of his career in smaller promotions in the UK, Dan Hardy came into 2009 with just a single UFC fight under his belt, and left with a 4-0 record and an upcoming shot at the UFC welterweight championship. “The Outlaw” first began to turn the heads of the masses following his back and forth war with Marcus Davis which he most recently followed up with a decisive victory over the highly regarded Mike Swick.
3. Benson Henderson – Henderson entered 2009 coming off of appearances in the MFC and EVO MMA promotions, and left it with three victories in the WEC and an interim lightweight title around his waist. Henderson exploded onto the WEC lightweight scene with a first round TKO over Shane Roller in April before edging out Donald Cerrone in October to set up a showdown with fellow title holder Jamie Varner in January.
4. Cain Velasquez – Coming into this year with a record of 4-0, Velasquez was widely touted as a heavyweight to watch in the future, but all of that was just talk at the time. Cain solidified his position near the top of the UFC heavyweight ladder in 2009 with a “KOTN” performance over Denis Stojnic, along with big wins over Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell.
5. Jon Jones – “Bones” had fought once in the UFC prior to the beginning over this year, but it was his impressive 2009 victories over Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien, combined with a thorough beatdown of Matt Hamill in the twenty-two year old Jones’ only career “loss” that have fast-tracked this fast rising light heavyweight talent into the limelight.
6. Brian Bowles – Big things come in small packages. Bowles only fought one time in 2009, but the newly crowned WEC bantamweight title holder made it count, knocking one of the highest regarded champions of the sport senseless in the opening round and handing Miguel Torres his first defeat in more than five years in the process.
7. Paulo Thiago – Who was Paulo Thiago before he sent Josh Koscheck sailing to the canvas in February? I’ll tell you who he was; Paulo was an undefeated prospect fighting out of the Jungle Fight promotion. Since his groundbreaking performance over Kos at UFC 95, Thiago has gone on to prove himself in the UFC’s welterweight division with a decision loss to Jon Fitch and a recent victory over the previously undefeated Jacob Volkmann.
8. Paul Daley – “Semtex” got off to a rocky start this year dropping a unanimous decision at the hands of Nick Thompson, but came back in a big way with three consecutive victories, the last of which being a first round blowout of Martin Kampmann at UFC 103.
9. Shane Carwin – It’s not exactly like big Shane was a secret going into 2009, but it was his thrilling come from behind knockout over Gabriel Gonzaga in March that served to turn the massive heavyweight into an instant title challenger, and one of the most talked about big men in the game in the process.
10. Gegard Mousasi – Much like Carwin, Mousasi was no secret to most MMA fans going into 2009, but it was his signing with Strikeforce, combined with impressive performances on Showtime and CBS that has made Gegard a clear-cut breakthrough fighter of 2009.