clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The MMA Year In Review - Part 1: Randy Couture, Herschel Waker, James Toney and More

Because it's a young sport, seemingly every December we hear mixed martial arts fans declare it "the best year ever" or "year of the upset" or the like. Still, while the youth of the sport leads to an incredibly short memory by fans it also allows us to see developments in the sport in such a short time. 2010 was filled with great stories and now seems like a great time to look back at them.

The Return of Chris Leben - The year's second UFC event was UFC Fight Night: Maynard vs. Diaz. On the undercard of that show was a bout between Chris Leben and Jay Silva. Leben entered the night as a slight underdog despite Silva being a fairly unproven product. This lack of faith in Leben stemmed from his being 2-4 over his last six fights which included a positive steroid test following his loss to Michael Bisping.

Leben would grind his way to a workmanlike decision victory over Silva that evening. He would go on to fight at the finale of the eleventh season of The Ultimate Fighter against a heavy favorite in Aaron Simpson. Simpson won the first round with takedowns and crisp striking. In the second round Simpson got too eager to trade and Leben hurt and finished him with strikes. It was two big wins in a row and, only four days later, Wanderlei Silva had to pull out of his bout with Yoshihiro Akiyama and Leben jumped into the slot. Yet again Leben was the underdog and yet again he battled through a rough first round to put on an incredible performance. Amazingly, in the third round it was Leben who locked in a triangle choke and got the submission with twenty seconds left in the bout.

A 3-0 2010 has thrust Leben to #13 in the middleweight USA TODAY / SB Nation MMA Rankings not too shabby for a guy who was on the verge of unemployment one year earlier.

Retirement Tour for "The Natural" Meets The James Toney Experiment - While we're still not certain if Randy Couture's "retirement tweet" will hold up, there is no doubt that he is no longer being given fights that increase his standing in the division. His 2010 kicked off in February when he took on Mark Coleman at UFC 109. The bout was originally planned way back in 1998 for UFC 17 but Randy had pulled out due to injury. The opening led to Pete Williams stepping in and scoring one of the most dramatic high kick knockouts in MMA history. 12 years later the two men met finally in a bout that was well past its expiration date. Couture was a huge favorite coming in and he made those odds hold up by demolishing the badly faded Coleman.

James Toney was a multiple division boxing champion who had moved up to heavyweight where he found limited success and generally just looked fat. His inability to get a big payday in boxing led to Toney following Dana White around the country demanding he be given a shot in the UFC. The relentless stalking of White both in-person and online eventually led to Toney being signed and matched up with Couture. Toney refused any sort of weight limit, instead wanting to just keep the fight at heavyweight. This turned out to be because Toney would show up tying the heaviest he'd ever been for a fight, 237 pounds.

The idea of a a boxing star and MMA star meeting on a major stage generated a good amount of mainstream attention, much more than Toney had generated in the boxing arena for years. James was more than willing to do his part and talk the fight up. In the end the fight was predictable. Couture shot in, took Toney down and locking in an arm triangle that Toney clearly had no idea how to defend. This despite all the talk from men like "King" Mo Lawal about how Toney had gotten so good with the submission game that he was submitting them.

UFC president Dana White said that the fight proved all it needed to in the boxing vs. MMA debate and that we wouldn't see Toney again. James had clearly been trying to use the UFC attention to get himself a big boxing payday but since that never materialized he has started to call out Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and demand another UFC fight.

Meanwhile it may have been the last time we ever got to watch the legendary Randy Couture step into the Octagon.

A Heisman Winner Steps Into the Cage - Herschel Walker's MMA career has been called many things by many people, but his debut in January of 2010 at Strikeforce: Miami proved that he is still an amazing athlete. In Greg Nagy he wasn't exactly being forced to take on the cream of the crop, but it was a physical encounter which would tire out most MMA fighters. Amazingly, Walker wasn't breathing through his mouth at all when the referee stopped the fight in the third round..

Walker's involvement got significant mainstream attention and was important to getting Strikeforce some necessary exposure. It also proved that the talk from his camp of his incredible work ethic was true. Walker had to pull out of his fight at the end of the year but will step back into action in late January 2011 to fight Scott Carson.